Organikos Coffee From The Southern Tier Of Costa Rica

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Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.

Hacienda La Amistad

Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.

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I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.

Organikos, 100% Forward To 1,000,000

6555On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting treesComing back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.

One trillion.

1,000,000,000,000.

How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?

Collapsitarian, No

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‘Wyrd goes ever as it must.’
Beowulf

After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.

I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:

Occasionally Asked Questions

Who are you?

I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.

I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.

Tell me about your writing

My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.

My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…

It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:

The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading

133+ Reasons To Smile

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OC2.jpgIn early May Amie and I accompanied a group of conservation-minded investors to the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Over a long weekend we visited lodges in that area, but the highlight of those days was our visit to Osa Conservation. We determined to return, to understand better what this organization has accomplished and what its future plans are.

OC3.jpegFinally we had the chance to do that this past weekend. The tree above is a good representative for why the Osa Peninsula is so important. With one of the longest life spans of any tree in this tropical forest, the abundance of diverse plants and animals that depend on the tree for life make it symbolically important as much as it is biologically important. The insect to the right, feeding on the top of a rice stalk, shifted my attention from the charismatic megaflora that made Saturday an immersive biophilia exemplar of a day–and helped me focus on acts taken by Osa Conservation to make their operation more sustainable. A one-time farm in their land holding has been rewilded. A few hectares were retained for experimental organic farming.

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OC5.jpegThe rice strain is an example of that, but I will save that story for another day. After being fully immersed in terrestrial wonders in the forest and the farm, the beach is where I had one of life’s more profound experiences. It started at dawn on Sunday when Amie and I joined a small team from Osa Conservation who focus on turtle habitat. Our family has had multiple experiences with sea turtle nesting and egg-laying, but we have never been witness to the hatchlings returning to the sea. Yesterday was our lucky day to round out our first hand knowledge of turtle birthing life cycle. It started with a couple of spot checks on nesting sites that had been predated–in the case of the nest in the photo to the left you can see the bird tracks all around were the eggs had been ravaged.

OC6.jpegWe may have been a mere 15 minutes too late in that case, but soon enough another nesting site was found and the surgical strike–to remove the eggs and transfer them to a hatchery where they are better protected–was under way. The protocols allow for digging carefully so that not a single egg is in danger of rupture, or even addled. They are removed one by one, counted, and placed in exactly the same formation as they were in the nest, so they can be re-nested in the hatchery as the mother turtle had laid them. Marine biologists believe that the order in the nest matters to their viability.

OC7.jpegIt was almost 6am at this point and by 8am this nest moved to safety and hatchlings from two previously moved nests were ready for release. Of all the photos I took yesterday it is difficult to choose one that is most evocative of the power of this experience. But somehow a bucket full of eggs is a candidate. We keep chickens in our yard at home, and on any given day we collect anywhere from zero to a dozen eggs from a group of 15 hens. Here one turtle had laid a hundred or so eggs (they were counted but I cannot recall the exact number now) that looked exactly like ping pong balls. Several kilometers of beach here are regularly patrolled by Osa Conservation staff, and the team of volunteers make their daily rounds to do this work.

This bucketfull was taken to the hatchery further down the beach.

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The signage is rustic but the message is clear.

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Inside the hatchery the re-nesting begins.

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The eggs removed from the nest on the beach are replaced in the hatchery nest and meanwhile Amie is taught how to extract hatchlings.

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Counting again, one by one.

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This time it is baby turtles coming out of the nest and into the box, and as always, seeing babies is a joy.

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Seeing them walked out to the beach has its own impact.

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And then the release.

OC15.jpeg133 in total, marching to the water. A race of sorts.

OC17.jpegAmie, a bird-lover, wields a stick to keep them away in case that is needed.

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And finally #133 of these Olive Ridley babies makes it to the edge of the waves.

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Imagining Better Food

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A culinary student preparing mealworm quiches at the Rijn Ijssel chefs school in Wageningen, Netherlands. Jerry Lampen/Reuters

JoAnna Klein has a nack for getting me to think twice on a topic. My imagination is moving in the right direction. I may be embarrassed by my insufficient progress at cutting meat consumption, but I have made zero headway in the realm of insect appetite. It must change. But even with this story, and its beautiful pictures, my likelihood to indulge in one of these meals is best captured by the biblical phrase about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak; I get why I must do this, but my body is not cooperating and I am not looking forward to the first such meal:

How to Develop an Appetite for Insects

Scientists who study bugs are thinking harder about how to turn them into good food.

Repeat after me: entomophagy.

It’s derived from Greek and Latin: “entomon,” meaning “insect,” and “phagus,” as in “feeding on.”

Some think it’s the future of food.

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Justin Butner

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. Continue reading

Impossible This & That

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Pat Brown, Impossible’s founder, argues that we can’t fight climate change unless we get rid of cows. The Voorhes for The New Yorker

What can you not live without? Better yet, what might we live without that would have a positive impact on climate change? The answer to that is Pat Brown’s mission. And his story is better told in the story below than any other place where I have read about impossible this, and impossible that. I am heartened to read of Impossible’s progress as much as I am embarrassed by my own failure to cut meat consumption more than I have. My reduction has been dramatic, but not radical. Compared to my most meat-intensive eating days I have reduced animal protein intake by at least 70%; until I get to 100%, I will remain embarrassed. Thanks to Tad Friend for cheering me on with this longform view into Impossible this and that:

Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change?

Eating meat creates huge environmental costs. Impossible Foods thinks it has a solution.

Cows are easy to love. Their eyes are a liquid brown, their noses inquisitive, their udders homely; small children thrill to their moo.

Most people like them even better dead. Americans eat three hamburgers a week, so serving beef at your cookout is as patriotic as buying a gun. When progressive Democrats proposed a Green New Deal, earlier this year, leading Republicans labelled it a plot to “take away your hamburgers.” The former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka characterized this plunder as “what Stalin dreamt about,” and Trump himself accused the Green New Deal of proposing to “permanently eliminate” cows. In fact, of course, its authors were merely advocating a sensible reduction in meat eating. Who would want to take away your hamburgers and eliminate cows?

Well, Pat Brown does, and pronto. A sixty-five-year-old emeritus professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, Brown is the founder and C.E.O. of Impossible Foods. By developing plant-based beef, chicken, pork, lamb, dairy, and fish, he intends to wipe out all animal agriculture and deep-sea fishing by 2035. His first product, the Impossible Burger, made chiefly of soy and potato proteins and coconut and sunflower oils, is now in seventeen thousand restaurants. When we met, he arrived not in Silicon Valley’s obligatory silver Tesla but in an orange Chevy Bolt that resembled a crouching troll. He emerged wearing a T-shirt depicting a cow with a red slash through it, and immediately declared, “The use of animals in food production is by far the most destructive technology on earth. We see our mission as the last chance to save the planet from environmental catastrophe.” Continue reading

Are Strikes Going To Get Us To A Solution?

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Illustration by João Fazenda

During last week my attention has been commanded more than at any other time by the increased attention to the perils of climate change and the clamor for action. I do not tire of reading on this subject, in the hope that one day I will read something that will give some hope of progress. Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for weighing in on the debate over whether we should admit defeat, or instead insist on finding another way out of the pending doom, in the manner prescribed by a former Vice President of the USA (a country now officially leading a race to the bottom on this issue):

Summits, Strikes, and Climate Change

There are positive signs that the politics of climate change are changing in America. And giving up isn’t really an option.

Late last month, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived in New York. Thunberg, who is sometimes compared to Joan of Arc and sometimes to Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t fly—the emissions from aviation are too high—so she’d spent two weeks sailing across the Atlantic in a racing boat. When she reached New York Harbor, she told Trevor Noah, on “The Daily Show,” the first thing she noticed was “Suddenly, it smells.”

Thunberg doesn’t adhere to social niceties. (She’s spoken openly about having Asperger’s syndrome.) She began her crusade last year, sitting outside the Swedish parliament building, in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” It’s a trait particularly well suited to the cause she’s taken up: on no other issue is the gap between what’s politically acceptable and what’s scientifically necessary wider than it is on climate change. In an address to the French parliament, in July, Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.” Continue reading

Inspirational Buttons

Patterson-TenderButtons-6…Tender Buttons has spent September boxing up its delirious abundance, and, when I stopped by recently, Safro told me, “We’re down to the nitty-gritty.” WQXR played as she sorted. “Each little thing needs to be considered,” she said. She found a stray shank button—a miniature wire clothes hanger—that properly belonged in a box labelled “homage to Calder, Picasso, & Matisse.” She wants to send the box to Alexander Calder’s daughter, whose daughter used to work here.

Per the store’s Web site, “Tender Buttons is temporarily closed.” (Emphasis added.) It is part of Safro’s process to say that the billion and one buttons are only temporarily going to a storage warehouse in Long Island City. The bulk of them, anyway. Safro, who is eighty-five, says that she keeps forgetting to return messages from major museums…

Buttons.jpegIn the 1980s, when Amie and I lived in New York, this was a place we knew. The cousin of a close friend was a manager of the shop, and we visited from time to time. The friend made the shadow box to the left, a gift on the occasion of announcing our wedding engagement.  All the three dimensional objects in it came from Tender Buttons. Reading this brief homage to Tender Buttons does not just conjure memories of the visits, and the occasion of receiving this shadow box, one of our personal treasures. It goes well beyond, helping me understand where some of our inspiration for Authentica comes from.

Imagination At Scale Is Our Only Recourse

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A journalist and novelist for more than fifteen years, in 2012 Ledgard began to refashion himself as both an evangelist of radical thinking and a prophet of specific doom. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Jonathan Franzen’s relatively short, but powerful essay got my thoughts well-prepared to digest this profile of Jonathan Ledgard. The implication of Franzen’s essay struck me more clearly when Ledgard–having quit his career in journalism in favor of deeper exploration for answers to the most intractable challenges–was quoted saying “Imagination at scale is our only recourse.” Neither the essay nor the profile is comforting; but by embracing uncomfortable conclusions maybe possibilities open up:

…“You have to acknowledge that the probability of success is vanishingly small,” he said. “But if just one of these ideas came off in the next twenty years, in some form, and in a really significant way—and it improved the lives of poor people, or helped save other life-forms from extinction—then that would be really worth your time.” He added, “My main point is to move the conversation in a more imaginative direction.”…

We had heard of the drone-delivered medical services thanks to Seth’s work in Rwanda, but frankly I was not convinced back in May that it was yet in the realm of possibility. Now I am. To see the man behind it in a photo like this, which at first glance might make you think he is a bit off his rocker, is refreshing.

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Outside a Czech village, Ledgard searched for wild boar, which he is studying for an immersive art exhibit. Photograph by Rafal Milach / Magnum for The New Yorker

Maybe that is what it takes to say something so clear:

“There’s a significant minority—or maybe a majority—of human beings who are biophiliac. They like living things. And that hasn’t been priced correctly.”

Horses, Buggies & Community

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Dakar’s horse-drawn buggies, long a staple means of getting around, are under an emerging threat from motorized rickshaws. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

Senegal shows up a dozen times in our pages over the years, but not one those times is about my own experience there. Strange, because that experience marked my return to teaching, and indirectly led to the work we are doing now with Authentica and Organikos. That is worthy of a post, which I will write another day, for now enjoying a simple story about life on the streets with horses, buggies, their drivers, and the community members who are transported by them:

It’s Horses vs. Motors in Senegal. The Steeds Still Win on Many Roads.

By 

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Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — After a visit to the market to buy a box of mangoes, some fish and a length of cloth, Binta Ba, a Senegalese woman, needed a way to get home.

So she looked around for her preferred means of transportation: a horse and buggy.

A ride was easy to find, with dozens of horse-drawn buggies lined up near the market, which was in Rufisque, a picturesque suburb of Dakar known for its colonial architecture.

She climbed aboard a buggy, whose driver then waited patiently for a third passenger to occupy his final seat. When his buggy was full, he took off at a trot, sometimes speeding up to a canter. The riders paid about 50 cents for a 10-minute ride, a fraction of what it would cost to take a taxi.

“Taking taxis is for rich people,” Ms. Ba said. “We prefer to support these people because they are from the community.” Continue reading

Cycling In The Land Of Cyclists

The eighteen million residents of Holland own, in total, more than twenty-two million bicycles. Photograph by Martin Parr / Magnum

Whether or not you are a cyclist (as I am), whether or not you have cyclist friends in Holland (as I do), you may appreciate the experience of this writer as much as one of my Dutch cycling friends did (he read it yesterday while on a cycling vacation in Russia and gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up):

How I Learned to Cycle Like a Dutchman

In the bike-friendly Netherlands, cyclists speed down the road without fearing cars. For an American, the prospect is thrilling—and terrifying.

Where are our helmets?” my daughter Harper asked. We were standing outside a cycle shop in the Dutch city of Delft, along with Harper’s older sister, Lyra, and my wife, Alia.

“We didn’t buy any,” I replied. Along the dark green Wijnhaven canal, confident Dutchmen and Dutchwomen whizzed around, their blond heads exposed to the soft northern sun. “In the Netherlands, only tourists wear helmets.” Continue reading

From Primatologist To Crusader

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Guerin Blask for The New York Times

We became fans when I was in graduate school, and have never stopped admiring her, so this interview is an especially easy read:

Jane Goodall Keeps Going, With a Lot of Hope (and a Bit of Whiskey)

During her girlhood, Tarzan was her role model. When she realized how chimpanzee habitats were being destroyed, she turned into a crusader. At 85, she’s still preaching.

Jane Goodall nursed a glass of neat Irish whiskey. It was the end of a long day of public appearances, and her voice was giving out.

That’s what Ms. Goodall does these days. She talks. To anyone who will listen. To children, chief executives and politicians. Her message is always the same: The forests are disappearing. The animals are going quiet. We’re running out of time. Continue reading

In The Spirit Of These Times

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Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

The last time Jonathan Franzen appeared in our pages he was watching birds, which he has a habit of doing. But he has the power of the pen, more than most, to wield on topics related to the environment. At the core of his argument in this essay below he makes a point that has been the point of this platform since it started: since major environmental issues are difficult if not impossible for individuals to effect change on, we must each carry out our small, singular deeds. Highlighting good acts is an important element of that.

What If We Stopped Pretending?

The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

“There is infinite hope,” Kafka tells us, “only not for us.” This is a fittingly mystical epigram from a writer whose characters strive for ostensibly reachable goals and, tragically or amusingly, never manage to get any closer to them. But it seems to me, in our rapidly darkening world, that the converse of Kafka’s quip is equally true: There is no hope, except for us. Continue reading

Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

Tirana’s Time Warp Causes Creativity

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Rows of acacia trees and ceruja vines at Uka Farm, with a view of Dajti Mountain National Park in the distance. Federico Ciamei

Ten years ago I was in Tirana and if I squinted I might have seen this article coming. I was working on a project for the United Nations Development Programme, focused on the Prespa Lakes Basin, and the visits in Tirana were like a time warp. In a good way, as it is now more easy to see:

The City Poised to Become Europe’s Next Affordable Creative Haven

In the Albanian capital of Tirana, the country’s strange history and bright future collide.

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The paneled facade of the Plaza Tirana. Federico Ciamei

Over the past five years, Albania has been discovered by travelers as that rare thing: a largely unexplored corner of Europe (one with some 265 miles of coastline). The small Balkan country sits just across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy’s heel and a mere 45-minute ferry ride away from the Greek island of Corfu. It’s recently gotten its first high-end waterside resorts, and as the beach town of Sarande and the seaside city of Vlore have become more comfortable, so too has Tirana — the country’s capital, about 22 miles inland with a population of over half a million — grown more cosmopolitan, with new restaurants, shops and galleries joining the almost surrealist pastiche of testaments to the city’s past. For a good example of the way eras collide in Tirana, just visit Skanderbeg Square, recently renovated with new fountains and rosy granite paving, and home to an 18th-century mosque and minaret, a domed Albanian Orthodox church opened in 2012, a set of government buildings that echo the fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy and a Brutalist monolith that houses the National Historical Museum.

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A sun-dappled staircase at the Plaza Tirana leads to the hotel’s breakfast room. Federico Ciamei

Initially settled by Illyrian and Greek tribes during ancient times, Albania spent over four centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. After 1912, it became a fascist-leaning monarchy, and then, in the wake of World War II, a Communist state ruled by the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1991, a full year behind many of its Eastern Bloc neighbors, the country saw its first democratic elections, as well as murmurings of a cultural awakening. Tirana may not have a robust avant-garde scene, but it does have a gritty, iconoclastic edge — the Pyramid, a large monument to Hoxha in the center of town, is now popular with skateboarders — and a joie de vivre that’s enticed many former expats. “There’s so much potential,” says Flori Uka, a local winemaker who trained in northeastern Italy and now specializes in vintages made from organic Kallmet grapes grown just outside the city. “We were isolated for so long, but today it’s possible for creative people to do what they love. The place has become very receptive to the new.” Continue reading

Authentica & Organikos & Responsible Coffee Consumption

This last week we have been busy opening two Authentica shops (at long last). Both shops sell Organikos coffee. So today, another day on the run, I will suggest a very brief reminder on how and why the way you consume coffee matters. Lots more to say on that, and we will, but this is about as succinct a summary as you will find.

What Climate Change Looks Like

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CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE. The route traveled by the Northwest Passage Project in July and August, from Greenland through the Canadian Arctic. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

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A polar bear in the Barrow Strait. As summer sea ice disappears in the High Arctic, polar bears are losing crucial platforms on which to hunt and rest. ED STRUZIK/YALE E360

You have seen the images, in which polar bears look lost or otherwise in peril. The one from this story, taken by its author, illustrates the central theme of ice receding in the locations highlighted in the map above.

Climate change is at work, 24/7, creating the sense of loss, peril and worse that we have not been shying away from in our pages. We are leaning in to try to understand what changes we can make, and promote, to live and work and play more responsibly. Thanks to Ed Struzik for both the words and images of this article:

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The icebreaker Oden sails through first-year ice in Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic last month. COURTESY OF TOMER KETTER

A Northwest Passage Journey Finds Little Ice and Big Changes

After decades of travel in the Far North, E360’s Arctic correspondent joins a voyage through the Northwest Passage and witnesses a world being transformed, with ice disappearing, balmy temperatures becoming common, and alien invaders – from plastic waste to new diseases – on the rise.

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An abandoned Hudson’s Bay trading post on Somerset Island that was shut down in 1948 because supply ships could not get through the thick sea ice. COURTESY OF TOMER KETTER

Elwin Bay is carved into a steep, flat-topped mountain range along the northeast coast of Somerset Island in Canada’s High Arctic. For as long as anyone can remember, hundreds of beluga whales show up every year on an annual migration from Greenland through Canada’s Northwest Passage. Their fidelity to this site is remarkable given that 19th-century whalers killed more than 10,000 of them there – 840 during one notably gruesome, 17-day stretch – between 1874 and 1898.

Helicoptering over the bay earlier this month with members of a U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored research expedition, we saw too many belugas to count accurately in waters riddled with rapidly disintegrating sea ice. Five hundred? Eight hundred? None of us could estimate with certainty. All we knew was that there were likely equal numbers of whales congregating in similar bays and estuaries, such as Cunningham Inlet, which we sailed past a few days earlier.

Polar bears were there as well — a female and cub in this case, homing in on a dead beluga that had presumably swum too far up the shallow estuary before the tide turned and trapped it. Continue reading

Algae By Any Other Name

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We have shared so many algae stories on this platform already, I am always on the lookout for the next breakthrough story. Thanks to a story in Sierra, which I almost skipped because of the smile in the photo below, I have learned about a company called nonfood, and found on their website other photos I could relate to (like the one above). The story is worth a read, and we hope to see more by Lewis Page:

The Future of Food Is Algae (Again)

A new generation of futurists look to the promise of pond scum

NONFOOD HAS UTOPIAN IDEALS, AND AN ALGAE-PRIDE MARKETING AESTHETIC. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NONFOOD

A little over a year ago, CNN aired a segment about the future of food. “In 1800, there were a billion people on Earth,” said technology correspondent Rachel Crane. “Today, there’s seven times that. And by 2100, estimates say there could be nearly 12 billion people around the world.” Crane’s quest, then, was to taste-test food for a future with more people and fewer resources—one that would require eating lower on the food chain.

nonfood_smile_1024x.jpgFirst, Crane confronted a platter of sushi made with a tomato-based raw tuna substitute and devoured it approvingly. Then, she opened a silver pouch containing an algae-based food bar made by a Los Angeles start-up named Nonfood.

“Ugh, it smells,” Crane said, recoiling. “Instead of trying to emulate flavors we know and love, they decided to embrace the algae.” She took a bite and gagged. Her teeth were stained slightly green, and her tongue, when she stuck it out, was covered in a dark green paste.

Oddly enough, this was good publicity. After the episode aired, Nonfood, which seems sometimes like a business and sometimes more like an art project, was flooded with orders…

Read the whole article here. And while you are at it you might find the website for nonfood, with its ponderous accompanying photography, worth a visit as well:

RESTARTING THE FOOD CHAIN

nonfood_groupikebana_1024x.jpgWe know that a plant based diet is better for the environment than a meat based diet, but we are also missing out on so many vitamins and nutrients the further up the food chain we eat. Algae is unique because it’s highly efficient at turning sunlight, water and CO2 into vitamins and nutrients, more than any other crop. It is the original source of food for life on earth and continues to be good for us as well as the planet.

Find out why algae will revolutionize the food industry

Plastic, Back At Work, Building Schools

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 Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

For the two decades our company has been managing conservation-focused enterprises. Elimination of plastic has been a passion, and finding ways to reduce its use has been an obsession. While based in India, and working on a project in Ghana, we got a close look at entrepreneurial plastic re-use for the first time. We have been on the lookout for more ever since and this story gives hope for a whole new level of solution:

Less Trash, More Schools — One Plastic Brick at a Time

Plastic garbage collected by a women’s group is being recycled into bricks and used to build schools in West Africa.

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Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — She left home before dawn. Her four children were still asleep in her cement block house in Abobo, a maze of shops and houses occupied by dockworkers, taxi drivers, factory laborers and street sellers.

She and a friend crossed into the upscale neighborhood of Angré, home to doctors and businessmen. They tossed the plastic castoffs of the consumer class into bags slung over their shoulders as the cocks crowed and the sun peeked over villa walls draped with bougainvillea.

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Students and residents gathered by plastic bricks outside their school in the Sakassou village. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

Mariam Coulibaly is part of a legion of women in Abidjan who make their living picking up plastic waste on the city streets and selling it for recycling. Now they are lead players in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country.

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Pre-school principal Tirangue Doumbia ushering students into a new classroom built of recycled plastic bricks at the Gonzagueville school. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times

They are working with a Colombian company to convert plastic waste — a scourge of modern life — into an asset that will help women earn a decent living while cleaning up the environment and improving education.

She sees it as a chance to better her life, maybe even to rise into the middle class.

“We don’t get good prices” from the current buyers, Ms. Coulibaly said. “This will help us.”

In the past year, the venture has built nine demonstration classrooms out of recycled plastic bricks in Gonzagueville, a scrappy neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, and in two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo. The first schools were built with bricks imported from Colombia. But in the fall, a factory now rising in an Abidjan industrial park will begin making the bricks locally. Continue reading

Organikos & Fair Trade

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Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

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UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

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Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

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Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading