Monthly Archives: September 2016

Coffee Production in Mexico: A personal experience in Tapachula, Chiapas


For my first blog post I wanted to share with you an experience I had during the summer of 2015 while I was doing an internship in one of the biggest coffee buyer-seller companies in the world. I was in Tapachula, Mexico the capital of the state of Chiapas, one of the states that produce the most coffee in the country (35% of the total coffee in Mexico is produced in Chiapas). I was working closely with the cooperative affiliated to the company that is in charge of all the certifications for the company´s coffee such as USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance certification, Fair Trade, amongst others. Just so you have a better sense of where and how I was working, the cooperative was comprised of no more than 10 people who managed millions of plants and thousands of producers all over the state that produced high quality coffee so the company can sell it accordingly to the market price in Chicago. I must mention that this company sells coffee to Starbucks, Nespresso and many other big coffee companies all over the world. Basically, I got to see how everything is managed and how everything runs from the bottom up. I personally did not want an internship where I had to be in front of a computer in an office with a precise schedule. I got to see how plants were grown and how this small cooperative managed millions of plants, millions of tons of coffee beans and thousands of producers at the same time.

I wanted to write about this experience to create awareness and to show people that big companies sometimes take advantage of small producers and manage to sell their coffee as organic or sustainable when it is not actually the case. When you are such a big company with so much power sometimes being “sustainable” or being “environmental-friendly” is not quite what environmentalist and green people think it is. When you have this much production (not only in Chiapas but all over the world) and have to meet the quality and the quantity demands of the different specific clients, being sustainable is not your priority. This two-month internship really opened my view on what is considered sustainable and what is just “green washing”. What really impressed me was the fact that a lot of the coffee that we think is grown organically and without any chemicals, the truth is that not all coffee grows like that and sometimes the company manipulates the producers, the prices, and the quantities so they can be more profitable and use the “green-organic” label in their favor. An example for this, is when not all the coffee produced one year is organic but at the end when the company sells it in the market, they say it is all-organic when normally only 60-70% of the total production was actually organic. When you manage these extremely high quantities of coffee it is hard for people to check for these things. There are people in charge of doing different inspections, so it is not due to lack of examination or anything related to that. The big companies know when the inspections are going to be and therefore manipulate the different examinations so they can have their different certifications and sell their coffee as “sustainable” or “environmental-friendly”.

I know it is a controversial topic and I honestly had one of the best moments in my life learning all this in Mexico. But I really wanted to share this experience so people can realize and understand that not everything is as it seems and that outside from the US people are very selfish and business is not always done in a transparent and honest way. I do not want to sound pessimistic about coffee production in Mexico and I do not have anything against the big coffee companies in Mexico but I was really impressed how the companies with power and with money can manipulate and do things that are not “sustainable” in any sense. My question is: why can’t these companies implement new techniques (such as agroforestry, shaded coffee, CO2 coffee project, etc…) to try and actually be sustainable? Is it to expensive? I don’t believe so… I believe it is because they are afraid of changing their traditional methods and are stuck with their old values. So, I guess my conclusion for this experience is always be alert and always try to learn all the different perspectives in the different issues. Try to make your own conclusions and do not let anyone tell you something is true or real until you decide it is.



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Green Roofs in New York City

New York City is one of the most populated and crammed cities in the world. But recently, 2 rooftops in Queens, are now home to the first of its kind, rooftop farms. Of course many people have their own personal rooftop gardens but no group or company has implemented a large scale one acre farms.

The idea makers of this “green roof” is a company called Brooklyn Grange and they have conducted numerous rooftop gardens and built countless green spaces for promoting sustainable living in New York City. There business operates the “worlds largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs in New York City, and grow over 50,000 lb. of organically cultivated produce per year” (  What is so promising about this business is that not only does it turn unused roof tops into profitable and sustainable agriculture for local communities, but how they interact with the public to get them involved and informed on healthy living. Brooklyn Grange interacts with the community other than selling its produce by hosting events and educational programming, they provide “urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services to clients worldwide, and partners with numerous non-profit organizations throughout New York to promote healthy and strong local communities” (

brooklyn-grange-navy-yardA company like Brooklyn Grange is exactly the kind of honest, sustainable thinking that cities need more of. With their implementation of global consulting, they could influence people all over the world to start using their own unused space and transforming it into their own sustainable, organic produce. The biggest effect rooftop produce could have on the environment is an end to deforestation. It seems wrong of us all to not start our own rooftop agricultural areas so we can limit and hopefully one day eliminate our destruction of natural ecosystems.





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Fishing down the food chain

Fish may not be the most popular dish in the land locked state of Colorado, but many people in an effort to eat healthier and more ethically become pescetarians.  There are many health benefits to a marine diet, some fish will raise your high-density lipoprotein and they are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.  But there are also risks in maintaining a pescetarian diet.


Some are health risks such as the high mercury levels and other pollutants.  High trophic predators like sharks and king mackerel should be avoided because the pollutants become biomagnified to possible dangerous levels.  There are local advisories that are updated regularly to reflect the fish that is safer to eat If you are fishing for your own meals.

Another risk is the popularity of mid-high tropic level fish such as salmon or tuna.  The popularity of these species has resulted in overfishing.  This has lead to a dependace on salmon fisheries. This has also led to an increase in less valuable fish which are currently being overfished to made high protein animal feed.  This has the potential over many years to create dead zones around the world.  Several dead zones already exist in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bohai Sea in China, even the Chesapeake Bay is displaying signs of degradation.  So if ones diet relies heavily on high protein marine life, be sure to research what is safest and best for the habitat of these animals so that we can all have anchovies pizzas, and salmon dishes for generations to come.img_0111


Fish: Friend or Foe?






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Solutions for a Sustainable Future in Food

It is no hidden truth that the world’s population is increasing exponentially, inevitably causing higher food demands for our future. As the need for more food rises with population, developing solutions for sustainable food practices is more crucial than ever as growth occurs continuously. Luckily, with the advancement of technology along with ongoing research in sustainability, potential solutions are being crafted. However, the even larger question at rest is how we will manage to feed a population of nearly 9.6 billion people by 2050 while maintaining environmentally sustainable practices. We will explore potential answers to this question as we take a look at what others believe in terms of sustainable solutions for the years to come.


World Food pic.pngCourtesy of


In Creating a Sustainable Food Future, authors believe that in order for their proposed solutions to succeed, they must meet the following five principles: advancing rural development, generating benefits for women, protecting ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and avoiding overuse and pollution of freshwater. Furthermore, in relation to these principles, the solutions within the World Resources Report aim to do the following: 1. Close the current food gap by reducing food consumption 2. Close the food gap by increasing food production on existing agricultural land, and 3. Lessen environmental impacts of food productions associated with greenhouse gas emissions.


In another blog attached to the World Resources Institutes blog series, Creating a Sustainable Future, author Janet Ranganathan lays out a list of solutions that she believes are impactful to achieve sustainability goals in our future:

  • Reduce Food Loss and Waste
  • Shift to Healthier Diets
  • Achieve Replacement Level Fertility
  • Boost Crop Yields
  • Improve Land and Water Management
  • Shift Agriculture to Degraded Lands
  • Increase Aquaculture’s Productivity
  • Closing the Food Gap

By examining this list and comparing it to the solutions mentioned in the previous blog post, there are evident overlaps among the potential solutions. In conclusion, it is evident that the act of sharing knowledge and spreading information about future sustainable food solutions will help our world move in the right direction in terms of achieving sustainability by 2050.

With the prior information at hand, it seems as if there is a consensus among authors about the steps our world must take in order to accommodate increasing populations and food consumption. The sharing and blending of ideas is clearly evident based off of the blog posts we have already examined, inferring that the conjoining of information can lead to extraordinary findings. It is clear that there is no one solution that will produce sustainable food production for our futures, but rather a multitude of actions will have to be set in place in order for our world to achieve its food goals sustainably.







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Can the Marijuana Industry ever be Sustainable?

Cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years, used in both practical applications, such as being a fiber for clothing, a substitute for paper made from wood, and many medicinal purposes. The production of hemp was once required by law to be grown on every farm in Virginia. In 1996 California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, which started the loosening of national restrictions on a large scale. Other states followed in California’s footsteps such as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. In 2012 Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for over 21-year-old users (Geiling, 2015). Now as many as 11 states could vote to legalize marijuana.

Currently the cannabis industry is the most energy-intensive crop, this is because the majority of the cannabis companies grow indoors. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot  roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If expansion continues it is stated that the electricity used by indoor grow ops will double in the next 20 years. This mass amounts of legalization places a burden on the environment. Most indoor growers use High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps to grow their product. These lights are relatively cheap, but put off immense amount of heat. This requires these faculties to be air conditioned and dehumidified, to maintain a constant temperature.

This all adds up to expensive electricity bills, one cannabis farmer in Portland Oregon, Eli Bilton, estimates that a 25,000 square foot grow site (which is half of the maximum area allowed by the state of Oregon) would on average have a 30,000 energy bill each month. An alternative to this type of indoor growing would be outdoor growing, which if done improperly can cause quite the environmental degradation. It can lead to degrading soils, and pesticide and fertilizer runoff. It also requires an immense amount of water. The outdoor industry in California alone consumes as much as 430 million liters of water per square kilometer for a single season, which is twice the amount that wine grapes need.

Currently, there is no incentive for theses large scale cannabis growers, to look towards more efficient measures. They can bear the costs of high energy bills and environmental degradation because there has been neither a regulatory nor financial enforcement for them to alter their ways. These growers tend to stick to what they know rather than altering their ways, which could lead to losing their crops. Not all cannabis growers are avoiding switching to alternative forms of cultivation. Some faculties within Oregon area outfitted with gutters that accumulate rain water, which is then filtered into the plants, this method avoids using ground water or Oregon’s runoff. Many clippings are turned into fertilizer and condensation from humidifiers and air condition units is accumulated within recycling systems. There are certifications that certify farms as “organic” one is currently called Clean Green certification. There is also a lack of research and knowledge within this industry.

There are alternatives to the process of growing indoors, which many farmers avoid due to the high yield seen within indoor growing. Greenhouses are a direction that the cannabis industry could focus on in the near future. Harnessing the energy of the sun, which would then mitigate energy costs. Sensors that turn on lights when the cloud cover is present. The main thing that can be done to make the cannabis industry more efficient would be a reduction in the overall price of marijuana. This would make the cost of indoor growing completely unfeasible for growers. Alternative lighting systems such as LEDs reduce the amount of energy compared to high-pressure sodium bulbs. The issue with LEDs is that they cost more than traditional lighting systems, but they pay themselves off the long run.
The city of Boulder implemented regulations on the cannabis industry, starting in 2015, Boulder County mandated that any licensed cannabis grower had to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources (Geiling, 2015). If the growers are not able to obtain 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, they could instead pay into an energy offset fund.The fund is then used to educate cannabis growers about using less energy and capitalizing on renewable energy resources. Overall the laws mainly federal laws are potentially the biggest drivers in making the cannabis industry unsustainable. The reason for this is because marijuana is only legal in states where is does not grow well outside. This forces these industries to grow in only indoor facilities, as soon as marijuana is legal on a national level, there will be a reduction in prices which will lead to more outdoor farms across the U.S. This industry is far from sustainable, which is quite ironic considering most “stoners” are environmentalist. The industry will continue on this unsustainable path, until regulations are implemented or the price of cannabis is reduced. 




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Food Deserts

food-desert-1(courtesy of Getty Images)

Food deserts are a growing problem all around the world. Food deserts are geographic areas where access to affordable and healthy food is restricted or limited due to lack of grocery stores being in a close proximity.Food desert is almost a misleading name, there is plenty of food available, but it is all fast food restaurants and small corner grocery stores that mainly sell packaged foods and little to no fruit or vegetables. Food deserts often go hand in hand with food insecurity, these food deserts are usually located in poor socio-economic neighborhoods and many people can’t afford nutritious food or aren’t able to physically get to a grocery store that is far away. The people’s choices about what to eat are severely limited and what they mainly can afford is food with high fat, sugar, and salt content, being mostly processed foods.

When fast food is more easily available than taking several buses or trains to get to a grocery store, one will most likely choose the first option due to convenience and price. This is taking its toll on people living in food deserts; studies show that these populations suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related problems. This is a concern because this style of living is not sustainable and has negative impacts on communities that don’t necessarily have a choice of where they can live, which is usually in low-income, rural areas.

food-desert-2 (courtesy of New York Times)

You might be wondering how food deserts have been created and it has to do with economics. Small neighborhood markets became very popular in urban towns about 50 years ago, and superstores are often too big for rural communities and they are not able to make a profit. USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts and more than half of those people are low income. Many American households are food insecure, meaning they lack enough food for a healthy lifestyle. The government overlooks communities impacted by food deserts due to the North American Industry Classification System, which will categorize small corner grocery stores as being the equivalent of Safeway or Whole Foods.

Food deserts are gaining more attention because it is an unsustainable way to live and there are more efforts to help people gain better access to healthy foods which, in turn, will help the environment and their lifestyle. There are multiple solutions that are in the works to resolve the issues regarding food deserts. A key person in eradicating food deserts is Michelle Obama. According to the White House Blog, she has created a program that will try to end food deserts with a $400 million dollar investment that focuses on providing tax breaks to supermarkets that open in food deserts. Some additional initiatives are community garden initiatives that provide access to inexpensive, fresh produce; another one is requiring all convenience stores to offer a certain amount of fruit. Produce trucks have become more popular and they travel to different communities and deliver fruits and vegetables for easier access to healthier food. If you want to help out or get involved, the USDA created a food map for the U.S. that points out where the closest food deserts are to you.

mobile-food-market-toronto-2-800x531  urban-garden (courtesy of                             (courtesy of container gardening)

Food deserts have proven to be a health concern for people, and cannot be sustained for very long, more affordable and accessible grocery stores are needed in urban neighborhoods that are suffering. Producing fast food and exporting it has a bigger impact on the planet compared to having a more balanced diet filled with natural, local produce such a fruits and vegetables. It is also an economical problem because people who are living in food deserts don’t have the resources or money to move and it’s going to be expensive to implement solutions. There are many solutions to eradicate food deserts for future generations and implementing more sustainable food systems is crucial to helping people get the nutrition they need.

00infrographic_fooddesert (courtesy of


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How Much Money You Actually Waste When You Throw Out Food

We recognize that food waste proves to be problematic on an ecological level, but it is also a fiscal issue. When you throw out food you are also essentially just throwing money away too. After a long enough period of time, all that wasted money adds up to a significant amount. People now about this too, but they are just unwilling to change. A recent survey of 2,000 people by hloom found that people believe food is the root of their financial waste. The graph below depicts the results of this survey.

People were most willing to cut back on wasteful spending from dinning out. Tossing out perished foods was first on the list of habits people waste money on, that they’re not prepared to change, and wasting their money on groceries was second on the list.

This makes you wonder how much money actually gets wasted when you throw out food? On average, people waste around 250 dollars a year by just throwing out old food. This doesn’t sound like very much now, but after five years this adds up to 1,250 dollars. You get the picture here; even small amounts of money add up over a period of time. It isn’t the most significant amount of money, but definitely still important.

The Chart above shows the averages for the amount of money different people waste when throwing out food.

Food waste is not equivalent throughout the United States, either. Different areas of the country are far guiltier of food waste than others. The survey discovered that states with people who dine out more frequently contribute to greater amounts of food waste. The states that waste the most are found in the East South Central part of the U.S..

What is the lesson to learn here? learn to cook more food at home and pay more attention to those all important expiration dates. If you cook more at home you can save a good amount of money and waste less food in general, both very good things.


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How The California Drought and the Almond Industry is Affecting Bees

The California drought is causing a huge disturbance in the central valley. The resulting issues are complex and difficult to solve. One issue surrounding the drought is almond pollination.

Every season, farmers spend thousands of dollars to hire beekeepers to bring in hives to pollinate their fields. This process is essential for most fruit and vegetable production because the scale is so large that the plants cannot all be pollinated by wild pollinators alone. Because the drought is causing the vegetation in California to die off, beekeepers are forced to keep their hives in midwestern states like North Dakota rather than California for most of the year where their bees can feed on the wildflowers that flourish there. During the pollination period, farmers hire the beekeepers to truck their hives all the way to the central valley for a short time. This process is not good for the bees and they become stressed out and less productive. Beekeepers are having to charge more and more to rent out their hives because it is difficult to keep the hives going and therefor they can’t produce honey for an additional income.


Figure 1. This shows the increase in pollination rental fees in Almond Farming. Taken from a presentation from Chris Heintz at the Growing Advantage Almond Conference

One of California’s biggest agricultural industries, almonds, have risen to the top of the economy because of an increase in the world price of the healthy and versatile nut. Almond farmers are wealthy and their crop demands huge inputs of water and pollination. Unlike other farmers in the central valley, they can afford to pay for water and pollination. This forces beekeepers to rent their hives almost exclusively to the almond farmers because they have to make a living. When bees are stressed and don’t have a diverse diet, they struggle to be productive and keep the colony healthy. But because the almond farmers can pay the beekeepers income, the keepers don’t focus on the health of the colony. The drought should cause almond farmers switch to a more drought resistant crop but because they are so wealthy they continue to take water away from other farmers and add the the problems of the drought.

Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 11.00.31 PM.png

Figure 2. This graphic shows the complex challenges facing honey bees. Taken from a presentation from Chris Heintz at the Growing Advantage Almond Conference

All these issues illustrate the problems with capitalism and our food system. Bees are one of the most important animals in terms of ecosystem services and food security. And almonds are a crop that happen to be in high demand right now. We need to switch our economic values and agricultural strategies if we want to continue to benefit from these valuable pollinators.





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Food allergies and GMO’s

Genetically modified organisms were first introduced in 1982. Since then food allergies have been on the rise in children. Before genetically modified organisms were introduced, food allergies were rare. Now every 1 in 13 children have a food allergy. 1 in 10 children have asthma. The leading cause of death, in children under 15, is cancer. While correlation does not equal causation, the figures are alarming enough to investigate and track.

Genetically modified organisms increase profitability for companies by making crops produce a higher yield. Crops are genetically modified to produced their own form of pesticide or remain alive when sprayed with large amounts of insecticides and herbicides. Crops started to be treated with these pesticides and many people in the United States were left in the dark. Many countries ban genetically modified organisms, but the United States continues to rely on them.GMO-Stats.jpg

“Organic is what our grandparents used to produce”– Robyn O’Brien

The farmers not using genetically modified organisms are questioned about how safe their practices really are. Farmers not using genetically modified organisms are using the same practices our elders did, but are able to call it “organic”. The food products being exported by the United States to many other countries are grown without many of the genetically modified organisms. This raises the question as to why other countries will not eat these modified foods.

Now 19% of all school children have food allergies.The food system that that is in place has  become more dependent on these genetically modified organisms. While many things are changing that could be the cause of this increase in food allergies, looking at genetically modified organisms for an expiation is not the worst idea. The food system in place is becoming a chemical system. The food system should be looked at more carefully. It needs to be considered how imperative these genetically modified organisms really are.


GMO Defined


by | September 27, 2016 · 11:29 pm

Sustainability of Modern Hunting


Photo by

Growing up in Montana, I am familiar with people hunting recreationally.  My classmates in high school, my coaches, my neighbors, and my dad all hunt for sport and meat.  Although I have never shot an animal myself, I have many memories going along for a hunt with my father when I was younger.  After our class discussion about “organic”, “natural”, or “artisan” food last week, it got me questioning which foods are legitimately free of pesticides and free of genetic modification.  There are certainly farms that produce this type of authentically natural food, but wild game almost guarantees that the meat will be pesticide free and genetically unmodified.  Although wild game comes from nature, is the practice of modern hunting sustainable and practical in modern times?

The American people generally accept hunting wild game, and the approval ratings of hunting have increased in the past few years. Current statistics show that 79% of Americans are in favor of recreational hunting, a number that has gone up 5% since 2011. Yet for how many Americans approve of hunting, only 5% of Americans go hunting every year. With a small percentage of people actively hunting, coupled with strong management from the Fish and Game, wild game populations are typically at a healthy population.

Prior to federal regulation being used to protect wildlife populations, many ecosystems were being overexploited for their resources. It was a classic tragedy of the commons situation, where the ecosystem’s resources seemed endless, when the stark reality is that it was quite the opposite. The fish and game now regulates these fragile ecosystems with a tag system, allowing for the more common game to be hunted more, while the more rare game may be hunted less frequently—or not at all.

The current status of modern hunting in the United States is sustainable. For people looking to acquire meat the way in which our ancestors did, as well as know that the meat will be free of pesticides and other chemicals, hunting provides an alternative to the grocery store. Although hunting is currently sustainable, if more people chose to start hunting we would again face the tragedy of the commons. With the restrictions currently put in place by the Fish and Game it would be difficult for many more people to start hunting. Of course this depends where you live, for example, I was very fortunate to grow in Montana where there are many open spaces where people are able to hunt. In more urban areas there are greater restrictions towards hunting, making it more difficult to acquire a tag for wild game.

Overall, hunting is a sustainable practice to get meat that has been untouched by industry. Obviously the meat was raised in an environmentally friendly manor, as it was raised in the natural world. Hunting also promotes conservation of natural and wild lands. Yet if every was to hunt, the practice would no longer be considered sustainable. Continued progress to manage wildlife effectively is key in keeping the biodiversity of these ecosystems healthy and retaining our ability to hunt.

Here is a video which looks into one man’s ethical reasons behind why he hunts:

<p><a href=”″>Who We Are</a> from <a href=””>Sicmanta</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Is Hunting Sustainable?


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