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!
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.
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.
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.
One the shells cracked away from the beans, we used a blow dryer to “winnow” away the shells from the cocoa “nibs”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seems like no matter where you are, talk about drought is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I was recently in California this past April and was surprised to see the all fountains, even the ones in Beverly Hills, completely turned off. Babylon is running out of water. How ironic because Babylon used to be known for its lush hanging hydroponic gardens overflowing with plenty of water and more than enough food for all. Now look at us.
Water wars have begun whether you know it or not. Competition for this precious resource is going to become ever more fierce because we have altered our air composition and cut down way too many trees. Excess carbon dioxide is driving up temperatures which is, in turn, trapping in more water vapor.
Rainforests balance the global temperature and water cycles through recycling huge quantities of rainfall. Enormous amounts of water are continuously being elevated through the one-way, antigravity valving system of trees. Each canopy tree transpires some 200 gallons ( 760 liters) of water annually. For every acre of canopy rainforest, trees transpire about 20,000 gallons (76,000L) of water.  The tree feeds the rain-forming atmosphere by leaking atomized water out through its leaves while at the same time sucking in fresh water through its roots. Trees run the rainfall/snowfall system through their evapo-transpiration. So how do the trees recycle the rain?
Water evaporates from the sea and from the trees, first rising as water vapor and then condensing and falling as rain, a process referred to as evapo-transpiration. Some rainwater sinks into the earth and some rainwater drains away over the ground surface, depending on the temperature of the ground surface coupled with whether there are trees there or not. In forested areas, the trees cool the ground off with their shading branches and leaves. When the the ground is cooler than the falling rainwater, the warmer rainwater to easily penetrate the earth. Around 85% of the water runoff is retained, with 15% being absorbed by vegetation and humus and about 70% going to recharge groundwater, aquifers and underground stream systems.
In the full hydrological cycle like this, the trees recharge the groundwater table by sending it down through interconnected webs of tree roots. This is why biodiverse groupings of different species of trees, like those growing in a natural forest or highly diverse reforestation project, ensure that water is, in fact, penetrating the ground at multiple levels and actually nourishing deeper underground streams and reservoirs instead of draining them like in a monoculture or single species plantation.
In a healthy, full hydrological cycle, diverse tree root systems play another key role in regulation of the water cycle. Roots from all kinds of trees reaching down to all strata of underground levels draw water up from different layers of the soil and underground aquifers. This water then transpires through the tree leaves and rises as water vapor, cooling with altitude and condensing into clouds. Finally, the water aggregates into bigger droplets and precipitates as rain. Some say that water rising from trees is more highly charged and healthy water because it emanates from a living source, with mineral and trace element content much higher than transpiration from the sea, where many creatures have already absorbed the oxygen and carbon dioxide content leaving the water empty.
Now think about what happens to the water when we cut down the trees, particularly around the Equator where the majority of rainwater and oxygen is recycled on our planet. In deforested areas without tree cover, the temperature gradient of the soil is normally so hot that the cooler rainwater cannot penetrate it at all. Instead, the water runs off and just evaporates away. It’s just like when you throw water on a hot skillet and it sizzles and skitters sideways, just evaporating into thin air. Without the trees and cooling clouds to shade and protect and keep the soil cool, the rainwater cannot sink in.
The water vapor in the atmosphere at first increases and the rain spreads out over a much larger surface area instead. Sometimes the rainfall is excessive, then flooding occurs. At the same time, enhanced evaporation causes the atmosphere to become overloaded with water vapor and make the water fall somewhere else instead – sometimes far from the original source of the water vapor. By this process, devastating droughts can also result from the vicious cycle of rain created by a broken hydrological cycle. Yes, a flood in one region begets the next flood, and conversely, a flood can also be the cause of a future drought.
How can drought occur from too much rain? Critical consequence of the half hydro cycle is that there is no groundwater recharge. Think about it. Most of the water is staying on the surface because trees are not rooting the water down and transpiring the vapor upwards in a slow steady balanced process. Instead, the water is rising very fast, in large part as hot vapor and falling as rain without ever actually penetrating the deep levels of the earth. Often, if there aren’t enough trees to hold moisture in the soil, and the winds end up moving the vapor elsewhere which effectively removes the water from that local system.
Where there is no tree cover, the groundwater initially rises and brings with it underground salts, which contaminate the upper levels of topsoil. The plants are not able to metabolize these salts and vegetation and soils dry up and die. Over time the groundwater table will sink and disappear, because there is insufficient rainwater to nourish it and in turn, the supply of nutrients to vegetation from below the ground ceases.
Esteemed scientist Victor Shauberger calls this a biological short circuit which ultimately leads to widespread desertification. Why? The nutrients present in the upper zones of the groundwater table, which are normally drawn up by the trees to a level where they are accessible to the lesser plants are left below instead to sink with the falling ground water. The water table eventually drops to levels far beyond the reach of even the deepest tree roots, taking all soil moisture and trace elements down with it. No water means the desert reigns supreme.
When widespread desertification is the norm, not only is water lost in the deep bowels of the earth, but it also begins to be lost at the great heights of the heavens. The initial greater intensity of thunderstorms and storm activity at first raises the water vapor to levels far higher than normal, even as high as 40 to 80 km above the surface of the planet. Here the vapor reaches altitudes where it is exposed to much stronger ultraviolet and high energy gamma radiation, which break apart the water molecules by disassociating the oxygen from the hydrogen. Due to its lesser specific weight, the hydrogen molecule then rises while the oxygen molecule sinks. This way the water is effectively removed forever – gone gone gone for good.
So what can we do to restore a healthy, full hydrological cycle for our planet? Planting bio diverse trees within 10° of the Equator is one of the best solutions. In badly deteriorated soils, pioneering species are able to handle the higher levels of soil salts and are critical to plant so they can provide some early shade and ground cover which begins to lower the soil’s temperature. Soil conditions slightly improve as the trees move rainwater deeper into the earth, taking the excess salt down with it. Meanwhile a mix of fruit and hardwood trees can survive in the regenerated soil thanks to the process of creating shade and more soil moisture. Eventually, the pioneer trees die off because the evolved soil conditions are now no longer suitable and the dynamic balance of nature is restored.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
My, 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!
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!
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.
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.
I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I would watch my MOM gobble down these green mushy “fruits”, all cut into little squares inside their perfect little natural bowls. She would drip lemon and salt over the chunks and slowly savor each and every bite. I could tell how much she was enjoying this mysterious food because she would smile like she was in heaven. So, eventually, I got curious and asked her for a bite. Oh, I sighed, this is good… Now I get it.
That was the first time I tried the amazing AVOCADO, not knowing then that it grew all over the rainforest in Costa Rica. I don’t think we ever went to the grocery store again without me asking for them. They weren’t always available so I learned young that avocados are a special treat. This remains true today. Even though I live in the rainforest and have avocados trees in my backyard, they are not always in season. Sometimes I still do without. Whenever I germinate avocado seeds for tree production, I think of my Mom and all those avocado seeds she would stick with toothpicks and try to sprout in glass jars in our kitchen window. I wondered why she tended those vines when they could never become a tree since Louisiana was still not the right climate for growing avocados. I guess it was just “fun”.
My Mom introduced me to other kinds of fancy food from the rainforest, which at the time, I just did not understand how precious they really were. I also remember those special little while round discs MOM would toss into our salads. I never really knew what they were but I knew I liked those special white nuggets in the salad. I remember when my Mom showed me the can with the “HEARTS OF PALM” inside. I could not believe something so yummy could come out of a can. I would search longingly for it every time we went to the grocery store, not knowing then that hearts of palm are a rainforest treasure I would one day grow by the thousands.
It’s funny how I never knew that hearts of palm actually came from a palm tree. Yea, the words were there, even written on the can, but I never truly “got it” that these delicacies came from the center of a palm tree.
When I moved to Costa Rica 15 years ago, I was stunned and dismayed to hear that each and every palm only gives one heart of palm. Once cut, a new palm will only regrow from a new palm tree. It does not regenerate out of the stump. Again, this could seem obvious to some, but I had to move across the world and discover this hard truth for myself. Once I understood how over exploited the rainforest palms were for this high quality nutritious food, we started replanting them in droves! Indeed, no forest would be complete without a diversity of symbiotic palms to complete the ecosystem. Hearts of palm must be replanted regularly to keep the supply sustainable.
Perhaps the most noteworthy introduction to slow rainforest food my Mom made to me was the marvelous mango. ( I am keeping chocloate out of this discussion because the precious cocoa tree deserves it’s own story in my book!) I met the MANGO at a special buffet offered at a fancy breakfast party I attended as a small kid, again with my adventurous MOM. I remember seeing this work of food art decorating the fruit table. Mangoes had been cut away from the big seed in the center then perfectly cut into cubes while still attached to the skin. By turning it inside out, little chunks of sunshiny goodness, all fleshy and sweet, were easy pluck off one by one. I remember asking my MOM it it was edible or just part of the decorations. She laughed, inviting me to sit and share it with her. I remember picking up the heavy fruit from the table, and bringing it carefully to where my MOM was sitting. After bursting with surprise that anything could be so yummy and soft, I exclaimed that I wanted to go and buy a mango tree and plant it that very afternoon on the way home from the brunch. My Mom just laughed again and explained that mangos only come from tropical countries near the Equator where the rainforest grows. She explained how mango trees take a long time to grow. She told me how generous they were once grown because they give hundreds of fruits per year. I marveled at how anyone could have a mango tree in their backyard.
So I have to thank my MOM for introducing me to fancy rainforest foods, including chocolate, one could say the “finer things in life”. Imported foods like avocadoes, mangos, hearts of palm are a regular part of my diet now. But the cool part is that I am lucky enough to have them growing right in my own backyard! It has taken some time to get these trees going and harvest their fruits, but the wait is well worth it. Easy picking from low hanging fruit in a carefully designed tropical food forest means abundant and diverse food for export, all organic and non GMO. It is as easy as taking a stroll with a big basket. Just collect the bounty of your harvest. Because we really do reap what we sow. And with rainforest trees, we get more fancy food per hectare with the least amount of effort long term. Plus a world of other environmental benefits.
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 swing 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.
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.
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.
Thank you for your continued support by sponsoring a tree today! We love to do the dirty work.
The first time I saw Vanishing of the Bees, I had already dedicated more than 10 years of my life to creating solutions for global warming through rainforest conservation and community tree planting in Costa Rica.
I was lucky to have answered the call of my life’s mission: I evolved from environmental lawyer in Louisiana to the founder Carbon Community Trees, a successful non-profit community reforestation group that regenerates degraded cattle farms with communities in rural areas of Costa Rica.
On an intuitive level, I felt that keeping the rainforest healthy would also serve the bees. We could not just focus on the pesticides and herbicides in a vacuum, or genetic modifications and big factory farming alone. We need to look at the bigger effects and think globally.
We have observed record-high temperatures for the past 12 years as a result of human-hastened climate change. More intense winters also take their toll on natural systems; bigger storms, floods and droughts stress all organisms.
Planting trees with community participation has a measurable, positive impact on lowering global temperatures. Rainwater is recycled into clouds; clouds bring down global temperatures; lower global temperatures take the pressure off species all over the planet, including the sensitive bees.
Finding long term ways to keep biodiverse rainforests standing also keeps the planet cool. Deforestation accounts for more than 20 percent of the carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. When farmers are paid to plant trees and take care of them long term, they do not cut them down like times gone by. Farmers have learned their lessons and are more than willing to work hard to repair their land and build new sustainable income opportunities related to the long-term growth of the trees.
Through our interactive programs, farmers are regularly harvesting renewable resources from the trees and gaining a new awareness of sustainable agro-forestry systems. We plant shelter zones and bridges made of growing trees to connect new forests across fragmented zones where animals, including bees, can build shelter. We empower forest communities, including women.
Tree Hugging and Bee Loving
Forests near the Equator breathe; trees are the lungs of the planet. Trees planted within 10 degrees of the Equator, like in Costa Rica, directly fight global warming and climate change by breathing in more carbon dioxide than anywhere else. These trees exhale oxygen 365 days a year in an atmosphere that is constantly being polluted by excess carbon levels.
In our community reforestation work, we have noticed time after time how docile and sweet the bees are when the trees are about five years old. (Now keep in mind that there are only Africanized bees in Costa Rica). They find comfort in the shade of the trees, which lowers the temperatures and encourages varied secondary vegetation. Once trees and weeds start blooming naturally, we regularly find hives rich in honey, filled with buzzing bees completely disinterested in us. One could even say they were happy. They appear focused and organized in a loose way, buzzing around plenty of different kinds of flowers both high in the canopy and around ground vegetation.
But the bees give off a whole different vibe when we first enter a deforested and degraded farm. They seem crazed and lost, if not desperate. A once abundant and pleasant habitat is now a hot, deforested and eroded hillside with sharp and thick, cattle grasses. These aggressive grasses suffocate and mangle even the strongest pioneering species, preventing anything else to grow. There is nothing blooming and nothing moving with the exception of “mean,” hungry bees. We find Africanized bee populations in these fields as aggressive as the grasses. Their temperament under the Equatorial sun—with no food, no flowers, no shade and fierce competition—matches the threatening environment.
Sometimes we unwittingly disturb these bees when our workers come swinging with machetes through the grasses for the first time to cut spaces to plant the baby trees. The bees attack the tree planters, stinging them hard! Faces and hands swell up as we slather on baking soda mixed into a cooling paste with water and continue chopping onward.
It is amazing to witness how fast we can convert these uninviting, cattle pastures into gentle, shady and productive food forests for all, especially the bees. No more angry bees attacking us. Hard work and time in nature satisfies everyone, including the bees. Meanwhile, resources become plentiful and workers become empowered. The young trees can only survive if we chop the cattle grasses regularly and trim vegetation so they can receive enough light to grow straight and tall.
The repair work we do requires a sustainable food chain and clean water and air, free of chemicals. Solutions must address rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures. Small scale farmers must be encouraged and empowered with economic support for natural farming practices and local conservation based on digging deep roots in the community.
Sponsor Trees for Future Generations
Big agriculture and first world governments are trying to “feed the world” more unsuccessfully than ever. How long can big agriculture keep hiding? We have to stop supporting commercial farming.
Purchase food from your local small farmers, plant a garden, or work in a community garden. Return to small and sovereign agricultural systems where local families and workers develop long term and balanced relationships with their own land and that of their neighbors. Land is best stewarded by those who work it, love it and depend on its ongoing productivity. Basically, people who have a connection with their land. This is one way we can start to lower carbon footprint.
Farmers who have a vested local interest in the fertility and long term productivity of their soils and the cleanliness of their water make the best conservation stewards. Valuing fruits like cocoa, guanoabana, mangoes, avocados, almonds and cashews from small reforestation farmers is just one way to repay the hard work and environmental services contributed by trees along the Equator in fighting climate change. It also supports the bees who pollinate these fruits and nuts.
With Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica, we aim to give people around the world a trustworthy and effective way to participate in one of the most hopeful solutions available to us in fighting the realm of maladies facing our natural systems today. Planting Equator biodiverse rainforest trees with local farming communities with our proven and certified ACCT model benefits people, animals and the planet.
We can make the changes that alter the course of our current tragic trajectory. NO action is too small; it all adds up. If poisons can add up over time, so can the positive steps we take to counteract them.
Jennifer Leigh Smith grew up on a sustainable farm in Louisiana playing in the woods and bayous, marveling at the Nature all around her. Jenny, who is also a lawyer, created Community Carbon Trees about 10 years ago. Jenny and her teams have planted more than half a million trees for 145 different projects. Jenny is a Climate Reality Leader trained by Al Gore and currently works with the United Nations and the Global Environment Fund to educate and build community reforestation programs in the emerging world.
SOLUTIONS ARE EASY … PLANT LOCAL TREES FOR BEES IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
We are all still buzzing after our ACCT screening of the documentary film, “Vanishing of the Bees” last week with it’s Co–Director Maryam Henein at Hotel Roca Verde in Dominical Costa Rica. Everyone has a special opportunity to be part of the solution for this critical contributor to our healthy food chain. We can all plant sweet blooming flowering trees and plants for the bees! And stop using chemicals. Are you wondering what to plant in your jungle backyard or what to leave alone to be symbiotic with our Costa Rican honeybees? No matter where you live, h ere are some useful tips to attract the maximum diversity of healthy pollinators!
Bees need trees to live well. No surprise really, no matter where you live. Bees living in the tropics build their hives in nooks and crannies of old trees, or high on tree trunks in the forest. The bees can thrive in these conditions when left alone. They seek spaces of protection in the trees to be able to build natural and strong honey colonies. Wild spaces for the bees are important to maintain nature’s natural, uninterrupted rythyms. If you have a hive around your house or business and the buzzing is making you nervous or a hive is otherwise in a spot that is subject to disturbance, a qualified bee rescue expert is always available to relocate unwanted hives.
In the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Harold Ramirez is available to relocate any unwanted hives of Mariolas or Meliponias, medicinal bees (Tetragonista angosteras). Honey from these small creatures strengthens the human immune system, builds longevity and can heal diseases of the eye. Costa Rican honeybees produce delicious honey fragrant with hints of flowers. Delicious bee pollen and propolis are valuable nutritional contributions generously given by the local organic bees.
With so many gifts they give us, it is a natural response to want to help the bees in return. We can all plant a wealth of biodiverse native trees, herbs, and flowers depending on where we live to nourish the bees naturally. In Costa Rica, where we enjoy eternal summer temperatures but lots of rain, we try to plant a wide range of flowering trees that bloom at different times of the year. This way there are always abundant flowers for our fuzzy friends. We all thrive with a varied diet of ORGANIC fruits and vegetables to stay strong and fight off pathogens all around us in today’s growing fierce competition for resources and survival.
Guava Bella is one of the most resistant, sun tolerant, fast growing trees which give copious amounts of flowers for bees. This variety is most commonly sold at local fruit stands in their natural packaging in the form of a big boomerang shaped pod which cracks open to offer neat rows of white, cotton candy-like fruit covering large black seeds. More appropriate species for higher elevations is the Guava Guayinaquil. The bees also love its showy and sticky flowers. Both of these trees in the varied “Inga” family grow well even in poor soils and can provide shade in the early years of any reforestation project. Monkeys will sit in a guava tree and strip it bare. And the bees? Buzzin so loud you can hear them. They are drunk and happy in Guava flower season!
Papayas are also a big bee pleaser. While we humans rarely ingest the leaves of a papaya tree except when recovering from dengue or malaria, some of the larger birds like the wild turkeys will eat papaya leaves to nothing. I have seen up to four large Pahuillas in a single papaya tree balancing gingerly on the thin stalks so they can keep munching on the leaves. The bees buzz around the small white flowers all sticky and fragrant with pollen.
And what about those ubiquitous Guayaba trees dropping their luscious pink fruits all around? Have you ever noticed the bees hovering all drippy and drunk around these sweet pollen laden flowers? While this fruit is just perfect for making marmalade, again, you will have to compete with the lower part of the food chain to get your share, especially because worms are often hiding inside. Rich in vitamin C, many an unassuming human has bitten into a Guayaba fruit only to be grossed out by the worms. Don’t worry, nothing goes to waste in Nature, and the deer and other mammals will scarf down any worm laden fruits left over. The rest serves as great organic compost. We each take our share and leave something behind to decompose for completing the circle.
Any variety of Mango tree is a magnet for the sticky bees. They are a great way to feed the bees, the wildlife and yourself! The rose colored shower tree, known as Karao, is also a big bee pleaser. No bee banquet would be complete without a few special flowers from fruits like Caimito, Abiut, Javoticaba, Cascarilla, Guanabana, Carambola, Jackfruit and Breadfruit. The fruit offered by these trees is so valuable to us all. But we would not enjoy it without the bees. The bees come to the flowers and end up giving us fruit by their pollination. Sweet symbiosis. We have a tropical food forest that nourishes us and the bees and makes us all healthy and happy too.
What about flowering trees for bees? Aceituna is a tall, slender purple blooming tree that offers a hearty flower with extra long stigmas perfect for bees making landings with sticky hind legs hanging down. Flitting from flower to flower, the bees pollinate the tree. Several months later the tree makes a large olive like fruit coveted by all kinds of birds and animals of the rainforest.
Everyone loves the striking beauty of the Orgullo de la India tree, boasting bright hues of purple or pink flowers in October when few other trees are flowering. This is an important late rainy season food for bees. In late summer, activated by dry weather, the Corteza Amarilla explodes in short lived yellow neon flowers that are aglow with the buzz of the bees. It’s cousin in the Tabebuia family, Roble Sabana o “Pau de Arco” tree is another flashy bloomer that impresses in late summer. Its bark is ground into a tea that is taken internally for a range of health benefits including tumor shrinkage. How is that for successful bee tree symbiosis?
Planting trees creates shade and improves the fertility of soils by dropping biomass for nourishment. Planting a food forest creates a dappled light habitat perfect for growing a wide array of herbs and flowers, also good for bees and humans alike. These weeds in turn nourish the growing trees with their decomposing biomass and the regenerative cycle of life is intact and rolling without obstacles.
Plant the impressive and hardy Agave plants (“tequila plants”) and you will attract some incredible bees when they bloom. Other blooming shrubs like Rabo de leon or Butterfly Bush, Gardenia, Poinsiana, Castor Bean, plus the whole family of Heliconias and Gingers and Hibiscus will attract an ever abundant menagerie of flying pollinating insects, not to mention hummingbirds. Add in some medicinal shrubs like Saragundi or wild Senna (great antiseptic, cooling skin wash), Hombre grande (stops diarrhea and vomiting), Fruta milagrosa (Stevia) or Gavilan (Jackassbitters) for amoebas and parasites, Romero or Rosemary for skin conditions, or Dandelion for liver detox and you get a home medicine chest while also creating beauty and diverse habitat for bees and butterflies.
It’s true that a weed can be as precious as a rose. Let your grass grow wildly in the summer time, let it bloom. Don’t waste so much fossil fuel maintaining a manicured lawn. Chop manually, get some exercise or create a job for someone doing it. Instead of paying big corporations for the poisonous herbicide, pay a local farmer instead. Value the volunteering weeds like Lantanas and Verbenas, Begonias (kidneys), Tuetes, (nausea), Botoncillos (inflammation) and other secondary regenerating plants and shrubs. The cycle of life depositing organic material from blooming and decomposition will create richer soils in collaboration with your tree planting. Meanwhile, your local mix of native trees, shrubs, herbs and weeds will create a wonderfully colorful and active space thriving with pollinators from bees to lizards, to dragonflies, and butterflies.
Plant a beautiful mix of shrubs, herbs, trees and veggies will provide a cornucopia of delights. You will be entertained, fed, and nursed when you are sick. Oh sweet symbiosis of the bees and the trees.
A few final tips to remember no matter where you live. If you want to grow healthy plants, food and soils while attract wildlife, the first rule of thumb is do not apply herbicides or pesticides. They just kill the soil, accumulate and create a vicious circle of dependence on fossil fuels. Avoid the systemic pesticide coated commercial seeds widely available today. Save heirloom seeds and trade with your neighbor. Let some of your garden go to seed every year and always leaves some fruit on your trees for the animals too. This never goes without saying.
Healthy, alive soils mean prosperous trees and plants. No amount of store bought chemical fertilizer can compensate for dead dirt. The secret really is in the soil. Make compost. Buy compost. Love the dirt. Touch it. It will bring you happiness and remind you where real good food comes from.
Second, don’t manicure the jungle or over chop or overwork your immediate area. Don’t cut the grass down too short or scrape off ground cover all the way to the dirt. When we remove the cover crops, we over-expose the dirt to the ravages of the weather. We want to preserve and protect the thin tropical topsoil and beneficial soil carpet of connective fungus. This forest floor contains beneficial organisms, like fungus which work like pro-biotics to inoculate the soil and protect the plants against pathogens. We want to encourage soil building by leaving the rotting organic material and developing fungi, not “clean” it up.
Harsh sun and rain will destroy the topsoil if it is exposed. Ground covering plants of diverse types are critical to shade and build healthy soils, plus create thicket areas for animals to birth their young. Pioneering weeds and short lived trees are also important because they provide shade and protection for regenerating long term species which grow slower and only in cool, protected, shady and healthy soils.
Nature really is perfect in its chaos. It all goes together, like we do with mutually beneficial relationships stacking together seeking survival. Symbiosis works back and forth, forever seeking balance on a constant basis. Symbiosis is dynamically fulfilling cycles with no unnatural wastes, everything useful and beneficial to the system and its ongoing processes over future generations. Like the bees and the trees.
Our ACCT model of planting over 85 species of native trees on deforested farms owned by Costa Ricans with community collaboration is working! Our viveros are full and we are ready for rainy season 2015! We also produce a variety of nitrogen fixing cover crops and medicinal plants. Let us help you with your reforestation project this year for great results. Make a difference for the bees, and the trees. Make a difference for yourself. Make a difference for future generations. Sponsor a tree today for longterm bee tree symbiosis with CommunityCarbonTrees-CostaRica.com. We love to do the dirty work!
And don’t forget to check out Maryam Henein’s HONEYCOLONY.com, an educational magazine touching on a range of health and food purity topics inspired by her ward winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees. Honeycolony offers an online store for the highest quality and purest food and beauty products, friendly to bees of course. SUPPORT local beekeepers and activists working in your area today. We are all part of the change! As Maryam Henein says, “BEE the Change”! As Tree Jenny says, “ Sponsor a Tree for Future Generations”!