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Did you know that pineapples sold in the USA built a community center in Costa Rica?

Earlier this week my wife sent me a photo of a box of pineapples from Whole Foods. These were no ordinary pineapples. They were Fair Trade Certified™ pineapples from a Costa Rican farm I had recently visited. I like a pineapple as much as the next person. But I love these pineapples because I saw firsthand what they mean for the people who harvest and pack them.

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Over the past decade, every time one of these pineapples was purchased, a nickel has gone back to the workers who pick and pack these tropical fruits. This nickel is the Fair Trade premium.  These workers have been saving their nickels. They had a dream of building a learning center for their community.  This community of about 300 workers, earning on average $20 a day, saved more than $600,000 over six years until they could afford to realize their dream.  They then hired architects and contractors, navigated government bureaucracy, managed a complex construction project, and finally hired the staff to run the center.

The learning center is remarkable. It offers free classes to the community in everything from adult literacy to computer learning to cosmetology and motorbike mechanics. Adults who never learnt to read or write are taking classes and graduating from school.  It provides a place that community elders can socialize with friends while working on traditional crafts. And a beautiful futsal court that is the pride of the region.

These pineapple workers are not just farm laborers. Through the power of Fair Trade they have become social entrepreneurs  running a complex community business.  And it is all made possible through those Fair Trade Certified™ pineapples!

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9 cool facts about Hyperion

HyperionEarlier today I had the chance to tour the Hyperion treatment plant with a group of staff and volunteers from Heal the Bay. Sewage may not be sexy, but its fascinating. Many thanks to our friends at the Bureau of Sanitation for a great tour.

1. Hyperion was one of the 12 Greek Titans and the father of the god, Helius. Hyperion is also the name of a sewage treatment plant in LA. And the name of the world’s tallest tree — a 379′ tall coast redwood in Redwood National Park.

2. The Hyperion I will be talking about is the largest sewage plant, by volume, west of the Mississippi. It treats 300 million gallons a day (MGD) on a regular basis and can handle 900 MGD flat out. By comparison, you’d only need 100 MGD to fill the Rose Bowl. Or 90,000 fans. Take your pick.

3. You may  have heard of effluent — it is the treated waste water discharged into a bay or ocean. But did you know they call the raw sewage that flows in the front door of the plant, “infuent”? I didn’t.

4. The city of LA purchased the land that Hyperion stands on in 1892 and built the first modern plant in 1949.  Up until that time, raw sewage was discharged to the Bay. But I use the word “modern” loosely. From 1949 until 1998 it blended treated and untreated effluent and then pumped it into the bay. The result? Sick surfers, dead fish, and dolphins with skin lesions. Oh, and a fight with Heal the Bay.

5. Heal the Bay was founded in 1985 to get Hyperion to clean up its act. By 1987 they had agreed to. But it took 12 years and $1.6 BN to get to a place where only treated effluent was pumped into the bay. Now surfers are healthier, dolphins are happier, and the fish die of natural causes. Unless its raining — but that is another story and a much more challenging problem we work on day in day out.

6. Despite the fact the new plant has allowed the bay to recover, the treated effluent itself is not safe for humans. Seagulls may swim in the treated water ponds, but if you or I did the same we would get sick. So the last piece of the treatment puzzle is the dilution provided by the Santa Monica Bay. It does it tirelessly and doesn’t get paid.

7. It can take several days for influent to get from your toilet to Hyperion. But once there, the liquid is processed within a day. The solids take longer to be digested by beneficial bacteria and converted to compost that is used in Kern County farms and Griffith Park.

8. 6700 miles of sewage line feed into Hyperion. That’s like LA to NY and back,

9. 80% of the power needs for Hyperion are met from methane gas generated on-site from all that poop.

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Places I Love: Big Sur Coast

Places I Love: Big Sur
Yuccas, Redwoods and the Ocean

Where else can you stand with a blooming yucca at your feet and look down on the coast redwoods and blue of the Pacific Ocean? Probably no place other than the rugged Big Sur coast. Rising thousands of feet from a rocky shoreline it has to be one of the most spectacular coasts on Earth.

And to me it’s where the redwoods of wet northern California start to blend with the Yuccas of the dry south. In a way it’s a transition zone between my old work for the redwoods and my new work for southern California’s beaches and ocean. I can’t wait to go back.

Places I love: Tierra del Fuego

Places I love: Tierra del Fuego

Glacier Alley, Tierra del Fuego

Head south, way south, and before you run out of land at Cape Horn you may find yourself plying the waters of Glacier Alley. I was fortunate enough to do that a number of years ago on a small cruise ship headed to Ushuaia — the most southerly city in the world.  This sea passage is lined with glaciers slowly carving icebergs off into the ocean. But what struck me was the light. It was early January and the light lingered late on the long days of a southern summer.