Recently, I spent some time living on a tropical agroforestry farm in the South Toledo district of Belize, The Mayan Mountain Research Farm, tucked away in the Mayan Mountains. It is a registered non-governmental organization with the goal of providing alternative examples of food and energy production. These examples are the earth/health-friendly alternative to the dominant model of food production, which is subsidized at the cost of our ecological services to the planet. Living on the farm increased my awareness of the interdependence of people, plants and animals. The world is gaining environmental awareness, and people are starting to realize the social impact of their daily actions. Each of us must do our part to reduce our carbon footprint.

Going to Belize helped deepen my understanding of tropical agroforestry and reminded me that we live in critical times. The importance of making sure we take care of the earth, so it takes care of us, is imperative for the survival of the planet. Christopher Nesbitt, the director of the Mayan Mountain Research Farm, has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to sustainable tropical agroforestry and sustainable living. Agroforestry is the integration of wood and food crops, including fruits, nuts, vegetables, grain, timber species and animal husbandry. MMRF also specializes in medicinal plants in the rain forest and focuses on the high degree of biodiversity in the rain forest. The market crops at MMRF include cacao (used for chocolate), ginger, vanilla, cardamom, turmeric and coffee. All of this creates a self-sustaining agroecology that mimics the structure of the interconnectivity of the primary rain forest. MMRF has created a food production model that creates calories expended to calories returned ratio that is profitable to small farmers.

Of course, not everyone has the time or resources to go to Belize to learn about tropical agroforestry. But don't worry. People in communities all over the world are working to create a sustainable planet. The single most important thing you can do as a consumer is to buy local, organic and Fair Trade food so that we can start taking steps to rebuilding the planet. It is true that organic food is more expensive in the short-term. However, the cost of buying nonorganic food is a hazard to the environment and your health due to the long-term health effects from crops being sprayed with chemicals, pesticides, associated pollution, transportation of food and leachate of chemicals in drinking water. Buying from local/organic famers is the only way to create a sustainable future. In doing so, you are taking every measure necessary to protect you and your family’s health while investing in your local economy.

I have been eating organic food for the last six years. It has not only changed the way I feel, but also the way I look. I lost 15 pounds when I switched from nonorganic to organic food and made no other changes in my diet patterns. I also feel a closer connection to the earth and have a deeper understanding and respect for the food that nourishes my body. Going to Belize helped deepen my understanding of tropical agroforestry and reminded me that we live in critical times.