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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!

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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….

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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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CHALLENGE DAY 17

Thrift Store Shopping

Sustainable Fashion – Try out a Thrift Store!

Today’s challenge is to explore thrift shopping if you don’t already.  Check out a local thrift store and see what great selection they have for all sorts of items.

Some are better than others, so I would recommend doing your research.

Maybe start here:  Thrift Store Google Search

If you already thrift shop, good for you!  You can do one of the Optional Challenges today!!

(And, as always, if you can’t do the challenge of the day, you can do one of the Optional Challenges)

 

One of the greenest things you can do is reuse.  The clothing industry is incredibly wasteful as people have become more and more trained to essentially throw away their clothes.  (Where previous generations would fix, mend, re-purpose, or hand-down clothing).  Last spring I had the pleasure of interviewing a fashion designer who gave me all sorts of great tips on more green clothing shopping.  (That will be in an upcoming blog post).  But, the best piece of advice she gave me was to thrift shop for clothes.  After you shop and ask around, you will find your favorite stores.  Junior League, Salvation Army, Goodwill, ARC, and many more have lots of options in a variety of scales.  Consignment shops are another option.  Often, you can find high fashion brands – sometimes with the tags still on!

 

Check out Patrice J. Williams’ blog and book!

Looking Fly on a Dime

Here are some other thrift store shopping resources to help you get started (and save money!):

Here’s a fun video:

31 Best Thrift Tips

More helpful tips!:

29 Tips to Rock Thrift Store Shopping

 

http://sixdollarfamily.com/8-thrift-store-shopping-tips-to-save-you-money

 

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