Monoculture Threatens Margaritas


Tequila’s soaring popularity is creating agricultural risks that may force its own collapse if current production practices continue.

A bit of background

Tequila has been made from the agave plant in Mexico for hundreds of years. The agave is sometimes called the century plant because of a myth that it blooms once in a century and then dies. Well, there’s some truth to this. It does die after it flowers, but it actually takes roughly 8 to 10 years to mature.

To prevent the agave from flowering, farmers closely monitor their crops and cut off any flower stalks so that the agave will continue to grow. When the agave’s sugar content is high enough for fermentation (at least 24 percent), the plant is harvested. Leaves are cut off and discarded. The heart of the plant, or piña, is then carted off and sold to tequila producers. The piña gets its name from its resemblance to an enormous pineapple, weighing in at roughly 50-100 pounds. The piñas are then roasted, mashed, fermented, strained, distilled, and sometimes aged, to make tequila.

Wait, don’t no flowers mean no seeds?

It might be reasonable to assume that the farmers would allow a selection of plants to flower to produce seeds for the next crop. But in the case of the agave, they don’t have to.

Agave is a succulent, one of those wonderful, strange plants that are so adept at asexual reproduction that, in many species, a single leaf has the potential to sprout roots and grow into a fully functioning adult plant. The agave, for example, sends out shoots, known as pups. Fortunately for farmers, the agave becomes especially eager to create pups when its means of sexual reproduction is disrupted in some way, such as by cutting off its flowering stalk. This is ideal for farmers, who can collect the pups to populate their fields in lieu of seed stock.

The problem

Using shoots or pups is cheaper, faster and easier than growing from seed. Unfortunately, the cost of convenience is the absence of genetic diversity of the agave stock. In 2007 it was estimated that that 99 percent of all cultivated agave were the products of pups. In genetic terms, most cultivated agave plants are clones. Without sexual reproduction, there is no genetic exchange between plants. This genetic sameness produces precarious conditions for the health of future crops, as genetic diversity creates obstacles that pests must overcome, thereby slowing their spread and damage.

In the last 30 years, tequila has ballooned in popularity, with producers scrambling to keep up with demand. In less than a decade, the
industry has seen propagation boom from 40,000 acres cultivated with Weber Blue agave to nearly 120,000 acres. This created an overabundance, and thus a flooded market. Prices for agave plummeted from $4 per pound to pennies, highlighting the risks of trying to predict the market when it takes 10 years for a crop to be ready for harvest.


But after planting 120,000 acres with a single strain, of a single crop, of which 99 percent of plants are vegetally propagated genetic clones, the tequila industry now has more to worry about than simply forecasting demand. This kind of agricultural management takes the concept of monoculture to a new level. It practically warrants a new word!

Monoculture makes crops vulnerable, and the predictable consequence is disease. This is why big agribusiness spends so much money on fungicides and pesticides. Just look what monoculture did to the Gros Michel banana. Today, the world consumes Cavendish bananas. But prior to the 1950’s, the Gros Michel, which was said to have been the most flavorful of all banana varieties, would have been in your local grocery store. Then came Panama Disease, caused by a fungus, which tore through the world’s banana plantations and very nearly resulted in the extinction of the Gros Michel.

With monoculture brought to the genetic level, Weber Blue agave today is an easy target for pests, with weevils, nematodes, fungi and bacteria ravaging the fields. Weevils boar into the hard husk, creating access points into the plant for the fungus and bacteria. Once an insect is inside the plant, pesticides are largely ineffective.

The best course of action for producers of Weber Blue agave is to work with seed stock, and intercrop with some of the other 10 heirloom varieties of agave that are viable for making tequila. But government standards prevent this from happening. Only liquor produced within the area surrounding the town of Tequila, and made with Weber Blue agave, may be called tequila. Other varieties can only be called mescal.

To avoid the inevitable consequences of monoculture, the simple and obvious solution would be for the government to modify regulations governing these designations. But the industry is loathe to do so for fear of compromising the integrity of the product and losing its designation as “tequila.”

Just as the Gros Michel banana was considered to be the most delicious of all strains of bananas, so is Weber Blue regarded among agave varieties. But if the Weber Blue agave meets the same fate as the Gros Michel, a great many tequila lovers will have reason to mourn.

# # #


Zapata, A., & Nabhan, G. (2003). Tequila: A natural and cultural history. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Stewart, A. (2013). The drunken botanist: The plants that create the world’s great drinks. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Margarita and Agave images via Shutterstock

by Katharine Galpin

15 Practical Tips for Sustainable Travel

By: Guest Contributor, Boom Rizal


Never before has the label “citizen of the world” been taken this seriously. People feel that travelling is something they deserve; that they owe it to themselves to see the world. For millions of people in the United Kingdom for example, global travel (53%) ranks higher than having a baby (30%) and buying a house (38%) in their bucket list. The dream travel destinations are anywhere from the Great Barrier Reef, Aurora Borealis, African Safari, Pyramids of Egypt, and the Great Wall of China. The desire to be a backpacker, an expert traveler, and a citizen of the world transcends race, religion, and color. Whether for vacation, business, or school, waking up in a different place is something everyone wants to experience.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme shows that international tourist arrivals have almost quadrupled over the past thirty years and domestic tourism has also never been this vibrant. Jobs for locals and a boost to the economy are some of the positive impacts of a strong tourism industry. However, the risks of environmental degradation also become greater. With more than a billion people traveling each year, how can we see the world without destroying it? The answer is sustainable travel or simply put, traveling responsibly. Here are tips to be a more responsible traveler, and hopefully save the world for future generations.


Care for a little research?

1Photo via Pinterest

How hard is it to research about a place these days? Learn about mass tourism and the ecosystem. When you are visiting the Taj Mahal in India or the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, know that pollution and heavy traffic of tourists have taken its toll. Always be considerate.


Look for eco accommodation

2Photo via Pinterest

When you look for the best accommodation deals especially in worldly famous destinations like Boracay, don’t just look for free wi-fi, book a hotel that recycles, employ locals, use alternative forms of energy, and have good ventilation. By supporting green hotel accommodations, you become an agent of sustainability.


Follow the rules

3Photo via Pinterest

Everywhere you go, there are going to be rules. These are necessary to preserve the tourist spots and destinations. In Boracay in the Philippines for example, building sand castles and sand sculptures are now prohibited by a local ordinance. This is one way to protect the famous white sands of one of the world’s best beaches.


Buy local, eat local


Photo via Pinterest

What is the point of going to Korea without eating Kimchi or Japan without trying sushi? When travelling, skip fast-food favorites like burgers and fries and go for local restaurants and buy local products. Hire local guides, too, if ever you’ll need one. This is one way to help sustain tourism in the countries that you visit.


Ride the bus, walk, or bike

5Photo via Pinterest

Instead of renting a car to use during the duration of your tour, it is better to take the train or ride the bus and not contribute to traffic and pollution. If the destination is just several kilometers away, try to walk or bike and take that chance to stroll down the city’s history and rich culture.


Carry a reusable water bottle around

6Photo via Pinterest

Endless walking and sight-seeing will tire you down. You will find yourself buying three or four plastic water bottles each day and doing so contributes to toxic wastes. Bring a reusable water container (hopefully big enough for a liter or two) that you can refill in restaurants or areas where tap water is safe.


Don’t litter

7Photo via Pinterest

This is very basic. Don’t throw food wrappers, plastic bags, water bottles, etc. anywhere (even if the locals do). The trails in the Peruvian Andes and in Nepal have been nicknamed “Coca-Cola trail” and “Toilet paper trail” because of the ton of garbage left behind by trekking tourists. Don’t let this happen to other tourist spots and remember to always dispose off your litter and trash properly.


Save electricity

8Photo via Pinterest

Are you one of those travelers who do not mind keeping the heater or air-conditioning on even after they leave their hotel because they paid for it? Well, you are not entitled to consume all of the world’s energy. Treat it as you would your own home. Turn the aircon off and plug out all appliances when not in the room.


Save water

9Photo via Pinterest

Skip the tub and take quick showers. The world’s water resources are beginning to get scarce so make the responsible gesture of keeping your water usage to a minimum. You may be on vacation, but you can only take a break from work and not from being a responsible citizen of the world.


Hang towels and skip laundry

10Photo via Pinterest

Hanging used towels is a universal sign that you want to use them again. Hang them so hotel staff won’t wash them again (and use more water). Also, hotels usually wash guests’ clothes separately so skip the laundry service if you can.


Do not disturb

11Photo via Pinterest

Putting the “do not disturb” sign on your door helps to cut down on using chemical cleansers, washing of bed linens, electricity for vacuuming, etc. After all, you only use your hotel to have a place to sleep when traveling so it can’t look like a cave in a few hours, right?


Respect the wildlife

12Photo via Pinterest

Don’t disturb the wildlife and help in preserving it. In the beach, don’t ride a jetski where there are corals or other marine life. In a safari tour, don’t get too close for comfort and keep a safe distance to animals. Don’t pick up or take home natural resources like shells or plants. Avoid using loud and motorized equipment in small communities.


Beware of souvenirs

13Photo via Pinterest

Ask about a product before purchase. Find out the raw materials used and from where they came from. Some may be illegal to manufacture or transport.


Bring reusable shopping bags

14Photo via Pinterest

When shopping for souvenirs or getting some produce from the local market, use reusable shopping bags and cut down the harmful use of plastic bags.


Consider off-peak travel

15Photo via Pinterest

Travelling during the off-season is not only cheaper; it also helps control the crowd. For example, Boracay is beautiful all year round and while summer is beach season, it is impossible for you not to enjoy and appreciate it even before or after summer. Population and crowd control are among the many challenges faced by most tourist destinations and supporting off-season travels is one way to help. As bonus, you get to enjoy the place with a little bit more peace and quiet.

Sustainable travel is about making simple choices. These choices may seem like it won’t make a difference but when done regularly and collectively, it can save the world for the future generations to see and experience. Remember that what you have is a passport to see the world and not a ticket to destroy it.


Boom Rizal is an investor, a researcher and a passionate writer. Get in touch with me and follow me @boomrizal.

by Editor

How Urbanization Affects the Environment

Herb Guide to Cooking

Making Your Own Organic Compost

Your Guide to Choosing The Best Eco-Friendly House For Your Family

By: Guest Contributor, Aby League



Photo courtesy of telegraph.co.uk via Pinterest


With people’s current and modern lifestyles, combined with the fast-changing times, people are being more and more aware of having an eco-friendly home. Daily reports about natural disasters have encouraged people to make green practices everyday, including making their homes ideal for living green. Especially if you’re moving or building a new house, it helps if each material and space in your house is eco-friendly, which can make you feel assured that your home financial investment is all worth it. In fact, the National Association of Realtors reports that prospective buyers put environmental features of their home as one of their top priorities. Want to join the green bandwagon? Here are 8 tips to help you choose the best eco-friendly house for your family.


 1. Green Agents For Your Greener Home

When finding a home, it is always best to find an experienced and trustworthy realtor to help you select the best house. But since you’re focusing now on environment-friendly real estate, it is an additional advantage to find a realtor that knows green home listings. They can also help you out if you have little or zero knowledge on eco-friendly. You might ask, “Where can I find them?” You can try realtor.com to help you find a professional realtor that specializes on green real estate features.


2. Location Is Always Important

Your home’s location is one thing that you must put on your priority list when finding your dream green home. Aside from choosing a piece of land that is realistically available for constructing your house, it also helps if your desired location is convenient and near to everything that you need such as schools, work, etc. You’re sure to cut costs on your daily gas by simply walking or taking the public transport. Also, be clear on the number of rooms and size of your house so that you don’t waste resources on your materials.


3. Step On That Eco-Friendly Flooring

As you build your green home with knowledge on the practical ways to reduce appliances energy cost, you can continue with your environment friendly decisions by focusing on your flooring. Always think of durability as your top priority when it comes to floors, so you’re sure of the longevity of your floors. For wooden floors, check if it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified so that you know that it is harvested responsibly. You’ll also be helping out locally by choosing local wooden species. And of course, check the hardness of wood by using the The Janka scale so that you know if the wood is wear and denting resistant.


4. Have Your “Green” Fireplace


Photo courtesy of Lushome via Pinterest


An eco-friendly fireplace is one that produces less pollution compare to standard fireplaces. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) suggests that prospective homeowners should be able to decide if the fireplace that they’re getting is for decorative purposes or for heating purposes during winter. A good option is to use Duraflame due to its lower carbon emissions. Other eco-friendly fireplaces you can choose from include pellet stoves that are convenient to use, as stoves which are one of the cleanest and cheapest options, and wood-burning stoves and inserts which can provide heat to the entire house as long as its constructed properly.


5. Not Just Your Ordinary Siding

The sidings of your house may not be too eco-friendly, but there are ways on how to make it more environment friendly. It all depends on your decision when it comes to the materials that you’ll be choosing. Nadav Malin, vice president of BuildingGreen and editor of Environmental Building News shares that aside from installing sidings properly, owners should think that it is a part of a bigger system of weather protection. People should be wise in choosing a material that’s long lasting, low-maintenance and will contribute greatly to a well-insulated and well-drained wall system. A helpful tip: one can achieve the wooden look by using a fiber-cement composite that is fire and termite resistant and other eco-friendly versions are already available in the market.


6. Solar Panels Are Still In

Your colleagues or friends might claim that solar panels might be expensive, but in the long run it can also save you a lot of money. Be sure to choose the proper location of your solar panel and install it properly, since these are important determinants of the amount of power that you can gather for your house. If you use it properly, you can lower down your energy consumption, and you can also take advantage of incentives and grants, which benefit those who choose to have solar panels at their residences.


7. Ideal Lights For A Greener Home


Photo courtesy of Packaging of the World – Creative Package Design Gallery via Pinterest


Aside from natural light, you’ll also need to pay attention to your installed lights at home. Instead of buying incandescent bulbs, get a hold of LED and CFL bulbs that may cost a little bit higher but you’ll be glad to know that they last longer and consume less energy.


8. Best Insulation, Important Decision

Lastly, the most important that you need to consider for your new green home is proper insulation. Studies show that your home cooling and heating account for 50% of the total energy consumption at your house. Check for broken stuff in your house, which can result into energy waste, such as air leaks, because of improper insulation. In the long run, proper insulation can bring your energy bills down.


Choosing and building your eco-friendly home need not be difficult. Along with energy-saving appliances and these helpful tips, you’re sure to enjoy your new life at your new home, at peace with Mother Nature.


About the Author: Aby League is a qualitative researcher and a passionate writer. She is an innovator and technology enthusiast. She has been writing about health, psychology, home improvement and technology. To know her more, follow @abyleague on Twitter.

by Editor

Sustainability Advice for Small Businesses

By: Guest Contributor, Hannah Corbett

shutterstock_120701584Generally speaking, people are getting better and better all the time at managing their own environmental footprints, and the effect that they have on the planet. But, as the world grows ever more environmentally conscious, and as sustainability becomes more a habit of everyday existence, it’s time for businesses – as well as individual consumers – to step up to the plate, too.

The larger corporations of the world may have more money and resources to invest in sustainability, and minimise the impact of their companies – but smaller business owners shouldn’t be disheartened. There are still a number of changes that even the smallest of businesses can implement in an effort to support sustainability – even if your business isn’t ‘green’ by nature.


Assess your Energy

Is there any way that you can reduce the amount of gas and electricity that your business consumes? There’s plenty of advice available out there on this topic, but some simple changes include turning off unused lights, reducing standby power loss, and investing in better temperature controls and meters.

Go Digital

You can seriously slash the amount of physical resources, such as paper, that your business uses by fully immersing in the latest digital technology. Use cloud computing and storage where possible, and reduce the need to print.

Consider your Supply Chain

Review your suppliers or other businesses that yours is associated, and how sustainable they are as a company. Don’t forget to do the same with your customers, and encourage them to go green, too. As an example, you could offer discounts to customers who reuse or recycle packaging from your products.

Get your Staff on Board

Make sure that your staff understand and abide by any sustainability changes you make in your business. You can even offer incentives to those who take steps to minimise their own impact, or even set up carpooling and cycle-to-work schemes for them to take advantage of.


Even for smaller business, there are a number of easily-implementable sustainability improvements to make, that don’t have to cost the Earth. Starting with the most simple and building up to the bigger ones is a great way to guarantee success and see your business really make a difference.

It’s important for small businesses to step up, take responsibility, and lead the way in sustainability. Small businesses are an integral part of the economy, and have the power pave the way and set an example for larger businesses and consumers alike.

This piece was written by guest author Hannah Corbett: an energy expert with a keen interest in the small business world. Click to find out more about small businesses energy from Make It Cheaper, or connect with Hannah on Twitter or Google+.

Sustainability Concept image via Shutterstock.

by Editor

Podcast Questions Efficiency of Energy Efficiency Policy

Lately, in the hopes of expanding my mind, I have been listening to podcasts instead of mindlessly listening to my favorite playlists on repeat. While listening to recent episodes of “Freakonomics”, I came across an interesting episode titled “How Efficient is Energy Efficiency?”, which questions the efficiency of energy efficiency policy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Freakonomics podcast and brand, Freakonomics is the brain child of economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. Based on a series of books by Levitt and Dubner, the Freakonomics podcast explores a range of issues that might not usually be studied using an experimental economist’s perspective. I remember reading the first Freakonomics book, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything” after it first came out back in 2005. I was amazed at how funny, interesting, and addictive the book was. Since then Levitt and Dubner have put out two additional Freakonomics themed books, “Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Economic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance” and “How To Think Like a Freak”. The Freakonimcs radio show/podcast premiered in 2010 and airs biweekly on NPR.shutterstock_107372552(1)

This is not Freakonomics first time addressing environmental issues. In “Superfreakonomics” Levitt and Dubner address the issue of global warming and radical theories on how to address it, and in “How To Think Like A Freak” they discuss the impact of incentives on behavior relating to energy consumption.

In the podcast “How Efficient is Energy Efficiency?”, which came out on February 5, Dubner interviews Arik Levinson, an environmental economist at Georgetown University, who was a Senior Economist with the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama. Levinson recently published a paper called “How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save? Evidence From California”.

In 1978 the State of California enacted the United States’ first Energy Building codes which were projected to reduce residential energy use by 80% . The United States has since centered its environmental policy on emphasizing energy efficiency. In his paper Levinson analyzes the actual efficiency of these codes using a 3 tiered approach and has found that homes built after the codes were put in place do not use less energy than the ones built before.
Levinson questions the popularity of the stated effectiveness of California’s efficiency codes and the sources people use to the evaluate them. The statistics people use to declare the effectiveness of California’s energy code policy actually come from engineer estimates, not practice. It’s crazy to think that we are so many of our environmental policy eggs” in a basket that hasn’t been proven to work.

One of the reasons Levinson gives for the ineffectiveness of the efficiency codes is ‘the rebound effect’. As the housing became more efficient with energy, using energy became cheaper, and therefore homeowners use more of it. I know that I am more likely to use turn on my AC earlier in the season if I know it will be costing me less.

I don’t think Levinson is actually saying that coding policies are bad and need to be gotten rid of. What I think he is saying is that they are not as effective as everyone says they are and we need diversify our environmental policy strategy if we really want to protect the planet.

For a better explanation of Levinson’s findings I suggest you listen to the actual podcast (which addresses additional environmental issues as well) or check out his paper!

radio waves via shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Coffee Cup Horror Story : Attack of The Pod Creature

shutterstock_186889283It was just another day at the office. We were getting ready to wish “Kelly” a ‘Happy Birthday’ when suddenly we heard a loud noise and the ground began to shake. We ran outside to find that we were being attacked……  by single serving coffee pods?

This is the premise behind the horror short, “Kill the K-Cup”, recently released as part of the “Kill the K-Cup” Campaign, and gaining major attention across the internet. The campaign is a partnership between Egg Studios and the Canadian coffee shop, Social Bean, and is asking Keurig to make recyclable coffee pods immediately.

The popularity of single use coffee makers has grown exponentially since their introduction to the market in 1998. According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, nearly one in five people surveyed admitted to having drank single serving coffee the day before. Single serving coffee is now the second most popular way to brew coffee, after the good old fashioned traditional drip method.

The Company Green Mountain Keurig seems to have control over the market and is outlandishly successful. Single servings come in a plastic and tin foil and are affectionately referred to as K-Cups. In 2013 Keurig produced 8.3 BILLION K-Cups. K-Cups are popular because of their convenience and they give the user a choice of what kind of coffee they want.

K-Cups are not easy to recycle. Though Keurig has some reusable options they are not available for all models. Only 5% of K-Cups are actually made with recyclable plastic, everything else must be sent to the dump. According to “Kill the K-Cup” the amount of K-Cups discarded in 2013 could wrap around the equator 10.5 times. That is a lot of trash!

Personally I wonder what is so wrong about having only 1 flavor of coffee available in the office and having workers rotate making the coffee and cleaning the single drip machine. Is all this convenience really necessary?

Though the “Kill The K-Cup” video is complete fantasy it does make you question the impact of the popularity of the K-Cup. Asking Keurig to expand the recyclability of K-Cups is the least that can be done.


Coffee Attack via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Stop Wasting Food!

shutterstock_169420184We have all done it many times, thrown perfectly good food into the trash. You might think this is not a big issue, just an unhappy accident of over consuming, but the problem is bigger than that.

According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance 25 to 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be consumed. This waste is upsetting because 1 in 6 people in the United States suffer from hunger.

Food waste is also terrible for the environment. Most food waste finds its way to landfills where it will decompose and release the greenhouse gas methane. In the United States landfills are responsible for 1/3 of methane emissions.

Another environmental issue is wasted food is wasted resources, like the energy, and water used in agricultural practices.

Below I have put together some tips to reduce food waste in your daily life. Many of these tips may seem obvious but are often forgotten.

Use Common Sense Instead of Relying Solely on Food Packaging Dates
Labels on food are not USDA or FDA regulated and are mainly used to help stores maintain their inventory. These dates imply when the product is at its peak in quality, but the food may still be edible after the date. Use your best judgment and sense of smell instead of solely relying on the labeling.

Be Mindful of What Is In Your Fridge
Use what will go bad first, first. Be aware of what is in your fridge and how long it will likely last.
Be sure to check the contents of your fridge before you go food shopping.

Instead of Taking One Large Shopping Trip a Week Take A Few Smaller Ones
Perishables like fruit and vegetables have a short shelf life. Instead of buying a week’s worth of healthy goodies only to have a majority go bad before you get the chance to use them, go on smaller shopping trips throughout the week to ensure freshness.

Only Buy What You Will Use
Just because a larger size of a perishable is a better value doesn’t mean you should buy it. If you don’t plan on eating yogurt everyday do not buy a large tub that would take you months to consume.
On a similar note only put on your plate what you plan to eat, you are more likely to save the food for another day if you don’t feel like the food has been “tainted” by a dirty plate.

Bring Leftovers For Lunch
If you make too much for a meal, instead of throwing it out, save it for lunch the next day. Not only does this reduce waste but if you’re on a budget it will help you save money.
This is also true for when you go out to eat. There is nothing wrong with taking a “doggy bag” because if you don’t the food will just go in the trash.

Composted food can be used for gardening. Give your food the second life it deserves instead of sending it to the landfill.

shutterstock_156586097For more information and tips check out this article  at Clean Techies on Food Waste which includes a helpful/education graphic by fix.com.

landfill via shutterstock

stop wasting food via shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel