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Ritz-Carlton Naples Improves its Kitchen Offerings with a Farm in a Box

The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida has latched onto the next evolution of efficient farming. With the demand for local and organic produce growing each quarter, companies everywhere are looking for the most cost-effective method to deliver high-quality food onto plates. Enter Williamson Greenhouse’s “CropBox”.

North Carolina-based Williamson Greenhouses invented the CropBox to offer affordable, efficient farming methods. Their immediate goal was to create a tool that would enable anyone to become a successful farmer, regardless of their talent or expertise. “We have customers across all markets,” explains Tripp Williamson, principle owner, “from companies like the Ritz to individuals that have never grown anything and are starting a business for the first time. Our big goal is to be able to help third world countries and to help provide food to those who need it most. That is the last piece of the puzzle.”

The box is made to the dimensions and appearance of a standard 44 by 8 feet shipping container. Within its petite 320ft2, however, it contains the extraordinary agricultural capacity of an entire 1 acre farm. Its setup time, from being ordered to being delivered, is just 30 days. It maintains the perfect pH, humidity, lighting, and nutrient release for whatever crops it houses. All of these settings are tweakable, managed within a smartphone app.

 

This is a nascent field and the Ritz-Carlton Naples is at the forefront. Dubbed by the Ritz-Carlton’s staff as “The Grow House,” it is the first of its kind in a resort. The trend is certainly picking up steam, however. While there were just 13 in the United States in September, 2015, when The Ritz’s was set up, there were 24 by the end of December.

It’s easy to see why: the benefits to the restaurant are manifold. With a farm on the property, the restaurant is supplied with ingredients that are as fresh as commercially possible. When an ingredient in the kitchen runs low, Executive Chef George Fistrovich or one of his cooks runs out back and picks more from their CropBox. “There’s no middleman here,” he says, “we are always going to have fresh greens to use. We grow it, we harvest it and we serve it. You can’t get any more local than that.” It reduces the need for stockpiling, which in turn reduces waste.

Already, with just the one CropBox, 70-80% of the resort’s lettuce is self-supplied. The Ritz’s CropBox also supplies the resort with cilantro, arugula, spinach, cabbage, and assorted microgreens. Chef Fistrovich hopes to add another CropBox to produce mushrooms and strawberries next. With enough variety, the Ritz’s kitchens will be able to offer any dish as “local” or “seasonal” at any time.

 

The benefits of the CropBox spread much farther afield than just the resort’s kitchen, however. Due to the closed-off nature of the shipping container, every product the CropBox grows is organic and 100% pesticide-free. Additionally, they grow with startling efficiency: to grow 30,000 heads of lettuce, the CropBox uses 90% less water and 80% less fertilizer than a standard 1 acre farm. They also all-but-eliminates the carbon footprint and waste that stems from transporting food from farm to table. Most produce grown on conventional farms travel approximately 1,000 miles before they get to market, and this transportation cost accounts for over 40% of the goods’ sales price. Growing produce in a CropBox reduces the oil needed by 90%, and all-but-eliminates the issue of produce rotting before arriving at the market.

These efficiencies could be harnessed across the world – from inhospitable climates, to urban centres – to affordably combat world hunger and climate change. Crop Boxes can directly and immediately improve our standard of living. Williamson said that there has been interest from every continent except Antarctica. “By the year 2050 the world population will increase by 50%.  We will need to produce more food and become way more efficient at growing it.  With all the environmental changes happening we saw an opportunity to get involved with vertical growing to help offset the environmental impact.” This is a problem that’s not going away any time soon, but the CropBox may be a part of the solution.

Written by:

Jarad Fisher


Guatemalan Forest Communities Protect Their Own

Deep within the jungles of Guatemala, a chainsaw echoes across the hills. A pair of young men take their cutting instruments to a nearby sapling. As they begin their work, police show up to stop the illegal cutting. However, these law enforcement agents are not from the federal government or a national park service, but from a local community looking to preserve and protect what is theirs. This enforcement is not done purely out of altruism – the community protects the trees for their own sustainable use.

This is the face of a new conservation program opening up in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. In spite of the best efforts of the national government, Guatemala still suffers from high levels of deforestation. By putting the responsibility in the hands of local communities, it leaves the defense to those with the greatest incentive to protect the forest. Although they have their own mills and logging services, these communities do not have the capability or the desire to uproot and move on when an area is clear. As a result, they are motivated to practice sustainable logging efforts and minimize waste.

The rigid monitoring system employed by these local communities has also helped deter lawbreakers. Rather than saddle the central government with thousands (if not, millions) of square miles of territory to police, local villages are given the task of protecting what is essentially their backyard.

“Nobody is going to take care of somebody else’s house, somebody else’s garden. But they will look after and defend their own livelihood,” says Marcedonio Cortave, the director of an alliance of communities working in the reserve.

The effect of this unorthodox approach to conservation is immediately apparent. Although only 30% of the reserve is parceled out to local communities, the program has been a stunning success. The greatest success story is in Uaxactún (pronounced Wah-shac-TOON). Uaxactún is prospering thanks to the wood and resources extracted sustainably from their own region. Uaxactún wood has been sold globally, with buyers in the US and Europe. This success is accomplished without creating the barren hillsides that are typical of industrial and illegal logging efforts.

The practice has helped prove that environmental preservation and economic growth can go hand in hand. By minimizing waste and only taking what is needed, forests that are essential to combatting climate change and keeping our atmosphere breathable are maintained, while their residents prosper. It is a philosophy that has driven Dispenser Amenities’ business model from the beginning and enabled us to eliminate millions of plastic containers from landfills all over the world.

Prosperity and conservation truly do not have to be at odds. If anything, these two forces work in concert. The use of sensible, sustainable environmental regulation and responsible land use pays itself off many times over when contrasted with the costs sustained by environmental damage and rising sea levels. Hopefully, the Guatemalan model will spread around the world, and provide direction towards a greener future.


The Paper Alternative

There are very few places in the world that have not heard of or used a straw in some way. From the early Sumerians drinking beer in 3000 BCE to the modern fast food chain around the corner, this handy implement has been a fixture in beverages for millennia. The first commercial drinking straws came about to help people better enjoy the popular beverage mint julep in the 1800s. While rye straws were used, they had the tendency to turn into mush and add an unappealing grassy flavor over time. An inventor named Marvin C. Stone fashioned a paper drinking straw to help overcome this problem. These first paper straws were patented and sold from the late 1880s through to the 1970s. Soon after that, plastic straws replaced their paper cousins and it has been a disaster for the environment ever since.

Although plastic has been popular with fans of Crazy Straws, it has not been so good for the environment. Since their surge in popularity, plastic drinking straws have come to account for ten percent of all ocean debris found. This easily places drinking straws among the top ten most common forms of marine debris.

Plastic straws are made of some of the same by-products that you would find in gasoline. This means that the straws, like any other plastic product, go straight into a landfill or the ocean to sit for an eternity. Not only is the pollution unattractive, but it also harmful to ocean life. In 2012, a team of researchers began studying endangered sea turtles worldwide. They wanted to learn about what they were eating and how they were living. One way to do that is to study the bodies of deceased sea turtles to find out what is inside their stomachs. Fifty percent of these endangered animals had plastic drinking straws in their stomach. Twenty-five percent had plastic drinking straws in their nose, throat, or mouth.  If you have ever swallowed a potato chip incorrectly, you can only imagine how painful it must be to go through life with a straw stuck sideways in your throat. The straws do not always kill the turtles, but it does make it harder for them to eat, breathe, and ultimately, live.

However, there is a company that has now decided to do something about this problem. Aardvark Straws has taken the initiative by bringing back the classic paper straw. They have produced a line of paper straws that are biodegradable and completely compostable. The straws are also available in a variety of colors and patterns.  We use plastic drinking straws every day, all over the world. If we could replace them with the paper straw alternative, we would drastically reduce the amount of pollution in the oceans. This would help marine life all over the globe, especially the turtles!

Aardvark Straws are essentially doing the same thing for straws that the soap dispenser did for plastic soap bottles.  This is a company that has taken a great idea for the world and made it happen. Aardvark Straws is a company that takes responsibility for what is going on in the world and makes necessary changes that are easy for everyone to implement in their daily lives.  


Global Soap Joins Forces with Clean the World

The world’s only large-scale recyclers of hotel soap have combined their operations and charitable efforts! Clean the World and Global Soap have contributed to a 30 percent reduction in childhood deaths from hygiene-related illnesses since 2009.

The blended organization capitalizes on strengths developed separately by each group over the past six years. Under the new operating structure, Clean the World Foundation manages all soap and plastic bottle collection and recycling in North America, while Clean the World Asia oversees soap recycling in the Asia-Pacific region. Global Soap concentrates on strategic soap distribution and hygiene education programs that make a measurable, sustainable impact on global health.

For Global Soap, the mission continues to be creating a positive health impact that is sustained long-term by making hand washing and local soap purchases a lifelong habit. The organization now can focus on more targeted programs such as microlending and habit/behavior changes to improve the health impact of the soap.

“By joining forces with Clean the World, Global Soap can focus solely on improving global hygiene,” said Sam Stephens, Executive Director of Global Soap. “We can broaden our range of activities and expand our community-based hygiene programs, including micro-enterprise and micro-lending initiatives. The result will be a much stronger and more sustainable impact on global health.”

Since 2013, Dispenser Amenities has been making a donation to The Global Soap Project for every new Hotel customer of 100 rooms or greater.  Hotels wishing to help this important cause are encouraged to donate all used bars of soap.  Clean the World along with The Global Soap Project will recycle those soaps into clean, new soap for distribution wherever in the world the need is greatest.


Removing eggs from a site affected by cattle woman kneeling in rocky sand pit digging up turtle eggs and placing them in plastic bins filled with sand dispenser amenities

Dispenser Amenities Supports Spiny Softshell Turtle Conservation

The Head Office of Dispenser Amenities is located in London, Canada, a city of nearly 400,000 people located in Southwestern Ontario, about half way between Toronto and Detroit.  And like the London on the other side of the Ocean, our London has lots of names borrowed from them, like Oxford Street, Piccadilly Street, Hyde Park and the Thames River.  Our river is an eco-system onto itself with a variety of fish and reptiles that call our Thames River home.

Spiny Softshell Turtles are  medium to large-sized freshwater turtles that make their habitat along the Thames River, and can be found across Ontario and Western Quebec.  With its flat soft shell, tubular snout and large nostrils, The Spiny Softshell Turtle often attracts public curiosity.  It is however, a shy and nervous creature that is one of the most highly endangered species in Canada. 

The latest population estimates show that there are probably less than 2,500 Eastern Spiny Softshells in Ontario and possibly less than 100 in Quebec. Predators, receding shorelines, and recreation activities threaten the survival of this species. 

Early studies along the Thames River revealed that one of the major factors that has caused this turtle species population to plummet is an almost zero turtle egg survival.  Very few hatchling turtles reach adulthood, and therefore it is important for biologists to protect the eggs and release as many hatchlings as possible.  The vulnerability of this species is further amplified considering that it only reaches sexual maturity at the age of twelve.  Existential threats to The Spiny Softshell Turtle also include loss of habitat, people collecting them to have as pets, food trade and getting caught on fishing hooks.  The turtles are extremely vulnerable to traffic mortalities as they freqHatchling Spiny Softshell Turtlesuently cross roads.  Increasing urbanization and climate change has also caused habitat loss for the species.   Moreover, the turtles often fall prey to predators like raccoons and coyotes.  Due to the loss of wetlands, the turtle populations are increasingly becoming more isolated from each other thereby preventing gene flow between turtle populations.

There are a number of organizations that have begun to actively participate in initiatives aimed at protecting The Spiny Softshell Turtle.  One of the organizations that is at the forefront of the conservation efforts is The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA).  UTRCA, also known as Turtle Team, is one of the longest running and most successful reptile research, recovery and education programs in Canada.  Since egg protection began in the 1990s, The Spiny Softshell Turtle population has shown increases in the number of turtles of all age classes.  The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is also actively involved in several initiatives to protect the species through habitat protection, restoration of protected areas and stewardship. The NCC also coordinates groups of volunteers that conduct cleanups of spawning sites, monitor turtle nests and collect eggshells.  The organization has also been involved iHatchling Spiny Softshell Turtlesn an incubation program since 2009. The program seeks to increase the hatching rates of the turtle by artificially hatching the turtle eggs and then releasing them into the wild.

This year’s effort by the UTRCA Turtle Team has resulted in unprecedented success.  They have just released 3000 Spiny Softshell Turtle Hatchlings into the river, by far their most successful release since their efforts began in the early nineties.  Eggs are harvested from the nests to prevent predation and loss by flooding, illegal collection etc. and incubated in specially designed incubators.

While threats are increasing each year, several strategies have been developed to counter some of the drastic losses experienced across the species in Canada.   The provincial and federal governments and other non-governmental organizations have committed to providing funding to ensure the conservation programs continue throughout 2015.  Organizations like the UTRCA are also studying the collective turtle population and are actively seeking to improve the quality of water along the Thames watershed so as to protect all wildlife that makes their habitat along the river.  The local communities have also chipped in by forming a strong network of volunteers
Threatened Spiny Softshell Turtles after nestingand donors that have been able to reach and protect a greater number of wildlife and habitats.

We are proud to say that Dispenser Amenities has committed donations to the Turtle Team this year to purchase two additional incubators, two GPS units which are used to find and track the mature turtles and one PIT Tag Scanner which is used to scan the microchips that identify the turtles.  We want to support this most important recovery effort and they need donations to carry on their critical work.


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