MCF Nusery Team: Aladino Meza, Andres Cuascota, Leila Lopez Krohnke, Roberto Vera

Meanwhile in Ecuador, Covid-19 has made life not so different than many of us are experiencing in the rest of the world.  In fact, our partners are under strict stay at home orders that only allow them to travel for necessary tasks 1 day per week, with a 2 pm curfew.  Besides the risk and disruption to daily life, this is occurring in the middle of the wet/planting season, throwing a wrench in what was the start of the new bio-corridor era of their reforesting program.  Never the less, they are happy to be safe so far and send their best wishes to all of humanity, as we are in this together.

A silver lining: we now have time to tell their story in more detail – we’ll start at the tree nurseries: trees don’t grow on trees down there (well, at least in tree form). In a process that takes months, seeds are collected, germinated then cared for as saplings until they are ready to go in the ground.  This is not creating mono-culture tree farms, MCF’s four-pronged mission – Ecological Inquiry, Habitat Conservation, Ecotourism, and Reforestation and Restoration – extends to their nursery operations, creating co-benefits beyond gourmet carbon sequestration. (Shameful advertising and seo-bot plug: by drinking Carbon Negative Organic Tiny Footprint Coffee you directly support everything that follows. You Drink Coffee. We Plant Trees.)

The Nurseries

MCF operates three nurseries at their main nature reserves or Bird Sanctuaries: Rio Silanche, Milpe and Puyucunapi. While only 80 kilometers apart, the nurseries span a 1600 meter change in elevation (Silanche at 400 meters, Milpe at 1100 meters, and Puyucuanpi at 2000 meters) that creates significantly different micro-climates, necessitating a unique selection of tree species at each location. Each nursery grows the trees from seed to sapling and then distributes them to MCF’s reforestation parcels or other buyers (e.g. community members and municipalities) based on where they would fare best according to elevation and other biological factors.

The People

These nurseries offer an important economic impact within the community as well by providing jobs and opportunities.  Directed by MCF forestry professional Leila Lopez Krohnke, local staff members Roberto Vera, Aladino Meza, and Andres Cuascota collaborate to manage the nurseries. In a unique twist, Aladino has many years of experience as a chainsaw operator, felling trees for the logging industry. These days, he says he’s glad to be part of rebuilding the forest, rather than helping take it down. Still, with all of his experience, he’s an expert on local species, seeding methods, and overall forest health.

Ecological Inquiry

These nurseries also offer an important space for scientific inquiry and experimentation. Consider that in the forests of Northwest Ecuador there are more species per acre than found in all of North America. So, while growing trees for forest restoration, MCF is creating a seed bank with an online database available to researchers around the world within their center for education and research at the Milpe reserve.  The Foundation maintains many species from seed to sapling, and are currently looking at 8-9 that are potentially new to science. This variety allows them to have the right tree for the job depending on the elevation and relative soil degradation, while preserving one of the wettest, most biodiverse spots on the planet.

Habitat Conservation

The species diversity within the nurseries is key in regenerating native forest within each ecosystem.  Giving MCF the expertise and genetic material to start a new chapter, in partnership with other Ecuadorian conservation groups, international researchers and you the Tiny Footprint Coffee drinker, creating trans-altitudinal bio-corridors and flyways between their reforested areas, cloud forest reserves, river basins and other existing forest parcels. These forest restoration areas intersect with Birdlife International’s “Important Bird Areas” and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s “Key Biodiversity Areas” in Northwest Ecuador.

Roberto Vera collecting fruits from one of the numerous tribe of trees that produce “aguacatillos” or little avocados, similar in structure and related to the ones we use to make guacamole.

Reforestation and Restoration

MCF´s complex of nurseries support the work of planting the right trees in the right places, so that over a few years the soil and shade conditions allow the native seed stock in the ground, seeds air-dropped by birds, and seeds and spores floating in the air to regenerate and restore highly biodiverse forest.  The saplings begin the transformation, catalyzing the power of evolution and the pacha mama (mother nature) to restore, heal and renew beauty, the cycle of water and the cycle of life. With a little bit of sunshine the greatest things on earth start in the soil and the muck, just like a fine cup of coffee.


As we like to say, “You can go there” (sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future). There is lodging, trails to hike, interpretive information.  We can also hook you up with birding tours, suggested activities and even nature photography classes by Hans Heinz who shot the video below of a club winged manakin at the Milpe reserve. Their sharp chirp doesn’t come from their beaks like you might expect, rather it’s the result of their wings rubbing against each other like a cricket would, but with highly adapted wing bones that rub and vibrate against each other more than 100 times per second. MCF is protecting and re-creating the habitat for this incredibly unique bird, several other manakin species (one that moonwalks) and much much more.  Listen closely to this video and you’ll hear the males trying to out-chirp one another to win the attention of the females.

Hans Heinz

If you want to learn more about the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, check out our Q&A for more stories and information about their reforestation projects. Follow the link below to learn more from them directly. If you so wish, there is a page on their site with a secure link to make donations.

With a portion of our proceeds funding reforestation it’s usually Tiny Footprint heading to Ecuador. But early this fall, the Mindo Cloudforest came to us. Brian Krohnke, one of the founders of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, stopped by Minnesota to visit his brother Alan—one of the founders of Tiny Footprint Coffee. We had the chance to learn a little bit more about the foundation and its beginnings in our conversation with Brian. Here’s a glimpse of what we talked about.


TINY: So going back to the beginning…tell us about the first time you were in Ecuador. Is it a clear moment in your mind?

BRIAN: Of course. It’s funny because it was in September, and I [recently] found my old passport from when I came to Ecuador. September 20th was the first stamp on my going to Ecuador. It’ll be 21 years ago. I went with the idea to study Spanish. I went to Evergreen State College, [here in the US], an alternative, progressive school and when I went, there were no grades, no majors. Basically you made your own way and took what you wanted to take. And I studied American Literature and then political philosophy. With the Spanish language, I thought I’d have a better chance of finding a job. But I didn’t want to find a job right then and there.

Brian, left. Alan, right.

So I worked as an intern at a small magazine for a year… and later, I followed a girl out to Chapel Hill in North Carolina and lived there for more than a year. When it didn’t work out, I moved back to Seattle, and I was a bike messenger for a year. And then I thought I’ve got to get out of here. So I sold my car, and I sold everything and I went to Ecuador. I was supposed to stay there for a year, and as it got close to that last final day to fly back, then nope. I stayed. The first time I came back to the states, it was two and a half years after I left.


TINY: Going from learning Spanish to nature conservation…how did the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation come to be?


BRIAN: I got involved with this group. I had about $5,000 and I invested it in this group. We all invested 5,000 bucks and we bought a piece of forest, near Mindo, near where we still work. We were going to start a little eco tourism project– this was in late ‘96 when we started that. Then there was a big economic crisis in Ecuador– almost hyper inflation. So I had this cloud forest, but no more money to invest, and there were no loans. So I started guiding tourism, I had a little Jeep I’d drive people around in, to make ends meet. Then they started to build a heavy crude pipeline that ran right through the back corner of this property we had– they didn’t advise landowners, they just did it– over the top of the Mindo watershed and with a lot of sensitive areas, it was a really bad place to build a pipeline. We gave them information about how many birds and how much biodiversity, and why they shouldn’t build it. Of course, we lost. They built the thing wherever they wanted to. But out of that, this group, we decided to create a conservation foundation, so if we were organized in the future when something else like that happened, we would be more in a position to stop it. By December 2001, the foundation had legal standing and we’ve been working ever since.

White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) feeding at a flower while flying at Bueneventura Lodge in southwest Ecuador.

TINY: Who makes up the foundation?


BRIAN: We were six at the beginning, then we were down to five. But more people have joined, there’s 13 of us now. People from the US like me, from Ecuador, from Germany, someone from Australia, someone from Ireland who now lives in Northern Colombia. It’s an interesting group. All birders, all conservationists.

Ecuador is a small country, it’s about the size of Colorado, or the U.K., but it has more than 1600 bird species. In the whole North America, there’s about 700. The only countries that have more bird species than Ecuador are Colombia, Brazil, and Peru– in that order– and those three surround Ecuador. In a sense, it’s the densest place for bird species.

So everyone in the group is– we have two PhD Ornithologists– and the author of the book Birds of Ecuador, we have a guy who studied tourism, another guy who is a businessman. He was one of the first guys in Ecuador to take birders out. Now there’s someone who is more of a forestry specialist, too.


TINY: What has the evolution of the foundation been like?


BRIAN: The first two years we didn’t do anything– we found our first money to build the first reserve– Milpe– and right at that point, they made me president. And I was president for 8 years, and then another guy, and every two years we change roles. Of the founders, I’m the only one who has really had this as my job.


TINY: Tell us about the area that you’re working in now, about these reserves.


BRIAN: Well, in a temperate forest there are many individual trees of just a few species. You go here [in Minnesota], you’ll find a hundred in an acre—a hundred of the same pine tree, and hundred of another pine tree. There are probably five species in an acre in a natural forest. Where we are, you can probably find five hundred species of trees in an acre, and you might only find one of each individual.


TINY: To wrap up, can you tell us a little more about a specific project the foundation has worked on?


BRIAN: The big reforestation project we did with the funding from telenet and Tiny Footprint has been validated to two standards. One is the verified carbon standard (VCS), and the climate community biodiversity alliance standard (CCBA). The verified carbon standard is rigorous, it’s important. It shows we’ve designed the project well so our carbon estimates should be reasonably conservative and well done. The CCBA shows we’ve done our research and planted native species in ways that aren’t harmful to the environment or harmful to the community interests and in ways where we protect species of particular conservation importance. So we’ve demonstrated all of that and it’s being monitored. They’re monitoring right now— by going to the areas and measuring the trees.


To learn more about the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, take a trip to their website and see for yourself.