Posted on

Casey Composting Champions

Composting in the Cafeteria

by, Liz Rutledge, Founder, Sustainable Three, LLC

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is an inspiring example of how to compost in a school cafeteria.  With 600 students in the entire school, half of whom get what we used to call “hot lunch”, the cafeteria staff provides 300 lunches a day. 

Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado is a fine example of a sustainable school.

Meet Chef Ann Cooper.  She established the Chef Ann Foundation in 2009 to bring healthier lunches to schools in the Boulder Valley School District.  Chef Ann is passionate about getting kids to eat healthy, balanced meals.  “It starts with the school district’s Wellness Policy”.  Boulder’s is really strong.  She emphasizes the direct connection between healthy food and academic performance.  “We don’t give kids a choice about what they learn in the classroom.  Why would we give them a choice on the best, healthiest way to eat?”.

Chef Ann Cooper of the Chef Ann Foundation

The Boulder Valley Nutrition Services department provides ~14,000 meals a day with three kitchens for the entire school district.  Meals are primarily made from scratch (except rolls, flatbreads, etc.), but those items are sources locally.  They attempt to have mostly organically-grown food.  Milk is provided via dispensers with reusable cups.  Lemon-infused water is provided as well.  Cutlery is reusable as well as the plates and serving trays.  Plastic bags are the only landfill trash produced.

Plant-Forward Option with Locally-Grown, Organic Food!

Students are provided with guides on how to load their plates.  They have to have three components on their plates according to Federal regulations.  This includes ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of milk.  At Casey Middle School at least, there is always a plant forward meal offered.  Posters with pictures show what a serving looks like.

Guides Help Students Load Their Plates for Ideal Nutrition

In Boulder Valley, the health initiative also includes composting in the cafeteria.  Composting is THE most impactful thing we can all be doing to help with carbon footprint.  After students finish their meals, they go to the dish washing station where they dump any uneaten food in a bin that weighs how much food waste is going to be composted.  Then, their trays, plates, cups and cutlery are washed before the next meal shift.

All trays, plates, cups, and cutlery are washed and reused.
Food waste and other compostables are weighed daily to keep track of the carbon offset.

Daily, the bins are put into a composting dumpster that is picked up by local Boulder’s Eco-Cycle where the food waste is converted into compost that helps with carbon absorption, putting nutrients back into the soil.

For more on composting, see some of my other blog posts on sustainablethree.com! Like basics of composting and why it’s important or how we off-set over 2000 pounds of compostable waste at Denver East High School’s After Prom!

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Street Fair Sustainability

Directional Sign Showing the way to the Sustainability Zone

by, Liz Rutledge

The Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair just celebrated 41 years of sharing community, entertainment, good food and access to beautiful homes in one of Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhoods.  This well-established event involves people in the neighborhood opening their homes (usually between four and eight homes) as well as a street fair with up to 100 vendors, food trucks, drinks, live entertainment, as well as presentations.  Consequently, the Park Hill Home Tour and Street Fair is the largest fundraiser for the Greater Park Hill Community – an organization that supports the neighborhood through a monthly local newspaper, a food pantry and farmers market as well as many other events and services. 

Mindfulness about Our Community in Action

This year, I partnered with Becky Migas of B. Green Events to manage the sustainability aspects of this event.  It was a beautiful, sunny day…not too hot, not too cold and not a cloud in the sky.  As we set up waste stations around the parkway, 85+ vendors set up their tables and tents.  Bicycle bells chimed and the gentle hum of generators for the food trucks purred.

I have been involved in this event for seven years in various capacities. For example, our home has been on the tour and I have written up descriptions of the homes along with another local writer for years.  But, last year, I was invited to help with the sustainability efforts of the event and help with vendor registrations.  For the first time ever, we added electronics recycling.  It was an experiment and we had great participation, but it cost people money (about 50 cents a pound) and the fundraising aspect wasn’t as successful as we had hoped.  But, this year we had PCs for People accepting electronic donations for little to no cost and the Cherry Creek Rotary Club helped hugely to accept all the PCs, laptops, cables, TVs and more.  Last year, there was also a Sustainability Zone.

In the Zone

This year, in the Sustainability Zone, we had several vendors educating fair-goers about bees with Vine Street Farms, reducing packaging and exploring refill options with Joy Fill, how to get around town without using a car with the Northeast Transportation, getting help tuning and optimizing your bicycle with Bikes Together, how to reduce our harm to the coral reefs with Coral Reef Restoration Panama, and how to live more sustainability and lower our carbon footprint with Sustainable Three and B. Green Events.  We had a “Minute to Bin It” challenge where players had to correctly put the right item in the right bin within 60 seconds, articles about our previous waste diversion projects, like East High School’s After Prom event last spring and guidance on how to reduce waste to the landfill – one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses.

10 Factors that made this a Sustainable Event

  1. ALL vendors were required to use certified compostable ware (cups, plates, cutlery, etc)
  2. Vendors had to provide proof that the serving ware was compostable.  And, if it wasn’t, they had to replace the items or leave (thankfully, everyone complied and no one had to leave)
  3. Waste stations were positioned all over the event to make it EASY for attendees to deal with their waste, minimizing contamination and littering
  4. Volunteers were trained to sort, collect, weigh and empty the waste bins into their appropriate wheelie bins (provided by neighbors)
  5. Neighbors provided Recycling, Compost and Landfill bins to minimize cost and eliminate the need for expensive and unsightly roll-away dumpsters
  6. Educational pieces were sprinkled throughout promotional materials (posters, programs and on the web site)
  7. A Sustainability Zone was established and managed providing fun and education for attendees
  8. Electronics recycling was available for little to no charge on the day and volunteers from the Rotary Club managed it so our team could focus on the Sustainability Zone and waste management.
  9. People were encouraged to walk or bike to the event and the homes on the tour (free bicycle parking available at all homes and the street fair)
  10. Denver Water had their truck there to provide water for patrons – either using their own water bottles or compostable cups
Puttin’ it in the correct bin!

Then, the Skies Opened up…

The event was well attended and the weather held out until the very end when we did our waste sorting and weighing (so we can report back to the Greater Park Hill Community and have baseline numbers for future years).  As we were sorting and cleaning up, the skies opened up in a deluge, which made it challenging, but we still think we got accurate numbers.  Once all the numbers were in, we were proud to report an 82% diversion rate!  The next morning all the recycling, compost and trash was collected by Denver Waste Management.  PBS was there the next day filming for a documentary that will air at the end of October/early November.  Neighbors who had donated their bins for the day received their bins back empty (for the most part) AND, best of all, there was NO waste remaining on the parkway (something that neighbors have complained about in the past).

It was a satisfying experiment and provides hope for future events.

It’s the choices we make in our daily lives that can make little shifts in this adventure called climate change.

Denver Water Truck dispensed 94 gallons of water to people in their own reusable bottles or compostable cups diverting ~750 plastic water bottles from the waste stream
Becky Migas of B. Green Events calculated our waste diversion results

Even more ways to Support Sustainability

As we learn and gradually change our habits, we can make a difference in other, more impactful, ways too:

  • Support the bigger players where there is more impact
  • Support businesses and organizations that are focusing on sustainability
  • Donate to non-profits like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, and other organizations doing the work.
  • Pressure businesses to move towards more environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices
  • Boycott businesses that are still doing things that damage our environment and our health
  • Sign petitions and lobby

Reading blog posts like this one can help keep you educated.  You can make tweaks in your habits.  But, to make a more effective impact, think bigger and put some of the pressure and responsibility on the companies and organizations that have the power to make big changes towards sustainability.

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

From Prom Posts to Compost: East High School’s After Prom Gets a New, Greener Look for 2019

Disturbed and saddened by the amount of waste from last year’s East High School After Prom, East parent/Mindful Sustainability blogger and consultant, Liz Rutledge (http://www.SustainableThree.com), took on co-chairing the newly established Sustainability Committee for this year’s event.

East High School’s After Prom event is legendary*.  With a $30,000 budget (all which is fundraised by the parents of the school), the Steering Committee works magic with the funds raised.  Thirty plus parents transform the school with their creative designs and talents into a magical place that keeps 800+ students occupied, entertained and safe from midnight to 4:00 am after the dance has ended. Each year, the Steering Committee picks a new theme for the Prom to keep it fresh and creative. This year the theme was “Game On” and each section of the school consisted of game themes, such as Battleship, Hungry Hungry Hippo, Candyland, and the Price Is Right! They also transformed the smaller gym into a large “backyard” with a camping area, backyard games, “food trucks”, a garden and much more!

This was the first year that the Steering Committee made sustainability a priority. Liz decided to enlist the help of  Becky Migas, (https://www.bgreenevents.com/) sustainable event planner and owner of B.Green Events, as a co-chair on the Sustainability Committee.  And, they are pretty sure they are bonded for life after the experience.

From decoration preparation to event night to clean up and everything in between, there are a lot of event planning components that go into the EHS After Prom. The parents begin preparing the decorations months prior to Prom night. They spend countless hours researching on Pinterest and working in a dusty strip mall basement to make the perfect transformative space for their kids and their friends. In the end, the students’ faces when they see their school in a different way is thanks enough! The Decoration Committee Co-Chairs, Lizzie Mara Treat and Sam Robinson, were the leading charge for their space captains using repurposed materials from past After Proms. In fact, the entire committee repurposed 80% of decorations from previous years! The other 20% that were not used were then donated to local neighbors, other high schools, RAFT, Art Garage or ARC.

During the planning process, Liz and Becky worked with the different committees, especially decorations and food to help them devise a plan to divert as much as waste from the landfill as possible. They were able to provide the Food Committee with compostable items such as cups, plates, napkins and more, which were provided by World Centric (http://www.worldcentric.org) / EP Distribution (https://epdcolorado.com/). They even had compostable champagne glasses, thanks to SelfEco (https://selfeco.com/), for the Hippo Lounge desserts! This was the first time incorporating compostable items into the event and parents and students alike seemed to love the concept!

However, after a few conversations, Liz and Becky realized that the Decoration Committee had spent SO much time on their spaces that the Sustainability team needed to also create an “atmosphere” with their waste stations (compost, recycle and landfill).  So they created the game “Think, Thank, Dunk” where the kids had to stop and think before they dunked their “trash” into the bins. The amazing referee parents/volunteers were there to stop and then assist the students with their choices. The kids were AMAZED when they learned most items were compostable! It was a great opportunity to provide some education to them about compostable cups, plates, spoons, etc, especially for many who have never used those materials previously.

Finally, water stations were provided all throughout the school with 5 gallon water jugs, provided at a discounted price from Rocky Mountain Bottled Water (https://www.rmbw.com/),  that were labeled with Monopoly Water Works signage. (Plus, all the cups were compostable)! Last year, the students wasted hundreds of half drunk water bottles and this year the After Prom saved over 1,000 water bottles from being used and going to the landfill.

All and all, it was a HUGE success!

The EHS AP Final Numbers

The After Prom diverted over 900 lbs of compost and delivered it to Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO to be properly composted in an industrial composter. (https://www.ecocycle.org/).  While dropping off the compost, Liz exclaimed, “It’s not as gross as you think!”

An estimated 1100 lbs of recycling was also diverted and sent to Alpine Waste & Recycling through the Denver Recycles (https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/trash-and-recycling/recycling.html) program!

Once again, this year, approximately 80% of decorations from this year were either recycled, donated, or placed into EHS AP storage to be reused for next year’s After Prom. 

PLUS a large carload full of decorations from this year were donated to George Washington High School for their prom the next weekend.

While a lot of lessons were learned by all, the sustainability initiatives put in place by Liz, Becky and the whole Steering Committee made a large impact for one small event.  Sustainability is already set in place by the already established Steering Committed for next year. Parent volunteers will be needed again, but with many of the kinks worked out, it should be even more fun to save the planet.

*This year, East’s After Prom was featured on Denver’s Channel 4 news channel!:

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Composting – Plain and Simple

by, Liz Rutledge

The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.

According to Dictionary.com, composting is:

noun

a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.

verb (used with object)

to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).

verb (used without object)

to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.

But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.

If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’

A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.

Raised garden beds recently installed at Newport Street Retreat by Denver Scout Troop 62

This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.

Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

¡Andale to Mexico City!: Part I – Toluca

https://sustainablethree.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/EUBA3052-2.mp4

After a good night’s sleep in our room at Meson de Leyendas, we ate a lovely buffet breakfast in the patio area of the hotel restaurant again.  Fresh papaya, pineapple, yogurt, granola (with all the toppings), waffles, coffee and fresh squeezed juices hit the spot before another day of driving.  From Valle de Bravo, we drove in the van back towards Mexico City with a stop at La Cabana del Oso (a roadside restaurant) for a lunch of Seta mushroom soup and squash blossom quesadillas.  The soup was soothing on a wonky belly.  🙂

Back in the van after lunch, we were off again and stopped in Toluca to visit the Jardin Botanico Cosmovitral (the botanical gardens inside a building with the most incredible stained glass art installation I’ve ever seen in that style).  Designed and created by Leopoldo Flores (1934-2016), this museum of sorts houses stained glass windows all the way around the building as well as across the ceiling.  And, in themed sections all around the indoor botanical gardens are flora from all around the world, including an Asian Zen garden and cacti from the local area.  The stained glass tells the story of Humankind’s journey – and the battle of darkness and light, good and evil.  Birds are represented in the glass – the wise owl and the eagle (a strong symbol of pride in Mexico).

It was a great place to take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the morphing colors as the sun penetrated the stained glass creating varying palettes on the plants.  Constellations speckled along the ceiling blend with the other designs leading to the large installation at the far end of a man and a woman.  The spiral between them is representing our galaxy – a pattern echoed in the woman’s womb.

Toluca has a bit of a London vibe – except for the largest “mural” in the world living on the exterior walls of the residents houses on the hill.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

https://sustainablethree.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Cosmovitral-1.jpg

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

More Monarchs!

Our second morning in Valle de Bravo, we got up again at 7:00 and went out to the patio for a quick buffet breakfast at 8:30. 

Pablo and Colorado hard at work

We were back on the bus and headed to Piedra Herrada Butterfly Reserve.  My Horse was named Colorado (coincidentally, as I’m from there) and his handler was Pablo…a hard working man who did his very best to motivate the horse up the steep hill.

Monarchs clustered together in droves

This area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere was more like what I expected from seeing the documentary. Thousands and thousands of butterflies clustered in the trees in a most magical way.

One of our guides, Carlos, is a Biology graduate student who provided us these great links to more details about the flora and fauna in the Valle de Bravo region:

http://www.iies.unam.mx/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Guia-Plantas-Mariposa-Monarca.pdf

https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/577/57707304.pdf

http://132.248.172.3/comunicacion-cientifica/materiales-%20disponibles/guias/

https://www.naturalista.mx/guides/5728?page=1

We need to be planting butterfly-friendly flora to help these incredible creatures survive and thrive.

Lunch was a unique experience at roadside restaurant La Cabana del Oso (Home of the Bear)….. Seta Mushroom Soup, Squash Blossom Quesadillas and rice with agua minerale.

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Mariposa, Mariposa, Will You Marry Me?

Monarch Butterfly in Valle de Bravo

Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary. 

When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.

We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles.  By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.

The path to the monarchs
My guide on this journey, Francisco

It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve.  Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses.  My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco.  The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around.  Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting. 

Monarchs enjoying the sun rays

Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that.  After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.

Taking a Mindful Moment with the Monarchs

The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.

Monarchs clinging like barnacles to an old growth tree

We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia, salvia, rabbit brush.  Here are 10 suggestions of flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:

http://www.costafarms.com/get-growing/slideshow/top-plants-to-attract-butterflies-to-your-garden

Planting butterfly-beneficial plants will help these Monarchs survive and thrive

That evening, we enjoyed watching the locals mingling in the town square of Valle de Bravo.  It was great to see the lively town pulsing like a Saturday night with love on this Valentine’s Day.

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Making our way to the Monarchs

The journey to the Vanilla plantation was about a five hour drive, so the return was about the same.  We drove back to Veracruz and stayed in the Hotel Deligencias again.  Dinner was in the hotel restaurant and we all enjoyed recapping our time with Jorge, Mike and Jesus and sipping margaritas.  Then it was off to bed as early as we could stand it because the alarm was going off at 4:00a.m.

At the Veracruz Airport saying “Adios” to our guide, Jorge.

Packed up and ready to leave the hotel by 5:15a.m. (not morning, btw), the eleven of us were driven by Jesus to Veracruz airport and then escorted in by Jorge.  We checked our bags and then settled in to have some breakfast (and coffee!!) at a restaurant in the airport since we had two plus hours until our flight departed.

Waste sorting in the Veracruz Airport – in my experience, it’s confusing everywhere…

When I booked my AeroMexico flight, I chose the Carbon Offset option, especially since Mexico City’s air quality is, albeit better than it used to be, still is not particularly good. They have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by participating in the MexicO2 program, whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

To improve air quality, Mexico City instituted “No Drive Days” where people can’t drive on different days based on the color of their license plate. People got around it by buying a second car….

But then they added the last number of your license plates. Anyone can drive on Sundays. Bus transportation is pretty decent and there is a subway that is the most used public transportation system. For safety, the first two cars are for women, children, disabled and elderly (Because there used to be a lot of muggings). Also, electric taxis and bicycle taxis
Speed cameras – hidden so everyone drives carefully. 🙂

We boarded the plane to Mexico City at 7:55a.m. and, after a smooth and very quick flight, during which we saw the (active) Popocatepetl volcano (see cover photo), we landed around 9:00a.m.  In Mexico City, we were greeted by our new guides, Reuben Encalada (Dopamina Travel) and Carlos Solis.  They took us to get cash (pesos) and use the banos and then to our new transportation for the next few days – another 18-passenger van.

Landing in Mexico City, I couldn’t help but notice the smog.  I had heard that the air pollution in Mexico City was bad, but I had no idea – it’s like Denver on it’s worst high ozone day – times 10.  Many of us started coughing upon arrival and the lack of air quality was noticeable right away.

Thankfully, we didn’t linger and, once packed up, we drove out to a town called Metepec for lunch and a bit of sight-seeing.  Part of our lunch break was exploring an artisan village of sorts (Centro de Exposicion y Venta Artesanal) where many artisans made pieces of art – many themed with the Tree of Life or Dia de Los Muertos.

Before departing, we walked around Metepec and checked out the Capilla del Calvario chapel.  It had a bit of the feel of Paris from Sacre Couer.

Then, we were off again and drove a couple more hours to Valle de Bravo – a lovely Mediterranean town (that had more the feel of Urbino in Italy – or maybe Como).  It’s a great escape for residents of Mexico City. We checked into our boutique-y hotel, Meson de Leyends – our home for the next two nights.  We had some time to walk around town before dinner.

Dinner was at a lovely restaurant down the street and then we were off to bed.

Next we see the butterflies! Stay tuned….

Please follow and like us:
Posted on 1 Comment

Coffee and Cycadas

Our exploring Mexico Reefs to Rockies, “In Search of Coffee, Vanilla, and Monarch Butterflies”, journey continued with an authentic (and delicious!) breakfast at the recently renovated and restored Hacienda Zimpizahua after we checked out of our hotel, Casa Real de Café.  The weather was a beautiful, warm and sunny treat.  We enjoyed dining al fresco and family style in the courtyard.  Breakfast included sopes with frijoles, green or red chile, and queso, chicharones, huevos, bread, corn torillas, chorizo, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious, local coffee from the nearby plantation.

The hacienda was formerly owned by the “Finca” (landowner/boss) who ran a coffee plantation.  A still functioning water wheel provides nostalgia from the grand days of the Mexican coffee industry.  As we followed the red tile paths around the property, we were led by our guide, Jorge, to the patio where the coffee beans used to be spread out and dried in the hot Mexican sun.  Borderline slave workers would spread the beans in a single layer for drying over hot concrete and then scramble to collect it back if rain clouds rolled in.  The process is more slightly efficient now, but the glamour of the coffee industry has faded as the price of coffee beans has plummeted to 3 Pesos/Kilo (~US$0.32 / pound). 

The grounds of the Hacienda Zimpizahua is as beautiful as a botanical garden with orchids, air plants, a koi pond and poinsettias sprinkled throughout.  From a balcony, we had a crystal clear view of Pico de Orizaba, the 19,000’ high dormant volcano.  Along the road to and from what was the main reason for the road (the Hacienda), we witnessed bee hives, coffee plants (some covered with banana leaves to protect them from the recent unseasonable cold), roaming dogs and a workers strike protesting the recent developers infiltrating the region with no consideration for the landowners’ rights.

A quick drive down the road brought us back to where we had the cooking class the previous night…a local coffee plantation.  We learned all about how coffee is grown, how if it is not local to the region, it doesn’t thrive as well as the local varietal, when it blooms and when the beans are red, ripe and ready to harvest.  Jorge again translated for us all about the different processes and how they affect the flavors.  We learned about the worms and fungi that contaminate the coffee beans causing them to be rejected by these dedicated coffee growers.  The best roasted coffee beans are a matte brown, but not super dark, not shiny and have a marzipan colored line in the middle indicating the oils are still in the bean.  (If the beans are shiny, all the oils have already been released along with most of the flavors).

Our coffee guide emphasized how we must be Mindful about deforestation and climate change…factors that will affect whether or not we can enjoy really good coffee in the future.  Coffee plants grow best in dappled sun light with a canopy above and biodiversity all around.  Coffee plantations provide homes for a plethora of flora and fauna as well as homes for hundreds of bird species.

Our coffee plantation tour concluded with an elaborate tasting where we explored the delicate, intricate flavors of the coffee either as a shot of espresso, a cappuccino, a latte, or straight out of the sifon  (siphon – a process where a hot halogen light bulb heats a round flask of water and then an open topped funnel of sorts suctions the water through a filter up through the coffee grounds and then, as it cools, the coffee sifts back through to the flask ready for drinking at the perfect temperature for tasting once it’s poured in a cool, ceramic cup.  Flavors of hazelnut, chocolate, vanilla and caramel swirled on our palates.  Alex (the baristo) also produced some impressive latte art.  Three pounds of this strictly pure and meticulously grown and processed coffee later, we were on our way…although I’m not sure how I’m getting it home!

After we had our fill of Arabica, we went to a local restaurant and I ate a lunch of the local smoked trout, rice, vegetables and brown beer.  It was one of our group members’ birthday and we all sang “Buon Cumpleanos” to her and, after giggling at the relighting candles, stuffed ourselves on vanilla and prune cake (with buttercream frosting).

Our final tour of the day was of the Inecol (Instituto de Ecologia AC) Botanic Gardens.  Given that this is a tour organized by the Denver Botanic Gardens, it only made sense that we would check out the local botanic gardens, chock full of tropical flora and bird life.  But, the surprise was our botanic gardens’ guide, Phil, from Great Britain.  Despite living in Mexico for 23 years, he still has a thick British accent…which was lovely. 🙂

By far the coolest feature of this botanic gardens was their collection of Cycadas (Cycad) – these are sturdy, fern-like plants that were around on our planet Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs, but are still around today.  One of their specimens is 1500 years old.  They reproduce with seeds (two types: female and male) and need to be planted close together.  Other impressive stars of the show were the huge cinnamon tree (cinnamomum zeylanicum), the Camellia Sinensis tree (where all black tree comes from in various forms of aging), the wild bee hives in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the Mexican bamboo.

A 1500 year old cycad at the Inecol Botanical Gardens

The day ended with a four hour long drive north along Highway 180 (a two-lane road that stretches from Texas to Cancun, Quintana Roo) and our final arrival in Guiterrez Zamora, where we stayed in Hotel Santa Lucia after dinner in a town along the way – equipped with the state police packing automatic weapons and wearing bullet proof vests.  (We felt very safe).

Please follow and like us:
Posted on

Oysters and Orchids, Oh Mole!

The first day was just travel and we arrived in Veracruz without incident (although my mother had to throw out her apple since you can’t bring stuff like that into other countries for fear of spreading disease and pestilence).  We were greeted at the airport in Veracruz by our American guide Mike Vondruska and our local, Mexican, English-Speaking guide, Jorge Alberto Vidal Lopezolivera.

Bags were transferred to a large van and we met our fellow tour attendees like deer in the headlights (as often happens when you put a bunch of people together who have just met for the first time but know they have to spend nine days together having no idea how this is all going to go).

We arrived and were checked into the Gran Hotel Deligencias.  My mother and I were in room 419, each in our own bed.  A quick “snack” dinner of oysters, guacamole and chips, and cold cervezas at the hotel restaurant later and we were ready for sleep.  The passionate locals were enjoying loud music until at least 1:00a.m., but we were so tired, we faded into dreamland.

Next morning, we were up at 7:00a.m., showered, repacked and in the elevator back to the hotel lobby by 8:00a.m.  We loaded our baggage in the tour van and walked across the street to Gran Café del Portal Veracruz for a breakfast of café, orange juice and Machaca (eggs with “dried meat” and salsa) and warm corn tortillas.

Bellies full, bill paid and money exchanged, we were in the van on our way to a local town, Coatepec.  Our first stop was an Orchid Museum (Museo de la Orquidea), established by Dr. Isiaias Contreras Juarez over the course of 40 years.  There are over 350 species of orchid from 2mm tall to about a foot tall.  Most were not in bloom, but the ones that were stretched their beautiful blooms (even the ones we had to use a magnifying glass to see). J

Some important things we learned about orchids are:

  • They have a symbiotic relationship with the plant they grow on
  • The changes in temperature they experience throughout the year help them bloom
  • Climate change is affecting their natural growth rhythms
  • They need mostly air (and some water) to live
  • Vanilla is an orchid!
  • The word “orchid” means “testicles” (from the shape of their bulbs)

After the orchid museum, we walked to see a jade plant in bloom.  Then, we drove down the road and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant and enjoyed artisanal bread and dark beer.  Mom had grilled chicken and I had snapper, rice and vegetables with a fresh, salad.  At the end of the meal, the wait staff bought a large bottle of tequila (a casa (“on the house”)) and we all partook.

Then, we were off to our next hotel, a boutique-y place near the town square called Casa Real del Café.

We peeked into one of the local Iglesias (churches) and chuckled at the statue to Santa del Café (the patron saint of coffee).  Then, we walked around the town for a bit and enjoyed people watching a typical Sunday evening in the town square, complete with live singing, couples dancing, artisans selling their wares, children playing and other street performers.

Our final activity at the end of a full day was a cooking class with Art Cuisine, a local mother, Tanya, and her family taught us how to make picaditas (masa cooked on the griddle, pinched, and topped with frijoles and queso, or rojo salsa), chicken and mushroom mole dish, and coffee lemonade (made with local coffee with just the right technique).  And, we finished with coffee gelatin and vanilla and raisin ice cream.

The bed felt so welcoming after such a colorful and adventure-filled day!

Please follow and like us: