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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.

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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!

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¡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

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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.

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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.

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¡Viva Vanilla!

By Liz Rutledge

On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz).  A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.

When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky.  The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873.  Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.

When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs).  The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona.  Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate.  Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet.  Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo).  They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the
protective male trees.

These vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are exposed to too much stress.

As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended.  These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time.  The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants.  They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”.  The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient.  Interns are working to assist in this process.

The vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers.  Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.   Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the disease.

The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods.  Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”.  The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important.  Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.

Once picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of “sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe.  Once they are perfectly ready, they are divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder, pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building with bars on the windows and electrified wires.  Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final inspection.  At US$5/vanilla bean, we can now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.

After touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).

As you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand they sell here)).

A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.

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