Passion for bird-watching led brothers to build a birdseed empire

Brothers Ed, Fred and Eric Mills co-founded Global Harvest Foods, which started with late-night mixing and bagging in a basement and grew to be one of the biggest birdseed manufacturers in the country.

Like most kids with parents in the military, the Mills brothers spent most of their childhood moving around from place to place, each with a new school, new landscape and new faces.

Bird-watching provided a rare constant for the brothers, Fred, Eric and Ed. They picked up the hobby from their mother, and it provided an easy activity that could be done anywhere they moved around the U.S.

“Mom is good at identifying what bird was which,” Eric said. “Since then we’ve always had a plan to go and enjoy nature.”

Global Harvest Foods

Quantity: Ships more than 500 million pounds of bird food a year.

Source: Majority of the ingredients are grown in the U.S. on family-owned farms. Nearly 3,000 acres of sunflower are grown for the company in Washington alone.

Contents: The company’s feeds use nearly 100 different ingredients.

Facilities: Six plants, one in Mead (near Spokane). Others in Colorado, Pennsylvania, South Dakota (two) and Indiana.

Source: Global Harvest Foods

Their love for birds has turned into a business. For 35 years, the brothers have owned Global Harvest Foods, headquartered in Seattle. The company has grown to become one of the largest birdseed manufacturers in the country, and employs more than 250 at six manufacturing plants from Washington to Pennsylvania.

Global Harvest manufactures over 600 different types of products, found on shelves nationwide under the names Global Harvest Foods, Audubon Park, Songbird Selections, Morning Song, Wild Bird Centers of America and Audubon Friends. Besides its own brands, the company is also the largest private-label manufacturer for dozens of others.

Humble beginnings

Despite their love for birds, their journey to become one of the biggest bird-feed manufacturers was not their original plan.

The brothers, now ages 57 to 61, began their careers in commodities trading, starting with Fred, the oldest. Their trades included sunflower seeds and milo seed, which were sent to China and mixed into birdseed — this sparked the idea of mixing bird feed domestically themselves.

That involved a lot of experimentation and trial and error. In their basement, the brothers mixed together different seeds to try to find the right mix — not an easy task when all birds…

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