Going Out With A Whisper

So yesterday started my last full week of interning here.  It is drawing to a close two very long and hard months of working to get this program from a faint idea I had in my head into a finished product I could hand off to the counselors.  I have to admit that it is kind of bittersweet.  In one way I am moving on to the next stage and readying to graduate.  In another way, it is a program I designed from start to finish and hard to leave it to others to carry on.  I am still going to stop here a few times a week in the evening to upkeep the gardens.  However, after Wednesday, my control of the camp will be officially handed off.

Thankfully, there are lasting images as proof of what I have started here.

It makes me feel good to know that I have at least made some small impact on the leaders of tomorrow.  All told, about 1,800 of the younger campers will go through my smaller program and bring home their own summer squash.  This will give them a small introduction to making small differences in their own lives.  The older kids will have around 30 campers who went through the full program from start to finish.  This number is much smaller, but the targeted audience is one that already wants to make a difference for animals.  This gave me the chance to focus their goals and give them an example of how things can be run better at zoos and animal sanctuaries.  Hopefully they will take their experience here and use it for change.

In the end, I proved that there is a way to communicate the goals of sustainability to a younger generation in a way that is both fun and educational.  I provided them with hands on activities while educating them at the same time.  I was able to shape the message to my target audiences.  I used my citizen scientist approach to gather useful information to prove a hypothesis and complete a Sustainable Return on Investment.  I hope that my program continues next year and beyond.  I would love to see another intern next year grow on what I have started here (pun intended).

I know I didn’t go somewhere as cool as most of the interns.  However, my goal has always been local sustainability.  I want to bring change to an area that I am connected to.  Yes I could go to a small developing country and do these programs.  However, the largest polluters are here in the US.  I want to make a bigger dent in the overall output to the atmosphere.  Hopefully this will be a small trend that gets bigger.

Successful Camp

The first group completed my camp today.  The good news is it went pretty darn good.  The two campers gave me very positive feedback.  I hope this video works as well because I am not too sure how to add a video.

So this post is going to be very heavy on the visual because it has to do with KANGAROOS!!!! So those of you who know me know that I love KANGAROOS!!!!  So let’s begin at…well…the beginning…I think that should work best.  So today we finally got to try out my entire program.  We had two very brave campers who agreed to be the very first in what will hopefully be a great and long running program.

So the campers came out and planted two plants in the experimental browse garden.  We used Florida native soil that we went ahead and dug two deep holes.  We then lined the wholes with our great animal created compost.  We then filled in the wholes and raked the soil around the two plants.  They came out looking great.

We then moved over to the browse garden that is fully developed.  We trimmed from two trees.  The biggest being the willow tree.  We trimmed 17 branches from one and 15 from the other.  We made sure to trim only the bottom branches to assist with growth.  We then counted the amount of branches on the trees so we could calculate the biomass.  Unfortunately a few of our measuring devices had not arrived yet so we could not do more.

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Since we had extra time, we dropped off some of the browse at the sloth and bunny area.  They were unfortunately leaving for another area so we could not feed the sloths.  Instead we went down to the kangaroo section to drop off the rest.  We were lucky because we were able to go behind the scenes and feed the kangaroos the browse.  They were not a fan of having to do the work, so I found that stripping the leaves and hand feeding was their favorite.  We got to spend about 30 minutes with them and found out they love to have their belly scratched.  After we left, I was able to get feedback from the two campers and they spoke very highly of the program I created and said they would love to be a part of it again.

 

Perks of Interning…

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SO…. I have to admit I was starting to get really down at the fact that I have been surrounded by animals and creating a program to feed them better and I had yet to really get any one on one time with any of them.  I mean let’s face it, a large part of me picked up this second internship because I am an avid animal lover.  I have been accused on many occasions of caring about animals more than humans… May or not be the case.

It was very hot out today and I sweat out about 5 gallons while I was working in the browse garden.  The campers are about to arrive tomorrow and I had about 50 things left on my list to complete.  I admit I may have threatened to go on strike yesterday if I didn’t get to see some animals.  It was made worse by the fact that the safari leaders were showing off pictures of the baby hyena and their visit with him.  This was more than I could take.  I mean come on… A BABY HYENA!! Who wouldn’t be jealous of that.  I have been angling for some behind the scenes time with the kangaroos for a while now because I have a slight obsession with them.  I am sure they fear I will attempt to take one home with me.

Well today was the day I finally won them over.  After all the hard work, I was finally able to go see an animal.  This is not just an ordinary animal.  This is a world famous animal ambassador who has met both Jay Leno and David Letterman ( for those of you born after 1995, they were the late night hosts back when comedy was funny).  I had the awesome pleasure of saying hi to him and spending some quality time feeding him and getting to know him.  I must say he is so gentle.  He is also very old for a sloth.  This means he is even slower than a normal sloth.  I call it Super Sloth speed.

So let me tell you a little bit about my new friend.  He enjoys hanging out (in his tree), sleeping, and eating healthy.  I fed him some papaya, carrots, mango, and some green beans.  He and I are alike in that we don’t really feel for green beans very often.  His hair is soft and at one point he held my hand.  He takes a while to eat because he has lost most of his teeth due to old age.  However, he is still awesome.  He likes to stare right into your eyes while you talk to him or feed him.  Pretty much the coolest thing I have done since getting there a month and a half ago.  I was assured when things with camp settle down that I can have some more encounters.  I am mostly done with setting up my program and hope the kids enjoy it.IMG_20160610_163334

Behind This Door Lies Magical Wonders

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Today is almost like Xmas because you get two blog posts from me.  I must be honest and say the last few days have been hot and hectic so now is the first time I have to sit down and blog.  This post is for Yesterday, which was Tuesday.

Let me set the mood for you… Yesterday it was about 93 degrees out and the humidity was about 900000%.  That number is very accurate so don’t say I am not a qualified weather person.  I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express a few times, so I am fully qualified per the commercials.  So back to my story.  So yesterday was not a nice weather day.  Here is me after completing the pic you see above.

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Don’t let that smile fool you, it was heat stroke causing me to smile.  I am pretty sure I drank about two gallons of water and sweat our about 4 gallons of water.  The very top pic you see is my awesome 1994 Ford work truck I was allowed to drive after watching safety videos and taking a test.  Yes, that truck was made before most of you were even born.

So I set out to the browse garden and began constructing my 16 planter boxes.  It took about 3 hours baking in the sun with air humid enough to open the lid of your water bottle and spin around 3 times to fill it up.  Thankfully the boxes are assembled.  These boxes will provide the foundation of an interdepartmental program I am fostering between education, conservation, and nutrition. The idea is to have two campers come out each day for 3 days a week for 10 weeks.  These campers will plant one half of a planter box with a series of plants we wish to test.  The kids will also measure height, diameter, BRAX, and biomass of each plant.  The plants will be planted in a mixture of native soil and super animal poo compost from BG.

The goal is to see which of the 10 chosen species of plants grow the fastest, cheapest, and most sustainable.  We will then test them with the various animals to see if they like them.  We hope to show this is a more sustainable and cheaper way to feed the animals if they were to purchase 30 acres to grow their own browse.  This would cut down on the cost of trucking it in from South Florida.  It would also be healthier for the animals and cut down on CO2 emissions of the delivery trucks.  We also hope to impart this knowledge onto the students who will be assisting us.  This will further help my idea of education being directly tied to conservation.  The next step will be adding the soil and preparing the curriculum for the campers.

Just Hanging Out…

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SO….. Friday was the day to add the vertical garden to the small demo backyard sustainable garden.  I have to say this was by far the easiest part so far.  Those of you with a keen eye will realize this is right after Jambo Junction.  I get to hear all the animals as I construct my masterpiece.

The breakdown is as follows.  I got the hanging garden pots at Lowe’s for super cheap.  The dirt is just plain old top soil with some compost dirt mixed in for maximum growth potential.  The plants are reused herbs from the food and wine festival.  I am bringing them back to life as we speak.  I just found out today (Wednesday) that I must create a second way to secure them so they don’t risk falling on the heads of guests at the park.  Makes sense to me.  I also installed a thermometer and rain meter for the kids to monitor.

For those of you wondering how the rain barrel is doing, yesterday’s rain completely filled all 50 gallons of it.  Needless to say I have plenty of water to water my herbs with, and the plants nearby, and anything else I can find so that my area doesn’t become swampy.

I was asked today to make it look prettier, being a guy I obviously had to ask for more guidance on this matter.  My suggestion of garden gnomes was not well received.  So tomorrow I am going to go to the hardware store and see what looks nice to give it the true backyard garden look we are going for (I use “we” to mean those I am building the garden for, I go for functional).  I also have 6 more hanging planters that are on their way to us.  They will be filled with more herbs.  I also plan to ad a trellis to the back of the garden so I can grow some vegetables.  I will keep you all posted on further progress, and feel free to drop by to BG and see it for yourself.

 

The Other Dominicans

Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”

After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.

Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.

The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.

In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.”  Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.

Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas

Week 15 & 16: Plastico y semillas

The last two weeks have been pretty low-key. And I enjoy this down-time, actually. When I first started my internship, there were a lot of workshops, conferences, and meetings, and it was all very exciting. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have attended all those workshops. But now, I’m enjoying focusing on the work and the task at hand. I’m still going to the school and giving my lesson plans, and I also love having this little break in the week. It’s such a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try to teach some impactful lessons.

Week 15’s lesson was about plastic, and how it is a problem globally. In some parts of Lurín, a decent amount of plastic can be seen littered on the streets and lining ditches. And every time I go to the school, I pick a few plastic scraps out of the garden. So I explained to the children how all this plastic on the streets and in the grass affects the health of the community, the health of the environment, their health, and why they should care. Lima, like my hometown of Tampa, Florida, is a coastal city and all this trash (much of it plastic – bags, bottles, forks, bottle caps, lighters, etc.) has a very high probability of blowing into the ocean (or in the case of Tampa, the Gulf of Mexico). 80% of ocean pollution enters the water from land. And plastic never goes away, rather it simply breaks down into smaller pieces.This of course is bad for the environment because fish and other sea creatures don’t always know the difference between zooplankton and shredded plastic bits. As plastic is made from oil, it’s quite toxic to ingest, and can oftentimes kill the animal that ate the plastic. And then it’s also possible for it to go through the food chain. Bigger fish eat the smaller fish, some crabs eat fish, octopuses eat crabs, and in Lima where ceviche is a popular dish, sometimes we humans eat those fish and other sea creatures whom have eaten plastic. Cows, dogs, birds, ducks and other land or air animals sometimes also eat plastic. And again, it’s possible for us to eat those cows and ducks. This information blew the kids’ minds.

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Passing seeds out to the younger kids.

So what can we do about all this plastic? Well, of course we can recycle. But if there is no recycling infrastructure or center, what can we do? We can reuse the plastic bottles that are so prevalent and make planter pots of out them! And this was our activity after my lesson about plastic and the environment. We cut plastic bottles, added a mixture of compost, soil, and manure to them, and placed red pepper and papaya seeds in each one. The kids loved it.

Plastic bottles pots with fresh seeds waiting to bloom
Plastic bottles pots with fresh seeds waiting to bloom

Week 16: Our lesson was about seed (semillas) saving. Almost all fruits and vegetables have seeds. When we save seeds, we can grow more food and help ensure our food security for the future. It makes sense for us to save seeds, as we have a garden. We can also save lots more plastic bottles and in time have a ton of little sprouts and seedings going. I told the kids that all the pepper seeds I brought the previous week were from one pepper, and one kid’s eyes got so big; he couldn’t believe so much could come from one pepper, not much bigger than the size of a fist.

I also explained to the kids that it’s important to save seeds in a community (or country, and everywhere in the world, really) where agriculture is practiced. In the case of climate change and more severe weather patterns, more or less rainfall, flash floods, extreme dry season and other changes in the weather where it’s possible to lose crops, having a community seed bank can be a lifesaver. Big industrial agriculture and GMO seeds simply generate new seeds and ship them to the farmers. But saving seeds the old fashioned way and sharing them with our neighbor when needed is an investment in our future, and our food security.

Again, the overall theme of the lessons are waste as a resource: food waste (compost), plastic (planters), seeds (more plants). I’m nearing the end of my internship and have two more school visits planed. Next week is drawing the big picture together and the last one is reflexions.

Fun fact: the weekend between week 15 & 16 was my 30th birthday. My mom came down from Florida and we started this new decade on a fun note. We went to San Lorenzo and the Palomino Islands off the northern Lima coast and saw sea lions (thousands of them!). And I have to say, being here in the middle of this amazing experience is a great way to spend a birthday.

Mom and me on the Malecon
Mom and me on the Malecon
Visiting the Cathedral of San Francisco
Visiting the Cathedral of San Francisco
The sea lions of Palomino Island
The sea lions of Palomino Island
My friend, Sandra after the sea lions trip
My friend, Sandra after the sea lions trip

Week 11: Revisitando la escuela

Well, the kids are back. I’m back. It sounds like we’re all ready to go.

I went to the school on Monday to say hello to everyone and check in with the teachers. As things are always subject to change, I wanted to make sure we were still on the same page with what days are best to visit and give my lesson plans. There were only a few minor changes in our original schedule and the director of the school, Señora Zoraida, told me that to would be good to come on Wednesdays. So from now until the end of my internship, I shall visit the school every Wednesday. This works for me. It was nice to see the student again and chat with a few of them. I was also very pleased to see that more banana trees were planted in my absence. Our garden is growing!

On the first Wednesday, I gave my first lesson plan. It was simple, but necessary: The importance of the garden and what it can do for us. One of the things I am most passionate about is food waste. And in my mind, food waste being turned into compost is one of the simplest solutions to our current environmental crisis. So, under the umbrella of ‘waste as a resource’, I am teaching the children of this school about composting, food waste, a little bit about seed saving and a little about climate change. I’m only taking up about 30 minutes a week of their time, as they have a schedule already from their teachers and lesson plans regarding the usual math, science, literature, etc. However, I also plan to incorporate some of those basics into the garden education curriculum. After all, how many paintings and essays are there that have used this marble we call home as their creative inspiration.

New banana and baby avocado trees to be planted.
New banana and baby avocado trees to be planted.
Helping clean the site.
Helping clean the site.
Preparing a new site for more banana trees. And I saw a little avocado tree, also.
Preparing a new site for more banana trees. And I saw a little avocado tree, also.
11 banana trees in total!
11 banana trees in total!

Bats in the Baño

So there I was at this house on the edge of the jungle off of the river. It was a 40 minute extremely eventful (10 people in a tiny boat) panga ride from Bluefields. The property was really nice, like an off the grid living dream come true. Anyways, we chopped down some coconuts and drank the water inside. It was delicious but moments later I realized I had to utilize the, um, facilities. The outdoor baño was actually quite nice. It was clean but had two large elevated holes, underneath which you could not see. I had to choose one and went right. During this time I happened to look over into the hole opposite the one I chose and something was emerging… BATS! That is right, bats were emerging from the baño. I remained still as three flew out and around my head before flying upward toward an opening in the ceiling. Luckily I had gotten my rabies vaccines before departing Florida and, to be honest, they were actually cute, the bats. This was just one of the many adventures I had the pleasure of going on during my first week with blueEnergy.

This is how it is done - collecting coconuts
This is how it is done – collecting coconuts
This is THE Baño
  This is THE Baño
COPRAJ view from behind
COPRAJ view from behind

The home we were visiting is actually Centro Ocupacional de Prevención y Reinserción para Adolescentes y Jovenes (COPRAJ). A local couple founded COPRAJ as a multi-faceted solution to at risk youths from Bluefields. In addition to building skills, crafts, music, and family, the youths are taught the valuable skill of permaculture farming. This type of farming is holistic by design, considering the natural interactions of plants and animals and working with them to yield bountiful harvest whilst maintaining the integrity of the land and preventing the monocultures that are too often found with traditional farming and agriculture. Waste is actually not waste at all – it is a resource. We learned this firsthand at another site visit to FUNCOS.

FUNCOS is a larger scale permaculture farm situated just at the edge of Bluefields. We did not have to take a panga to get there but did arrive via the back of a truck with rails (such a fun ride). We were greeted upon arrival and taken around the farm to see the way in which the plants were situated so as one would provide shade to another that required it, for example. The main event at FUNCOS was the composting demonstration. The farm composts all leftover plants and food and, as an added bonus, collects manure from local residents and smaller farms that produce it (no waste indeed). Once the compost becomes ready, the farmers at FUNCOS fill small bags with it and plant baby trees and plants. These plants are either sold to generate funds or are donated to other farms. We set off to work on filling bags with compost and planting small citrus trees following – it was definitely dirty work but we were all proud to lend a hand.

Filling bags with compost to plant saplings.
Filling bags with compost to plant saplings.

Speaking of permaculture farming, blueEnergy has their very own permaculture garden that I was given the option of learning about and actively participating in during my downtime. I am so excited to learn the techniques and should be starting relatively soon.

Permaculture demonstration garden at blueEnergy
Permaculture demonstration garden at blueEnergy

The aforementioned site visits were, predominately, focused on permaculture and organizations that blueEnergy works with but we did take a few trips round the city of Bluefields to see some of other aspects of blueEnergy’s involvement in the city. The first stop was a mechanized well that was integrated into a local school. The well provides the children with safe, potable water and is an extreme asset to the students and staff’s health and hygiene. A nice young gentleman gave us a demonstration as he cranked up the well and got himself a clean drink of water. The mechanized well is important as so many around the city are “hand dug,” which leaves them open (literally) to all sorts of contamination. If the wells are not dug deep enough they can become contaminated with human waste from nearby latrines. If the wells are not protected, hosts of contaminants (to include dead animals) can infiltrate the water along with runoff and pathogens. We were able to see a hand dug well, a completed mechanized well, and a mechanized well in progress wherein we were given the rundown on how the machinery works and necessary depths to which one must drill. Preventing contamination regardless the well type is key in sanitation and hygiene. Dry latrines, such as those developed by blueEnergy, are a way of doing so. The human excreta is confined from contaminating local water sources. We were able to visit the home of a blueEnergy dry latrine recipient and it was quite impressive – clean, lacking odor, and efficient. The family said that they have two containers and can go 18 months before having to replace just one.

You can see the potential for contamination with this well
  You can see the potential for contamination with this well
Latrines over water
Latrines over water

This is just the beginning of the blueEnergy adventures but it is nice knowing that no matter where we go or how tired we are, the amazing ladies in the blueEnergy kitchen always have a delicious creation awaiting us.

They never cease to amaze us
They never cease to amaze us

FoodSave Program in London

There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK
There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK
There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK
There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK
There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK
There are recycling centers like this on the outskirts of the city and in nearly every town in the UK

 

This is food waste left over from the market and looks as if it is still edible. SRA is working directly to prevent this type of food waste.
This is food waste left over from the market and looks as if it is still edible. SRA is working directly to prevent this type of food waste.

The Mayor of London created a FoodSave program that I recently got the change to experience. This program works directly with small and medium food businesses across London to provide critical support that helps businesses prevent food waste, divert surplus food to feed people in need and livestock, and recycle unavoidable food waste.

The combination of the top down and bottom up approach I believe works great for the city. I tour a recycling and waste management facility and had the opportunity to inquire about the structure of the waste management in the London

The project is funded through many channels including; Mayor of London, European Regional Development Fund and London Waste and Recycling Board the service is free for businesses to use.

Two delivery partners, Sustain and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), work closely with a number of different food businesses to provide one to one support. Sustain a food waste support organization works with manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and market traders to help divert their surplus food to either charities or farms. The SRA work with restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs and canteens to reduce their food waste from the beginning

According officials November 2013, FoodSave has supported 91 businesses with 27 businesses currently receiving ongoing support:

Each year the following are being diverted, prevented or saved.
900 tonnes of food waste.
80 tonnes of food waste.
Over $500,000 of total cost savings.

Current the SRA reviews ordering and stock control, preparation techniques and menu portion size reviews to reduce plate waste, which is often a major contributor to food waste costs.