Monday Morning, Shifting Gears

In these pages the impacts of the pandemic have not been a regular feature, but since early on it was clear we would be feeling the impact for a long time. Each passing week has given us reason to think about how we can adjust what we do. Click the image to the right for a conversation with an illustrator who captures that spirit of adjustment in his own context. At the end of the conversation you can see past cover illustrations that have themes related to bicycles. Not a bad way to start a new week:

As covid-19 infection rates have risen in New York, and the city braces for winter, it can be hard to see a reason for optimism. For his latest New Yorker cover, R. Kikuo Johnson finds one: the welcome surge of cycling across the boroughs. We recently talked to Johnson about biking, working from home, and one of his favorite views in the city.

This is such a lovely image amid dark times. Was there a moment when inspiration struck?

When I think of New York City, the first image that comes to mind is the view from the Williamsburg Bridge. From the top, you see the whole city at once: skyscrapers, graffiti, at least four bridges, the Statue of Liberty, sweating crowds in a rush. Continue reading

Take A Look At Hello Ranger

You had us at hello. By the time we saw welcome, we were already in:

Welcome to the Community!

If you’re a fan of national parks, you’ve come to the right place. Heck, if you’ve got even a fleeting curiosity about national parks, you’ve come to the right place. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ardent backpacker, a casual day-tripper, a glamper, or a full-time RVer, national parks are for everyone, and Hello Ranger is here to celebrate you all. Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough, Pick Farm-Fresh Edibles

The strawberry patch at Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville, Md. Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thanks to Tove Danovich, whose work we are happy to see again after too long a stretch:

U-Pick Is a Popular Pandemic Pick-Me-Up

Strawberry fields, apple orchards and pumpkin patches have seen high volumes of visitors, most of whom have been on their best behavior.

U-pick farms — the choose-your-own-fruit-and-vegetable patches that draw droves each summer and fall — have been especially busy this year. Some farms have been so picked over that they’ve had to close their fields for a day or longer to let new fruit ripen.

With apple-and-pumpkin season in full swing, that popularity is continuing, and u-picks have adapted accordingly. Weekend festivals are out. Mask wearing is in. Most locations have introduced ticketed and timed entry, and created prepaid packages for produce and other amenities, like hay rides, to limit face-to-face interaction. Continue reading

Transport To Manipur

A buyer makes her way through the open market’s labyrinthine lanes.

Thanks to Trishna Mohanty for another transporting article in this well-conceived series:

THE WORLD THROUGH A LENS

A Portrait of a Market in India Run Solely by Women

Nupi Keithel, or Women’s Market, a 16th-century bazaar in which all of the vendors are women, is a fountainhead of social and political activism in the Indian state of Manipur.

The perimeter of each shop is marked by the seller’s wares and belongings.

Barely five feet tall and hunched over, Anjana Devi, who is in her 80s, bellows instructions at two men as they unload crates of fruits from a mini truck. All around her, hundreds of women — most of whom are over 60 — mirror her actions. Farm-fresh produce surrounds them. The air is full of heady aromas: incense and fermented fish, jasmine buds and pungent spices. Continue reading

What Is The New Better?

A woman sits at the counter at a Pret a Manger.

When the pandemic stopped people from going to their offices, in March, Pret a Manger was an immediate economic casualty.Photograph by Isabel Infantes / AFP / Getty

A gifted observer, Sam Knight captures in the plight of a sandwich chain the puzzle for most of us in retail, hospitality, and other high contact professions. The question is obvious and the answer is not: what now? The founders of the chain, whose advice is sought in this context, tell the CEO to go back to the origins of the business model which was about, in their words, “killing sacred cows.” By the end of his observation, the journalist attempts to get some resolution and this is what we get:

…I asked Christou if he woke up in the morning wishing that life could return to how it was—which is what Pret a Manger, with its affective labor, its illusion of luxury and freedom, signifies for most of us. He said no. “I want things to be better,” he said. “What the new better is, I guess at the moment we don’t know.”

Postcards From Costa Rica

In early May I posted a “this I believe” kind of note, linking to an essay about the importance of the US Postal Service. Several months later Organikos launched its roasting and delivery service in the USA, putting that belief to the test, with dozens of coffee parcels going to all corners of the country’s continental borders as well as remote interior places. Flying colors. Thank you, postal carriers. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin and all those after you who have kept the institution moving forward. Other great institutions, having thrived for more than a century, demonstrate that even great ideas sometimes need help. So, in our own little ways, we support the mission. Costa Rica is one of the many places in the world inspired by both the National Park Service of the USA as well as its Postal Service. In recent months Correos de Costa Rica took the precaution of halting mail service to and from the USA. When it is back providing that service, our first little supportive action will be sending postcards to all those in the USA who ordered coffee.

Traditions Keeping Foodways Alive On Canada’s West Coast

A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid

Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:

‘Bringing beaches back to life’: the First Nations restoring ancient clam gardens

In the Pacific north-west, local people work the shoreline, creating conditions for useful species to thrive

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them.’ Photograph: Iain Robert Reid

On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations “knowledge holders” lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or “fluffing”, the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud – and a remarkable number of old clam shells. Continue reading

Reviving A Garden Can Revive More Than A Garden

Among the reasons we have stayed  committed once we embarked on restoration of a parcel of a coffee farm buried two decades ago, it is a welcome distraction. Also, it is good exercise. Those side benefits add motivation to continue uncovering and then reviving a buried agricultural treasure. If you are not in a place where you can do such a thing, but are in need of a breath-slowing, jaw-unclenching respite, other options exist. Do gardens and/or stories of agricultural revival get you there? The video above, or the classic to the right might be options to consider. Thanks to Helen Rosner for bringing them to our attention in this essay:

The Soothing Pleasures of “The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a Vintage BBC Docuseries

“The Victorian Kitchen Garden,” a thirteen-part series on the particularities of Victorian horticulture, is a serene display of domestic competence.Photograph by Anne Gilbert / Alamy

Some time this past spring, I had my annual realization that if I wanted to plant a garden this year I should have got started weeks, maybe months, earlier. Then I set about my annual task of Googling how to make a garden happen. A few days later, clearing out my hundreds of open browser tabs of horticultural-advice forums, I paused over an open Web page that I hadn’t noticed: a grainy upload on the mysterious and vaguely European video-hosting Web site Dailymotion. “The Victorian Kitchen Garden – S01 – E01 – The Beginning,” it said. Curious, I pressed play, and a gentle wave of clarinet arpeggios sounded from my laptop speakers, and a mist-veiled greenhouse appeared on the screen. My breathing slowed, my jaw unclenched. Continue reading

Centuries-Old Government Agency, Mission Still Intact, Widely Appreciated

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“The postal service is one of the oldest federal agencies,” says Daniel Piazza, a curator of philately at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. “Maybe for that reason, we tend to take it for granted. But we have always relied on it, whether for news from home, prescription medications or e-commerce.” (Levi Mandel)

We have committed to using the US Postal Service for delivery of our coffees in the USA We already believed it to be a historically essential institution in that country and we want to support it as much as we want to benefit from its services. We have no second thoughts about this commitment, even while it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. We have known the agency needs attention, but we have not known exactly what that attention should look like. So, it is helpful to read this background history:

A Brief History of the United States Postal Service

To forge a nation, the founders needed an efficient communications network

From 1753 to 1774, as he oversaw Britain’s colonial mail service, Benjamin Franklin improved a primitive courier system connecting the 13 fragmented colonies into a more efficient organization that sped deliveries between Philadelphia and New York City to a mere 33 hours. Franklin’s travels along the post roads would inspire his revolutionary vision for how a new nation could thrive independent of Britain. But not even he imagined the pivotal role that the post would play in creating the Republic. Continue reading

Samfundssind, A Word For These Times

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The JunkFood project is to continue, even though Alchemist has now reopened its doors (Credit: Soren Gammelmark)

How words matter is a longstanding theme here, and I have occasionally let a Danish word capture my attention. I am susceptible to stories about modern Danish norms, much as I was by Norse mythology as a kid. So, thanks to Mark Johanson and the BBC for bringing this to our attention:

How a long-forgotten word rallied a nation

A word buried in the history books helped Danes mobilise during the pandemic, flattening the curve and lifting community spirit.

Danish chef Rasmus Munk shocked the culinary world last year with the opening of his audacious Copenhagen restaurant Alchemist, which offers a multisensory food and entertainment experience across 50 courses and five acts. More surprising, still, was what the Michelin-starred chef did next when the pandemic brought his marathon meals to an abrupt halt on 15 March.

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By 19 March, Munk had pivoted from serving 2,900kr ($450) worth of molecular gastronomy (think wood ants preserved in candy ‘amber’ and cherry-infused lamb brains) for 48 nightly guests to whipping up 600 daily portions of down-to-earth staples (such as pasta carbonara and chicken puff pie) for Copenhagen’s homeless and socially vulnerable residents.

“I put out a call for help on Instagram, and the next day I had nearly 1,000 emails from fellow chefs and everyday people who offered to drive the food out to the 14 shelters we now work with,” he explains. Hotels and restaurants also got in touch to donate food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Soon, Alchemist’s four kitchens were buzzing with masked volunteers, and the nascent social responsibility project JunkFood, which Munk had started as an experiment before the pandemic, took root. 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.

Platform Name Change

La Paz Group, having sponsored and administered this site since its inception, was the name up top until yesterday. Now the name Organikos makes more sense up there. For those of you who have been following us for any length of time, this probably does not come as a surprise. We have been talking about Organikos more and more frequently in the last two years. In late August, 2019 La Paz Group opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica and that is when and where Organikos started selling coffee. As Organikos prepares to sell coffee in both the USA and Costa Rica with its own virtual shop, sponsorship of this platform makes sense. The themes–entrepreneurial conservation especially, and you can see the others on the right column–remain the same. Thanks for visiting.

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Tarrazu

Costa Rica has a remarkably diverse landscape for such a small country. And that diversity translates into an excellent variety of high quality coffees, each unique according to the region of origin, and the particular farms within those regions. We have chosen twelve coffees from the regions that international tasting competitions have consistently prized the most, including four single estate coffees that stand out for their quality. Continue reading

Hats, History, Heritage

Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith

Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.

The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”

A Glimpse Inside the Workshops of the World’s Finest Panama Hat Makers

Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.

Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.

“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”

Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.

The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.

Continue reading

Rewilding, A Good Idea Scaling

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Hugh Somerleyton, right, and Argus Hardy on the Somerleyton estate in Suffolk. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

This idea has caught on, spreading like a good alternative to wildfire:

Farmers hatch plan to return area the size of Dorset to wild nature

WildEast aims to convince farmers, councils and others across East Anglia to pledge land to wildlife

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View over the Somerleyton estate. Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

Returning an area the size of Dorset to wild nature, reintroducing extinct lynx, pelicans and beavers and championing regenerative farming to restore soil health are the radical aims of a new charitable foundation.

But the most revolutionary feature of WildEast may be that it is founded by three farmers in the most intensively farmed region of Britain.

Hugh Somerleyton, Argus Hardy and Olly Birkbeck, who own more than 3,200 hectares (8,000 acres) on their family farms in Suffolk and Norfolk, are seeking to persuade farmers and also councils, businesses, schools and ordinary people across East Anglia to pledge a fifth of their land to wildlife. Continue reading

Scaling The Urban Farm, In Paris

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Nature Urbaine. Photograph: Magali Delporte/The Guardian

The future of food: inside the world’s largest urban farm – built on a rooftop

In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this  coming:

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Urban farming on a Parisian rooftop. Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.

They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.

From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards. Continue reading

Sensory Heritage Is The New Green

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For some time now green has been the new thing and we live in one of its showcases, with access to all kinds of tropical nature within easy driving distance. But it has been where we live that, for the last few months, has had us greening our own living patterns. There will be a fuller post on that soon, but for now I just smile at my friends across the Atlantic, on a day when our rooster woke me as usual well before the sunrise. And opening the gallinero (chicken coop) on my way to the lower land we are planting, I was sensitive to the smell that I had otherwise stopped noticing until I read this short piece. I appreciate the imaginative approach, probably unique to France, to protecting heritage that some at best take for granted and others find a nuisance:

Townies v tractors

French urbanites fuss about rustic noises and smells

Some second-home owners have sued over loud livestock and church bells

France’s sense of itself has long been rooted in the land, even though three-quarters of French people live in towns. Now, however, having locked down in small airless spaces, many city-dwellers feel the call of the wild. Estate agents report an uptick in searches for homes with gardens. Diehard urbanites talk wistfully of a bucolic existence in la France profonde. In a poll, 61% of the French think confinement will encourage people to move to the country or buy a second home. But do today’s townsfolk know what rural life really entails?

The question arose late last year, when Pierre Morel-À-L’Huissier, a deputy from the Lozère, a remote rural area, introduced a bill to protect France’s “sensory heritage”. By this, he meant “the crowing of the cockerel, the noise of cicadas, the odour of manure”, and other rural sounds and smells. Continue reading

Citizen Farming & Victory Gardens, 2020

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LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).

In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:

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You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading

BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day in a Big Way

Birders, in general, tend to be an enthusiastic bunch – and the constraints of the current circumstances actually added extra incentive to find creative problem solving solutions, in finding new birding locations or ways to be safely be in familiar ones.

The BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day video compilation provides proof positive. Enjoy!

 

Akira Miyawaki, More On Small Forests

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A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Photograph: Courtesy of Boomforest

We knew from a recent post about the importance of small tracts of tree cover, based on reporting in the USA. Here is more from Europe, and about the botanist inspiring an acceleration of planting:

Fast-growing mini-forests spring up in Europe to aid climate

Miyawaki forests are denser and said to be more biodiverse than other kinds of woods

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A three-year-old forest in Ormeignies, Belgium. Photograph: Urban Forests

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis.

Often sited in schoolyards or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere. Continue reading