If You Happen to Be at the Smithsonian – But You Don’t Have to Be

Science, entrepreneurship, conservation and innovation converge at this amazing open source summit with events in multiple Smithsonian locations ranging from New York City, Washington DC and Panama City.

Frequent contributor to this site Phil Karp, will participate in a forum on Restoring Nature. The synergy of forum subjects with our interest in wild foods and our work in conservation focused hospitality makes us wish we were there.

What’s Working in Conservation

Earth Optimism celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution in the area of global conservation with an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, scientists, environmentalists, artists, civic leaders and international media.

The global conservation movement has reached a turning point. Continue reading

Foraging Classes

HornFarmCenterLogoStacked-72-540x540WhiteBGA mushroom dropped in on my life, in an unexpected manner, and now I find myself wandering to unexpected places, such as rural Pennsylvania. I am sharing here mainly as a record of how I have come across the resources that inform how we approach bringing foraging to Chan Chich Lodge.

So, bravo and thanks to our friends at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education, which is my latest find in these wanderings. I particularly like their clearly laid out information on the educational resources they offer, most notably this section on foraging classes: Continue reading

Gaps, Meaning & More


Kyle DeNuccio, right, on Lake Batur in Bali, a gap year stop. CreditKyle DeNuccio

I am currently interviewing candidates to join us for summer internships, and possible university gap year projects at Chan Chich Lodge. Most importantly the projects will focus on various food-related initiatives, some longstanding goals and others more in the spirit of random variation. We have had plenty of awesome interns, as well as wondrous wanderers and sometimes sabbaticalists join us here and there for more than two decades, and we feel qualified to claim that this fellow (who reminds me a bit of this fellow) speaks truth:

Independence Days: My Perfect Imperfect Gap Year


Midway through a lackluster freshman year at the University of San Diego, I called my parents and told them I planned to leave school after the spring semester. Continue reading

Happy 20th Anniversary, Meg!

543092After posting this quick thought about foraging, I sent a link to Meg, and she reminded me that she had not only been to Belize but that there is a book about her time here.

As I explored the book I realized that it was first published 20 years ago, incidentally the year when I first visited Belize. I also discovered that the book is in wide circulation among educators in the USA, for hopefully obvious good reasons:

Journey along with Dr. Meg Lowman, a scientist who, with the help of slings, suspended walkways, and mountain-climbing equipment, has managed to ascend into one of our planet’s least accessible and most fascinating ecosystems–the rain-forest canopy. “Fresh in outlook and intriguing in details, this book will strengthen any library collection on the rainforest.”–Booklist Continue reading

Coastal Preparations

Thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science, and specifically Lisa Feldcamp, for this note and video on adaptive coastal folks:

“It hurt my heart to see how [the beach] had been deteriorated,” says Norris Henry of St. Andrew’s Development Organization. “I know in the past there was a nice beachfront, where you can play cricket, you can play football, you can run. But it’s so sad to see it is no longer there.” Continue reading

A Different Type of Hero

The Veerni Institute now makes it possible for 75 girls to continue their education. But the group has to turn away nearly 300 applicants each year for lack of funding. Poulomi Basu for NPR

The Veerni Institute now makes it possible for 75 girls to continue their education. But the group has to turn away nearly 300 applicants each year for lack of funding.
Poulomi Basu for NPR

“It all began with a shawl…” seems like the stuff of fairy tales, but the combined attraction to a handmade textile and the desire to help the woman weaving it proved a pathway to Jacqueline de Chollet’s life work. Over 20 years ago while traveling in a dusty village of India she saw a woman weaving the shawl in her home.

“She had three or four children including a baby she was nursing in her arms,” de Chollet recalls. “And she looked way older than her age.”

Hoping to provide a little help, de Chollet offered to buy the shawl. “And as soon as I gave her the money a man walked in and took the money away from her.”

De Chollet was outraged. “I felt, this woman — nobody cares about her. She’s off the map. She has no rights.”

Although de Chollet came from far different circumstances as this woman, growing up in the 1950s she felt that society dictated her position as a wife and mother. She wanted to make a difference in the world, and felt that addressing the issue of the rights of women and girls in India was an important first step. Continue reading

Keeping Shakespeare in Mind

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Quite a few of our team can attest to the power of a liberal arts education, especially when put in such a joyful context.

Scott L. Newstok’s convocation speech to the Rhodes College class of 2020 embraces this joy, adding the cheeky tweak of asking the incoming class to approach their college experience in the “spirit of the 16th century”.

Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. Could there be a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education?

Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these “4Cs,” I would add “curiosity.”) Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.

“Take advantage of the autonomy and opportunities that college permits by approaching it in the spirit of the 16th century. You’ll become capable of a level of precision, inventiveness, and empathy worthy to be called Shakespearean.”
So how can you think like Shakespeare?

Continue reading

Comic Heroes Promote STEAM


Moon girl and Spiderman. Image from Marvel

Comic superheroes is a curious topic to cover here, but relevant with the development of Marvel’s new comic series of STEAM Variants. Five of Marvel’s heroes are stepping to into a new role and tackling new challenges in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (hence STEAM, sometimes referred to as STEM, which lacks the art component) with the intent of inspire young readers to explore their passions in those disciplines.

“We plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that — following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead,” David Gabriel, Senior VP for Sales & Marketing of Marvel Comics said in a statement.

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Putting A Value On National Parks

Academic research publications tend to appear dry and out of reach to most non-academics. As someone who prepared for an academic research career, but who subsequently left that career, I am conflicted in what to say about that.

So I will say nothing about that. Instead, I say, read this (we rarely post without images, but the point of this post is purely a thought exercise, so I am keeping it strictly limited to words):

1. Summary This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive estimate of the total economic value of the National Parks Service. The estimate covers administered lands, waters, and historic sites as well as NPS programs, which include protection of natural landmarks and historic sites, partnerships with local communities, recreational activities and educational programs.

Our estimate of the total economic value to the American public is $92 billion. Continue reading

Video Tour of a Recycling Plant in Brooklyn

My junior year, I founded and sat as president of my high school’s recycling club, which was a fairly simple operation of setting up cardboard boxes in classrooms and asking people to put their plastic or glass bottles and aluminum cans inside – paper recycling was already managed by the school district, but the rest wasn’t. Every Monday I’d go around collecting all that material into the big blue plastic bags sold by the county for residential recycling, normally filling one to two of them a week, and then take them to some neighbor of the school’s gracious enough to loan us their curb space for recycling pickup the next morning. From those big trucks that would load up the blue bags for the county, all the glass, plastic, metal (and garbage people thought was recyclable or didn’t care enough to remove) probably went to a recycling plant a bit like the one in the video below:

Continue reading

Expeditions In The Interest Of Science (Secondary Discovery, Nature’s Majesty)


The survey crew inventories the park for butterfly habitats (Credit: John McLaughlin)

This BBC article, featuring butterfly hunters in the very northwestern-most spot in the lower 48 of the USA, reminds us of an expedition we tracked not long ago:

Equal parts academic and mountain man, wildlife biologist John McLaughlin has scaled mountains and traversed snowbound passes to identify more than 40 butterfly species.

It’s best to bring an ice axe when counting butterflies in North Cascades National Park. Located on the Canadian border in the US state of Washington, the park is renowned for its jagged peaks, limited trails and annual snow pack.

“Before my census crew could learn to identify over 40 butterfly species,” John McLaughlin recalled, “they had to know how to safely traverse snowbound, steep passes and – if necessary – to self-arrest using an ice axe.” Continue reading

Farming, Students, Sustainability


A weekday work session on the Student Organic Farm at Iowa State University has members weeding a perennial bed. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story:

A Student-Run Farm Cultivates Passion For Sustainable Agriculture

A weathered wooden shed that holds wheelbarrows, hoes and other basic tools is the beacon of the Student Organic Farm, a two-acre swath within the larger horticultural research farm at Iowa State University.

On a warm spring evening, a half-dozen students gather here, put on work gloves and begin pulling up weeds from the perennial beds where chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sage are in various stages of growth.

“I didn’t know how passionate I [would] become for physical work,” says culinary science major Heidi Engelhardt. Continue reading

The Minecraft Generation

Screenshot of the first hour of survival mode in Minecraft

In this past week’s edition, the New York Times Magazine published a very interesting story by Clive Thompson about the popular video game Minecraft, which he argues is becoming an educational tool in a way, particularly in the arena of coding and problem-solving. I’ve played the game myself for a number of hours (probably somewhere between 50-150, which among the “Minecraft generation” would be considered pennies). I can affirm that this Swedish blockbuster–the game is built on cubes of different materials that you can break down and build up–is addictive, a creative outlet, and a fun way to spend time with friends.

As Thompson states, the STEM educational movement, where science, technology, engineering, and math are especially encouraged in the US system to increase competitiveness in students, can benefit from some of the habits and skills that Minecraft helps develop for those interested enough. The article is worth reading if you have kids who might play, enjoy playing yourself, or are interested in checking the game out:

Jordan wanted to build an unpredictable trap.

An 11-year-old in dark horn-­rimmed glasses, Jordan is a devotee of Minecraft, the computer game in which you make things out of virtual blocks, from dizzying towers to entire cities.

Continue reading


A wonderful aspect of both young people and entrepreneurs is their ability to find creative solutions to apparently insoluble problems. The two overlap beautifully within the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP), where the goal is to pilot innovation to help rural communities world wide.

Kulisha, which is the verb ‘to feed’ in Swahili, the national language of Kenya, is a proposed project that addresses both the problem of creating a sustainable food source in Kenya and the extractive fishing methods of coastal trawlers. Aquaculture is an important food industry in East Africa, but the method of using fish meal from wild caught anchovies is destructive on all levels. Kulisha’s goal is to produce sustainable fish feed in Kenya made from black soldier fly larva.

Our idea, Kulisha, will provide a low-cost, high-quality sustainable fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae. We will sell dried insects to these rural fish farmers to replace the anchovies they are using to mix their own. In addition, we’ll produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a by-product from raising the insects which will be sold at a low cost to local crop farmers. It is our long term goal to formulate and sell our own feed. Continue reading

The Alphabets of Assimilation

The Salt

Teela Magar and Cing Neam prepare roti dough as part of Edible Alphabet, a program in Philadelphia that folds English lessons for immigrants to the U.S into a cooking class. PHOTO: Bastiaan Slabbers, The Salt

Roti is a staple in Indian homes. This unleavened flat bread made of stoneground wholemeal flour links tables in Asia and Africa. With its humble origins, simple spirit, and its versatility in being an economical yet nutritious accompaniment, the roti is a mainstay of an English-as-a-Second-Language class in Philapdelphia. So, how does breaking bread help immigrants pick up basics of English – a skill vital to their rehabilitation, assimilation, and survival in a foreign land? The Salt tells us:

“Food is warmth, it’s comfort, it breaks down those barriers.” Galeb Salman left his native Iraq 25 years ago and most recently lived in Thailand. He says he savors the choices and freedom he feels since arriving here in September with his wife and five kids. “When I think I want to learn, I want to study, I can. When I want to work, I can,” he says. “I feel we have good life now. …This is my new life.”

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Can A University Course Change Your Life?


It took graduate school for me to have a life-changing experience with a course. As a literature-focused liberal arts undergraduate I had an entire curriculum of life-forming courses, but not one course that stood out as life-changing. Ironically, the Philosophy of Science course I took in graduate school, the one that set me off in a new direction, was also the one that convinced me to reconsider my commitment to an academic life. And so, while I completed my Ph.D. in part thanks to that course, my life veered toward an applied, practical use of my dissertation, which I comment on from time to time in these pages.

The Atlantic has a story about a course that reminded me of the possibility, and the value, of a life-changing course, and this is worth a few minutes’ read in the interest of continuous learning:

…Puett’s course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science. The second time Puett offered it, in 2007, so many students crowded into the assigned room that they were sitting on the stairs and stage and spilling out into the hallway. Harvard moved the class to Sanders Theater, the biggest venue on campus.

Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard’s more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning. It’s clear, though, that students are also lured in by Puett’s bold promise: “This course will change your life.” Continue reading

A Library at the Police Station

Over 5,000 books make up the library at the local police station in Tirupur, a small town in Tamil Nadu state of India. PHOTO: BetterIndia

Over 5,000 books make up the library at the local police station in Tirupur, a small town in Tamil Nadu state of India. PHOTO: BetterIndia

Can libraries be taken out of the four walls of an educational institution? Can it find a place in the midst of communities, accessible not only for children but for all who seek better understanding, greater learning? Like these 5,000 books that traveled from the US to a tiny police station in Tamil Nadu, India.

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Flood-proofing Education

Architect Rezwan’s idea is to combine a school bus with the schoolhouse, and use the traditional wooden boat to create a floating space to bring primary education to doorsteps. PHOTO: ABIR ABDULLAH/ SHIDHULAI SWANIRVAR SANGSTHA

Architect Rezwan’s idea is to combine a school bus with the schoolhouse, and use the traditional wooden boat to create a floating space to bring primary education to doorsteps. PHOTO: ABIR ABDULLAH/ SHIDHULAI SWANIRVAR SANGSTHA

Bangladesh is prone to flooding due to being situated on the Ganges Delta and the many distributaries flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Coastal flooding, combined with the bursting of river banks is common, and severely affects the landscape and society of Bangladesh. 75% of Bangladesh is less than 10m above sea level and 80% is floodplain, therefore rendering the nation very much at risk of periodic widespread damage, despite its development. One man, who as a child often found himself cut off from school, did not want the future generations to face the same plight.

His idea: using boats to facilitate education at the time of floods.

Continue reading