Category Archives: Sustainability

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Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 14-17, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow and Frugal: A Teen’s 10 Tips for Recycling and Reuse


Many of us are trying to do our part to help the planet. In our family we’ve seen that thoughtful consumption, use and reuse can also help us lead slower, less expensive, more purposeful, and more family-centered lives.

The biggest influence on my relatively green habits has been my daughter, Anna. From a young age, she showed great concern about our environment and the world she would inhabit.

Plastic waste in the oceans and in our landfills upset her so much that she embarked on a lifestyle of extremely limited consumption of plastic, oil, paper, water and other non-local or non-sustainable goods, which she has followed for about the last eight of her 17 years. She bikes to school and errands.

She buys little and often reuses or upcycles clothing and other items, by embellishing them or piecing them together to create new items.  She uses reusable bags, water and food containers, and water-bottle holsters, like these:


Dovetailing with Anna’s desire to use less is a desire to spend less. She sees these two practices as intertwined. Saving resources results in financial savings, and vice versa. Both also result in time savings, and the ability to spend precious time engaged in fun hobbies and with friends, rather than shopping and consuming.

Through Anna I’ve learned that, as conscious as many of us try to be, there is much work to be done, if we really want to change our habits and be thoughtful consumers and good stewards of the Earth. She recently sat down with me to offer her top ten suggestions for reuse, using less, and ultimately saving money, while conserving natural resources.

1. Bring your own shopping bag, instead of using plastic

“Only buy as much as you can carry.”

2. Bring your own utensils

“Camping sets are very inexpensive at army surplus stores.”

3. Turn off faucets and lights when they’re not in use

4. Don’t spend money just because you can

“You will end up wasting money. Focus on what you really need. Put yourself on a budget. Sometimes you have to decide whether you want one large thing or multiple smaller things.”

5. Try to go to local stores and buy local goods

“This eliminates imports and the transportation they require.”

6. Bike or walk instead of driving

7. Get out in nature

“This will immediately make you want to recycle and help our environment because you’ll appreciate where you are.”

8. Use your local library

9. Buy second-hand clothes and upcycle them

and the most important thing you can do:

10. Stop buying plastic bottles


Americans purchase 29 billion plastic bottles of water each year. This takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make, enough fuel to keep one million vehicles on the road for a year. The energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate bottled water takes an additional 50 million barrels of oil each year.

The creation and transportation of plastic causes much of the world’s pollution. Bottles in the landfill take centuries to decompose and many end up on our beautiful shores and in our oceans. It’s easy to see why limiting plastic consumption figured in three of Anna’s ten recommendations.

It’s been humbling and refreshing to be enlightened by my own daughter and to watch her grow into a thoughtful and resourceful young person. I’m delighted to think that there are many more like Anna who are conscientious consumers and educators. Her tips can easily be put into practice by anyone who wants to make small changes that will have large ripple effects on their lives and the life of the planet.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Poor Planet

This post originally appeared in Frugal Mama.

What Our Kids Can Teach Us About Recycling

Many of us are trying to do our part to help the planet. In our family we’ve seen that thoughtful consumption, use and reuse can also help us lead slower, less expensive, more purposeful, and more family-centered lives.

The biggest influence on my relatively green habits has been my daughter, Anna. From a young age, she showed great concern about our environment and the world she would inhabit. Plastic waste in the oceans and in our landfills upset her so much that she embarked on a lifestyle of extremely limited consumption of plastic, oil, paper and other non-local or non-sustainable goods, which she has followed for about the last 8 of her 17 years. She bikes to school and errands. She buys little and often reuses or upcycles clothing and other items.  She uses reusable bags, water and food containers, and water-bottle holsters, like these:

Through Anna I’ve learned that, as conscious as many of us try to be, there is much work to be done, if we really want to be good stewards of the Earth. We can try to use less plastic in general. When we do use plastic, we can recycle it. 70% of plastic water bottles are not recycled. In California alone, more than 2.8 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills.

According to National Geographic, Americans purchase 29 billion plastic bottles of water each year, far outpacing other countries. This takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make.

That is enough fuel to keep 1 million vehicles on the road for a year.

Oil is precious .. and limited. The energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate bottled water takes an additional 50 million barrels of oil each year. The creation and transportation of plastic causes much of the world’s pollution. Bottles in the landfill take centuries to decompose and many end up on our beautiful shores and in our oceans.

With this in mind, I was happy to learn about Arrowhead Water’s ReBorn bottle, which is made with 50% recycled plastic. Most plastic bottles are produced new and are not made with recycled plastic. ReBorn bottles use 50% recycled plastic, only because there isn’t enough quality recyclable plastic for them to use 100%.

This video conveys the beauty of recycling and sustainability.

Will you pledge with me to use less plastic overall, and to recycle when you do? If so, click “Like” underneath the video, and share this information with someone else.

This post was sponsored by Arrowhead. The views expressed are my own.

Images: Susan Sachs Lipman, Arrowhead, Poor Planet

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 15-18, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities

Do you have enjoy observing nature and have 15 minutes to spare? If so, you can be a citizen scientist. Over the past few years, citizen science has really taken off, allowing ordinary people to help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bats, bees, wildflowers, weather and celestial phenomena, and much more. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help others gain important information about nature.

And, if that isn’t enough, citizen science makes a fun family or classroom activity, getting naturalists of all ages and abilities  outdoors together and providing them with something to do and a way to feel helpful and a part of the Earth’s larger ecosystem. Don’t let the name intimidate you. All you need to participate in citizen science is the desire to observe nature to the best of your ability for a period of time and record what you see.

There are multiple projects to engage citizen scientists, year-round and covering multiple interests. Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch starts November 10 and runs through early April.

These are just a few of the other wonderful citizen science projects that can use your help:
Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Great Sunflower Project
Acoustic Bat Monitoring
Ice Watch
Monarch Watch
Firefly Watch
NOAA Weather Observer Program
Project Budburst
National Wildlife Federation‘s Wildlife Watch
NASA Meteor Count
Snow Tweets
Hummingbird Migration Map

 

Still looking for more fun citizen science projects? Check out SciStarter or Cornell’s Citizen Science Central.

You might also enjoy:

Join the Great Sunflower Project

Have Fun Attracting and Helping Bees, Butterflies and Birds

2010 Great Backyard Bird Count

Photos: Owl Butterfly, Susan Sachs Lipman; European Starling and Northern Flicker, Pam Koch; Bee on Sunflower, Susan Sachs Lipman

‘Fed Up with Frenzy’ Blog Tour Coming to a Screen Near You

 

As many of you know, my book, Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, will be out August 1.

I am very eager for you to learn about all the fun ideas and projects I’ve collected to help your family slow down and reconnect. To do that, I’ve assembled an all-star team of bloggers to join the Fed Up with Frenzy Blog Tour to share their thoughts about the book and some of the ideas and projects inside.

 

Here is a partial list of bloggers and dates on the Fed Up with Frenzy Blog Tour. Please visit their sites for reviews, activities, tips and book giveaways! (And also, because they’re all wonderful sites with great information about kids, crafts, gardening, nature, free play, education, slowing down, creativity and family fun!)

August 1                                      Power of Slow     Review

August 2                                     Grass Stain Guru     Guest post

August 4                                       Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas Review

August 7                                     Red, White & Grew     Guest post

August 9                                     Slow Family Living     Review/Activity

August 15                                     Fun Orange County Parks     Review

August 17                                      Let Children Play     Guest post

August 22                                     Jen Spends     Review

August 24                                     Becentsable     Review

August 27                                     Real Moms Love to Eat     Recipe

August 28                                     A Place Like This     Review

September 5                              Rhythm of the Home     Guest post

September 5                               Mummy’s Product Reviews     Review

September 6                               Jump into a Book     Review

September 6                               Modern Day Moms     Review

September 7                               7 on a Shoestring     Review

September 8                             Dad of Divas     Review

September 10                            Go Explore Nature     Interview

September 12                           Active Kids Club     Podcast!

September 13                            Love, Life, Family and Then Some     Review

September 14                            Go Explore Nature     Activity

September 14                           Adventures of the Alpha Mom     Review

September 15                            What Mama Wants     Review

September 18                            Traveling Mel     Review/Activity

September 19                            Allison Abramson     Review

September 20                           Imagination Soup      Review

September 21                          Chi-Town Cheapskate     Review

September 21                          Frugal Mama     Review

September 24                          Go Gingham     Review

September 24                         Adventures of the Alpha Wife     Review

September 25                          Play Equals Peace     Interview

September 26                          A Little Yumminess     Review/Recipe

September 27                          Bright Copper Kettles     Review/Craft

September 28                          Parent Palace     Review

October 1                                   Noble Mother     Review

October 2                                   Frugal Mama   Guest post

October 3                                   A Little Bite of Life     Review

October 4-18                           The WELL Inkwell     Online Discussion

October 8                                  Love, Live, Grow     Review

October 12                                 Skinny Mom     Review

October 15-24                         Erin Goodman     10-day Family Recharge

October 17                                 Erin Goodman     Review

October 20                               I’m a Teacher, Get me Outside Here   Review

November 14                          Mama Scout     Review

November 15                          Frog Mom Blog     Review and Activity

November 27                          Salt and Nectar     Web chat

December 4                     Bliss Beyond Naptime  Audio, Frenzy-Free Holiday
Plus Video, Simplicity Parenting with Rhythm

December 7                      Polliwog on Safari     Review

January 3                          Non-Toxic Kids     Review

July 27                                Hill Babies     Review

Dates To Be Announced (this site will update):

Life as Mom

Nature Moms

Ask a Nanny

The Movement Academy Project

Connecting Family and Seoul

Would you like to join the blog tour? Please give me a shout. I’d be thrilled to have you join.

Blog tour badge by my talented husband, and the book’s illustrator, Lippy.

Teens Waiting Longer to Get Driver’s Licenses

There was a time when turning 16 automatically meant a trip to the DMV to become a newly minted driver, at least if car-culture movies like American Graffiti, and even many of our own teen memories, are to be believed.

But a new study from OSPIRG (Oregon State Public Interest Research Group) reveals that today’s teens are not so quick to gun their engines and join the ranks of drivers, and that cruising the main drag in a steel-skinned living-room-on- wheels isn’t the rite of passage to adulthood and freedom it once was.

In 2010, a  mere 28% of 16-year-olds had driver’s licenses, compared with 44% in 1980, another study from the University of Michigan Transportation Reseeach Institute tells us. While this doesn’t take into account new driver’s-license-age laws, older teens are driving at lower rates, too: From 1980 to 2010, 17-year-old licensed drivers dropped from 66% to 45%, 18-year-olds from 75% to 61%, and 19-year-olds from 80% to 70%.

Why is this? According to University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak, the economic downturn has made it more difficult for young people to own a vehicle and cover its costs, from gas to insurance to the actual car. In addition, he notes, an increasing number of young people are moving to cities that have regular public transportation. And then there are those who are driving less or not at all out of concern for the environment. He also points to internet access and the popularity of social networks and texting, which means that kids can interact with each other from their own homes and from places that they don’t need a car to access.

With all the appropriate messages out there warning teens against texting and driving, think of it this way: Given the choice, many teens would rather text than drive.

In addition, there’s a desire among younger people, for the first time in decades,  to live in walkable cities, with good public transportation and biking. (There is a desire among older people for this, too.) Once there, they often rely on car-sharing programs through Zipcar and similar lines, in a sincere effort to drive less while also not having to worry about storage and maintenance.

My daughter and her peer group seem to mirror the national trend. Anna, who is 16 1/2, is in no hurry to get a driver’s license. Some of her friends got them at 16 or so (the minimum age for licensing in California). Many others waited. A couple admit to having been nervous. Still others are just taking their time. For various reasons, they don’t perceive a strong need to drive.

“Fewer parents are working 9-5 than they used to,” Anna said, “so they’re more available when needed. Kids get accustomed to getting rides from their parents and other drivers.”

That was Harry Miller’s story. The Sebastopol, CA, teen got his driver’s license the day after his 18th birthday. “I started online driver’s ed. the day after my 16th birthday,” he said. “I took a long time to finish. I was a little afraid of being behind the wheel and driving around.” Once he got his permit, he started driving with his parents. Although driving became easier, he didn’t particularly enjoy it. The original permit expired before he passed the driving test, and a new permit was issued. The day after his 18th birthday, Harry passed the behind-the-wheel driver’s test and got his license.

“I had been getting rides (to school) with my dad, and there were always enough people driving places, that I didn’t really need a license,” Harry said. “The only reason I got one was to help my mom and dad drive my younger brothers places.” Harry added:

“The day I got my license, I drove home by myself. The minute I was by myself, I realized how stupid I had been for not getting my license sooner. I loved it. Driving alone is the coolest thing.”

Diane Worley’s daughter, Ivy, of Mill Valley, CA, got her license the day before her 17th birthday. “It was a combination of not being ready and being too busy to schedule the driving test,” Diane said. “I got my license the day I turned 16, couldn’t wait for the independence of driving. My only serious car accident ever was in my first three months of driving. Ivy has not had an accident yet. I think that speaks for itself.”

In Los Angeles, possibly the car capital of the U.S. (and where I learned to drive), many parents cite the “congested streets” and “crazy drivers” as the reasons that their kids and teen acquaintances are delaying getting their licenses, often past college.

And then there’s Mill Valley, CA’s Trevor Perelson, 18, who simply relishes the journey more by bike than he would if traveling by car. And it’s not as if he doesn’t travel long distances. He just completed a 14-day, 450-mile round-trip bike ride, in addition to using bike transportation daily. He noted:

“Driving a car is not even half as much fun as riding a bike.”

“Half of my friends got their licenses at 16,” Trevor said, although most of his college-age friends don’t drive. “If they do, they regret it. To have a car means you’re forced to work or have your parents pay for the car and gas. Not everyone has that luxury.” Trevor, who has a job building chicken coops, said, “I don’t think it’s worth it to have to work to drive a destructive machine that’s less fun than biking. It doesn’t make sense. I can be anywhere I need to be on my bike in an hour or by bus in 40 minutes.”

“The time spent working just to obtain and drive a car would be wasted. I’d rather live, learn and travel.” Trevor added, “There’s a communal aspect to bike riding. If I see someone I know, and I’m on a bike, I can stop and say hi. You can’t do that in a car.” Sounding much like a true slow proponent, he noted:

“I like to feel the land versus just going over it — feel the steep hills and the humid climate, see the people and hear the noises.”

That said, Trevor does plan to get a driver’s license so he can drive in emergencies. When he occasionally needs to go somewhere by car, he carpools. Though quite passionate, Trevor makes a point not to tell others how to live. “I don’t preach it,” he said. “I just have fun doing it.”

Anna also recently get her permit. She decided she wants to know how to drive, even if she doesn’t do it often. And, she’s right — it’s a good life skill to have in one’s arsenal. We’re also in the school of many parents who think that, while it’s great that our kid gets around on bike and foot, and by carpooling, learning to drive now, with her parents and in her home town, before she goes off to college in a year, will actually make her a safer and more confident driver, when she does inevitably drive (although, frankly, waiting a little was fine, too.)

Whatever the laws in your state and the new driver’s age, driving practice and safe habits are paramount.

Here are some safe driving tips for teens.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 4: Sarapiqui School Visit

Read Part 3 of our “Gift of Happiness” adventure.

Prior to our Costa Rica trip, we had learned about a program called Pack for a Purpose, in which participating hotels offer the opportunity for guests to bring items from a list to be donated to local schools. Because La Quinta de Sarapiqui is a participating inn, we packed art and school supplies. Dana and her family, fellow “Gift of Happiness” recipients that we met on the trip, had done a drive at their daughter’s school and brought a box of school supplies, backpacks and athletic shoes. When Ana mentioned to our families that she would be visiting the local school, Llano Grande, in the morning, we all jumped at the chance to tag along. Little did we know it would be one of the most special and memorable experiences of our whole trip.

Ana explained to the children, who seemed to range in age from about 9 to 12,  that we were all recipients of a “Gift of Happiness” tour and had come to see the “Happiest Country the Planet” so we could go home and share with others that “Costa Rica is a happy country, full of smiles”.

The kids were all very attentive and interested in the group of visitors. In our matching khaki shorts and cameras, I wanted to say, “We have a uniform, just as you do!” We shared a little bit about where we lived and what we did. I asked (in the best Spanish I could) what the students wanted to be when they grew up. They went around the room, sharing, some boldly, some shyly, Ana translating as needed. There were two future policemen, a fireman, a writer, an English teacher, more teachers, and two farmers. We were told that many of them were children of pineapple and yucca farmers.

Below, Ana and the Ekarintaragun family. Michael (Lippy) “illustrating” his work as a cartoonist. One boy was especially excited when he said he worked on computer and video games. (We did notice a computer in the classroom.)

At recess time, the kids went outside to play basketball and soccer, joined by the classroom of younger children. It was so much fun to just watch them laugh and play.

Food is harvested from the large school garden throughout the year. We were told that, while primary education is mandatory in Costa Rica, and school lunches subsidized, many children stop their education before high school because the families can no longer afford the lunch. We were also told that some of the children in rural Costa Rica live with as many as five families in a small house. We also learned that the school uniform in Costa Rica is universal, which seems like it would be very helpful for these kids and families, as uniforms can be passed down and other clothes aren’t needed for school.

After washing up, the children went back to their respective classrooms. We gave our supplies to the kids. The teacher mentioned that one boy, who wasn’t there, would be so happy with the shoes, as he didn’t have any. All the kids nodded in agreement.

Anna, the Sarapiqui Inn co-owner, Leo, and the teacher posed with the children.

Michael asked to share one more thought with the kids. In his best Spanish, and a little help from Ana, he told them that it may seem like Americans have a lot of things, but that they, the Costa Rican children, who lived in a beautiful, natural country that cared deeply about and was practicing sustainability, were truly the children of the 21st century. It was a beautiful thought that encapsulated much that we had already learned about Costa Rica in our couple of short days there.

We all left very moved and hoping to be able to visit again.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of our “Gift of Happiness” adventure.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 3: La Quinta de Sarapiqui

Read Part 2 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

After a short ride from the coffee plantation, we arrived at the extremely lush, tropical and friendly inn, La Quinta de Sarapiqui, in the fertile central valley of Costa Rica. Manager Ana greeted us with lemonade in the open-air lobby, and we quickly got settled into our room and then began to explore the surroundings, which included two swimming pools, an enclosed butterfly garden, a forested trail, the Sarapiqui River, educational displays, and a walkway where neon-colored frogs came out at night. Anna felt very at home on the room’s veranda. (See if you can find her, below.)

The butterfly garden was amazing. I love butterflies and the opportunity to see exotic local species close-up was very exciting. I first encountered this magnificent owl butterfly. It was so still, beautiful, perfect and large, that at first I didn’t think it was real. I since learned that the pattern offers camouflage, while the “eye” may also work to fool predators into attacking a non-vital part of the butterfly. Owl butterflies love fermented bananas and pineapples, and the hotel staff had left plenty out. When this one finally flew from its perch, it revealed a stunning periwinkle-colored interior.

The blue morpho is a very common, though no less phenomenal, large and beautiful butterfly with bright, iridescent wings. I saw these throughout Costa Rica.

This is what the blue morpho looks like with its wings closed.

Pretty crimson patch butterflies fed on flower nectar and skittered around the butterfly house.

Ana, La Quinta’s manager, led me out to the nearby Sarapiqui River to see a rare sunbittern and its nest (and egg!)

At night, Anna and I took a walk in what had become a driving rainstorm to see the small poison dart frogs (we were warned about these) and green frogs jumping over the footpaths from one muddy spot to the next. This is La Quinta’s “weather station”.

La Quinta de Sarapiqui has earned a rare 5 leaves, the highest level available from the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). Enjoying the grounds and watching Ana and the others care for them, I felt a deep sense of harmony with nature. The hotel is also a teaching facility. I pictured gathered congregations of naturalists.

We noticed that nightfall descended quickly in the Costa Rican valley. Over buffet dinner, we met and chatted with Dana, Chai, Brittany and Cameron, from Florida, who were also on the “Gift of Happiness” tour! And we met a group of students and chaperones from a Michigan high school. We stayed in the open-air lobby, talking and playing low-key games as rain pelted around us. The thunder was among the loudest I’d ever heard.

The next day, we would visit a nearby school. Stay tuned for Part 4 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Costa Rica “Gift of Happiness”, Part 2: Mi Cafecito Coffee Tour

Read Part 1 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

We left Costa Rica’s capitol (and largest) city and immediately swung into the charming town of Alajuela, whose pastel-colored farmacias, cafes and small eateries, called sodas, were largely shuttered because it was Sunday. From there, we found ourselves rising through the mountains of Costa Rica, heading north. The landscape was dotted with coffee plantations; squat stucco houses painted pastel pink and bright blue and chartreuse seemingly sunk into the dirt, with small tiled front porches and laundry drying outside on lines; and small pineapple, banana and other farms, or fincas. Carlos explained what each town was known for and what the different fincas were growing. Like many people we would meet in Costa Rica, he also had a great sense of humor and fun.

On the way, we saw a cow (and a man) pulling one of these traditional colorful ox carts. I didn’t get a good picture. Luckily, Red Gage did.

People were selling fruit from stands and in front of homes. We pulled over on a high mountain road to buy some strawberries and Anna apples (yes, they were called that!) Turismo vans, like ours, passed us, threading up into the hills.

We passed one of several stunning waterfalls (I believe this is the La Paz waterfall) and Carlos stopped so I could snap a picture. Families played in the water at its base.

We wound further on mountain roads, surrounded by lush greenery, until we arrived at the Coope Sarapiqui Mi Cafecito coffee plantation.

We quickly met Walter, our extremely knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, who explained that the co-op includes 137 local small coffee growers and that it is committed to organic and fair trade practices and products, which include employing local people — a hallmark of many Costa Rican enterprises that we would come across. Walter is a second-generation co-op member.

We learned how coffee seeds are planted and coffee grown and harvested. This was especially exciting because we had recently taken a tour of the Highwire Coffee roasting plant back home and now we were seeing where similar coffee was grown.

Trees mature in 3-5 years, and coffee fruit is ripe for picking when it turns red. The beans are actually inside this red “coffee cherry” fruit. At busy times of the year, more locals are called in to harvest the seeds.

Each fruit contains 1-3 seeds. Michael, Anna and I each managed to pick a fruit with a different number of seeds. In addition, Anna got a peaberry, which is a single seed, rather than the usual double. (4% of coffee cherries produce peaberries.)

Because the farm is completely organic, pest-control is handled in a low-impact way, by a series of paper cups with alcohol inside, which attracts and then kills beetles and other unwanted creatures.

Walter demonstrated an old hand-cranked machine that shells the fruits and leaves the remaining coffee beans.

This is the newer version:

Coffee beans are then sun-dried, roasted in an oven called an horno, and packed into burlap bags for shipping.

After getting a close-up tour of sustainable coffee making. we trekked through the surrounding forest. It was humid, though not terribly hot, and we were already slapping at new mosquito bites on our apparently delicious North American skin.

The plants and flowers were exotic and beautiful, including the poisonous, hallucinogenic Angel’s Trumpet:

We looked out over the Sarapiqui River and visited the elaborate composting room — not the only one we’d see on our tour of this incredibly eco-conscious country.

Time for lunch and coffee! Lovely meals of house-farmed tilapia, traditional rice and beans, and banana plantains were brought to us. We also enjoyed the dark-roasted full-bodied Mi Cafecito coffee so much that we bought some to bring home.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Red Gage, Carlos

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.

 

 

 

 

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