Tag Archives: rainforest

Cosmic Convergence Outreach Workshop

Tree Ambassadors Erica Largen and Faith Johnson traveled to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to share a rainforest tree leadership workshop at Cosmic Convergence; an annual music, arts and culture festival on December 27, 2016 through January 1, 2017.

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So there we were, Faith and I, traveling across mountains and towns of Guatemala. It’s amazing how a foreign language can make you feel like a humble idiot. Three days after tuk tuk trips, boat rides, airbnbs and loads of walking, we arrived at the festival.

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With wrist bands on hand we went to our campsite where our tent, super comfortable sleeping pad and pillows were set up and waiting for our arrival. What hospitality!

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We brought ourselves on behalf of nonprofit Community Carbon Trees. The fest featured incredible music and the opportunity to network with fellow activists and earth warriors.

While festival setup continued on the first night, we laid down to look at the stars. This gave our bodies, minds and spirit time to take in the sacredness of the land surrounded by ancient volcanoes and the high elevation Lake Atitlan. With our heads already in the grass, we were joined by an activist from Britain and a couple from Central America. We talked about ideas of living on planet Earth and our how to heal her.

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During the days, when we weren’t putting finishing touches on our presentation, we attended other workshops. The topics of fungus, community organizing, health, women, social and environmental justice were fun and packed with useful knowledge.

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Did you know: in Guatemala 98% of the land is owned by 2% of the people?

Today global economic interests and the national government continue to use police and military power to take land from native Guatemalan people to build hydroelectric electricity infrastructure, superhighways and pipeline infrastructure.

*Shameless plug* for community carbon trees and how we plant trees on farms owned by local farmers so we can develop long-term economic and environmental sustainability in the community.

On Saturday we presented our workshop in the Numundo workshop space. Highlights of the workshop –

  1. We discussed why rainforest trees are important and how reforestation contributes significantly to global carbon sequestration.
  2. Leaders as healers. Healers empower others and that’s what leadership is.Or as Lao Tzu once said, “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.'”
  3. How community carbon trees empowers local families and how activists can get involved by becoming a tree ambassador.

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We got our hands dirty making seed bombs as workshop attendees left the collaborative space.

The experience at Cosmic convergence was unmatchable. We rang in 2017, danced, sang, prayed, met contacts and grew our network of tree friends. Faith became a more confident public speaker.

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We are grateful to work on behalf of an organization that allows us to do work that fills us with life.

Ut Prosim. That I May Serve.

Follow cosmic convergence facebook or visit their website. Buy tickets for next year! Time spent at this growing fest is time well spent!

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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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WHAT IF YOU COULD BREATHE, EAT AND DRINK YOUR FREQUENT FLYER MILES GUILT FREE?

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When Justin Brothers, one of the Producers of the Envision Festival in Costa Rica, asked me to write an article about what ACCT does,  I wondered what  I could say that would resonate with this jet setting, fun loving, and mantra murmuring crowd.  Non profit Association Community Carbon Trees- Costa Rica has been working with the ENVISION FESTIVAL since it’s inception 5 years ago in an effort to provide a way for people attending the event to offset their carbon dioxide emitted from the airplanes, trains, and automobiles used to travel to the Southern Zone of Costa Rica. Envision’s example of giving back to the local and global community has set the stage for other festivals to be more environmentally aware not just about their footprint for the festival itself, but also for the planet as a whole due to the countless environmental services and sustainable products rainforest trees so generously give us. Trees do so much for us from sucking up excess carbon dioxide to recycling thousands of gallons of rainwater each year, to providing food, medicine and products. With so many amazing qualities, it is hard to focus on just one reason why we love rainforest trees.

Tree Jenny at Envision 2015!
Tree Jenny at Envision 2015!

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions from people at the festival  is HOW do the trees do their magic? Most people know a little about photosynthesis, that amazing atmospheric chemical exchange occurring in green plants which forms the basis of our symbiotic relationship with them. Humans exhale CO2 constantly, as do land based animals, and many fossil fuel consuming machines and factories. Trees breathe in CO2 and store the carbon molecule while literally recycling our pollution into the oxygen we breathe and the water we drink.

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This mutually reciprocal relationship is nothing short of amazing as it provides for our most fundamental needs. Carbon is not the enemy.  In fact, Paul Hawken, esteemed environmentalist, reminds  us that carbon is an  extraordinary element we need to hold hands with and collaborate.   We need to fall in love with carbon.

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I say we need to fall in love with rainforest trees too. Because they truly do hold hands with carbon and turn it into food for growth. Nevertheless, tree services often go unnoticed and taken for granted.  That old cliche “Save the Rainforest” never really worked and now we have so much carbon in the air that it has become a menace to society and no one really has invented a better way than a tropical tree near the Equator to absorb it and give us so much back in return.

Let’s go deeper. How do we calculate how much carbon dioxide is captured by any tree? It depends on  the growth characteristics of the tree species, the conditions for growth where the tree is planted, and the density of the tree’s wood.  In other words, how big and hard does the tree grow over time? Where is the tree located and how old is it? Carbon offset  is greatest within 10 degrees of the Equator and in the younger stages of tree growth, between 20 to 50 years.  This is why it is so important for every tree we plant to “keep on living and giving” which makes our long term, paid community farmer rainforest management and conservation program critical to real success.

2.5 year old tree! Look how big!
2.5 year old tree! Look how big!

Do you want to go even deeper?  Of course, all trees planted anywhere are wonderful and generous. But when you start calculating the real carbon sequestration of any given tree, those growing within 10 degrees of the Equator out perform all others because they grow 365 days a year with no real dormant cold season. Here is a basic outline of how the calculation works. First, we determine the total (green) weight of the tree by determining   “W” = Above-ground weight of the tree in pounds, “D” = Diameter of the trunk in inches and H = Height of the tree in feet.  Fn3

Then we determine the dry weight of the tree. This is based on extensive publications with  tables for average weights for one cord of wood for different temperate and tropical tree species. Taking all species in the table into account, the average tree is 72.5% dry matter and 27.5% moisture.Therefore, to determine the dry weight of the tree, multiply the weight of the tree by 72.5%.

Next, we determine  the weight of carbon in the tree.  The average carbon content is generally 50% of the tree’s total volume. Therefore, to determine the weight of carbon in the tree, multiply the dry weight of the tree by 50%.

Determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree. CO2 is composed of one molecule of Carbon and 2 molecules of Oxygen.

The atomic weight of Carbon is 12.001115.

The atomic weight of Oxygen is 15.9994.

The weight of CO2 is C+2*O=43.999915.

The ratio of CO2 to C is 43.999915/12.001115=3.6663.

Therefore, to determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree, multiply the weight of carbon in the tree by 3.6663.6

Finally, determine the weight of CO2 sequestered in the tree per year. To do this, we divide the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree by the age of the tree.

EXAMPLES

Estimated growth rates and sizes of agroforestry trees were taken from the World Agroforestry Centre’s “Agroforestree Database”:

Let’s see how much a Calliandra calothyrsus ( small leguminous tree native to Central America) might sequester in a year. A 10-year-old Calliandra would probably grow about 15 feet tall with a trunk about 8 inches in diameter. Therefore:

W = 0.25D2H = 0.25(82)(15) = 240 lbs. green weight above ground.

240 lbs. * 120% = 288 lbs. green weight (roots included) 288 lbs. * 72.5% = 208.8 lbs. dry weight
208.8 lbs. * 50% = 104.4 lbs. carbon
104.4 lbs * 3.6663 = 382.8 lbs. CO2 sequestered

382.8 lbs / 10 years = 38.3 lbs. CO2 sequestered per year

If nothing else, it becomes very clear that it is not enough to just plant the tree. Every single tree must be lovingly tended, especially the first four years if it is to grow up over the cattle grasses and form a biodiverse forest canopy to give us maximum environmental benefits.  Each one of these diverse trees contributes over 200 pounds of biomass each year to rebuild soils on deforested cattle farms participating in our programs.  Based on the number of trees Envision has sponsored to date, just picture more than 74,600 pounds of fresh new topsoil added from falling branches, leaves and animal droppings where it used to be just hot mess of cattle grass and erosion! But wait. There’s more! Each tree transpires or recycles  over 200  gallons of  rainwater each year.  By the time the trees reach 20 years old, they have formed a canopy which transpires  over 20,000 gallons of water per acre per year. That is a big deal with the ongoing drought and flood conditions plaguing our planet due to deforestation and unusually higher temperatures year after year.

Local Costa Ricans participating with us, both workers and host farm family members, all paid labor, chop cattle grasses and choking vegetation away from the  base of each and every tree and its perimeter 3 to 4 times per year the first two years, 2 times during the 3rd year and 2 times  the 4th year. This means the majority of the money from each ACCT  sponsorship is going out to the community to make sure each and every tree grows to maturity which is at least 25 years for the carbon sequestration numbers to be real.

ACCT work crews of men and women and volunteers!
ACCT work crews of men and women and volunteers!

ACCT distinguishes itself from most other tree planting groups by allocating money and management to the follow up care of every single tree. We even replace any trees that die the first 4 years. What’s more, we plant a huge diversity of trees. And we do not buy the land either, but rather empower local farmers to work on their own land which means less deforestation.  Through local job creation, ACCT cultivates greater chances of long term rainforest regeneration and conservation.  Social justice has a huge role to play in keeping rainforest standing for future generations.

IMG_0515My,  how we have all grown! As of planting season 2015,  just 5 years after our birth, 16 different family farms are participating in our ACCT forestry programs. Over the past 5 years, Envision Festival has grown as well. They have sponsored 373 trees for Future Generations with a projected measurable carbon offset of at least 373 tons of CO2 over a 25 year period.  We could break down these numbers  to yearly calculations, but given the long term nature of our work and commitment and dedication to forest management, the 25 year cycle is a more fair analysis based on a per tree basis.

So if you are traveling to Envision Festival this coming year 2016, or still want to offset your CO2 from previous years, or even other festivals or events, you can safely calculate that 1 tropical tree will absorb approximately 1 ton of CO2 plus give us all of the other benefits mentioned. We really do hold a powerful, socially just solution in the palm of our hands. And ACCT loves to do the dirty work with our community of men and women! Every single tree does makes a difference.   You have an important role to play. If not you, then who? Envision the forest we are planting. It is real and we need your help!

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ACCT thru the carbon offset button on the Envision website EnvisionFestival.com. You can also  post your pic and testimonial and receive a Carbon Certificate through our interactive website www.CommunityCarbonTrees-CostaRica.com. We  are the change we seek. ACCT now!

1 http://www.rcfa-cfan.org/english/issues.13.html

2 The National Computational Science Leadership Program http://www.ncsec.org/cadre2/team18_2/students/purpose.html and The Shodor Education Foundation

3 “Total-Tree Weight, Stem Weight, and Volume Tables for Hardwood Species in the Southeast,” Alexander Clark III, Joseph R. Saucier, and W. Henry McNab, Research Division, Georgia Forestry Commission, January 1986.

Chave J, Muller-Landau H, Baker TR, EasdaleTA, ter Steege H and Webb CO. 2006. Regional and phylogenetic variation of wood density across 2456 neotropical tree species.  Ecological Applications 16:2356-2367.

Vallejo A, Hernadez PC. 2006.  Database of  observations of Central American species and generic models of growth. Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenaza, CATIE, COsta Rica.

4 “Heating With Wood: Producing, Harvesting and Processing Firewood,” Scott DeWald, Scott Josiah, and Becky Erdkamp, University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, March 2005.
http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/g1554/build/g1554.pdf

Chave J, Muller-Landau H, Baker TR, EasdaleTA, ter Steege H and Webb CO. 2006. Regional and phylogenetic variation of wood density across 2456 neotropical tree species.  Ecological Applications 16:2356-2367.

5.  “Carbon Storage and Accumulation in United States Forest Ecosystems, General Technical Report W0- 59,” Richard A. Birdsey, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Radnor, PA, August 1992.

http://www.ilea.org/birdsey/fcarbon_index.html#toc

http://www.ncsec.org/cadre2/team18_2/students/helpCalcCO2.htm

http://www.worldagroforestrycentre.org/Sites/TreeDBS/aft.asp

 

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.

Did I change the World? I hope so…

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The little things really do count. And so does every single tree you sponsor. You never know how your contribution, even if you feel it is small, can indeed change the world…and by doing so change yourself.

Let me share the story of Takashi Suzuki with you. At the end of 2014, I awoke to a message from Paypal informing me about a new tree Sponsor. This is always an exciting moment since it is the way we fund our community reforestation work. But this time, the message was different. The Sponsor’s name was in a foreign language and a foreign alphabet!

“Hello …

I received your tree sponsorship this am. I must say it was most exciting to see the totally different written alphabet that represents the language of your name… may I ask where are you from? You will be the first person from your country I do believe to sponsor a tree! This gives me hope that what we are doing is getting out into the world. It has been very hard to create a carbon consciousness movement but all of a sudden, I see more and more people waking up and actually doing something to reduce and offset their carbon footprints. One way to do that is by sponsoring a tree. Thank you ever so much. Your tree is already planted in Finca Asdrual Planting Season 2014. We are updating our website this weekend and I am glad to say that new photos will be posted in the planting gallery. This way you can see all of the growth of your tree and the Costa Rican workers who are tending it. We depend on our Sponsors to help us keep paying our workers to plant and care for the trees… it is a global communal effort and YOU are now a part of it. THANK YOU.  Sincerely, JENNY P.S. PLEASE Share us with your friends!!! We have Facebook too!”

Just hours later, I received the following reply…

“I’m from Japan. I’m surprised that I’m the first japanese person who sponsor a tree. Global environmental problems have been getting worth. If nothing is done, this world is doomed to distraction…..maybe it’s too late. I’d like to see the world where humanity and nature coexist harmoniously. That’s why I decided to sponsor a tree. I want to plant more trees, so I will donate my money to your organization soon.”

Oh wow, I exclaimed,  “now we have a person in Japan who has sponsored a tree. And says he will sponsor more…” My heart swelled as I wrote back.

“Thank you for your thoughtful response. Yes, many people are shocked to learn that we are not receiving a lot of tree sponsorships each day. IN fact, quite the opposite, we are still struggling to get the word out about our work and how much it helps the planet, animals and people on so many multiple levels. It is about way more than just absorbing extra CO2. In emerging economies, especially those near the Equator, like Costa Rica, we have to find reasons to convince people living near vulnerable rainforest not to cut it down. Experience has taught us that creating dignified tree planting jobs can transform lifetime cattle farmers into conservationists with sustainable rainforest business opportunities. It is good. We do see progress as we plant more trees with more participating families.

And we also see progress because YOU, Takashi Suzuki, found us. And YOU Takashi took that extra step and reviewed our work, believed in us and gave us $25 of your hard earned money. Yes! First person from Japan. It only takes a spark to get a fire going…Thank you again…Jenny”

I thought that was the end of my correspondence with Takashi. But the next morning, I awoke and found the next email from Takashi.

“I’ve just realized that I made a mistake in my previous message. Global environmental problems have been getting worse. Not “getting worth.” I’m sorry for a stupid mistake.  I made another donation. I hope it can help you and your community. By the way, Jenny is an energetic woman. Why do I know? Because I watched her YouTube channel. I wish I could be like that. I’m a weak person. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I wish that I can make difference. Thank you. Takashi”

I was humbled by Takashi’s second donation and inspired to work ever harder to always deserve the trust of special people like Takashi… so I wrote back again…

“Hello Takashi,

This is Jenny again! Thank You. Believe me, YOU are making a difference Takashi. Your two trees will grow and capture over 2 tons of CO2 just for starters. Your two trees add up with the trees of so many other Sponsors from around the globe to grow new biodiverse forests on dead deforested land owned by Costa Rican cattle farmers struggling to survive. I think you are strong and compassionate for being able to donate money because not everyone can or will do that. I believe we all have our very special role to play… our own mission in life. It does not have to be a huge one. We are lucky if we can find something important to us that serves others. I feel lucky that I get to do what I do. Not everyone can or even wants to do the “jumping around” and getting dirty and sweaty Jenny part! So, feel good about what YOU do and let’s both keep doing our unique parts. We need each other. All of us are in this together. You are wonderful TAKASHI. YOU MADE MY DAY! THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU!Have an awesome day! JENNYWE LOVE TREES!”

All this letter writing happened on Friday. After a long weekend of continued website update and revisions, I awoke Monday morning to another encouraging Takashi tree sponsorship and message!

“Hello! I donated my money again. I think this time was the third time for me to a sponsor tree. I noticed that my name was disappeared from Sponsors Gallery. What happened? Is there a problem in my transaction? I checked my paypal account. It said that my transaction was completed. I hope there’s no problem. Or…maybe you don’t like me. That’s fine. Thank you. Takashi”

Now it was my turn again.

“Hey Takashi!!

Thank you so much tree friend! I woke up about 30 minutes ago and saw your third donation! Thank you!! Yes, Takashi we love you! In fact, we love your Sponsor Gallery postings! Yes, you are changing the world one tree at a time. Not sure if you noticed but we are updating our website to Mobile friendly! We also noticed that between Friday and today, the online Sponsor Gallery dropped whoever donated at the end of week. We contacted our web wizard and he is repairing this today! It should all be back up by tonight. IN the meantime, YOU, Takashi are my favorite sponsor on the planet right now! I cannot believe you sponsored another tree!! First time this has ever happened!

I would love to write my very first new blog article about our experience back and forth? Is that ok?? Would you mind a picture of yourself? If not I put some other picture! You are so special! Blessings from Costa Rica on a sunny morning! Jenny”

So Takashi writes back one more time…

“I know that you changed your webpage design, so I assumed that your website had some problems when my name was disappeared from Sponsors Gallery. I hope your website will be fixed soon.  To tell you the truth, I’m happy to be able to make donation to your organization. I do not care if my name was disappeared or not. What I was worried is that you could receive my donation. That’s why I sent a message to you. It seems that our transaction are fine. Please take care of trees. Thank you! Takashi”

My turn: “Yes Takashi, Our transactions are fine! We received all three sponsorships… And I loved your testimonial in the Sponsor Gallery. We will make sure all the comments are posted. Yesterday, I went to see your trees on Finca Asdrual with the workers who recently cleaned them. These trees were planted in July and have been tended twice this year. So far we only found 5 dead trees out of 750 planted and we already replaced them.  I’ll be posting all these pictures in the planting gallery this week. So go check it out!! Yipppeee we love trees! Pura vida, Jenny”

And Takashi replies…

“I’m really looking forward to see pictures!! What kind of tree are you going to plant in July? I don’t know about tree…so even if you tell me tree’s name, I can’t understand. Maybe I should study about botany.

I respect your job because planting tree looks very difficult. Have a nice day!”

This kind of interchange with our tree Sponsors is a wonderful occurrence. It means so much to us that someone in Japan found us and took the time to write us! When we see how much people actually care that their trees are being maintained and loved long-term,  it also lightens the load. It feels good  when people thank us and congratulate us and recognize how hard our work is. Three donations almost in five days from someone clear across the planet who we do not even know is such a strong stroke of encouragement for our entire hard-working team.  Thank you Takashi, You are changing the world with your example of how much the little things count!

Until next time… Reap what you sow. We love trees!