Admiring A Horticultural Refuge

Stella Kalinina

Community gardens have been a regular topic in our pages over the last decade. We never tire of the subject. I personally have a soft spot for roses, especially those found in unexpected places. So, Raúl Laly Fernández, you are my hero. I hope that the next time I am in Los Angeles I will find you in this garden and bear witness to the rose wonders I see in these photographs. Kudos to the writer/photographer Stella Kalinina for capturing this intersection between immigrant culture, working class refuge, and horticultural knowhow:

Mr. Fernández decorates a sitting area in his plot with roses that he grows.

In Los Angeles, Glimpses of an Oasis With Deep Immigrant Roots

The San Pedro Community Gardens have provided physical and spiritual nourishment for the past half a century to multiple generations of immigrant Angelenos.

Kimberly Mentlow received a plot in San Pedro after three years on a waiting list. “Being able to plant something or see something grow — it’s extremely therapeutic,” she said.

Ten minutes from my home, next to a decommissioned landfill, a freeway and the largest port in the country, sits an unlikely hillside oasis of vegetables and fruit trees.

Emerging like a mirage from its surroundings, the San Pedro Community Gardens occupy a six-acre parcel of city-owned land in the otherwise highly industrialized area of the blue-collar harbor community of San Pedro, in Los Angeles. Continue reading

Monbiot’s Scrutiny In Perspective

Illustration by Eva Bee

The first I heard of him, nearly a decade ago, I was immediately hooked on his writing, and the ideas he was offering were surprising to read in a mainstream, if progressive, publication. He introduced me to rewilding. If you have not been reading or perhaps listening to George Monbiot during this decade you may not have noticed how his radicalism has evolved. In this editorial ostensibly about the Pandora Papers I learned something about Madeira that I want to read more about:

…A few decades after the Portuguese colonised Madeira in 1420, they developed a system that differed in some respects from anything that had gone before. By felling the forests after which they named the island (madeira is Portuguese for wood), they created, in this uninhabited sphere, a blank slate – a terra nullius – in which a new economy could be built. Continue reading

Haruki Murakami Reflects On A Category Of Memento

This is from the British magazine The Economist. The message is very stylish, but it’s still a T‑shirt, and it makes me wonder about how to react to such a sudden, challenging dictum.

Photographs courtesy Ebisu Yasutomo

I would wear the shirt above. No surprise given how often I link to that publication. At our Authentica shops we sell items that serve as reminders. T-shirts are among those items.

We do not sell it, but I can relate to the kind of person who would wear the one in the photo to the right. Like the one above it illustrates a very short and delightful photo essay:

An Accidental Collection

How I amassed more T-shirts than I can store

by Haruki Murakami.

I’m not particularly interested in collecting things, but there is a kind of running motif in my life: despite my basic indifference, objects seem to collect around me. Continue reading

Verdant, Drenched & Down At Ground Level

During the last six weeks or so of rainy season in Costa Rica, the word verdant is the perfect word for describing coffee plantations, especially those with long-lived canopies. The photo above, which I took while visiting a coffee farm in the Turrialba region, shows a mature canopy and coffee that is thriving under it, as are the lichens and moss on the gigantic rock in the foreground. Greenest this time of year, the coffee will have red cherries ready for picking within the next two months as the rains subside.

At home, potted flowers that have been providing color on a rock wall near our terrace are getting that drenched look.

Drenched does not have the same beautiful implication of verdant, but it will have to do. I cannot find a prettier alternative to describe the look of flowers that have absorbed as much water as possible and now just let the morning mist roll off.

I was surprised to find this nest while tending to some overgrown grass yesterday. It was right by a post of the fence that protects the land we are replanting. The surprise was a nest at ground level. According to Seth these are most likely eggs from this bird. Good luck, eggs. Good luck, birds.

A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. Continue reading

Restor & Correcting The Trillion Tree Mess

Crowther says Restor is his ‘life’s vision’, mapping the latest data and thousands of conservation projects. Photograph: Courtesy of Restor

I have been on a tree-planting spree in the last couple years. So I am constantly on the lookout for resources that help me see this work in a larger context. Here is a great one I have just learned about. Restor’s macro-level organizing of conservation through geographic information systems requires skills and ambitions that few have in such capacity as the scientist featured in the following story. Maps like the one shown above are less inspirational, but more powerful in other ways, than scenes of effective restoration like the one below.

The former A3 London to Portsmouth road at Hindhead, after being restored back to heathland. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

T. W. Crowther has featured in our pages for years, starting with our link to his work on how many trees are on our planet and what this implies with regard to climate. We lunged forward to share the idea that planting a trillion trees was the key implication, and also lurched back a bit when it seemed worthy of more consideration. This article does much to clear up “the mess” that Mr. Crowther acknowledges resulted from the trillion tree findings, and which I was captivated by:

‘I’ve never said we should plant a trillion trees’: what ecopreneur Thomas Crowther did next

Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. Continue reading

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Message For All Of Us

When The Ministry for the Future came to my attention late last year, it was the first I had heard of this author (I am buried deep under a big rock when it comes to science fiction). Now I wonder how I could have missed such an important thinker on the most important topics of our time (not science fiction):

Kim Stanley Robinson on “Utopian” Science Fiction

One of the premier writers of thinky sci-fi, Kim Stanley Robinson opened his book “The Ministry for the Future” with an all too plausible scenario: a lethal heat wave descends on India, with vast, horrifying consequences. It’s a sobering read, especially after July, 2021, was declared the hottest month on record. And yet Robinson tells Bill McKibben that his work is not dystopian; his central concern is how the globe could respond to such a disaster and begin to halt the momentum of global warming. Continue reading

Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, Forever

Rock of the King, NP Piatra Craiului, Transylvania, Southern Carpathian, Romania

The word Carpathian appears, to my surprise, only once in a post before today. Likewise Romania is underrepresented except in passing, and was the focus of just one post, five years ago in our pages. Today I will correct the oversight.

FOUNDATION CONSERVATION CARPATHIA
Bears in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, Romania.

It is surprising because after I was exposed to the idea of rewilding, I started receiving The European Nature Trust’s newsletter. Frequently the newsletter highlights one of the projects they support, in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. I have been admiring the photographs for years now, and silently supporting TENT’s joint mission with the FCC. Silent no more. Let’s all actively support the Carpathian Mountains of Romania being there forever, intact:

DANIEL ROSENGREN
A frosty morning in the Piatra Craiului National Park, Romania.

TENT is committed to the protecting and restoration of Romania’s natural resources through supporting Foundation Conservation Carpathia.

Romania has 250,000 hectares of virgin forest, mostly in the Southern Carpathians, which constitutes the largest unfragmented forest area in Europe. They contain an extraordinarily high number of indigenous species, one third of all European plant species and are home to the largest European populations of large carnivores. Continue reading

Know Where Your Coffee Comes From

Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

Most of the coffee stories I tell here are short reports on our efforts to regenerate a onetime coffee farm. Plenty of others we link to are about challenges facing coffee farmers and efforts to improve their lot . I cannot find a story like the one below that we have featured previously, where coffee farming is effectively undermining conservation. Reading this new longform work by Wyatt Williams will not make anyone happy, but that must be the point. The illustrations by Hokyoung Kim are a perfect accompaniment:

The Case of the Vanishing Jungle

It seemed like an easy crime to stop: protected Indonesian rainforest, cut for coffee farms. But a globalized economy can undermine even the best-laid plans.

In the fall of 2015, Matt Leggett, a newly hired senior adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, found himself sitting in a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, wondering if someone had missed the point. The meeting, as he remembers it, was meant to unveil some good news about tigers. In brief: Back in 2002, a survey of one of the last habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, showed a tiger population that, in biologist-speak, amounted to only 1.6 tigers per 100 square kilometers. Continue reading

A Way To Garden

20 years after planting, this palm has reached for the sun, and found it.

When we completed construction on our home late in the year 2000, we had a small palm tree in a planter on our terrace. It was perhaps two feet tall at the time. Sometime in 2001 we planted that palm to the side of the house, and ever since it has been reaching for the sun. The opening sentence in the article below, combined with the photo from the same article that I have inserted with it, struck a chord. We need to think about this tree’s future in a way we did not when choosing where to plant it 20 years ago. My thanks to Margaret Roach– who wrote the article and is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name–for this:

Questions About Tree Care? You’re Not Alone.

Many people find trees a little enigmatic. But there is help for the asking. (And it’s free.)

Younger, container-grown trees will settle in and start growing faster than field-dug specimens that may take three to five years to reestablish root systems and resume growth. The Morton Arboretum

The biggest plants in our gardens often get the smallest share of our attention. And it’s not because trees don’t need or want attention — or because we intend to neglect them.

Maybe it’s because they look so strong, holding most of their foliage overhead and not making their needs known near ground level, where we are busy paying attention to everyone else. Or maybe we just don’t have much tree-care confidence.

At The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., Julie Janoski and her Plant Clinic colleagues respond to gardeners’ and green-industry professionals’ questions — about 17,000 a year. And many of those questions are about trees. Continue reading

Amaranth All Over

Blanca Marsella González, a member of Qachuu Aloom, harvests amaranth plants. Photograph: JC Lemus/Juan Carlos Lemus

We have been paying attention to amaranth plenty over the years. It should have occurred to me back in the early days of this platform to investigate its origins. Amaranth was so central to our diet in India that I assumed it was a native plant. Not so, but it grows all over the world:

‘It could feed the world’: amaranth, a health trend 8,000 years old that survived colonization

Indigenous women in North and Central America are coming together to share ancestral knowledge of amaranth, a plant booming in popularity as a health food

An elderly woman cuts an amaranth crop, in Uttarakhand, India. The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean. Photograph: Hitendra Sinkar/Alamy Stock Photo

Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently come interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Continue reading

Mycology’s Expansive Boundaries

Paul Stamets. Credit: Trav Williams Broken Banjo Photography

In the media we scan for articles and podcasts to share here, some of the last year’s attention to fungi has been aimed at making them seem less alien by celebrating their very alien-ness. Up to now, this has all been earth-bound, but maybe that has been an arbitrary boundary. Thanks to Scientific American magazine for this conversation with the man who has been stretching fungi boundaries for much longer than we have been paying attention:

Future Space Travel Might Require Mushrooms

Mycologist Paul Stamets discusses the potential extraterrestrial uses of fungi, including terraforming planets, building human habitats—and providing psilocybin therapy to astronauts

The list of mycologists whose names are known beyond their fungal field is short, and at its apex is Paul Stamets. Educated in, and a longtime resident of, the mossy, moldy, mushy Pacific Northwest region, Stamets has made numerous contributions over the past several decades— perhaps the best summation of which can be found in his 2005 book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. But now he is looking beyond Earth to discover new ways that mushrooms can help with the exploration of space. Continue reading

Coffee & Plastic, Second Shift Footwear

The company said the shoe, called Nomad, will be made from coffee waste and recycled bottles, while recycled polyester will be used to create the membrane to make the footwear waterproof. Photograph: c/o Rens

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the idea of using coffee bags a second time. But it was fun realizing how easy it is, and just doing it. Less easy and maybe lots more fun is the idea in the article below. Hats off to the creative founders who chose this path instead of chasing Silicon Valley unicorns (perhaps their success will demonstrate that unicorns thrive on a healthy planet, as expressed in this t-shirt I saw recently):

Firm seeks funding for ‘performance sneakers’ made from coffee waste

Finnish firm Rens says shoes made from used grounds and recycled plastic will be climate neutral

It is the typical morning routine for hundreds of thousands of Britons: have a cup of coffee and then slip on your trainers before heading for a jog. Upon returning, a quick drink of water to rehydrate before stepping into the shower.

Now, one firm has enabled one thing to beget another, by creating trainers made of recycled plastic bottles and used coffee beans.

Finnish footwear firm Rens launched an online fundraising campaign for its latest sustainable trainer on Tuesday, which it claims will be climate neutral in its production, packaging and transport. Continue reading

Nature, Intervention & Protection

Discovery inspires.

Participation motivates.

Discovery + Participation + Organization =

Results

Click any of the images above to go to the website of this organization featured once before in our pages and now again in the article below. It will make more sense after reading the article. But do visit the site and consider volunteering. Take some kids along.

In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges. Photograph by Thomas Prior for The New Yorker

Eric Klinenberg‘s work on the topic of libraries provided a sense of common cause. After featuring so many stories about libraries and librarians (my more recent personal anecdote was purposely brief so did not relay how many ways my local library impacted my young life, a topic for another day), his book summed up much of why the institution matters to us. And then some. Advocating for libraries was something a talented academic could do on a larger scale than we could in these pages, especially with publications like those. Bravo. And now this.

After lots of attention to rewilding in these pages, plenty of it related to urban landscapes, the same author that further illuminated our understanding about the value of libraries has convinced me of how much more there is to learn on this topic:

The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?

How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap.

On a windy afternoon in April, the landscape architect Kate Orff stood on the open walkway of a container crane, some eighty feet above the Red Hook Terminal, in Brooklyn, and the Buttermilk Channel, a tidal strait on the southeast side of Governors Island. Continue reading

Art Of The National Parks

Click the image above if this is your kind of coffee table book. It is of course available elsewhere but please, support the publisher instead of the elsewhere option. We feature stories related to the national parks of the USA about as frequently as any other topic; here is a unique way to support the idea and the actions that flow from the idea.

Thanks to the Guardian’s feature on the book for bringing it to our attention:

The art director JP Boneyard ’s favourite park is Montana’s Glacier national park. “It’s breathtaking, I’m smiling just thinking about it ,” he says. For his screen-print project Fifty-Nine Parks, now collected in a book, he asked modern artists to reinterpret America’s classic national park posters, commissioned by the government in the 1900s.

“I hope they inspire people to visit the parks and connect with nature, but, heck, it’d be awesome if the book inspired folks to pick up a squeegee and start printing too,” he says.

The National Parks Conservation Association has been mentioned in our pages a couple times before, but only in passing. Finding out more about this book led me to their website for the first time, and I already see a post on that topic is needed, but on another day.

Close This Organic Certification Loophole

A shortcut to organic farming. Source: Bloomberg

Since Sunday I have been thinking about what to plant, and how, with regard to our Escazu coffee regeneration project. Questions related to genetics are fundamental to agriculture, even if genetic engineering is controversial. I am only considering hybrids, not genetically engineered coffee varietals. We will use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers,  nor have any been used on this land in nearly three decades, so our coffee will be grown according to organic standards. Whether we seek USDA certification is a topic for a later date.

But I am a proponent of organic certification. Not every farmer can afford it but if they could I would hope they consider it. That said, like any certification, there can be bugs in the system. Thanks to Amanda Little (whose work we first linked to five years ago, and again when her book was published) for investigating and bringing this to our attention, with the help of Bloomberg. It would seem to go without saying, but perhaps we all need to shout it out:

Organic Farming Should Protect Nature, Not Destroy It

A USDA loophole that allows farmers to cut down forests and clear grasslands to win faster certification should have been closed years ago.

Sustainable agriculture is having its political moment.

The Biden administration deserves credit for being the first to recognize that food system reforms can go a long way toward solving the climate crisis. Yet for all its big-picture vision, some critical details are getting overlooked. A big one is a loophole within the USDA’s National Organic Program that undermines its mission and impedes the nation’s path toward climate-smart agriculture. Continue reading

Plotting Varietals

Day 187, with 319 coffee seedlings

When posting yesterday I had in mind my coffee germination project. In addition to recycling bags to use for this stage of prepping for the bigger goal, I have been considering the question of varietals, including hybrids, to plant alongside these seedlings that are from coffee collected on this land 187 days ago, from coffee trees originally planted five decades ago.

Hacienda La Amistad coffee, roasted at the farm

On Saturday I was speaking with the man who farms and roasts one of our single estate coffees, the only one that is USDA-certified organic. He exhibited the new roaster at the farm, while telling me about an experimental varietal he has growing at 1,800 meters elevation, which he has nicknamed Purple Haze.

This fueled my imagination further down the road of how complex to get with our own re-planting options. Our seedlings will be mature enough to plant next May, and by that time I will need to have sourced the thousand or so other seedlings we have space for. We will have micro-lots within our micro-lot. If we plant varietals in clusters of 100, that would give us the option of ten varietals other than the varietal that was originally planted here. Or clusters of 50, allowing twenty other varietals? More likely clusters of 200, because over the next ten months surely we can do enough homework to figure out the five very best varietal options for this soil, climate and elevation. It’s time to start pondering and plotting those on the map…

Genetic Modification, In Moderation, Appeals

Levon Biss for The New York Times

Our work with coffee farmers in Costa Rica in recent years has convinced me that without hybridization there will not be much of a specialty coffee supply in the near future without it. Climate change and various pests essentially require it. On the other hand, I understand why genetic engineering causes fear. I have suffered mildly from that fear, but still read widely on the subject looking to allay those fears. The main appeal of the technology is obvious, and the reasons to be concerned are plenty, but here are some overlooked observations thanks very much to Jennifer Kahn:

Learning to Love G.M.O.s

Overblown fears have turned the public against genetically modified food. But the potential benefits have never been greater.

Bobby Doherty for The New York Times

On a cold December day in Norwich, England, Cathie Martin met me at a laboratory inside the John Innes Centre, where she works. A plant biologist, Martin has spent almost two decades studying tomatoes, and I had traveled to see her because of a particular one she created: a lustrous, dark purple variety that is unusually high in antioxidants, with twice the amount found in blueberries.

At 66, Martin has silver-white hair, a strong chin and sharp eyes that give her a slightly elfin look. Continue reading

Practical Advice From Erik Vance

My first link to the work of Erik Vance came when I was re-writing the welcome to Chan Chich Lodge section of the property’s website. On another occasion his work took me to Madagascar, offering me a much-appreciated journey seven months into the isolation of pandemic. Today, I thank him again for a graphic feature with practical advice on the kinds of steps any of us can take to get some relief from the cataclysm that overshadows even the pandemic. Local variations to the steps he recommends, depending on where you live, might apply; the point is to find them and act on them.

A Nest Dislodged, Rolled, Resting

It rolled down the hill from our up-hill neighbor, and rested on our chicken coop.

You can see the size of this nest if you consider the size of the chain-links in the fence it is resting on. It is approximately two feet wide and four feet long, oblong.

Close examination reveals tiny ant-like creatures crawling in the recesses of the structure. Termites?

The texture is firm, brittle, what seems to be the organic material I frequently see ants carrying off (occasionally something I have planted, to my annoyance), and layered as if dipped in mud. On one side there are sticks that are built into the structure sticking out.

Is a nest like this anything like trust in modern human society?

I cannot imagine how much time was required to build this nest, but ants seem patient, diligent, even tireless. The man clearing brush on the hillside told me that he gave it a little push, and it rolled on its own. It is an apt photo to accompany a review I have just read about the alarming decline of trust in modern society:

Are Americans More Trusting Than They Seem?

Political scientists say that our confidence in our institutions—and in one another—is running perilously low. Economists see a different story.

My  takeaway from the article is that trust, a binding agent of society, takes a long time to build, yet can be more easily toppled than you might have imagined. Institutions, through which trust has been built in the past, may be replaced with a different variety of trust according to economists. As of now, I do not buy it.