Entrepreneurial Conservation & Armenian Foodways

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Motal cheese is a fresh goat’s milk cheese made primarily in remote mountain areas in Armenia. Cross of Armenian Unity/Ruslan Torosyan

We are on the lookout for stories that combine our interest in topics such as conservation, and entrepreneurship, and traditional foodways, and innovation (among other things) and this story touches on several of our favorite themes. Thanks to the salt team at National Public Radio (USA):

Armenia’s Ancient Motal Cheese Makes Its Way Into The Modern Age

In the mountains of eastern Armenia, about 75 miles north of the capital Yerevan, motal means change.

Motal cheese is like a business card for our region,” says Arpine Gyuluman, who owns Getik Bed and Breakfast in Gegharkunik. “[Because of it], we’re seeing more and more visitors annually.”

Motal is a white goat cheese flavored with wild herbs that is similar to homestyle country cheeses in Iran and Azerbaijan. Motal is prepared in locally made terra cotta pots sealed with beeswax ― a method that dates back at least 5,000 years. A little more than a decade ago, it was in danger of disappearing. That is, until a local university student named Ruslan Torosyan embarked on a personal crusade to save motal. Continue reading

Meanwhile, North Of The Border

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The Interior Secretary, one of President Trump’s most loyal allies, sees public lands as the key to an “energy-dominant” future. Photograph by Morgan Rachel Levy / Redux

Yesterday’s rich south of the border story is complemented, not flatteringly, by this note by Carolyn Kormann:

Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply. Continue reading

Legume’s Lost Legacy, Found

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Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans look like gems in a jewelry case. The company sells half a million pounds of them a year.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

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“My favorite bean is always the last one I ate,” Steve Sando says.Illustration by Cari Vander Yacht

If you only had read the first sentence in this story, you might move right on to something more promising.

Look at the author and look at the title, both familiar to those visiting this platform over the years, and it is certain not to disappoint. It is about this man to the right, and his culinary/cultural mission:

The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans

Rare varieties discovered by Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando have turned the humble legume into a gourmet food.

By Burkhard Bilger

The best meal of my life, or at least the most memorable, came from a can. I was thirteen at the time and living in France, so that may have had something to do with it. But I credit the beans. My older sisters and I were at a hippie camp in the Alps that summer, not far from the Italian border. My parents had stashed us there while they went home to Oklahoma to check on our house, which they’d rented to some graduate students while my father was on sabbatical. The camp was the cheapest one they could find, and they seemed to have done next to no research before signing us up. My mother just loved the name: Jeunesse du Soleil Levant, Youth of the Rising Sun. Continue reading

Mary River Turtle, Hang On!

 

Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:

Green-haired turtle that breathes through its genitals added to endangered list

With its punky green mohican the striking Mary river turtle joins a new ZSL list of the world’s most vulnerable reptiles

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The Mary River turtle, found in Queensland, Australia, features on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species on the planet. Photograph: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA

It sports a green mohican, fleshy finger-like growths under its chin and can breathe through its genitals.

The Mary river turtle is one of the most striking creatures on the planet, and it is also one of the most endangered.

The 40cm long turtle, which is only found on the Mary river in Queensland, features in a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Continue reading

Us & Them Instead Of Us Versus Them

Thanks to Emily Buder at the Atlantic for this five minute recommended viewing. In the video above, by Nani Walker and Alan Toth, the question is:

Can Humans and Lions Get Along?

“Lions are really causing us havoc,” laments an African pastoralist in Nani Walker and Alan Toth’s short documentary, Living with Lions.  Continue reading

Sweet Potato Origin Story

 

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A chromolithograph of Christopher Columbus arriving at the Caribbean. Credit Louis Prang and Company/Getty Images

Thanks to Carl Zimmer for this 1493-ish story:

All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America, a hidden chapter in human history. Not so, according to a new study.

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The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands? Continue reading

Conservation Aided By Lowliest Of Creatures

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A leech, Haemadipsa zeylanica, in Thailand. Scientists have found they can survey the biodiversity of a forest with DNA analysis of leeches’ last blood meals. Credit Thailand Wildlife/Alamy

Alladale & Apex Wildlife

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Eurasian grey wolves at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, Scotland.
Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Kevin McKenna and the Guardian for this profile of an entrepreneurial conservation project that is quite in the spirit of our work over the last two decades. We salute Paul Lister and his team for this wonder:

One man’s plan to let wolves roam free in the Highlands

The ‘custodian’ of the Alladale estate wants to turn it into a fenced-off wildlife reserve

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The Alladale estate. Photograph: Alamy

The echoes of Scotland’s predator prince faded into silence three centuries ago. The wolf was once lord of these Sutherland slopes and the forest floors beneath and now a voice in the wilderness is calling him home.

Paul Lister acquired the Alladale estate, 50 miles north of Inverness, in 2003 and immediately set about creating a wilderness reserve according to his perception of what these wild and beautiful places ought to look like. He can’t imagine them without the packs of wolves that once roamed free here.

But his views are considered eccentric by ramblers and conservationists, who view them as a rich man’s caprice, centring their objections on his plans to fence off the vast reserve. Continue reading

Thermal Imaging For Species-Level Learning

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A thermal image of elephants, part of an effort to apply tools from astronomy to help conservationists and fight poaching. Credit Endangered Wildlife Trust/LJMU

We have noted this technology more than once in recent years, and who can resist the images? But Joanna Klein’s story here is a bit different from our earlier notes:

How Do You Count Endangered Species? Look to the Stars

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The research team has been working with a local safari park and zoo to film and photograph animals, like these chimpanzees, to build up a reference library of different animals. Credit Endangered Wildlife Trust/LJMU

The conversation started over a fence dividing two backyards. On one side, an ecologist remarked that surveying animals is a pain. His neighbor, an astronomer, said he could see objects in space billions of light years away.

And so began an unusual partnership to adapt tools originally developed to detect stars in the sky to monitor animals on the ground. Continue reading

Respecting Our Oceans, And Our Fellow Beings

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A humpback whale calf that washed ashore in Wantagh, New York. A series of “unusual mortality events” among whales has scientists worried that the ocean is more dangerous than ever. Photograph by Mario Tama / Getty

Thanks to Marguerite Holloway, who we have appreciated a couple times earlier, for this:

One foggy morning last April, a dead humpback whale washed up on New York’s Rockaway Beach. It was a young male, thirty-one feet long, and had extensive bruising—the result of contact with “something very large,” according to Kimberly Durham, of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, who performed the necropsy. The Rockaway whale was one of sixty-eight humpbacks that have died between North Carolina and Maine since 2016, casualties in what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling an “unusual mortality event.” And humpbacks, it turns out, are not the only species suffering. Continue reading

MA’O’s Marvelous Mission

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If we had come upon the website with no introduction maybe it would have looked like just another pretty organic farm in a tropical paradise.

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But there are people involved, and it is a pleasant surprise to learn from Dakota Kim’s story Youth Farm In Hawaii Is Growing Food And Leaders how those people bring that place further to life. There is a mission worth reading about:

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Cheryse Sana, farm co-manager, cuts a banana blossom off a tree at MA’O Organic Farms. Dakota Kim

A tight circle of teenagers is deep in conversation — not about movies or apps, but about … vegetables.

It’s 7 a.m. at MA’O Organic Farms, part of 24 acres nestled in an emerald mountain-ringed valley just two miles from Oahu’s west shore. Under a hot sun that bathes this idyllic breadbasket, college-aged farmers harvest tons of mangoes, bananas, mizuna (mustard greens) and taro every month for the island of Oahu.

The farm’s atmosphere bubbles with enthusiastic lightheartedness, its college interns quipping across the rows that they can beat their neighbors’ harvesting speed. But a calm falls over the group as they move from joking around to talking more seriously. A circle forms under an open pavilion, and a young woman speaks. Continue reading

Coffee, Starbucks & Costa Rica

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Yesterday we were compelled to link to an illustration that captured the importance of vigilance. Putting that link in context was the reminder that our primary purpose on this platform is to seek out evidence of progress related to environmental and social innovation.

kgGVpXmJ-6720-4480Today a case in point. Credit is due to Starbucks. Just a couple days ago our vigilance antennae were roused by their opening in Yosemite, one more step in a national park system compromised by commercialism. There is no doubt that Starbucks is commercial, but they can also be model corporate citizens when seen from another angle.

tMOCnNCo-5246-2623Costa Rica provides evidence in favor of Starbucks. Their recently opened facility–a combined working coffee farm, milling operation, visitor center, cafe, gift shop–called Hacienda Alsacia looks like a win-win for a country that deserves attention and investment, and a company that can provide them both of those.

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I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:

Starbucks Opens World Renowned Costa Rican Coffee Farm to Visitors

A 46,000-square foot visitor center immerses guests in the entire life cycle of sustainably grown, high-quality arabica coffee from seedling to picking, milling, roasting and the craft of brewing in a café

Starbucks approach to ethical sourcing and innovative coffee tree hybrid research also showcased at the visitor center, part of the company’s $100 million investment in an open-sourced farmer support program to help make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agriculture product Continue reading

Using Water Cleverly

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Hydrologists Zach Freed (The Nature Conservancy) and Hank Johnson (U.S. Geologic Survey) measure water chemistry of the spring from the inflow pipe to the old trough, which is filled with emergent aquatic vegetation. Photo © Allison Aldous / The Nature Conservancy

Thanks to Lisa Feldcamp at the Nature Conservancy for this story:

Sharing Water: How I Met the MacGyvers of Water Use

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Down the stream at Sand Spring you can see an elk wallow. Photo © Lisa Feldkamp / The Nature Conservancy

“It’s like leaving the kitchen faucet on all year for one glass of water,” says Zach Freed, a hydrologist for the Nature Conservancy in Oregon. That’s how people in Oregon and throughout the US West have traditionally used spring water.

When European homesteaders first came west, spring water must have seemed like an endless resource. Homesteaders could find a potable spring and turn on the tap to provide water for their families and livestock. As the generations came and went, old ranches failed, and new ones sprang up. Springs came in and out of use, but it often happened that nobody ever turned off the tap. Continue reading

For Ocean Conservation, Focus On Scientifically-Driven Decisions

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Nathaniel Russell

Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:

Bigger Is Not Better for Ocean Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.

From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.

Continue reading

Government Conference Looking For Solutions To Big Puzzles

Happy to hear that there are still such efforts (conferences such as the one described below) underway and that they are inclined to the audacious. Thanks to Brad Plumer, at the New York Times, for this report:

Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets

Thousands of entrepreneurs gathered near Washington this week for an annual government conference. On the agenda: unusual solutions to major clean-energy problems.

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A kelp forest off Mexico’s Pacific coast. A project presented this week at an energy research conference proposes using tiny robots to farm seaweed for use in biofuels. Credit Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

Off the coast of California, the idea is that someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask in the sunlight.

The goal of this offbeat project? To see if it’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed in the open ocean for a new type of carbon-neutral biofuel that might one day power trucks and airplanes. Unlike the corn- and soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would not require valuable cropland. Continue reading

Salmon, Shrinkage & Man

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A photo taken in Astoria, Ore., circa 1910. It was stated that the chinook on the left weighed 116 pounds and the one on the right weighed 121 pounds. WikiMedia Commons

John Ryan, filed this story through Northwest Public Radio, KUOW and EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration led by Oregon Public Broadcasting in partnership with five other public media stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Another of the many reasons we appreciate National Public Radio (USA) and its various associates:

This Is Why You Don’t See People-Size Salmon Anymore

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it’s hard now to believe the old photos in which fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.

“This has been a season of unusually large fish, and many weighing from 60 to 70 pounds have been taken,” The Oregonian reported in 1895. Continue reading

Spying on Birds

“So, like, what do you do every day?”

I get asked this often and I’m not always sure how to explain it to people without pictures at hand or infinite patience for follow-up questions. So, in this blog post, with the benefit of time to pick the right words and theoretically infinite space to write them out, I figured I would try to provide an adequate answer.

View from the field, a week or so ago

Why fieldwork?

This, I feel, is the question at the crux of the what-do-you-do-every-day question. Why do you have to go to Kenya to do your work? Right, the bird you study is only found there, but why do you have to be out on the savanna everyday – can’t you just bring the birds back to the lab or study them in a zoo?

Of course, you can (nowadays, only with the right permits) and that is precisely what early zoologists did, collecting specimens – alive or dead – from around the world and bringing them back to examine them under microscopes or in aviaries in a rainy British country garden. While this may be convenient, it inevitably renders your conclusions about a bird’s diet or the adaptive nature of its plumage coloration suspect, because they are arrived at out of context. Without the bird having been examined in the environment it’s found in, with different factors that might affect its behavior and morphology in play, it is impossible to understand why it acts the way it does and why it is the way it is. Hence, fieldwork: observing and sampling critters in the wild. Continue reading

The Wisdom Of Wolves

WisdomofWolvesCover.600x900.jpgWe first heard of the book here, so thanks to Public Radio station WNYC. However, in the blurb for the podcast interview with the authors, the link to the book went directly to Amazon. Must it forever more be so? Hope not.

So, click the image to the left to go to the actual source of the book, which seems a more worthy place to consider purchasing it, even though here too they give you the option to buy on Amazon. But there is a slight favoring of the publisher, National Geographic, in the purchase options. Here’s what they say:

CURIOSITY. COMPASSION. FAMILY FIRST.

After living among the wolves of The Sawtooth Pack for years, Jim and Jamie Dutcher present a new book, The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Packproviding groundbreaking observations of their unique experience.

As strong, and just as immediately recognizable as the ties that unite a human family, the emotional bonds shared among wolves are far more complex than ever realized, and now are detailed in this exceptional book. Continue reading

Rewilding In New Jersey

It has been some time since we featured a story on rewilding, which occasionally involves iconic urban areas. New Jersey may not sound iconic, but it is the home to one of the masters of long form so we are happy to share this late great masterpiece of his:

Direct Eye Contact

The most sophisticated, most urban, most reproductively fruitful of bears.

Improbably, I developed a yearning, almost from the get-go, to see a bear someday in the meadow. While I flossed in the morning, looking north through an upstairs bathroom window, I hoped to see a bear come out of the trees. If this seems quixotic, it was. This was four miles from the campus of Princeton University, around which on all sides was what New Yorkers were calling a bedroom community. Deer were present in large familial groups, as they still are in even larger families. They don’t give a damn about much of anything, and when I walk down the driveway in the morning to pick up the newspaper I all but have to push them out of the way. Beforehand, of course, I have been upstairs flossing, looking down the meadow. No bears. Continue reading

Geothermal Cooking, Just Because

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Jon Sigfusson, the chef at Fridheimar, a restaurant in Reykholt, Iceland, picking herbs for cooking lamb. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Thanks to Peter Kaminsky, who helps answer the question Why Cook Over an Icelandic Geyser? and does so with gusto:

REYKHOLT, Iceland — Standing in the mud of the Myvatn geyser field in northern Iceland, Kolla Ivarsdottir lifted the lid of her makeshift bread oven. It had been fashioned from the drum of an old washing machine and buried in the geothermally heated earth. All around us mudpots burbled and columns of steam shot skyward, powered by the heat of nascent volcanoes.

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Mr. Sigfusson, left, and Kjartan Olafsson, a restaurant critic and fish exporter, putting food into the communal geothermal oven. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Ms. Ivarsdottir, a mother of three who sells her bread in a local crafts market, reached into the oven and retrieved a milk carton full of just-baked lava bread, a sweet, dense rye bread that has been made in the hot earth here for centuries. She cut the still-hot loaf into thick slices. It is best eaten, she said, “completely covered by a slab of cold butter as thick as your hand, and a slice of smoked salmon, just as thick.” We settled for bread and butter — still a supernal combination. Continue reading