Here Is Where We Are, With Birds & Coffee

BOTDCrist

Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world…here is where we are.

BOTD2CristAmie and I are following local rules in place over the Semana Santa holiday week, which ends today. Starting tomorrow there will be more freedom of movement. Most of our friends in Costa Rica feel confident in their country’s leadership during this time, and we have respected the rules and appreciated the clarity of their communication.

BOTD3CristWe are at home, and I took the photo at the top yesterday with a book we keep next to the binoculars. We have been seeing two different species of bird coming to that window, and I did my best to capture the more colorful pair. I was hoping to get the male and female at the same time on the rail, with their entry in the book clearly in view in the lower right of the frame. I took what I could get. The entry for this pair is on a page with the header Plate 47: Larger Red or Yellow Tanagers which then specifies:

Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata), p433. Streaked back and wing-bars. (a) [male] orange-red. (b) [female]: yellowish-olive.

BOTD4CristPositive id. During the setup for that shot, looking out our family room window Amie noticed that one of our coffee trees still has blossoms on it. The white flowers to the right, slightly droopy, signal the beginning of the fruit production cycle that will culminate in December with the ripe red cherries we have been harvesting for 20 years now. Just a few days ago the beans from the most recent harvest were ready, and I placed them in a sack after they had been sundried and the husks removed. We call them beans but they are really seeds, and unlike the previous 20 years when this coffee has been roasted and consumed, this year I will germinate them to fulfill the commitment made one year ago. There is plenty to be concerned about today versus 363 days ago, but there is also, still, inspiration .

BOTD5Crist

 

In Costa Rica, With Rwanda On My Mind

In Costa Rica, where tourism has been shut down and our own business interests completely on hold, I have resilience of family farms on my mind, which may seem quite a narrow focus but it is my choice, for now. Even with that narrow focus, as always I enjoy stories about this little country’s contributions to the world (click above). But Costa Rica is not the only little country doing remarkable things, it just happens to be where I live and work.

Newly constructed terraces in Rwanda

Rwanda has had experience in similar health crises, managing to successfully contain Ebola from its borders in 2019

This hunger for stories about little countries and their phenomenal achievements keeps me searching for stories to share here each day. And I just found one worth sharing. BBC’s website has a story in their travel section today on what they believe will be the five most resilient economies in terms of recovery from the current combined health and economic crisis. They use the 2019 Global Resilience Index to make some baseline inferences and then share their own expert opinion on how this would translate to recovery. I was struck that Rwanda, a country I have been musing about since Seth’s field work there last year, was in their top five:

Rwanda

We felt confident that the Rwandan government would handle the situation way better than in our home countries Continue reading

Escazu’s Family Farms

Ox0

March 8, 2020 will remain a memorable date for me. I was walking down the mountain to pick up something from the store, and I came upon this gathering close the location where the feria happens in Escazu.

Ox1

It will remain memorable because I was aware of the growing crisis in other parts of the world, but at this moment did not yet see it in perspective. Nor, on this lovely morning, did I have reason yet to think about family farms the way I am thinking about them today.

Continue reading

Our Ferias, April 2020 Onward

Feria2020b

Feria2020dSince the 1990s, when we moved to the town of Escazú in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, every Saturday morning begins at the farmer’s market, locally known as a feria. A rustic, informal gathering when we started shopping there, with little variety to select from, we bought basics like carrots and potatoes back then. We moved to India in 2010 and when we returned to Costa Rica in 2018 and resumed this Saturday ritual, we discovered what is now a remarkably wide selection of fruits and vegetables, dairy products and freshly roasted coffees, meats and fish, as well as handicrafts. Artichokes were our happiest surprise.

Feria2020eAsparagus is a close second. There is a vermiculturist who sells compost, and she also offers the service of bringing worms to your garden to set up a home garden composting system. There are families who we have known these two decades whose kids have taken over the farm, and the market responsibilities.

The farmer’s market in Ithaca, NY–our family’s benchmark when we arrived in Costa Rica, was more festive than the experience in Escazú’s feria. Later, we came to enjoy the elegance of our neighborhood marché in Paris. Likewise, while living on the island of Kalamota, our Saturday ritual was a ferry ride to Dubrovnik harbor where we would shop for the week at the excellent poljoprivredno tržište, a farmer’s market that in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables introduced us to ajvar (roasted sweet pepper salsa), walnut liqueur, and other Croatian delicacies. My memory of the farmer’s market in India where we shopped for nearly seven years is for some reason dominated by bananas.

Feria2020f

Now in Escazú’s feria we regularly find oyster mushrooms, two varieties of eggplant, three varieties of kale, and four varieties of avocado, not to mention this fruit that is unlike any I have seen or tasted anywhere else that we have lived or traveled. The farmer who offered it to me earlier this month explained how to open and eat it. He wanted to gift me some to take home to try, and buy the following week if I liked it.  Instead, I told him I liked the sample, bought a few and suggested I would find him next week if the ones I bought did not taste as good. He laughed and we settled for that.  For all their differences, Escazú’s feria does what the Ithaca, Paris, Dubrovnik and Kochi farmer’s markets do besides providing fresh produce: allow townspeople to know the farmer’s who grow their food.

That has been on my mind since nine days ago, when we decided that we would not shop in this crowded space, even if it remains open. I realized that it is likely to close the way many places are being forced to close currently, in part because it is a confined space and also because it is a cash economy, neither of which will help flatten the curve the way this country is working so hard (and so far, relatively effectively) to do.

But on my mind is not how I will miss the produce and the experience so much as wondering what I personally might do to ensure that the families whose farms depend on the feria make it through the next months. It occurs to me that the Community Supported Agriculture model gives farmers in the USA an alternative to these markets. One my sister is a member of in Atlanta is an example of a successful CSA. I have started imagining a social enterprise, limited in time and scope for this exact purpose: a 6-month single-purpose business that will receive the produce of these farmers, clean it and distribute it to homes that have always shopped at these ferias, and especially those who can afford to pay for the service, in the interest of supporting the family farms who serve the ferias of the Central Valley. My recent business interests, which I have enjoyed sharing about in these pages are anyway going to be on hold. April 1 to September 30, 2020 maybe I will be on a new mission.

Authentica, Organikos & Escazu

EscMtn.jpg

In the photo above, the view is from our home up to the home of a friend who grows coffee in the upper reaches of Escazu. He is an agronomist whose foremost specialty is bananas, which he has helped farmers grow more effectively throughout Latin America. AuthnticaLogoI mentioned his coffee at the start of this year when we were meeting farmers, chocolatiers, and local artisans, knowing we would launch Authentica, and its sibling Organikos logoventure Organikos sometime this year.

We ended up not choosing that particular coffee as one of our 12 offerings, but every tasting, every artisan meeting, every event we have attended to find things that offer “taste of place” and that look and feel like the essence of Costa Rica–all have been helpful in establishing our product line.

EscFeria.jpg

Escazu, where we live, where the idea for Authentica started and also where Organikos is situated is an ideal location for what we do. The festival of masks, organized by the community, is an example of why: local pride, sense of place, sharing with others.

Organikos Single Estate & Single Origin Coffees

Single Estates.jpg

When we introduced Organikos coffees early last month at the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, we were conscious that single estate coffees, highly prized among aficionados around the world, have not been visible in the country where they are grown. The names of regions are more recognizable thanks to big coffee retailers like Starbucks who have promoted them. So we included the region of origin on the single estate labels. We offer three estates now, and will add more after the next harvest.

Regionals.jpg

We also offer three single origin coffees. These three were chosen because the regions are widely considered by coffee experts to have the most consistent quality, year after year. The beans chosen for these single origin blends are from a mix of farms that, taken together, are best representative of the characteristics the region is known for.

Brunca.jpgCupping notes on all these later. For now, a puzzle. The name of the coffee company, Organikos, harkens to an older and broader set of meanings related to the word organic. Not strictly the certification for all-natural food production, but a wider selection of good outcomes. We chose only one certified-organic coffee among our twelve coffee offerings. It happens to be from one of the less well known regions, Brunca, in the south bordering Panama. To our surprise, this has been our top-selling coffee so far. We promoted it only as organic, but it is also a single estate (Hacienda La Amistad).

FairTradeIt is not surprising that organic coffee sells well, but it is puzzling to me that it outsells by such a large margin a certified fair trade coffee from Costa Rica’s most recognizable region of origin. Not to mention that this fair trade coffee is produced by one of the country’s most respected cooperatives.

Coopetarrazu.jpg

First and foremost, we have been developing Organikos to offer “taste of place” coffees so that you can sense the amazing diversity of Costa Rica on the palate.

hand-organikos.jpgThe commitment of Organikos to invest 100% of its profits in conservation is no less important, but this is clearly going to be a bi-product of offering the best taste of place options. This is the puzzle I will be working on going in to the holiday season, which coincides with coffee harvest in Costa Rica, which also coincides with the time when more travelers will be visiting the country. So sales data will be one element in the puzzle-solving.

Organikos Coffee From The Southern Tier Of Costa Rica

Escazu to Mellizas.jpg

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.

Hydro

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?

My time in Costa Rica

Yesterday I got back from my three week internship in Costa Rica. During my time there, I learned a lot about eco tourism, Costa Rica, and sustainable business practices. I got to take hikes through the back hills and see many of the bird species I had hoped to encounter. Three weeks in one location is a lot longer than most vacation visits to a country, and I got to really know the local area. While I was there we made frequent use of the bus to get around, which provided a more personal look at the San Jose area than driving would have. One thing I grew to appreciate was how green it was compared to the US. As soon as you leave the downtown area, the urban landscape is covered with trees and tall gras between buildings. Up in the hills there are farms mixed with residential housing and completely overgrown with forest.

Continue reading

A morning at the beach

Playa Herradura, Costa Rica

On Friday I traveled to Los Sueños to view one of the Marriott properties that will be getting a more sustainable gift shop. While I was there I decided to go down to the beach and do some birdwatching. At first I was disappointed because I only saw black vultures and grackles. Then as I was walking down the beach I saw a bird soaring over the water with a very interesting wing shape. I moved closer to where it was flying and it turned out to be a magnificent frigate bird. Here is the closest photo I was able to get of it. You can just make out the distinct wing shape.

Continue reading

A Comparison of Audubon and Merlin Bird

Merlin Bird and Audubon Bird Guide are both amazing resources and are well maintained and updated. They are both free and have a lot of the same features. At first, these apps might seem very similar. However, there are some big differences. I’ll start off with Merlin Bird. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding app has a couple of standout features. The app has a much cleaner interface with a simpler bird ID feature. You’ll answer five basic questions and it gives you a list of possible birds. It is very easy to use and is perfect for novices that do not have a lot prior knowledge about birds.

Another point for Merlin Bird is the variety of regions covered from all over the globe. They also let you download these regions individually, so you don’t have to fill up your device with information you don’t need. Merlin bird has a unique feature that allows you to take a photo of a bird and it will attempt to identify it. While it isn’t always accurate (or easy to get a good photo of a bird!) I am impressed by how often it gets it right. Even with photos I’ve taken at a distance the app has managed to identity the bird correctly.

Another nice feature is that the app integrates with Cornell’s other app, eBird. If you have a bird in eBird that you’ve identified it will display that in the Merlin app. It also has a nice ability that shows you a list of birds based on how likely it is that you’ll see them in your area.

Continue reading

First day in Costa Rica

A few hours ago I got of my flight arrived in San Jose Costa Rica. This is not my first time outside of the United States, but it is my first time in Central America. In the few short hours I’ve been here I have already spotted a few birds I was hoping to see, experienced some of the incredibly inclined and twisted roads, realized just how much of my two semesters of Spanish I’ve already forgotten, and started doing research on Costa Rica’s coffee industry. Continue reading

Restoration, Inspiration & Conservation

RestoreEscazu.jpg

Organikos has been described in these pages in relation to its commitment to treat nature respectfully and its aspiration to inspire. Above is land that will be restored to its previous condition as an arabica coffee plantation. It looks green enough, to be sure. And the trees are poro (Erythrina Poeppigiana), planted sometime in the previous century when the last coffee trees were planted. So that is encouraging. The agapanthas and lilies and the bushes and the bamboo are all lovely, but not as lovely as coffee. Coffee inspires.

FernTree.jpgAnother type of inspiration altogether is the tree fern, a primordial plant. The one to the right was photographed a few days ago about 250 miles south of the photo above. It is in the restoration section of a large land holding belonging to Osa Conservation. Its location is important to me because it is where our company developed its first understood the deeper implications of our work.

This abundant stand of tree ferns with new shoots inspires because Osa Conservation has succeeded where others have not succeeded in getting these ancient plants to propogate. It inspires more broadly due to the success of the organization to protect the land in the region.

Carlos-Manuel-Uribe.jpg

InsectBook.jpgOur team was in the Osa with some friends from Colombia who are in the process of planning the next stage of a large scale conservation initiative. They came to Costa Rica for inspiration on new methodologies for conservation, and they found what they were looking for in the Osa, most impactfully during their visit at Osa Conservation. That impact was on display at a book fair in the form of this gem of a book. You can be sure it will be on the shelf at Authentica, along with that coffee we keep mentioning.

Organikos & Coffee Restoration

organikos-microlot2.jpg

The image above shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last two centuries that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. And the value of coffee that is as world class as what Seth planted at Xandari and also resistant to the challenges brought on by climate change is even greater. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in August, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.

Authentica & Organikos

Organikos2019LogoAuthentica, mentioned a couple of times prior to the current series of posts, has the character of a startup but its goal is the opposite of disruption.

A major disruption already happened, and if one of the antonyms of disrupt is organize, then that is what we are doing. Authentica is part of a nascent movement in Costa Rica to provide market opportunities to artisans, farmers, food producers and others who design, craft, grow and cook things that are essentially Costa Rican. The disruption they faced is not the story we want to tell. The reversal of that disruption is the story.  One example is Organikos. Continue reading

Green Is The New Black & Costa Rica Is Evergreen

merlin_151348896_9c4c515c-54c6-4612-a114-deaec4c35159-jumbo

Costa Rican wildlife was the theme of reception in February to formally introduce the government’s decarbonization strategy.

Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.

A diesel commuter train in San José. The government plans to replace older trains with electric models.

Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.

Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:

Tiny Costa Rica Has a Green New Deal, Too. It Matters for the Whole Planet.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading

Sloths, Cecropia & Cacao

merlin_149583099_9e8bfb16-91b4-467e-bb18-dc2a98fde90e-jumbo.jpg

A sloth in Costa Rica.  Karen Reyes

I had never heard the name guarumo for this tree before. Cecropia is the name we have commonly heard for it in Costa Rica. Veronique Greenwood, who we have linked to twice until now, has contributed more than vocabulary to me through this article. I am particularly thankful for the realization that cacao can be more useful than I had been aware. Beyond the benefits of being grown organically it may play a key role in regenerative forest development. This, entrepreneurial conservation in mind, must become a variable by which Organikos sources chocolate in Costa Rica:

Where Sloths Find These Branches, Their Family Trees Expand

A study showed that when some animals find a crucial resource, they can survive in changing environments and even thrive.

Look closely up in the trees of a shade-grown cacao plantation in eastern Costa Rica, and you’ll see an array of small furry faces peering back at you. Those are three-toed sloths that make their homes there, clambering ever so slowly into the upper branches to bask in the morning sun. You might also spot them munching on leaves from the guarumo tree, which shades the cacao plants. Continue reading

Time As An Ingredient

MistMaize.jpg

Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

EspWhiskey.jpg

One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

Roots Of Biodiversity

052918_antonelli_0090.jpg

Alexandre Antonelli references the International Plant Names Index to identify specimens.
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Our practice was born in Costa Rica, so we sometimes may appear partisan when it comes to celebrating the sciences related to biodiversity. Costa Rica has impressive credentials in that realm, especially relative to its size as a country. But we are very clear on the fact that it would take dozens of Costa Rica-sized biodiversity hotspots to match the scale of the Amazon region, and it is no surprise that studies like those of these scholars are carried out with Amazonian data:

The Amazon as engine of diverse life

052918_antonelli_0233.jpg

“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve,” said Alexandre Antonelli.
 Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

A recent study says that many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may have had their roots in the Amazon region.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, says that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.” Continue reading

A Taste Of The Place

NYRH-aleppo-sandwich.jpg

llustration by Rebecca Mock

Adam Davidson recounts the best sandwich he ever ate—a local specialty of the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria—and Dan Pashman sets out to re-create it.

Funk.jpg

Uptown Funk

In the last couple of months, Amie and I have focused on how to more effectively evoke the taste of a place. We have specifically been thinking about the future of a family dairy farm in Costa Rica. Click the image above to hear, in just under one hour, a story told by a few people we admire about how important taste can be to our experience of a place.

In addition to dairy, which is a shorter term initiative, we have been working with coffee for some years. All those years have been beta, which has worked well as a complement to our hospitality projects. Now we are preparing to go from beta to live. And that description of a sandwich in Aleppo, and the obsessional hunt to ensure that its very particular culinary heritage is not lost, is a motivational tipping point to get that coffee to your kitchen sooner.

We have tasted coffee from one of the regions of Costa Rica that gets less attention than others. And we have tasted the “natural” form of this coffee, which has very little in common with the monsooning accidental innovation in India but gives us a new way to enjoy coffee. And we have tried chilling it. Wow. We’re calling it Uptown Funk. Hopefully you can try it soon.