Eden is the Oldeani coffee farm

If you like coffee, you should try to spend a few days on a coffee farm.  You’ll love coffee even more. And if you stay at the coffee farm I stayed at, you’ll be next door to the world’s best wildlife reserve–the Ngorongoro Crater.  You’ll even see the lip of the crater from most anywhere on the farm.  You might even see some of the elephants who wander onto the coffee farm at night.

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Coffee farms can be idyllic settings because coffee requires what most of us call an ideal climate. If you’re on a coffee farm, it will never get too cold or too hot.  It will be between 60 and 75 degrees year- round.  You’ll have plenty of sun and plenty of rain, but not too much.  You’ll be up in the mountains—at least 5000 feet above sea level.  And you won’t have a lot of insect pests. You’ll also have deep rich soil.

If you’re on the best coffee farms, it will be cool even when the sun is out because the best coffee grows in the shade. You’ll have towering native trees throughout the farm.

If you are a sun lover, you’ll love living on the best coffee farms even more. The best coffee is sun dried to about 10% moisture content.  That means coffee requires a pretty long dry season so the beans can be left on screens out in the sun.

A lot happens to the beans before they are dried.  First, the beans aren’t beans when they are picked.  They’re called cherries. From a distance they look a lot like cherries—bright red and round.  Each cherry contains two beans surrounded by lots of pulp which has to be removed.

Most coffee is picked by hand.  A good picker averages about 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day, which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans. Each worker’s daily haul is carefully weighed, and each picker is paid on the merit of his or her work. The day’s harvest is then transported to the processing plant.

Within 24 hours, the cherries must begin processing which consists of pulping, washing and drying.  The first step is removing the pulp from the coffee cherry. The freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine which pushes the wet beans through screens to help pull off the pulp.

Then the beans are separated by weight as they pass through water channels. The lighter beans float to the top, while the heavier ripe beans sink to the bottom. After separation, the beans are transported to water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors — such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude — they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to remove the slick layer of mush (called mucilage or parenchyma) that is still attached to the inner bean. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause this layer to dissolve.

When fermentation is complete, the beans feel rough to the touch.  The beans are rinsed again.  At this point the cherry has been reduced to just the hull surrounding the bean.  Now it’s ready for drying.

The wet beans are spread out on vast fields of elevated screens. Workers rake the beans now and then to get even drying.  When the cherries are down to 10%.  All that’s left is the bean covered by the parchment or silver layer.

Once the beans are dried, the parchment layer is removed from the beans. Occasionally, beans may be polished in a machine designed to remove that last little bit of silver skin. Beans are then graded and sorted, usually by hand.  Then they are bagged, in 60 kg bags in Tanzania, and they are ready to be shipped.

At some point, the beans go through the final stage of processing: roasting.  But that’s not often done on the farm.  Roasting coffee beans is fun and you can do it at home.

Roasting is where coffee’s flavor is fulfilled. The best roasting heats the beans in rotating drums.  Tumbling in the drums keeps the beans from burning.

The beans first turn a yellowish color and smell a little like popcorn. After about 8 minutes, the beans “pop” and double in size. The beans have then reached about 400 F (204 C) and begin to brown as the oils within them start to emerge. This oil is called coffee essence or caffeol. The chemical reaction of the heat and coffee essence is called pyrolysis, and is what produces the flavor and aroma of coffee. A second “pop” occurs about three to five minutes later and signals that the bean is fully roasted.

Roasted coffee beans don’t keep very well.  When stored in air, their flavor starts to deteriorate immediately.

At the farm I stayed at, the whole process is done on the farm. I got to enjoy the farm’s great coffee every morning including a thermos full when I went down the road to see the elephants, lions and rhinos.

Tanzanian coffee and Tanzanian wildlife—can’t get much better than that.

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Fungi provide internet for plants

90% of  plants communicate with aother plants and help them through strands of fungal mycelia.  Read more:

It’s an information superhighway that speeds up interactions between a large, diverse population of individuals. It allows individuals who may be widely separated to communicate and help each other out. But it also allows them to commit new forms of crime.

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No, we’re not talking about the internet, we’re talking about fungi. While mushrooms might be the most familiar part of a fungus, most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. We now know that these threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants. That tree in your garden is probably hooked up to a bush several metres away, thanks to mycelia.

The more we learn about these underground networks, the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren’t just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This “wood wide web”, it turns out, even has its own version of cybercrime.

Around 90% of land plants are in mutually-beneficial relationships with fungi. The 19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank coined the word “mycorrhiza” to describe these partnerships, in which the fungus colonises the roots of the plant.

In mycorrhizal associations, plants provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. In exchange, the fungi help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, via their mycelia. Since the 1960s, it has been clear that mycorrhizae help individual plants to grow.

Fungal networks also boost their host plants’ immune systems. That’s because, when a fungus colonises the roots of a plant, it triggers the production of defense-related chemicals. These make later immune system responses quicker and more efficient, a phenomenon called “priming”. Simply plugging in to mycelial networks makes plants more resistant to disease.

But that’s not all. We now know that mycorrhizae also connect plants that may be widely separated. Fungus expert Paul Stamets called them “Earth’s natural internet” in a 2008 TED talk. He first had the idea in the 1970s when he was studying fungi using an electron microscope. Stamets noticed similarities between mycelia and ARPANET, the US Department of Defense’s early version of the internet.

Film fans might be reminded of James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar. On the forest moon where the movie takes place, all the organisms are connected. They can communicate and collectively manage resources, thanks to “some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees“. Back in the real world, it seems there is some truth to this.

For the rest of the article go to: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet?ocid=ww.social.link.facebook

In the shadow of Ngorongoro

For three days I’ve been living under the lip of the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  From the Oldeani Coffee Farm, we look up across a deep valley to the edge of the Crater. The Crater is in a heavily guarded wildlife preserve.  Many of the 150 people who live on the farm have never been to the Crater.  It’s reserved for those who can spend 500 US Dollars per vehicle and $100 per person.  Mainly well-heeled foreigners can afford to visit.  Tanzanians and poor foreigners just look longingly at it from outside.DSCN8683

Two of those poor foreigners are German girls living here at the farm and working for a year at the kindergarten.  They just graduated from college and are taking a year in Africa to volunteer.  About  halfway through their stint, speak fluent Swahili and dress like Tanzanians—long skirts which reach the floor and blouses which reach the collar bone.

They’ve explored every nook and cranny near the Guest House to find the best phone reception.  One is just outside the gate between the coffee trees.  It’s under a sign saying that these trees were planted in1927-28 by an Otto Koerner from Germany.  He was one of the many European farmers who discovered these “Northern Highlands” were great places to live and farm.

The temperatures here stays around 70.  It might rarely get down to 60 or up to 90, but that will soon pass and the temperature will be perfect again. We’ve had thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.  The locals say the “long rains” have started. These will really intensify in March and last till June enabling the farmers to get a good crop of corn and the coffee tries to set nice plump berries.

July, August and September are the coolest months here and dry.  That’s fine for coffee.  Plenty of sunny weather that’s not too hot means the farmers can spread the coffee beans outside on screens and let it slowly and naturally dry.

I’m here to help reinvigorate this coffee farm.  We want to market it directly rather than having it mixed with lower grade coffees. Don’t be surprised if you see Oldeani Mountain Coffee for sale soon.  You’ll want to buy some. Not only because the beans are treated perfectly but because of the community which treats them.

The farm is managed by three Brothers from a local Catholic order.  They don’t take any salary, but seem to be filled with peace and joy.  They have developed a variety of enterprises on the farm which provide nearly everything the farm workers need.  The farm has enough milk cows to provide milk for 150 people and enough sows to provide pigs for the farm’s families to raise for meat.  The farm provides a mill to grind corn flour to make the nsima (somewhat like fine grits) that everyone eats every day.

At the Guest House, all our food is raised on the farm, except for rice from the hotter lowlands.  For those of us who haven’t acquired the taste for nsima, there are plenty of potatoes.  For breakfast, the German girls especially like “American cake.”  It is dollops of doughnut batter slightly sweetened and slightly fried.  How it got its name or the recipe arrived here are lost in the history of Oldeani Farm.

Breakfast is preceded by the fascinating and ever-varying calls of African birds.  My favorite is the “Go Away” bird which says just that to anyone coming to an East African wildlife area.  The others say all sorts of things, but not in English.  One thing they all say in common: it’s time to get up and go get coffee.

Except it won’t be American coffee.  It will be very strong and always drunk with hot milk. East Africans (who grew the first coffee) can’t understand why anyone would pour cold milk into hot coffee.  They also like sugar in their coffee and can’t understand why we don’t.

If you ever want to see the wildlife of Africa, Ngorongoro Crater if the best place to do it.  And the best place to stay on your visit is the Oldeani Coffee Farm.  Soon you’ll be able to at least taste Oldeani coffee, even if you can’t come here.  That is, if I get back to work and help this community achieve its dreams.

As humble as rosemary

A few steps from my back door is a huge rosemary plant. It releases scents you can get nowhere else. Smelling rosemary seems to cause people to be mentally sharper.  I can sure use that. My rosemary bush makes no demands, though I do water it in a drought.  It seems perfectly fine with just supplying me with oxygen and delightful scents. That’s pretty humble.  Just produce benefits for anyone passing by and don’t demand anything or expect anything.

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I don’t think I will ever be as humble as my rosemary plant, but I’m working on it. Being humble is not what the vast majority of us want.  Most of the world says: praise yourself, promote yourself, make yourself the center of attention, make everyone appreciate how smart and capable you are. Glorify yourself, the world seems to say.

I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. I need to be humble.  Every time I try to put myself first, something puts me back in my place and says, be humble.

That’s difficult for most of us humans.  We want to be first.  We want to be the center of attention.  We begin life as crying babies who are the center of attention for our parents.  Babies cry and smile and do everything they can to insure they stay the center of attention.  At some point, some of us realize the futility of all that.

We realize that peace and joy and love don’t come from putting ourselves first.  Those fruits come from putting first a goal larger than ourselves.

Instead we strive and strive to make ourselves great. Most of the world defines greatness as accumulation.  Accumulating money or houses or cars or adulation. All over the planet are people working themselves to death to accumulate all they can.

I’m pretty good at growing rosemary and strawberries and other crops.  I’ve had a lot of abundant harvests. An old story tells us of the rich man who had such abundant harvests.  He produced so much that he had no place to store it all.  So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his surplus. Once those were built, he promised himself that he would take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.

But then he was told: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

All over the planet people are living in this delusion.  We are so focused on producing more and more that we are generating millions of tons of carbon dioxide.  Many say those gases are warming up the planet.  The irony is that humble plants love carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide for plants is like oxygen for us. It’s not a waste product, it’s the elixir of life. Higher-than-normal CO2 concentrations dramatically enhance the productivity of plants.

By producing more CO2, mankind may be making the planet just a better place for plants.  We may be turning the entire planet into a paradise for plants. We may not like a warmer planet with lots of carbon dioxide in the air.  But plants will.

So all our striving to accumulate, all our striving to put ourselves first, seems to be producing a planet which is best suited for plants.  The lack of humility of man is creating an Eden for humble plants.

We could cease our striving for accumulation.  We could quit producing the noxious gases we are pumping into the atmosphere. We could focus more on humility and joy and peace.

Peace, joy and depression

A white Christmas was fun, but we were glad to travel South when all the forecasters were predicting freezing rain and -12 wind chill. We woke out of our holiday reverie and got a move on. Too bad we don’t have forecasters to tell us when our society is in trouble so we’ll wake up and get to work.

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Societies used to have such people.  One of the most famous was Jeremiah.  He predicted the destruction of his nation.  “You were given a bountiful country and ate of its fruit and its goodness. Then you defiled the land and made it an abomination.” Sounds like any country you know?

Most of us would rather stay in the holiday reverie.  Our lives are fine.  Let’s enjoy life and not listen to the Jeremiahs.  Or maybe there is a way to have joy and peace and still work to resurrect our bountiful country.

Working in countries with seemingly intractable problems, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. People often ask me how I keep motivated working in countries where nothing seems to change. The key is to not tie your peace and joy to outcomes.  You can invest a lot of time and effort and not see much effect.  If your focus is solely on the effects, then it is sensible to become depressed and quit.

Change your focus to the activity and the people. Share your joy and peace with the people you are working with. As I help people improve their farms and create new enterprises, I try to do everything with peace and joy.  Then, if government, or weather, or big companies thwart their efforts, they aren’t as likely to give up.  They not only have skills, but a little peace and joy to help them continue their battle to improve the world.

Sure it makes no logical sense to have peace and joy when the world seems to be conspiring against you. But it is exactly that inner peace and joy which enables you to continue your efforts and become victorious.

Laugh and relax.  You know what makes the world better.  And you’ll just stick with it no matter what the world throws up against you.

A baby’s cry

Everyone loves babies. At least all resilient species do. Every once in awhile a subspecies is generated which doesn’t like babies much and doesn’t have many, and dies out. The city loving double income no kids crowd typifies that in humans today.  People who don’t like babies typically aren’t too religious either.  The rest of us love the idea of celebrating a baby being born at Christmas.

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The baby we celebrate at Christmas sure caused a big disturbance.  Way bigger than the Trump disturbance.  I don’t think there is much chance of whole nations becoming devoted to Trump.  And impeachment is not as bad as crucifixion. Too bad all the emotion generated by Trump can’t be channeled into something a little more like that Christmas baby.

In the language of ecological resilience, the baby we celebrate at Christmas was an emergent phenomenon.  Out of the traditional eye-for-eye, us versus them mentality arose a new focus. Since that baby, 2000 years ago, we know that we can be transformed to show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Native peoples, integrated with their local ecologies, didn’t show such qualities to their neighbors.  American Indian tribes usually thought of themselves as the only real humans, all others could be treated like animals or worse. That kept the population in line.

Today we don’t treat other tribes as nonhuman.  But the liberal tribe and the Trump tribe are headed in that direction.  Not a lot of love and joy and peace and kindness on either side.  I doubt the Christmas baby would have much to do with either side.  He might just retreat to the wilderness and pray.  Maybe we should too.

Poverty of the spirit

It’s easy to blame the poor in the third world for the destruction of their ecosystems.  And its true that the poor are chopping down forests and overgrazing the land.  But some of the poorest people on earth have done a wonderful job of caring for the earth. And some of the wealthiest got their wealth by destroying entire ecosystems.

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The destruction of the earth by those greedy for wealth is easy to see. One egregious example I ran across recently was an entire river valley  turned to rubble when a Chinese company wanted Mozambique’s gold. The Chinese are finding willing governments all over Africa who can be bribed to permit the rapacious destruction of their countries. Just as Western countries once did.

Most of us know little about Africa.  Did you know that, when Christ was born, southern Africa was populated by a peaceful brown skinned people who eschewed agriculture?

Before the dark Bantu peoples migrated from their homeland near the Niger River, a lighter people lived all across Southern Africa.  If you define poverty as lack of income, then these people (called San, Khoi or Bushmen) were the poorest because they had no money.

They made a life without iron or agriculture.  These came only when the Bantus migrated in.  Then began the long destruction of African wildlife.  When the Bantus acquired the white man’s tools, the destruction really took off.  Today, the Chinese love of money is finalizing the destruction of Nature in Africa.

I’ll be taking my eighteenth  trip to Africa next month, hoping to see some of the last vestiges of wild Africa on the Serengeti.  But I also seek out the last vestiges of the original African inhabitants, the San. As Bantu populations grow with unchecked needs, the San are relegated to remote deserts which no one has figured out how to exploit.

There they live in peace with very little.  Aggressiveness and greed came to Southern Africa with agriculture.

 

Technology destroyed the verdant natural systems of the San. Iron workers from the Niger valley enabled invaders to cut down trees and plow soil and the Bantu began the destruction of all the lands of southern Africa.

Technology does not go away easily. So we have to counter fire with fire and technology is the only way to control technology.

To do so, we must understand the qualities of resilient systems.  Everyone loves children. The poor people of Africa want more children.  The rich people of the US and Europe see those children starving and ship them food. Can we let them starve? Pictures of starving children and the greed of Western farmers unite in helping Africans have more and more children.  And natural ecosystems recede all across the continent.

We need the wilderness. It rejuvenates us.  It puts us in touch with the basic processes of all life.  Processes which are hidden from most of us by our cultures.

Our cultures which glorify greed and income. Amassing more and more is all we think of. The San and many other cultures have alternative values. These peoples accumulate a little and then stop to enjoy it.  Accumulation is just one part of resilience. Having children, part of what ecologists call redundancy, is also a quality of resilience. Technology, or innovation, is also key to resilience.  But all these must be tempered if a culture or race or species is to survive.

Innovation must be conservative. It must maintain tried and true traditions. Redundacy must be held in check by diversity. Diversity must be complementary, not rampant. Accumulation of infrastructure and reserves must be tempered by cycling these reserves to support complementary diversity.

The San and many other cultures, have incorporated those dualities in everything they do, just as do all resilient natural systems.

We can learn from those resilient natural systems or we can perish.