Coffee for a cause: Noblesville shop benefiting wildlife organizations struggles to stay afloat during pandemic

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Jeff Canada pauses by his coffee roaster in his Noblesville shop. (Photo by Anna Skinner)

When it comes to operating a small business, Jeff Canada’s Wood Warbler Coffee company is about as tiny as it gets.

A one-man operation since he launched Wood Warbler Coffee in late 2019, Canada is one of only 23 roasters in the nation who roasts bird-friendly coffee, a certification granted by the Smithsonian. The coffee beans Canada uses come from farms in Central and South America, where habitats are certified bird-friendly, which requires a certain tree canopy height, a certain percentage of native plants and all-organic growth.

Proceeds from Wood Warbler Coffee benefit local and national organizations focusing on the conservation of natural habitats for migratory birds.

Canada, former president of the Indiana Audubon Society and a current board member, said only 1 percent of finished coffee products are certified as bird-friendly. He roasts the coffee at his shop in Noblesville. He’s roasted coffee for five years.

“We were six months old when the pandemic hit,” Canada said. “I don’t have a retail shop, so I rely on music festivals and birding and wildlife and nature festivals. So, I went from March 9 (2020) of having spring, summer and fall booked solid for meetings and festivals and things like that to March 11 and having zero.”

Canada, a Noblesville resident, was unable to receive small business COVID-19 relief grants from the city, state or nation despite several attempts.

“All of the financial assistance offered to businesses was based around payroll, and I’m a one-person place, so I don’t have a payroll,” Canada said. “I haven’t had a paycheck in over a year.”

When the pandemic began in March 2020, Canada explained his situation on Facebook, and his coffee sales rose.

Jeff Canada bird watches in Noblesville. (Photo by Anna Skinner)

In January of this year, Canada received a letter from the Small Business Association saying it would make three to eight payments on his loan, but then only made one payment after its rules changed and Canada no longer qualified for the benefits. He began using a credit card to pay for the coffee to keep his business open.

“So again, I went on Facebook and pleaded again, and people responded and bought all kinds of coffee, and a dozen or so said to start a GoFundMe,” Canada said. “I didn’t want to do it. My whole mission is to raise money for other organizations. That’s what I do, and I don’t feel comfortable running a business on donations. I would much rather try to raise it by selling coffee.”

Canada, however, did end up organizing a GoFundMe, which had raised approximately $1,600 as of March 29. But he still wants people buy his coffee instead of accepting donations.

“I would love for people to buy coffee and learn about (being) bird-friendly,” he said. “I’m happy for either, but if I had my preference, I would say buy coffee because that supports my business and what my business is.”

Canada drove for Uber on the side to support his family, but the pandemic resulted in far less people using ride-sharing services. That source of income dried up as well.

“I want people to understand there are businesses like me and business owners like me,” Canada said. “I’m not rich, I don’t have money, but I’ve found a way to keep this place going without the help the government systems have been giving to all these little businesses. They aren’t giving it to people like me.”

To order coffee, visit woodwarblercoffee.com. To donate to the GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/f/wood-warbler-coffee-business-survival.

Bird walks in Noblesville

Besides roasting and selling coffee, Jeff Canada leads bird walks every other week with the Noblesville Parks and Recreation Dept. The next walks are scheduled for the first and third Wednesday mornings at the Hague Road Nature Center. The walks are free, but registration is required.

We’re excited to work with Mr. Canada to offer a new outdoor program for all ages.  As we were planning new programs that follow our department’s master plan goals, bird walks were a good fit and brings family programing to Hague Road Nature Haven,” Noblesville Parks and Recreation Dept. Recreation Manager Jeremiah Schroeder stated. “These guided bird walks bring additional opportunities for families and individuals to enjoy the outdoors and learn about local bird species from Jeff and his birding experience. This program is flexible and participants can register for individual dates with no experience needed.”

To register, visit noblesvilleparks.org/326/Bird-Walks—New.


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