Tag Archives: farming

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize, Central America

REVIEW FROM A TRAVELER IN CONSERVATION March 2015

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Brandon Wiggins, center, with owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf

Hamanasi Resort in Belize is one of my new favorite spots on the planet. The property is clean, modern, well-staffed and an overall delight. It is a small resort, only about 75 guests but it seems as there are just as many sweet and courteous attendees to fulfill your every wish.

Hamanasi (translated as ‘almond tree’ in the local Garifuna dialect) is an all-inclusive resort – including a different adventure every day. I swam under a waterfall, saw howler monkeys (including a mom with a baby in tow), manatees, agouti, sting rays, dolphins, hundreds of varieties of fish and birds, and a plethora of exotic flora and fauna.

The food is plentiful and mostly delicious. The fruit salsa cannot be beat. Freshly made bread of all varieties and fresh fruit juices and plates abound. The pineapple is so sweet that you will abandon ever eating it again anywhere else.

The most appealing thing about Hamanasi is that it is a place where like-minded people have the opportunity to converse about various subjects in conservation. In my meetings with the owners Dave and Dana Krauskopf, their commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in their enthusiasm. I was surprised to see that they served beverages with plastic straws. When I mentioned it to Dana (when I went down to the bar to get a drink in my jammies – that’s how comfortable it is here) I could see the wheels turning in her head. My guess is that the next day, she was sourcing paper straws for the resort.

On property is an organic garden, which feeds the guests (speaking of which, Hamanasi just received their organic growers certificate 3 days before my arrival), a compost area, a beach, a pool, an adventure center, bountiful hammocks, and a pond complete with crocodiles.

I had to try to imagine what it would be like to conceptualize, design, and implement a project like this in a country like Belize. Dana and Dave had lived all over the world, including Moscow, and were experienced in sustainable precepts. Dave’s mother was very involved in the Sierra Club so he cut his teeth on the cause.

Dana described their greatest accomplishments in sustainability with passion in her eyes. Unlike the atrocious resort next door and many other local resorts, the Krauskopfs did not clear cut and burn the property to make way for the buildings. They positioned each and every room and building in and amongst the indigenous flora and fauna. I was fortunate enough to spend my first night in the deluxe treehouse (something I would not recommend as a solo traveler as it is a whole lot of romantic space wasted…) where I took a hot tub on the deck by candlelight in the company of a lady iguana and an agouti.

Every detail was attended to perfectly, even the housekeeping staff drew my bath while I was at dinner.

I transferred to a beach bungalow with amazing breezes and views. An epic lighting storm ensued as I danced on the patio in the rain. The beach accommodations were equally enticing as the tree houses, just in a different way. I would highly recommend both.

Dana and Dave have more plans to make the resort even more eco-friendly. They have procured an additional 4-5 acres behind the resort where they endeavor to have a black water processing and treatment facility, a solar energy station and staff housing, while reforesting the lot.

I inquired about the recycling infrastructure in the country of Belize. Dana tilted her very beautiful head. Since the number one industry in Belize is tourism, the fact that when you are taxied to the resort you pass mounds of plastic trash, one would think that the government would make a concerted effort to remedy that situation.

Dana gave me a brief history of the recycling infrastructure that began in 1995 (Dana and Dave began conceptualization of Hamanasi in 1991-1992). It is in need of modernization, but Dana mentioned that in parts of Belize they are using ‘crush and reuse’ bottles for construction. Many of Hamanasi’s paths use crush glass as an concrete aggregate. Dana and Dave are working with the local governments on changing the culture of the indigenous peoples as well as remediating the recycling and trash conundrum. (FYI – I JUST HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND THE PRIME MINISTER’S BUSINESS PARTNER ABOUT THIS!)

When I inquired about the functionality of local governmental entities, Dana was very complimentary in her dealings with the Belizean government. Since Belize was previously a British colony, everyone speaks English and American dollars are welcome (the currency is tied $2 BZD to $1 USD). Bribing is not necessary to run a successful business. They function under a legal system based on British Common Law. From my experience, Belize offered the best of Latin America without the drawbacks. Back to the resort itself.

When you enter the newly constructed guest dining room, you will get a treat when you look up. The trusses exhibit the traditional Caribbean architecture coddled in a 600 piece ‘puzzle’ of a Phillip Flurry design. Santa Maria and Mahogany woods embellish this dormered ceiling with cast ironed tie rods and 10-foot ceiling fans that will astound you.

I also encountered many more families and children than I had anticipated. Dana reminded me that it was spring break (Oh yea, I forgot about that) but also mentioned that when the kids come, they are unwittingly enticed into the concept of being unplugged. The children – and yes even the teenagers (of which there were a substantial number) – were engaging. Even with their parents…

Amazing.

Dana’s foresight on eco-friendly travel was highly positive. She feels that the educated traveler is seeking out adventures like this. As a mother herself of three fine young boys (who were zip lining with their dad that very afternoon), she sees the future of travel – and environmentally conscious guests – as where the trend is going, and staying.

When I asked this forward thinking entrepreneur and mom what would be the number one thing that she and Dave would wish to pass on to their fine boys with respect to the environment, she paused for a moment. “I would like for them to promote long term thinking and planning in government and infrastructure.” She paused again. “I would also like them to champion the cause of holding big polluters accountable and pay for the social costs of their activities.”

Amen, sister.

She just wants for her children to have a better environment than we have today. She does not feel overly optimistic that we have not already tipped the balance.

Then I looked at her three little boys. I felt optimistic.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort is a place that I may have to visit on an annual basis. It really did feel like home – but way more fun.

Brandon Wiggins, Author, Conservationist

Nutrition in 2050—Increased CO2 Changing Plant Nutrients

Nutrition in 2050—Increased CO2 Changing Plant Nutrients

Low levels of dietary iron and zinc can facilitate a multitude of assaults to the human condition. When humans are lacking in these nutrients, they can suffer a weakened immune system, anemia, low IQ, and reduced energy levels. Approximately 2 billion people suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies worldwide.

Recent experiments based on wheat, peas, soybeans, and rice have shown that high levels of CO2 decrease the plant material’s iron, zinc, and even protein levels between 5 and 10%. Unfortunately, these are the crops that supply 70% of these nutrients to a hungry and malnourished planet.

Just this April, carbon dioxide levels were recorded for the first time (since records have been kept) at or above 400 parts per million across the entire northern hemisphere. This is 150% of the levels in pre-industrial times – in about a 100 year span. A nanosecond in geological time.

The experiments elevated the carbon dioxide levels to between 546 and 586 ppm. This is the level that scientists expect to see in some parts of the world by around 2050. Projected population in 2050 is about 9.6 billion (up 38% from 2010).

With all these mouths to feed – and nourish – humans will be hard pressed to fulfill their dietary needs in the future. Perhaps we could ban together and make some changes.

It’s a small planet…

 

Upright

UPRIGHT

Excerpt from Book #1 in Brandon’s Pursuit Series, release date Winter 2014:

She had been walking through the Monterey pine and cypress forest, head bent, stooping to inspecting the soil. She remembered what her father had told her, Always remember to look up. She didn’t fully comprehend what he had meant; her nose was always to the grindstone.MontereyCypress- www.sbcatree.com

To her, the coastal pine forest in central California was an incredible place, almost holy—the soil a deep chocolate mélange of organic materials, a fusty rich womb of fundamental creation. She embraced every morning, dawning with perfectly descending sunlit fingers, toying with wisps of fog and ferns as they casually touched down upon a pristine landscape. It was as if the forest were immaculately tended by tiny invisible terrestrial gardeners.

The smell of the land, the soft indirect lighting and the slight chill in the air, even in the summer, had enticed her into her life’s path. She felt most at home in the arms of Mother Nature.

Living for the moment in that forest and remembering her father’s words, she did look up. She saw a grove of the structurally impressive Cupressus macrocarpa, the legendary Monterey Cypress, and marveled at its architecture.

She spied a spectacular 100-foot Pinus radiata—a Monterey Pine. This stately pine should have been extinct years ago and, as such, the species was riddled by countless insidious pests. Wood boring beetles, viruses, and a host of other denigrators had caused this large 150-year-old specimen to topple onto a lower sapling. The young tree lay at a 45-degree angle suppressed by the ancient, waning pine. The tip of the sapling was stubbornly raising its head up to the sky.

This scenario immediately brought Skyler’s memory back to that precious summer with her father long ago.

Every human strives to be upright whether they are aware of it or not. Even if he or she has had the worst possible situations descend upon them, forced to the ground, they will struggle to stay upright. Look around you in the forest child; you will see it happen over and over. You can see the young saplings leaning, stretching, and clamoring to find their place in the sun. When they get established in their own particular spot, they will reach for the sky in perfect harmony with the light, the earth, and in alignment with sheer gravity.

This is what you must do, my little sapling. Take the blows that have been dealt to you and use them to support your stature. The upright life that you lead will be a beacon for the rest of the forest.

She smiled softly. She would have given anything to have had more time with her father. She refused to allow herself to wallow.

 

THE LAST STRAW

thWe need to instill a different culture in the consumption of beverages. This change would start with one itty, bitty urge in the direction of conservation for restaurateurs and their patrons. Not to mention a cool branding. In the process, it could save billions of tons of petroleum based waste.

I give you – the straw. When did the straw become an absolutely essential appurtenance for every beverage? God gave us lips for crying out loud! Unless you are elderly, disabled, or a 2-year-old and are in need of a sippy cup, this utensil is superfluous.

Straws are made of plastic and yes, plastic is petroleum based, although we are making huge strides in other compostable bio-based eating accessories.

The reality is that only 27% of all plastics get recycled. The other 73% goes into landfills and particulate matter in the ocean.

The use of straws with beverages goes back to the Sumerians in 3000 BC. Straws were made of gold and lapiz and were presumably used to keep the settled matter at the bottom of home-brewed beer away from one’s palate. Modern day straws were patented by the creative and thirsty Marvin C. Stone, in 1888, whilst sipping a mint julep on his front porch on a hot day in Washington, DC. The straw of choice in those days was made from a type of rye grass. Although tremendously eco-friendly, Marvin did not care for the way it tainted his bourbon. He had the notion (after a few juleps I’m sure, as the most creative ideas appear at such auspicious moments) to take a strip of paper, wrap it around a pencil and apply glue, later perfecting his invention with wax.

Every beverage in most every corner bar and eatery provides you with a straw, even when one asks specifically for its deletion. Try it and you’ll see, even when you remind the well-intended server that you didn’t want a straw, they will take it out of your soda and throw it in the trash. When you order another drink, purposefully leaving the straw on your napkin to be used with the subsequent beverage, they will throw away the napkin and the straw, missing the point entirely.

Every restaurant, diner, bar, coffee house, and deli will insert a straw in your drink, happily toss it in the trash when you are finished, and provide you with a brand new tubular utensil with your next order even though you are drinking the same gin and tonic and possess the same lips.

This oral addiction has been totally engrained in the hospitality industry.

Paper straws are not common. They tend to get soggy, like the rye grass straw, especially with warm liquid. Take in point my Sikh friend who was in definite need of a straw for sipping his chai tea as his mustache and beard (the pruning of which is against his belief system) would coalesce foam remnants on his glorious grey facial cascade. The paper straw at Flora Grubb was a great and heartfelt concept but not exactly practical, not to mention the fact that they are not really earth-friendly either. They are derived from trees after all.

Sometimes a plastic straw is covered with a plastic sheath – both being discarded in regular trash (yikes, a double global assault!)

Let’s say you spend your afternoon at Starbucks on your laptop and drink three Caramel Machiattos, extra espresso, low-fat whatevers. Most patrons will garner three straws. Since it is the same beverage and you have the same mouth, harboring the same germs, wouldn’t it be environmentally prudent to remove the straw from your first oral orgasmic experience and re-use it for the rest of your laptop jabbing afternoon? After all, it has been marinated. Not to mention, straws give you upper lip lines, like those found on smokers’ faces.

Let’s also review the fact that straws are generally loaded by hand into a receptacle at the bar by the bar back, and then handled by the person making drinks. Now I’m sure that these fine servers wash their hands frequently, but…

This conceptual plea has been submitted to Starbucks. In fact, it went to the senior director of global policy who actually took it directly to the corporate Board of Directors in Seattle, a huge deal. As an author and conservationist, I was thrilled to even get that far. My profound disappointment ensued when the supposedly globally conscious Starbucks referred the issue to their internal ‘waste management’, also missing the point entirely…

And, let’s not forget the cost (both fiscally and environmentally) of manufacturing the straw, transporting the little culprits and the price of all that extra trash. Starbucks as well as all of our local dining establishments would not only look cool if they campaigned against straws, they would save tons of cash!

Are straws important for certain people like my Sikh friend and Stephen Hawking? Absolutely.

Are there millions of plastic straw particles swirling around in no less than five global garbage vortexes floating in our oceans? Yes.

Straws are occasionally appropriate. But, every day? With every beverage? For every person?

No way. We have got to get a collective grip!!!

How to contribute as a restaurateur:

We know it has been engrained in the industry, but perhaps an edict to not automatically insert that plastic culprit would be in order. Have your servers and bartenders have straws on hand, but trained to only give a straw upon request. 100% biodegradable bamboo stirrers are available for cocktails that need to be mixed. Maybe even print a small notice on your menu that says something resembling:

“In the interest of our environment and our passion to preserve it, this establishment endorses the conservation of our resources. We offer straws (a petroleum based product that is not recyclable or biodegradable) only upon request.

Thank you for your contribution for the health of our planet.”

At the Rio Grill in Carmel California, I did a small survey asking the fine patrons of Tony Tollner’s masterpiece restaurant if they would feel slighted if they were served a beverage without a straw. The unanimous vote was that they would not and would simply ask for one if need be.

How to contribute as a person who drinks beverages:

Simply ask for your beverage without a straw. Most times, you will get one anyway.

That is, until we start making a cultural change.

And right now, that’s all we’ve got – small stabs. But collectively, on a planet with billions of people, cultural changes could be the most influential.

One straw at a time.

Author and Conservationist, Brandon Wiggins

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fertilizer, and More!

Ficus carica and sweet allysum groundcover.
Fig tree (Ficus carica) and sweet allysum

Brandon Wiggins, Science Writer at Large

What is fertilizer? Simply put, fertilizer combines the nutrients that plants need to grow—potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus—in a form they can digest. Think of it as plant food.

As crops grow, they absorb, or mine, nutrients from the soil. When crops are harvested, so too are the nutrients that were absorbed by the plants. Commercial  fertilizers nourish the soil by returning the “food” that next year’s crop will require.

Nitrogen is a key element in protein. Like the human body, plants need it to grow. Phosphorus is the plant world’s equivalent of carbohydrates—it provides the energy for plants to thrive. And potassium is a mineral that helps plants fight stress and disease. It helps plants grow strong stalks, in the same way that calcium gives people strong bones.

Are there chemicals in fertilizer? The three main ingredients in fertilizer—nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus—come from nature. They are not man-made. Fertilizer companies simply convert them into a form that plants can use.

Fertilizer producers can blend nutrients into precise combinations to match the unique needs of different farms, crops, and fields. In this way, farmers can feed their soils with the most effective and efficient blend of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen to achieve optimal yields.

Do farmers need to use fertilizer? In a word, yes. Every season, plants draw from the soil the nutrients they need to grow. When a crop goes to market, so too does the potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen it has absorbed and used throughout the growing season. When farmers fertilize, they put back into the soil the nutrients their next crop will require.

Soils do not naturally contain all the nutrients that crops need. And while some of the same nutrients in fertilizer are found in soil, they are not present in a sufficient supply for today’s high-yield farming.

It can take years—even decades—for nutrients to build up in the levels necessary to nurture a good crop. A single season can wipe out many years’ worth of naturally produced nutrients. Fertilizers give Mother Nature a helping hand.

Where does phosphorus come from?  Phosphorus used in fertilizers comes from the fossilized remains of ancient marine life found in rock deposits in the U.S. and other parts of the world. This raw ore is processed to create water-soluble compounds that make the phosphorus available to plants as a nutrient.

Phosphorus helps early plant health and root growth. It is involved in seed germination and ensuring plants use water efficiently. Phosphorus is the plant world’s equivalent of carbohydrates—it provides the energy that a plant needs to grow.

Where does potassium come from?  Potassium is the seventh most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Through natural processes it is filtered into the planet’s seas and oceans. As these bodies of water evaporate over time, they leave behind mineral deposits. Fertilizer companies mine potassium from these deposits.

Potassium is a mineral that helps crops fight stress and disease. It helps plants grow strong stalks, in the same way that calcium gives people strong bones. 

Where does nitrogen come from?  The air around us contains huge amounts of nitrogen. In fact, nitrogen makes up about 78% of the atmosphere. Fertilizer producers combine nitrogen with natural gas to change it into a form that plants can digest.

Nitrogen is nitrogen, whether it’s used by plants, animals, or people. It is a key element in protein. Like the human body, plants need nitrogen to grow. Often used in greater amounts than other nutrients, nitrogen helps make plants green and plays a major role in boosting yields.

What are the essential mineral nutrients?

  • Macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulphur
  • Micronutrients: boron, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc
  • Essential or beneficial for some plant species, not all: silicon, sodium, and cobalt
  • Essential for animals but not for plants: selenium
Grapefruit Tree
Grapefruit tree (Citrus paradisi)

FERTILIZER AND FOOD

What role do fertilizers play in feeding a growing world population?  Fertilizers play a huge role in helping feed the world. Thanks to modern fertilizers, world food production has more than doubled since 1960. Today, an estimated one-third to one-half of our global food supply is directly linked to use of commercial fertilizers.

If we are to meet growing demand for food, however, we will need to double our current levels of production. We can’t do that without fertilizers. Just to match current production, we’d have to put into production every available acre outside urban areas—including forests, wildlife habitats, and leisure areas.

In Canada, an estimated 40% of yield increases achieved by farmers are a direct result of commercial fertilizers. Continuing to make better and more efficient use of fertilizer will help us feed the planet.

What would happen to food prices without fertilizer? 

Orange Tree
Orange tree (Citrus sinensis)

One of the biggest benefits from efficient fertilizer use is inexpensive food. Worldwide, one in three people can neither grow nor afford to buy enough food. With the help of commercial fertilizer, North American farmers are able to produce the most abundant, nutritious, and affordable food on the planet. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people on this continent spend less for food than any other nation on earth.