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Belize is Our Classroom

Vermont Commons School Educators, Jennifer Cohen and Mark Cline Lucey on the beach of Placencia at the end of their student trip to Belize in January.

Vermont Commons School Educator, Social Studies Department Chair and Research & Service Program Director, Mark Cline Lucey is no stranger to Belize or the BFREE Field Station. Having first met BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, during his junior year of college while studying abroad in Belize. Mark returned several years later to live and work from the BFREE Field Station. In 2004, Mark joined the team at Vermont Commons School and soon after, he and Vermont Commons School English Instructor, Jennifer Cohen, began bringing student groups to Belize. Mark and Jennifer are passionate advocates for both Belize and BFREE having traveled with more than five student groups over the last ten years.

Mark and Jennifer both have an intimate knowledge of the players, wildlife, cultures and the developmental and political issues facing Belize. This depth of knowledge and understanding shines through their incredibly informational and inspiring field courses year after year.

We are so fortunate to work with many educators like Mark and Jennifer who are deeply invested in their students as well as the BFREE mission. Together we strive to inspire students to be global citizens, who care about their environment and recognize their role to take positive action.

Check out Mark and Jennifer’s group of incredibly smart and talented students and receive a glimpse of a BFREE field course through their eyes by watching this student made short-film documenting their trip to Belize in January, 2017:

 

 

 

Can Chocolate Save the Rainforest?

cacao podCan chocolate save the rainforest? BFREE has been exploring this question for many years, beginning when our certified organic shade-grown cacao demonstration farm was planted in 2006. Since then we have worked diligently to provide educational opportunities and support for those interested in learning more about the benefits of shade-grown cacao. We have offered workshops and training programs for local farmers which have provided Belizeans with the tools necessary to grow sustainable and successful crops. BFREE along with students of UNC Wilmington have co-produced ‘The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook.‘  This handbook is a resource manual for anyone interested in growing cacao in Belize.

Due to its high value and its success as an understory crop, cacao is proven to be a great alternative to other forms of agriculture in the tropics which generally require clearing of tropical rainforests and heavy input of agrochemicals.  Therefore, we have been promoting shade-grown cacao as a method for restoring the forest canopy and to help improve the lives of local farmers by offering higher income and healthier working environments, while also maintaining and expanding rainforests, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Growing chocolate is a win-win; it’s good for the environment and can improve farmers’ livelihoods.

cacao agroforest

Pedro Rash and Elmer Tzalam manage BFREE’s cacao agroforest.

 

Cacao Pod photo credit: Graham Byers

Chocolate and Beer Tasting with BFREE

Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, described cacao-based agroforestry and the chocolate-making process to Gainesville community members.

Over 100 supporters joined BFREE on April 21st to help us put the FUN in fundraiser. BFREE hosted “BIRDS, CHOCOLATE & FORESTS: CONSERVATION EFFORTS CONNECTING THE US TO CENTRAL AMERICA,”  in Gainesville, Florida, the home of the US for BFREE office. The event took place at First Magnitude, one of the most loved craft breweries in the area; they have a passion we can all get on board with, “great beer and great community.”  In addition, local food truck, Cilantro Tacos joined the effort by donating ten percent of their nights sales to BFREE. A silent auction with bid items ranging from bagels to acupuncture was supported by many incredible donors and was a highlight of the event.

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BFREE volunteers, Wendy Wilber and Juliana Carrillo, greeted event supporters.

The BFREE chocolate offered for tasting was made with 100% organic, shade-grown, fine flavor, single-origin beans. The beans are grown in cacao agroforest at BFREE where, once harvested, they are fermented and dried in the sun. The beans for the fundraiser were brought to Gainesville where they were handcrafted in small batches.  

While chocolate, beer and tacos can make any event successful, the true spotlight was the message which fueled invaluable conversations about the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests. Deforestation threatens the nearly 600 species of birds that call Belize home and cacao-based agroforestry can provide an organic, wildlife- and environmentally-friendly alternative to other types of agriculture. Therefore, BFREE is working to convert degraded land to cacao-based agroforestry for the purpose of expanding migratory bird habitat and protecting Belize’s rich, biodiverse rainforest.

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Belize is home to one of the last undisturbed rainforests left in the world and the largest continuous tract of tropical rainforests north of the Amazon. We believe that the key lies in the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests.

If you are interested in learning more about the work that BFREE is doing to promote cacao- based agroforestry or would like to make chocolate from bean to bar please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org.

BFREE would like to extend a special thanks to all of the silent auction donors for ensuring the event was a hit: Adventure Outpost, Alvaro Toledo, Bagel Bakery, Kirk and Gloria McDonald, Lauren Schaer,  Leonardo’s Pizza of Millhopper, Liz Getman, Michael and Janice Carrillo, Sami Gabb, Theresa Rizzo, Wendy Wilber, Wild Birds Unlimited of Gainesville. Another big thank you to Cilantro Tacos and First Magnitude Brewery for supporting both our mission and event.

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BFREE depends on the support of individuals like you. To purchase a BFREE t-shirt, hat or to make a donation please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Field Courses

BFREE  hosted 210 students and instructors through our field courses this season. Groups came from the United States and from within Belize to engage in hands-on learning.  While at BFREE, students were introduced to on-going conservation projects at the field station like the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center and the cacao and coffee agroforest. Some students took the opportunity to participate in the Small Mammal Community study established in 2015 and just introduced to field courses this year.  They also participated in hikes and river walks to get a feel for the rainforest. For those who stayed long enough, instructors assigned independent projects in which students were tasked with developing research questions and collecting preliminary data – often presenting results on their last evening at BFREE.

When exploring other parts of Belize, students visited banana plantations, participated in cultural homestays, snorkeled at the Belize Barrier Reef, and saw wildlife up close at the Belize Zoo. See below pictures from the first half of the field season.

Visit our Flickr feed for more images!

January

“Eat Locally: Think Globally” led by Amy Treonis and Elizabeth Ransom, University of Richmond

University of Richmond

University of Richmond

A fisherman from Placencia describes changes to the area over his lifetime.

“Biology “ led by Glenn Johnson,  SUNY Potsdam

SUNY Potsdam learns about cacao fermentation

SUNY Potsdam learns about cacao fermentation

SUNY Potsdam

SUNY Potsdam

“Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Belize” led by Sara Ash, University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands

 

U of C students make friends with the kids in their homestay family

U of C students make friends with Golden Steam kids during their homestay. Pic provided by Sara Ash

Students learn to safely remove small mammals from sherman traps.

U of C students learn to safely remove small mammals from sherman traps. Pic provided by Sara Ash

February

“Tropical Ecology” led by Farley Brown and Charlotte Rosendahl, Sterling College

Sterling College visited the packing shed of a local banana farm

Sterling College visited the packing shed of a local banana farm. Pic by Nelly Cadle

Sterling College leads Golden Stream students in a science experiment

Sterling College leads Golden Stream students in a science experiment. Pic by Nelly Cadle

Sterling College

Sterling College

“Biology” led by Kelly Mahan Etcheverry, Canterbury High School

Canterbury High School - Pic by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School – Pic by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School taking a break on their hike out. Pic provided by Roger McDaniel

Canterbury High School taking a break on their hike out. Pic provided by Roger McDaniel

“Protected Areas in Belize,” led by Abigail Parham Garbutt and Godfrey Arzu, Independence Junior College, Belize

Independence Junior College students visit the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center - Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students visit the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students participate in the small mammal project. Pic by Roger McDaniel

Independence Junior College students participate in the small mammal community study. Pic by Roger McDaniel

March

“Wildlife Biology,” led by Sean Collins, Lees McRae College

Lees-McRae College

Lees-McRae College

Lees-McRae students identify a small mammal

Lees-McRae students identify a small mammal

“Tropical field Biology,” led by Sean Werle and team, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Univ of Massachusetts students implemented independent research projects

Univ of Massachusetts students implemented independent research projects. Pic by Sean Werle

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

April

“Tropical Ecology,” led by Matthew Brady, Keene High School, New Hampshire

Keene

Keene High School, New Hampshire

Keene students help harvest cacao pods.

Keene students help harvest cacao pods.

May

“Tropical Biology,” led by Paul Pickhardt and Gregory Smith, Lakeland College, Wisconsin

Lakeland College

Lakeland College

Lakeland College students help at the HCRC measuring turtles.

Lakeland College students help at the HCRC measuring turtles.

Lakeland harvests cashew fruits during a tour of the BFREE garden and orchard.

Lakeland harvests cashew fruits during a tour of the BFREE garden and orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June

“Tropical Biology,” led by Maarten Vohhof, Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University

The Bladen Review – 2015 Edition!

The third publication of BFREE’s annual magazine, The Bladen Review, is available online in an interactive format on Issuu! Get the latest news around the field station and learn about exciting research projects taking place in the rainforest of Belize.

Note: To view in full screen, click once in the middle of The Bladen Review.

To download a PDF version of The Bladen Review click here .