Nutmeg – from Table to Design

You must have heard the phrase in a nutshell. Well, this post is not exactly that. It’s going to border on being a story in a nutmeg. Yet another tale to add to Kerala’s legacy of having a heart of spices. The nutmeg, though not as glorious as its cousins pepper or cinnamon, is integral for its medicinal, herbal properties and its place in the kitchen.

For me, it’s the embrace that links spending holidays with a grandmother whose heart had nutmeg all over it and a design sensibility at Xandari Harbour. The wispy haired grand lady is long gone, but the wind rustles up her memories among the nutmeg trees. So does a certain corridor at work.

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National Appropriate Mitigation Action


Ripe and ripening Caturra coffee at Xandari Resort, Costa Rica.

We have a strong connection with coffee here at Raxa Collective, especially given the recent developments in coffee growing at Xandari Resort in Costa Rica over the last year. With the COP21 climate change summit in Paris happening this week and the next, there’s been an announcement by Costa Rica’s Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) that 25,000 more hectares of coffee plantation in the country will be converted to carbon-efficient, National Appropriate Mitigation Action farms, funded in part by the UK and Germany. Lindsay Fendt reports for the Tico Times:

Costa Rica began its coffee NAMA pilot program in 2013 with 800 small producers. The donated money will allow Costa Rica to expand the program to more than 6,000 family-owned farms. By 2023, the country plans to have implemented the NAMA best practices in all of its coffee farms.

The pilot farms reforested unused areas of farmland, reduced their dependence on chemical fertilizers and employed other innovations on a farm-by-farm basis. The strategies already have been proven effective. Coopedota, located in the Los Santos region southeast of San José, became the world’s first carbon neutral coffee producer in 2011 by utilizing many of the NAMA recommendations. Along with improving efficiency, the coffee cooperative burns coffee bean byproducts to produce its own energy. The cooperative’s members say in addition to helping the environment, the changes have saved them more than $200,000 a year in costs.

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Because Every Vegetable Deserves Love

"Cosmetically challenged" farm produce make for tons of  food waste globally. PHOTO:  JCPestano/Shutterstock)

“Cosmetically challenged” farm produce make for tons of food waste globally. PHOTO: JCPestano/Shutterstock)

If you live in Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville, often find yourself complaining about high pricing of groceries, this is for you. Above bring fruits and vegetables to you at economical rates, this start-up is concerned with the noble business of minimizing food waste. How they do it – by collecting rejected asymmetrical farm produce and shipping 10-14 pounds of oddball deliciousness to your doorstep, and it’ll only cost $12.

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Pizza Done the Farm-to-Table Style

Pizza night on the Stoney Acres Farm in Athens, Wis. PHOTO: Stoney Acres

Pizza night on the Stoney Acres Farm in Athens, Wis. PHOTO: Stoney Acres

The farm-to-table concept is one that we keep revisiting often. And get a taste of almost everyday, be it in the hills of Thekkady, Kerala or in the Costa Rican valley. Farm-to-table can mean different things to different people. At its heart, it means that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm. Literally, the table could actually be at the farm and cooks or chefs prepare and serve the food at the farm (even in the field). Akin to what farmers in the Midwest are doing.

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Back at Xandari

My first Xandari sunset of 2015.

This week, after about six months away from Costa Rica, I’m working at Xandari again, and it’s good to be back! On Saturday morning I walked around the trails for a couple hours and logged thirty-one bird species seen or heard, which counts as a pretty good list for Xandari, in my experience. Among the usual suspects were a few birds that are relatively uncommon sights, though not rare by any means: Chestnut-collared Swifts, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and a male Long-tailed Manakin, which is always a pleasure to see or even hear. I also got an uncharacteristically good look at a Rufous-and-white Wren, a species that long eluded our efforts to spot when James and I first got here a year ago, despite its eerily human-sounding whistle that frequently pierces the forest trails. And although it’s a very common bird around here, I did get an okay photo of the male Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, which can be tough given their predilection for skulking around among dense vines.

One of the plots of coffee planted last June, now shaded by banana and tiquisque.

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What’s in Your Tequila?

Although demand for tequila is booming, the younger generation of laborers is deserting the land of the agave in Mexico, from which the liquid is extracted. PHOTO: The Huffington Post

Although demand for tequila is booming, the younger generation are deserting the land of the agave in Mexico, from which the liquid is extracted. PHOTO: The Huffington Post

Find yourself taking a shot at the tequila often? Or are you one to cook with it, whipping up some tequila wings, tequila-cured salmon or infusing the liquid in cheesecakes and ice cream? Not to forget those breezy cocktail mash-ups featuring flavors of rose, mango, strawberry, and even pepper! Now that we have your attention, we are going to take a shot at bringing you this story from the home of the drink – Mexico. A story with a mood-board that will definitely not have you screaming “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor”. One that may possibly leave you with questions about the future of the drink and Mexico’s loss of a family tradition.

The craft of the agave harvest, still done entirely by hand, has remained virtually unchanged since around 1600 when tequila was first invented by the Spanish conquistadors. It is also one that has traditionally remained in families, with each generation teaching the next, ensuring that the mechanization of the tequila harvest has been kept at bay.

Yet traditions of the jimador, a figure still cloaked in romantic mystique in literature and even Mexican telenovelas, are slowly disappearing. While the demand for high-quality tequila is rising year on year, with the industry worth over $1bn and seven out of 10 liters produced now exported worldwide, the younger male generations who would once have taken on the mantle of their fathers to become jimadores are turning away from the agricultural way of life in droves.

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WED 2013: Megawasted Opportunity?

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on the theme Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your ideas and tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

When I tell people that it’s possible to grow highly nutritional food on agricultural waste products with almost zero technology, I usually get a blank look. On a good day, someone will demand an explanation. Why would such a process, if existent, be so obscure if it could help solve malnutrition in underdeveloped communities? While I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this, it remains a mystery to me at present.

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WED 2013 : Learning To Finish That Meal…

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

As a child, I was always told to finish eating my meals because there were starving children in poor and faraway lands that would gladly trade places with me.  I could not exactly picture what that meant, and the rebelious part of me always wanted to stick a postage stamp on my plate and send it to these children.  No one who grew up with such abundance, I think, could trade the fresh memory of a full meal for a clear picture of hunger.

Being from Texas (and proud of it, so don’t mess with that), with its long “bigger and better” history and wonderful mythology of abundance and its can-do certainty, I did not “get it”.  Now, the hazy memories of those dinners and parental wisdom are coming into perspective with my ability to follow and understand news from around the world.

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From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 2

Continuing on my previous post about the 2012 Net Impact Conference, I want to address some of the interesting and debatable issues that several company panelists spoke about during the conference. I dedicate this post to addressing Monsanto’s climate change adaptation strategies. A very interesting discussion on how businesses have been approaching climate change adaptation included panelists from the World Resources Institute, AT&T, Monsanto, and a few universities. Monsanto’s strategies related to increased crop yield, and its view was that higher production was the clear answer to climate change risk and food insecurity.

Monsanto has experienced a haunted past (and continues to suffer from a poor reputation among environmentalists) with activist groups protesting its GMO seeds and its aggressive litigation against farmers.

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Plan B

My past posts reveal my desire to be directly involved with sustainable farming.  I plan and hope to achieve this, but as both the global population and the demand for land, space, and food rise, I recognize that being flexible with this dream may minimize any potential disappointment.  Comparatively, as much as I seem to “fly by the seat of my pants,” I like to plan.  I come close to peace when I at least have some general structure to my life.  So with this in mind, I began to brainstorm back-up plans to having my own farm.

In this search and planning excursion, I read an article and learned of vertical farming.  Dickson Despommier of Columbia University and his students researched this urban farming phenomenon and hypothesized that such projects could solve our global food insecurity problems.

I am unsure of its feasibility, but in my characteristic optimism, I believe it has potential.  Continue reading

Confidence in Dreams

It has been a struggle to pick topics to write about for the past several weeks, and in my innate pursuit of perfectionism I became wrought with indecision.  I could write about sustainable facilities design; I could uncover the truth about many LEED-certified buildings; I could even write about the ecology-based dormitory where I am writing this now.  But among these various topics, I could not find one that I felt “good enough” to write about at this time.  So to dissolve some of my indecision, I chose to reveal some of my mind’s musings, many of which the perfectionist side of me deems crazy, but day-by-day I am learning to embrace.

Each morning, I wake to the sound of my alarm clock and the chime of my smartphone being flooded with emails.  A month ago I thought nothing of this activity, but lately I have found it unnerving.  The annoyance I am feeling developed over my winter break. Continue reading

Honeybee Mystery: Solved?

For years now, scientists have been trying to determine why honeybees are suddenly falling off the face of the earth, and activists have been demanding a solution. Honeybees don’t just provide us with the sticky sweetener Winnie the Pooh loved so much – they are essential pollinators for many of our most important crops. Without pollinators, it is impossible for the agriculture of certain plants to occur on the scale necessary to sustain our population. This team of French scientists has apparently pinpointed the widespread use of insecticides as the cause of dwindling honeybee populations. Why has the production of fruits and vegetables come to these drastic measures? Are they really necessary? In the past, natural solutions were the only ones available for natural problems – to me it seems that reverting to the old ways (with a few possible improvements) is the only viable option if we want to save the bees (and therefore ourselves).

Foraging for Plenty

When I lived in either tropical or Mediterranean environments it was never surprising (but always exciting) to see trees and bushes laden with fruit in their season; mangoes, citrus, and papaya in Costa Rica, or figs, pomegranates and lemons on a Croatian island.  But when we temporarily relocated to Atlanta I was happy to discover similar levels of abundance in both urban and suburban environments.  In some cases there were trees that looked like they had outlived what some in the neighborhood are wont to call “the war of northern aggression”, such as the pear trees owned by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, while in others it was a fresh commitment to collective action like the Dunwoody Community Garden where food pantry harvesters pick, wash and bag lbs of produce from donation plots to distribute to a local food bank. (Current estimates for these initiatives are over 1,500 lbs of produce plus 567 lbs of pears to be exact!)

In a time of disparity between the amounts of fresh food produced in the world and the number of people who go without it, I am happy to participate in and proselytize about programs that help alleviate this  imbalance. In the United States Community gardens are springing up around the country on both public and private land, in likely places such as empty lots, school yards and church yards, as well as surprise locations like urban rooftops.  And while those gardens are used by individuals to allow food security for their families, a large portion of them also plant with surplus in mind in order to donate to local food banks.  Continue reading

On Urban Farming

Hydroponic gardening isn’t for everyone: the handiwork, plant nutritional knowledge, and electrical setup can be daunting to beginners. When I set out to create my very first hydroponic setup, I had essentially zero knowledge in any of those fields. Nonetheless, with a very small budget, I was able to establish a functioning hydroponic garden within a few days.

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The Organic Solution

When rain seems like only a dream, taps are turned and water begins to flow from sprinklers onto family lawns across the U.S.  In many areas, water has not been given the value it deserves making this precious resource easy to take for granted.  As the global population and industrialization and urbanization increase, the rising demand for water will only cause more harm to the environment.

The UN estimates by 2025, a combined population of 2.8 billion people across the world will face freshwater drought or “scarcity,” and according to, about 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals go to irrigated agriculture; with these statistics, turning the water tap on to quench the backyard will soon no longer be an option.

Water is important to just about every natural phenomenon and artificial activity.  The more I think about water the more I realize the countless times I use it throughout my day.  I mean it is my drink of choice…and the main ingredient of many other favorites.

So, as water conservation becomes increasingly more urgent, I began to research some efforts geared to the alleviation of the largest use of freshwater—agriculture.  The media is saturated with advertisements of drought-resistant and other GMo and hybrid plants.  And in response to the ever-changing climate, chemical-producing companies are racing to release the first species of drought-tolerant corn.  They claim these genetically modified and hybrid plants may be the answer to a potential food crisis, but they also seem to have an ulterior motive of extorting millions of already economically drained farmers.

While these developing drought-tolerant plants may be one aspect of reducing the stress of water conservation, another solution has already been proven and researched that farmers can do instantly without paying for special seeds from these mega producers. Continue reading