Buzz Kill, The Yale e360 Video Contest Winner

Buzzkill

Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for at minimum illuminating important environmental questions and, on days like today, lifting our spirits in the process. Click the image above to go to the award winning video:

Backyard Battle: Helping Native Bees Thrive in a Honeybee World

Native bees are at risk across the United States. “Buzz Kill” — winner of the 2020 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest — depicts the beauty and key ecological role played by these bees and shows how industrialized agriculture and its use of honeybee colonies threatens endemic bee species. Continue reading

Tending The Pitch

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In previous posts I have pointed my lens to this area, but from another angle and with limited scope. In the photo above, in the distant upper right you san see a small light object which is the top of the bee colony. With this view you can make out where the curvy berms lead and if you squint you can see the long quadrangle. A few months prior to our departure to live in Croatia in August, 2006 I decided that this stretch of relatively flat land would make a good football pitch for our boys and their friends. It was a mess of bramble and brush at the time so I cleared it and removed the big rocks and let it be. We would be gone for one year, and when we came back I would finish the pitch.

Plans change. We did not return to live in Costa Rica for another dozen years. This week, as we move to Plan B I took a snapshot of how that pitch looks right now. I am one quarter of the way through removing all the grasses that invaded the land while we were away. Under their blanket is all the rich soil that earthworms produce when left alone for awhile. That pitch, which now has 30 banana and plantain trees, and hundreds of bean plants as well as beets, will next get watermelon where the land is already cleared. These all will help the soil, and prepare the shade needed, in advance of coffee planting next year.

Planting Coffee, Plan B

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VTriunfoFIf you have been following these pages for at least a few months, you know that we kept the coffee beans from our last harvest to use as seeds for replanting land that was coffee farm for most of the last century. For better or worse, the photo above is not the result of those coffee beans. It is normal for seeds like our to germinate in 6-8 weeks. As of today we have precisely zero germination. Plan A, complete. Not a failure, just a lesson in the vagaries of agriculture. Plan B has been growing on me since creating the new labels for our coffee. Specifically one of the single estates that we offer, which is produced at Villa Triunfo in the Western Valley of Costa Rica. These specifications, which I received last year during our cupping sessions, were my guide to rewriting the text for the label on the back of the bag:

VTBackThis farm is unique in that it has Starmaya and Marsellesa cultivars which were both developed as a joint venture between ECOM and CIRAD (agricultural development in France). This lot of coffee displays how when Marsellesa, a Sarchimor type varietal is properly cared for, harvested and processed it can rival some of the most desirable varietals in the region. This coffee was produced in the Red Honey method which leaves some residual mucilage on the seed prior to drying. After drying, the parchment coffee appears red in color resulting in the “Red Honey” distinction. With this process, a bit of the coffee fruit flavors make their way into the cup as well.

Today, I will put in motion Plan B, one part of which is the acquisition and planting of seedlings from these hybrid beans (those in the photo at the top) that our friends at Villa Triunfo have been having great success with.

Smelling Without A Nose

Common blue butterfly in Weymouth, Dorset, UK. © Verity Hill

Common blue butterfly in Weymouth, Dorset, UK. © Verity Hill

Thanks to Alex Morss for this second opportunity to feature her work:

How can butterflies and moths smell?

How can butterflies and moth find food-plants and mates by smell if they don’t have a nose? Ecologist Alex Morss explains how they can sense with other parts of their body. Continue reading

New Machines, New Skills, New Hope

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Renewable-energy projects are now finding capital faster than fossil fuels. Photograph by Ken Cedeno / Getty

Since our platform name change, each daily post has been either about coffee or about birds. We have not neglected or forgotten our commitment to all the other important environmental, conservation, culture and related themes this platform has showcased, under whichever name. Today, Bill McKibben, one of our favorite sources of both depressing and heartening environmental news, is our go-to for some good news:

North Dakota Oil Workers Are Learning to Tend Wind Turbines—and That’s a Big Deal

I enjoy big machinery, and it punched all those buttons,” Jay Johnson told me. “They really are big, and, if you like machinery, then there you go.” Johnson has one of the jobs that might, with luck, come to define our era. At Lake Region State College, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, he trains former oil workers for new careers maintaining giant wind turbines. The skills necessary for operating the derricks that frack for crude in the Bakken shale, he says, translate pretty directly into the skills required for operating the machines that convert the stiff winds of the high prairies into electricity. That is good news, not only because it’s going to take lots of people to move the world from oil and gas to solar and wind but because people who work in hydrocarbons are going to need new jobs now that the demand for hydrocarbons is dropping. “It’s impossible to overstate the stillness” in the oil fields now, Johnson says. “Nothing is happening, zero work, and it sure is scary.” Continue reading

Organikos, Coffee & Community

Walking yesterday’s theme further down a country road: since late March Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been a constant topic of interest. Initially my thoughts were with the family farms supplying our fruits and vegetables. We spent the month of April and much of May looking closely at how we might support them. Concerned that the social distancing and lockdown measures that were sure to come would close the farmers’ markets, putting unbearable pressure on those families and their farms we thought a limited time, limited purpose CSA would help these farmers. It was a good idea, but it was not for us to do. The municipalities, farmer cooperatives and other organizers of the farmers’ markets in Costa Rica proved creative and resilient. So far, so good.

Now, as we prepare to launch our coffee roasting and delivery service in the USA, I see Organikos offering a community the opportunity to support coffee farmers in Costa Rica. Last year, prior to opening, we had projected that in 2020 Organikos would sell 7,000 pounds of coffee in the two Authentica shops. Those two shops were designed to serve the travelers who have been arriving and departing by the millions for the last two decades. We entered into supply contracts based on those projections, and invested in the infrastructure to make it happen. We were on track, through mid-March, to meet the projections. Needless to say, now that will not happen as planned.

We may yet get to 7,000 pounds of coffee sold in 2020. With 4+ months to go, with the website ready to go live and the roaster fired up we will see how quickly we can build a community to support this particular form of agriculture.

Farming & Influence

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ellen Barry, somehow, has not shown up in our pages before today. Strange, because she was based in India during our years there. Her audio adaptation of a dream-like experience, The Jungle Prince of Delhi, ranks with the best serialized podcasts out there. After her time in India she became New England Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a transition I will presume to understand: India can be so transformative and so profound an experience that landing back in familiar territory is a great next step. And today she shows up on my screen with a topic so different from that, and so related to my recent interests and activities that I finally must add her work to our recommendations:

In a Wistful Age, Farmers Find a New Angle: Chore TV

It’s hard for small farmers to earn a living selling their products. Enter the “farmer-influencer,” who can earn more by streaming farm life, in all its comforting monotony, to a growing online audience.

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farm in Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products. Continue reading

Mysterious Eels

BookOfEelsThis book (click the image to the left to go to the publisher) has become an unexpected bestseller. The other times we have posted on the topic of eels, a couple of them were artistic in nature and the other were scientific in nature. I would not have predicted that a whole book on the topic was something I would want to read, let alone that a very sizable audience would develop. I would expect that if there were to be more than four posts mentioning eels in the nine years we have been posting, we might have covered the topic of aquatic agriculture. But, no.

BookOfEelsNPRWhen I listened to a conversation (click the image to the right to go to the podcast) with the author of The Book of Eels it reminded me that I had already read a review of the book by Brooke Jarvis a few months earlier. And that we should post more on eels The illustration adorning the review was fun. The opening paragraphs were compelling:

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The mysterious creature has attracted avid detectives since ancient times. Illustration by Jason Holley

In the spring of 1876, a young man of nineteen arrived in the seaside city of Trieste and set about a curious task. Every morning, as the fishermen brought in their catch, he went to meet them at the port, where he bought eels by the dozens and then the hundreds. He carried them home, to a dissection table in a corner of his room, and—from eight until noon, when he broke for lunch, and then again from one until six, when he quit for the day and went to ogle the women of Trieste on the street—he diligently slashed away, in search of gonads. Continue reading

Aficionados-R-Us

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When you talk with aficionados, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to veer away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. Photograph from Alamy

Ruby Tandoh, a food writer and the author of “Eat Up!,” has written an essay that fits perfectly on our platform. It happens to focus on the culture of cheese, which has not featured much here because for the first six years we were in India and since then we have been back in Costa Rica, and there is not much of a culture of cheese in either of those locations. But aficionado should be a category with which to tag most of our posts, whether the topic is coffee, authentic artisan handicrafts, sustainable travel, etc. So thanks to Ruby for emphasizing the aficionados in her essay (I will save for another day the surprise of feta cheese, which a farmer in Costa Rica is now making at Greek quality level):

How a Cheese Goes Extinct

The late Mary Holbrook, a white-haired maestro in the British cheesemaking world, was known for her soft cheeses and her sharp temper. Once a week, she made the trip from Sleight Farm, her home in the southwest of England, to London to check on her wares as they ripened in the maturation rooms of an upscale cheese shop. Holbrook’s apprentices, hardened to her singular style of mentorship, knew to brace themselves for reprimands when she returned. Occasionally, though, Holbrook would come back with bags of treats—yogurt, mangoes, sweets—which she spilled across the kitchen table of her cold mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse on the crest of a hill, and they knew that the cheese must be tasting good, and that Mary’s little world was in order. Continue reading

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Brunca

We have mentioned this region previously, showing where our organic coffee comes from. Brunca is, from my experience, the region most people would neglect to name if quizzed on listing all of Costa Rica’s coffee-growing zones. And while no one would claim it is racing to lead the pack in awareness, it is the region with the oldest certified organic coffee estate in the hemisphere, and if only for that reason, I think its future is bright:

BruncaCoffeeThe beverage’s taste ranges from the very soft, coming from the low and middle areas, to the sweet and complex citrus flavor of the higher areas of Pérez Zeledón and Coto Brus. Light aromas stand out, with fragrances similar to orange flowers and coffee jasmine.

Brunca is a region located in the south of Costa Rica and comprises the Coto Brus, Buenos Aires and Pérez Zeledón cantons. Continue reading