Category Archives: ACCT Farmers

MeetNew People Collaborating to Plant Trees on Deforested Land

Each planting season we collaborate with new Costa Rican host farm families to plant more trees on their degraded farms. To date, 21 families are collaborating with us to reforest pasturelands with more than 10,000 diverse rainforest trees.  It is always a joy to move our tree planting work to a new host farm family in the Valley San Juan de Dios in Costa Rica. Maria and her husband Noah and their family are thrilled to be planting over 150 trees on their deforested land with your help this year 2016.

We toured Maria and Noah’s small farm with a group of agro-forestry students to decide what species to plant and observe any problems or challenges with the farm in general. There is a small stream at the foot of the hill exposed to the sun. So, we decided to plant large majestic rainforest trees perfect for protecting these precious waters and slowing evaporation for generations to come.

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After a great tour and discussions of best land management practices, we all decided to plant at least 30 cocoa trees and many cashew trees mixed in so that the family could harvest these fruits and earn money in the future by collaborating with our cooperative group to make chocolate and other tree products.

A few days later, the trees were delivered and the whole family enjoyed admiring the over 45 species of hardwoods and fruit trees. The selection of tropical fruits include mammon chinos, guanabana, anona, breadfruit, oranges, lemons, caimitos, guavas, guayabas, cashews, almonds, karao, carambolas and more.

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A crew of three women plus Alvaro planted the trees over a week of work and so far, every single tree is thriving. Our paid workers will be following these trees closely for the next four 4 years to achieve robust productive mature trees for maximum benefits.

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The early months of every tree we plant are critical. We recently visited the newly planted trees with a touring group from another community interested in copying our community reforestation model. Seeing the freshly planted trees so healthy was rewarding for all.

The whole community benefits from paid tree planting work. The workers and neighbors producing and planting and caring for the trees enjoy being paid for their diligent work. Literally, we plant a grocery store on every farm where we reforest by including fruit trees, medicinal trees and lumber trees. The host farm family grows an abundance of opportunities for tree products.

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The trees bring a notable positive social impact to families like Maria and Noah, living in marginalized areas of Costa Rica. They regenerate what was previously deforested and unproductive land. Families like them along with our paid workers develop valuable opportunities in collaboration with growing the trees and creating a wealth of products from the long term sustainable management of the land and the trees.

Expansion to New Communities with More Trees and Education

Rainy season has begun in Costa Rica and that means tree planting season. With the support of donors like you, our reforestation work is able to expand to a whole new community in San Jose de Rivas, near Chirripo National Park. We chose this community for numerous reasons.

It all starts with a human connection because our reforestation work is socially integrated in order to assure long term maximum survival of every tree for future generations. The process started back in January when two leaders came to our nursery asking for assistance in reforesting some steep deforested areas around a water spring that nourishes the entire area with fresh potable water. Concerned for the future of their water supplies, we began investigating if the rest of the community would be committed to participating in efforts to replant and care for a wide diversity of trees in this zone. Jessica and Eduardo came to our biodiverse tree nurseries over the last six months to work and learn how we produce the baby trees as well as how to inspire the individual members of their pueblo to get involved.

After making a solid connection with the new community leaders, Jenny Smith offered an educational TREE TALK in the communal salon to gauge interest and commitment to the long term reforestation process. Because current employment only consists in coffee farming in the zone, fairly paid jobs are a huge incentive for many members of the community. So many people participated in the three hour conversation about biodiversity and the importance of trees to protect water supplies. All signs indicated YES!

Yesterday, we delivered the first of 450 biodiverse trees to a holding space in the community for acclimatization. Loading and unloading the trees is a great opportunity for everyone to connect and learn about the different species of high altitude trees we will plant in the beginning of July. Another delivery of 600 trees will be made in two weeks for a total of 1050 trees of 40 species to be planted this year. This weekend we are investigating the planting site with the 7 workers, men and women, who will be doing the physical labor of carrying the trees to the site, planting and maintaining them for a total of 4 years paid by your generous tree sponsorship.

Thank you for your continued support in our integrated work with communities in Costa Rica for the benefit of all of us!

Every tree we plant comes with community education!
Every tree we plant comes with community education!
Community leaders Eduardo and Jessica participating in the tree nursery
Community leaders Eduardo and Jessica participating in the tree nursery

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Where the last tree is cut, the desert is born!
Where the last tree is cut, the desert is born!
Biodiversity is key!
Biodiversity is key!

 

 

Magally and Jenny loading trees!
Magally and Jenny loading trees!

 

 

Sweet Wild Sugar Chocolate Trees

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At Community Carbon Trees, planting all different kinds of trees gives us plenty to harvest.  We are growing sustainable business with rainforest reforestation in the center.  The maximum positive impact to mitigate climate change on the planet is to reduce carbon emissions to lower temperatures and balances the water cycle. Trees on the Equator do all of this for us, and more. Planting new forests of trees with fairly paid local workers on their own farms creates a longterm commitment to rainforest conservation. Building a full circle of complementary entrepreneurial opportunities that empower women makes the reforestation work even more valuable.

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For example, we plant hundreds of Theobroma Cocoa trees on every participating Costa Rican owned farm.  In just four years, we have already begun harvesting the fruits. It all started when a cocoa chef from San Francisco Jay Holacek contacted us, seeking to participate with our active and organized community. Of course, we said yes. The local farmers all brought some of their cocoa harvest and we placed the beans all together inside a wooden box for fermentation for approximately one week. Often other fruit is also mixed in to accelerate the process. We learned to check the beans for good fermentation by cutting them in half and observing that no fungus has grown on the beans. This is key to flavorful, smooth tasting chocolate. The process is time-consuming and delicate. More and more, with the world demand for chocolate and dwindling resources, organic, wild crafted chocolate is a sought after delicacy. For now, we are happy to be learning the complicated process.

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After proper fermentation, the beans must be dried. Most chocolate chefs prefer sun dried cocoa beans.  They must be kept dry and for approximately three days and then stored in airtight dark place.   We have learned that making chocolate is like making fine wine. Every harvest is different depending on the soils, the weather, the shade, the fermentation, and the drying and toasting process.

After the beans are dried, toasting the beans to the desired smooth flavor begins. On average, toasting takes about 30 minutes at 340 degrees.  Then the shells are cracked open and the women roughly grind away the shells and break the beans into smaller pieces called “nibs”. Some people like to eat the nibs plain and we have already had success selling them at local farmers markets.

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One the shells cracked away from the beans, we used a blow dryer to “winnow” away the shells from the cocoa “nibs”.

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Now everything smells incredible and tasting begins in earnest. We used an old champion juicer to rough grind the toasted cocoa beans into cocoa “liquor”.  This is a slow process. We ran the paste through twice to create a shiny, smooth liquor.

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Now comes the sugar. But not just any sugar. Our chocolate is extra special because our ACCT community group grew and prepared the brown sugar too. Using traditional methods, the sugar was cooked down and poured into seasoned wooden molds. We toasted the grated brown sugar or “tapa dulce” to make sure it was dry before mixing in 35% sugar to %65 pure, cocoa liquor.

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Our 1 kg batch of chocolate liquor was ground all night long with a fabulous machine that our chef loaned us. The next morning, we awoke to a completely homogenous and smooth paste, sweet, rich, flavorful and free of bitterness.

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Stay tuned as we grow more opportunities from the trees you help us plant with your generous sponsorships. Thanks for your continued support. The more trees we plant the more chocolate we can make. The more businesses we grow from the trees, the more sustainable the rainforest can be.

 

 

Meet the BROTHERS CERDAS FALLAS at Project ECO CHONTALES

A little support goes a long way to inspire people to be their best. It is amazing how many direct and indirect benefits grow from planting rainforest trees with community participation. We are super proud to present our newest family of tree planters collaborating with our Sponsors to grow future rainforest now. Meet the Brothers CERDAS FALLAS from Project Eco Chontales.

MARIO, RENE AND JOSE DE ECO CHONTALES
MARIO, RENE AND JOSE DE ECO CHONTALES

Thanks to the support they have received from our Sponsors over the last 2 years, we are paying this family to grow 3560 diverse native trees on their amazing farm complete with a world class waterfall.

WE PLANTED OVER 50 SPECIES OF FRUIT AND  WOOD TREES.
WE PLANTED OVER 50 SPECIES OF FRUIT AND WOOD TREES.

These 4 Costa Rican brothers and their families now feel empowered to reach even higher to get their eco tourism project off the ground.  They are creating a paradise eco tourism project complete with education about the importance of tropical reforestation for the planet.

KIDS LEARNING ABOUT THE RAINFOREST AND THE WATER CYCLE.
KIDS LEARNING ABOUT THE RAINFOREST AND THE WATER CYCLE.

In another success story, the participating farm family feels that they have a better future planting trees and conserving their land than continuing to destroy it with cattle farming and herbicides and pesticides. They have chosen to cultivate long term sustainability by growing organic slow rainforest food for themselves, the tourists and the animals. We have planted all kinds of fruit and wood trees all along the trails that lead through this farm.

JOSE CERDAS FALLAS AND HIS ONE YEAR OLD TREE
JOSE CERDAS FALLAS AND HIS ONE YEAR OLD TREE

And if one walks just 10 minutes, a huge PRIZE is waiting to delight and amaze!  This glorious waterfall for all to enjoy as it recycles  massive amounts of fresh clean water right before our very eyes. This project is extra special because this waterfall serves as an attraction for tourists who end up learning how the rainforest trees keep the hydrological cycle recycling over 20,000 gallons of water per acre each and every year.

TREE JENNY IS LOVING IT!
TREE JENNY IS LOVING IT!

Jose and Rene, two of the brothers, did most of the planting work alongside our capable crew of women tree planters. The whole extended family is excited to follow the growth of these newly planted trees for the next 4 years with active paid maintenance for every tree including cutting away cattle grasses, vines and other suffocating regenerating plants.

GEILYN AND DELANA HELPED TO PLANT THESE THOUSANDS OF TREES!
GEILYN AND DELANA HELPED TO PLANT THESE THOUSANDS OF TREES!

We look forward to sharing more pictures of the growth of the trees and the families’ projects as a result of collaborating with our Global Giving community reforestation initiatives.  With every sponsored tree, we are able to grow more rainforest for all the benefits they give to the planet like cleaning the air and storing excess carbon dioxide, producing fresh oxygen, creating biodiverse habitat for survival of species and regenerating healthy rain cycles and clouds to balance global weather patterns.

ACCTTree Ambassador Megs Porcheron Snowboarder and Activist B4BC and The North Face Athlete and Ambassador for POW Protect Our Winters
ACCTTree Ambassador Megs Porcheron Snowboarder and Activist B4BC and The North Face Athlete and Ambassador for POW Protect Our Winters

 

How a Costa Rican Cattle Farmer Taught Me a Lesson About Compassion, Social Justice and Stopping Deforestation

I used to wonder why the rainforest gets cut down.  I must admit, I had even thought  to myself , “Why don’t ‘those people’  just get out there and plant some more trees? ”  I mused how they had the land and it seemed like they had the time, so why not just do it?  Back then, I didn’t really realize how hard it was to reforest on a large scale. I had no idea how long term the activity was in order to make sure the trees survive.  And, I didn’t realize that in my own self righteous and innocent ignorance, I was expecting the poorest people on the planet to protect our most precious and beneficial resource, the RAINFOREST.  I guess I was just expecting them to do it for free. Thank goodness some humiliating experiences came to show me how I was wrong, ultimately changing me, my work and everyone around me. Each and every hard lesson uplifted me to forge forward in a better direction for being an agent of change. Here is a glimpse into our journey of creating Association Community Carbon Trees-Costa Rica.com.

Maybe you have seen my posts before where I basically beg for tree Sponsors. Yea, I know, it can be tiring for you. Just think how I feel? Most days, my posts are completely ignored, no one likes our page and even so called “friends” don’t even like our page. Much less sponsor a tree! If I let it get me down, it would.  But I pick myself up, and try again because I have seen what ACCT is doing and how it works for all of us. You could definitely say I’m committed.

Maybe you find yourself thinking,  “Why should I care?”  Some people just are not interested in planting trees or climate change. Or at first glance, you might think there are enough rainforest trees out there.  Like all of us, you understandably have other things to spend your money on like dinner and movie, a new pair of jeans, yoga classes, going to that awesome Festival or vacation, your kid’s college education, the mortgage.  I get it. I really do.  You might just think your single tree just won’t make much of a difference. So why bother? But every single tree does contribute to the whole forest. No one has to break their bank or become a total non-consumer to be part of the ACCT movement.

all in it together

Sometimes  seemingly “awake” people ask me why we have to help people in a foreign country, like Costa Rica, when their own country has so many problems and poor people in need?  Other times, I get the “feel good” retort from well meaning folks,  “Oh I’m sorry, I cannot give $25 for a  campesino to produce, plant and care for a real rainforest tree for 25 years because I already donate to (fill in the blank with other philanthropic organization). Or, I get the back slapping permaculture crowd telling me they are already doing their part where they live.  And so it is. More people than ever are acting on a local level. Awesome job folks!  But what about the global scene? The rainforest is still being cut down faster than ever. We are still losing species at an alarming rate, droughts and floods are plaguing our planet and CO2 is out of control. No matter what we are interested in, we all need air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. The rainforest gives us all of this.

Trees cut down by poor family to plant palm oil in 2014.
Trees cut down by poor family to plant palm oil in 2014.
Deforestation is alive and well in Costa Rica.
Deforestation is alive and well in Costa Rica.

For me, such conversations with people who resist planting even one rainforest tree can be disappointing and discouraging, to say the least. It’s hard to explain why the rainforest affects all of us, how every single person has a carbon footprint no matter where we live which can be erased by planting trees on the Equator. In general, I guess people have enough problems and do not want to think about how we are relying on the poorest people to protect and regenerate our most beneficial natural resource.  Out of sight, out of mind. Today, I try to inspire and encourage myself by remembering my own learning curve when I first started doing reforestation and conservation work for private clients over 15 years ago.  So, I want to share a true story with you that helped me to open my eyes and my heart and learn to be the change.

One of the most notable and humiliating reality checks was handed to me back in 2007 while I was the President of a local conservation group in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica. The real estate frenzy hit our area bringing with it the development of new roads and ocean view homesites.  Cultural norms were changing all over the place and the once quiet, simple Costa Rica “Pura Vida” lifestyle had given way to a hotbed of realtors and speculators looking to buy their piece of Paradise. But who was I to judge? I had come to live here myself back in 1998 to establish  a “for profit” reforestation company and, in so many ways, I understood the allure of the lush green jungles, slow pace and  laissez fare.  But push did come to shove and people started calling me to seek help when the chain saws screamed and the tractors rolled damaging irreparably ecosystems at every turn. Since most foreigners did not speak enough Spanish to deal with the local authorities, who often were corrupt and accepted bribes from developers to turn a blind eye,  I took it upon myself to be the one to prosecute people who cut down trees without proper permits.  

My self created “job” was not  popular with some folks. It was not usually fun nor lucrative.  But I knew someone had to do it. I was bold and strong and knew how to cause a ruckus. I could swing a big chain and I carried a big stick. I was ready to stand in front of a tractor or chain saw and fight for the forest. Word got out, more and more people called, and little by little, good people were seeking pre-construction assistance so they could  respect  Nature in the process of building their dream. We offered free environmental law seminars and the room was packed every time. People were hungry for the information and I was willing to share as much as I could.  We cleaned up and kicked out some of the corrupt  local resource MINAE guards and SETENA began to take notice and realize that real environmental impact studies were necessary to protect this last stretch of rainforest prime for development in the southern Pacific zone.  For a while, we could see that we were  making a difference. I knew the high impact self proclaimed “eco” developers were feeling the pinch when one of them flew in one afternoon on his helicopter to meet me.  After complaining that I was ruining job opportunities for Costa Ricans, ( janitors, maids etc.), he proceeded to tell me I was despicable.  I laughed. I could live with that accusation.  I had already won over 20 cases with my big lawyer stick. I possessed a whole lot of good intentions and felt ridiculously invincible. Unbeknownst to me, my good intentions had paved my own road to hell. So many  rich investors were still doing whatever they wanted while their equally “well off”   neighbors came to me expecting free legal work to fight them. And the Costa Ricans were now wise to the game and ready to cash in on it too. It was only fair. Something was wrong with the bigger picture.  I had so much to learn.

ROADS TO OCEAN VIEW HOMESITES BREAK BIOLOGICAL CORRIDORS
ROADS TO OCEAN VIEW HOMESITES BREAK BIOLOGICAL CORRIDORS

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  One day,  I came head to head with a local Costa Rican man who happened to be my neighbor.  We had always been on good terms. Just a few months before he had explained to me in a friendly conversation how his late grandfather had been paid by foreign government subsidies to burn the rainforest down in the 1970’s. I just couldn’t  believe it.  So, like any good lawyer striving to be an eco-warrior, I began to research.  I found out quite easily in the Library of Congress that Costa Ricans were indeed paid to cut down and burn their forests in favor of producing cheap beef for export to foreign markets, particularly the United States. Wendy’s and Burger King were two of the primary consumers.  I began asking every Tico I came into contact with about how their land came to be deforested.  I always got the same story. The land was too steep to even pull out the wood for personal use or sale. Poor farmers did not have tractors or trucks and were understandably looking for the easiest and  cheapest way to convert their forest to cattle land. And so, they burned it down. It appalled me that on top of the obvious destruction of ecosystems, all the carbon dioxide stored in these giant Tree beings had been toxically released into our atmosphere.

Slash and burn to convert rainforest into cattle land.
Slash and burn to convert rainforest into cattle land.

I am a dirt lover. I could touch, see, smell and feel just how fragile and thin the topsoil is in the tropical jungle. Covered by trees, the soils are a bastion of biodiversity important in countless ways to the overall health of the biosphere. But when the trees are chopped down and the soils exposed to months of blazing Equatorial sun, followed by 8 months more of torrential rain running on steep terrain, it spells dirt disaster.  Within just 7 years of cutting down a forest, the once fertile dirt is degraded. Dead soil full of cow poop runs off into rivers, causing sedimentation and nitrogen pollution which then flows downstream polluting estuaries and heating up oceans. Over time, landslides threaten and destroy communities, even killing people as a result of unstable, deforested land.  Water springs, once healthy, dry  up and rivers evaporate under the sun. No animals, no food, no water is left. And the cow business? A total flop. They are skinny and tough and require concentrated GMO  foods to put on weight. Farmers lose money on top of destroying their land. No one wins. 

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Rainforest converted to cattle pastures is not sustainable.
Rainforest converted to cattle pastures is not sustainable.
Converting rainforest to cattle farms degrades land and causes landslides which ultimately flood rivers and pollute sensitive ocean environments.
Converting rainforest to cattle farms degrades land and causes landslides which ultimately flood rivers and pollute sensitive ocean environments.

But I digress from my story. One pleasant morning, I went on a brisk walk, enjoying the peace and quiet, marveling at the Nature all around me.  I looked up out of my reverie to see a sleek, black Jaguarundi stealthily leap across my path. I gave thanks and wondered why it is said that a black cat crossing your path means bad luck. Uncannily, seconds later, I heard a nearby chain saw whirring. Before I knew what was happening, I heard a vicious CRACK and wood SPLINTER, then an eery  “KABOOM” echoed through the area. Monkeys  were screaming wildly and dogs were barking all around me.   One after the other, huge tall trees were falling and branches were flying.  I could feel the desperation of the animals in the air.  It was contagious. My mind was racing and I kicked into reaction mode, running toward the mayhem. A million thoughts flitted through my brain as my blood pressure rose.

I had fought so many other battles on behalf of other people in defense of  trees, mostly for free. Even though I had recently vowed to stay out of “these kinds of fights”, the fact that it was happening in my own “backyard” spurred me onward.  Something would not let me walk away. Little did I know how that black cat foreboded a warning that I am ultimately glad  I did not heed.

My Costa Rican neighbor had begun to illegally deforest the rest of his land which was partially covered at the time by a Mayo Colorado forest. This type of tree forms a natural monoculture and serves its own unique purpose. A Mayo Colorado tree forms a network and basically does not allow any other type of tree to grow. They are home to countless pollinating bees and understory plants and upper story epiphytes and bromeliads. It felt like a cathedral under those trees. They shaded the nearby water stream and protected the healthy soil. They were central to the natural, healthy ecosystem that was thriving there.

I approached the crew of men still wielding their murderous chain saws faster than I could gather my wits. No one even looked up at first. It was Sunday, perfect for illegal cutting since there were no MINAE resource guards available until Monday.  No one was scared of little ole me. I wish I could say that I was cool, calm and collected. No way. I was wild.  Looking back I see how ineffective I was because my emotions had gotten the better of me. Seeing the trees ooze their bloody cellulose while birds searched for their fallen nests was just more than I could handle.

I confronted Sergio, the land owner and stood in front of a giant tree next in line for the killing frenzy.  My once neighborly friend began waving his sharp machete at me, convincingly threatening my life and scaring me half to death. He had major back up too. Men with chain saws.  I was all alone. I knew I was terribly outnumbered. I tried to reason with each of them, but all of my pleas were falling on deaf ears. I ran home and cried my eyes out and began to formulate a plan to get the MINAE guards there the very next morning. Somehow, I knew it was going to be too little, too late.

Meet my neighbor Sergio!
Meet my neighbor Sergio!

 

The destruction was done, acres of forest were cut down in a single day. Yet, the lesson would take months and years to germinate and take root.  My neighbor became even more angry at me when the MINAE guards came out a few days later to investigate and issue the Denuncia to begin the lawsuit. Everyone in Costa Rica, whether a citizen, a resident or a tourist, has standing to defend trees, rivers, and  animals who do not have a voice under Article 50 of the Costa Rican Constitution. This was one of the things that truly impressed me about Costa Rica early on. I had witnessed superb rulings by the Sala IV or Constitutional Environmental Court made up of brave judges,  willing to enforce the environmental laws in favor of protecting Nature. I felt like I was on the right side of the fight.

But Sergio felt equally justified in his actions. He  began to enlist other neighbors to threaten and harass me. I did not feel safe. My adorable new German Shepard puppy dog mysteriously turned up dead. One gentle man came to my house a few days later to  counsel me. He told me no matter how much he understood and even agreed with me, I should back off or end up dead in the ditch. I called my Mentor who immediately told me I should be careful too.  When he said I did not have to worry about the people who threatened me to my face, I felt a little better. But then he told me that I SHOULD worry about the people who did not say it to my face. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. How many peoples’ buttons and pocketbooks had I already hit?   I thought I loved what I was doing. I thought I was right.  I did not want to go back to the USA and be a lawyer in an office. I was conflicted. I lost a lot of sleep.

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In due course, my wise life partner from Argentina, Juan Angel, drew a very bright line in the sand for me.  “Quit or I’m leaving”.  I knew he was thinking about my physical safety and peace of mind.  He knew more about how things work in Latin America and understood my unique weakness as a woman alone in a strange land. His stern words convinced me in no uncertain terms that I had bitten off way more than I could chew. I withdrew the complaint and resigned as President of ASANA the very next day.

In the coming weeks and months, Juan and I got into some deep discussions about conservation and equal justice. I read voraciously. I meditated. Through a myriad of examples, we explored how social justice is key to being successful in any realm,  conservation included. While Juan is not a “tree hugger” per se,  he did share my revolutionary spirit and search for justice. He knew my heart and how much I had given up for the “work” and how much I wanted to be truly effective. Although he believed in what we were doing with the private reforestation work, he challenged me to look at it from a new perspective.  He asked me bluntly, “Why are you working so hard to fight battles for rich people developing their ocean view lots? ”  He admonished, “Wake up Girlfriend!”  He showed me the shallow roots of my work.  He quipped, “Why are you running around fighting poor Costa Rican people who are just trying to survive Jenny?” He went on, “If you are going to work so hard, for free, and you really want to make a difference, why not get out there and work with the poor people who are struggling to survive while protecting the forest in a positive way.”

Juan Angel is my rock!
Juan Angel is my rock!

All of his questions and comments shed new light on my worn out path. I had to dig harder and set more solid roots that would  grow to support me and everyone and everything I cared about. I wanted to be a force for environmental AND social justice. My abiding LOVE for trees and forests and wild spaces and clean rivers and clean air had been driving me all along. It was time to change. It was time to work in the positive, and move on from the negative.

Drawing from ACCT Kids' Nature Day regular participant Ava Sylvester
Drawing from ACCT Kids’ Nature Day regular participant Ava Sylvester
Our strongest and deepest roots are based in love!  Another Kids' Nature Day creation we use to announce all of our fun educational activities!
Our strongest and deepest roots are based in love! Another Kids’ Nature Day creation we use to announce all of our fun educational activities!

After a few weeks, I began to try to make amends with Sergio. I requested a meeting with him. I reached out to community members. I ate a lot of crow.  Sergio resisted. I eventually knocked him off guard by asking him for his forgiveness for the scene I had created, the problems I had tried to cause him and his family.  I swallowed my pride and released my anger about the dead trees, the dead dog, all of it. I wanted to move on. I wanted to understand and evolve.

When he was ready to talk, I listened intently to Sergio’s side of the story.  Although he could not read or write very well, he was intelligent in so many ways that I was humbled and embarrassed for my ignorance despite all of my book and forestry training.  This amazing man explained to me that the only way his family could eat was to cut down the last bit of forest left on his land. He could not grow any food on the previously deforested areas because the dirt was dead. He intended to plant all kinds of fruit trees in  place of the forest he cut down, plus pineapples, black beans, yucca, ancestral corn and sweet potatoes. He was not going to graze any more cattle on the newly cleared land because he had already learned what a losing proposition this was over the last  25 years.

I could tell that Sergio genuinely shared my sadness for the plight of the fallen forest and the displaced animals.  We shed tears together. It was cleansing for us both. He told me again about his tragic childhood memories watching his grandfather and their neighbors burn down the forest for the cows in promise of a better life that never came.   He even admitted to agreeing with me that it is a crime to cut down the forest.  He felt he had no alternative.  All of his water springs had dried up in the previously deforested areas and now he had to pay for water from the aqueduct. The rest of his cows would die without plenty of water. The rest of his soil was dead and eroding away year after year with no solution in sight. Every rainy season he feared landslides during the hardest downpours.   He did not have a job, he had no hope of a job, and he was angry and depressed  because he could not adequately  care for his family. There was no social welfare and no soup kitchen to go to and he was desperate. He made it clear to me that if the Gringos could cut down trees for mansions with pools, there was NO WAY that I was going to tell him that he could not cut down trees to grow food. I did not argue with him.

Give-a-man-a

So many experiences, at once so humiliating and yet uplifting, contributed to my growing understanding that planting trees on land owned by “rich foreigners” or “big nonprofit conservation corporations” was not going to be enough to stop deforestation.   No matter how many hundreds of thousands of different kinds of trees we planted for private clients on their own land, no matter how many jobs we created for poor people on “other people’s land”,  little by little, I saw that we were not going to save the rainforest without getting deeply involved with the the local people in rural communities.  On the ground experience over a decade taught me that  both local men and women needed paid alternatives to stop deforestation.

I began to gnaw on the agony of what, at first,  looked like defeat. This experience, and many others, was pivotal in changing my dense “first world” self important attitude and approach to saving the rainforest. I became driven to invent something that could really work for everyone. I poured my heart and soul and energy more than ever into seed collecting, tree production and private planting projects with a new found vigor. I went back to Sergio’s humble wooden house the next year in June 2008 to give him 15 diverse fruit trees to plant on his newly deforested land. It was the least I could do to thank him for the lesson.  Then it hit me like a bolt of lightening. If I felt so much joy and happiness and satisfaction from planting trees, then I should focus here. I began questioning how could I share this good feeling? Wouldn’t other people like to feel this way too?  What if I could figure out a way to pay Sergio to plant and maintain these 15 trees long term? What would such an endeavor look like? Would anyone participate?

Having already planted over 450,000 diverse native trees with private projects over the previous 10 years, I knew how much long term, hard work was necessary to successfully grow the trees.   It had become clear to me how  unfair it was to ask poor people like Sergio to work for free. If we all relied on people just like this man and his family to stop deforestation, did they have to go hungry and be angry to do it? What did a life affirming alternative look like? It needed to be esteem building work, not charity.

So, I ran the numbers backwards and figured out how much money we needed to be able to produce the trees and pay the farmers over the first four years to take care of them on their own farms. ($25). I hated monoculture tree farms and wanted to produce high diversity saplings.  This was a critical component of the model. We needed money and resources and time to seed collect and build nurseries. I needed lots of help and had no money. I wanted to help educate children, adults and tourists too. All this played into my plan to create a way for other people to get involved and put in their time and energy and money.  I got inspired. I dreamed big. I went out on a limb and put up our simple, (but of course, long winded ha ha ha)  Website in late 2009. And to my sweet relief, slowly, other people crawled out there on that limb with me. People sponsored ACCT trees. Thank you. We are still out there today!

Five years later we have planted over 5000  diverse native trees on 16 different participating family farms. To date, 3497 trees are sponsored and we have 8 recurring monthly individual donors. We’ve recently built a Reforestation Partnership for business who want to offset carbon dioxide. We are growing alliances with Festivals like The Envision Festival. We are working with professional athletes like snowboarders DCP and Jeremy Jones. We are allies with other non profit climate change orgs like Protect our Winters.  We were awarded a small United Nations grant to build two huge community tree nurseries. We just received a Peace Corps volunteer to help our burgeoning Women’s group of over 35 women who are building sustainable businesses including fertile soil compost , chocolate,  and coconut oil.  We employ over 25 Costa Rican tree planters, tree maintainers and nursery workers.  We produce over 20,000 trees per year. We have hosted over 60 different volunteers from around the world. We give great educational eco tourism opportunities. We have hosted more than 60 Kids’ Nature Day educational activities. I speak at conferences around the world. I am a trained Climate Reality Leader. We still have  very low overhead. This is what  ACCT is all about.  I will forever be humbled by the trust and support shown to me and our growing community of farmers.  A seed must go through complete destruction and total transformation to germinate. And with time and nurture,  it grows, blossoms and gives ripe fruit. And so it is with Community Carbon Trees – Costa Rica.

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Smiles All Around for Rainforest Trees!

One of the best things we have done at Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica ( ACCT) is include women in the center of all of our tree production and planting activities. For the past three years, women have been working in our work crews and we can see the positive benefits at all levels of our rainforest tree planting community.

Women can IMG_2336swing machetes, collect seeds, load trucks, carry trees on their shoulders and cut away choking vegetation for good tree growth. They are experts witht he shovel! We watch the women gently care for each and every tree as they plant it and then follow it for 4 years with constant care. The tiny saplings really are babies in need of care out there in the cattle grasses and the women show great success with low death rates and superior growth rates. We could not be more proud of the women who work with our rainforest community.IMG_2349

After a half day of work, (6 am to noon), the women return to their homes and take care of their families with a heightened sense of self esteem and dignity. They share their tree work stories with their families from a positive place. They also feel good about contributing to the family budget. The men in the community love it too. There is a jovial team feeling among everyone involved in our projects. Conversations about reforestation and conservation pepper the dinner table and the whole family gets in on the excitement and the prosperity and dignity that comes from rural families reforesting their own land together. It is hard work but the benefits are obvious to everyone.

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Keeping women in the center of our tree planting and care work is a proven recipe for long term success for the whole family.   Great examples are held out for kids and neighbors while we just keep growing more different kinds of trees. There is more good organic food around and people are obviously feeling empowered. No one is going out and illegally cutting down trees. Our participants do not use herbicides or pesticides. There is less desperation in the community of humans and animals and everyone is all smiles all around.

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Thank you for your continued support by sponsoring a tree today! We love to do the dirty work.

Cattle Farmers Turn to ACCT Reforestation for Sustainability in Costa Rica

Cattle Farmers turn to ACCT reforestation programs for Sustainability in Costa Rica

IMG_2221 IMG_2336At Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica, we work with participating Costa Rican farmers who have deforested land from cattle farming. Meet Omar Godinez, who is participating with our biodiverse agro-forestry programs on his land in La Reina, Guabo Valley Costa Rica. Omar rides his horse in the village to collect and carry any materials he may need to live. He lives in a simple wooden house with a big river running nearby. Several uncovered water springs bubble forth on his land and a tiny stretch of rainforest remains in a very steep area.

Before participating with our community reforestation programs, Omar did not have gainful employment other than cattle farming. Little by little, his land would no longer support the cattle as all the topsoil had run off over the past 15 years in the torrential tropical rains and penetrating Equatorial sun. Omar felt hopeless.

In 2013, local women and Omar replanted over 600 trees on Omar’s land, including all kinds of rare tropical lumber, fruiting trees, and water protection species. Omar is thrilled. He got paid to plant his farm along with some of the local women who are now prospering because of tree production and planting jobs. Everyone gets paid each time the surrounding cattle grasses are chopped and trees tended during the first 4 years.

You can see how big and healthy the trees are growing on Omar’s farm. He is already harvesting bananas and corn and the hardwood and fruit trees are growing leaps and bounds. He will be able to harvest beautiful cocoa in just a few more years and sell it cooperatively for value added chocolate treats to benefit the community of workers and more tree planting projects.

No herbicide is allowed in any of all our projects and loves this. Some of his neighbors currently use herbicides and pesticides and he knows that this is harmful to the bees and bats living all around his land. Omar is learning how to rebuild his soil and grow organic food within the food forest.  He can see his neighbors paying attention and copying his lead to stop using pesticides.

The surrounding land is already buzzing with life, shadier and cooler in just two and a half short years. Omar is glad that we replanted the springs with water protecting trees for future generations. At Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica, everybody wins. Especially Nature!

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