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Restorative gardens: The backyard as a healing sanctuary

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Who would have thought that the humble activity of pruning roses, digging trenches, or planting bulbs can help you live a happier and longer life? The good news is, this activity is accessible to everyone, young and old – and it doesn’t matter if you have that rare ‘green thumb’ or not.

A 2016 research gathered substantial evidence to support the claim that gardening can have long term effects on the overall physical, psychological, and social health of an individual. In addition, the study have concluded that this type of activity can reduce or even prevent several health issues that are common today.

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So what are the specific benefits of gardening to our overall well-being?

First, as a physical activity, gardening is estimated to burn 200-500 calories in every hour you spend with your plants. Children and even the elderly can enjoy such benefits that can help maintain a healthy weight and fight the causes of obesity.

Taking care of your plants and home-grown herbs can also contribute to the increase of your bone density – second to weight training. In fact, a recent study has indicated that women who do weekly activities from doing yard work and gardening have higher bone density measurements than those who are inactive.

Aside from its physical benefits, gardening is also one of the best and cost-effective ways to improve one’s mental health especially for mothers with depression. This is because of how gardening immerses them natural and healthy environment while promoting an active engagement in such creative and positive routine.

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In fact, further studies have claimed that sufferers of dementia can rely on horticultural therapy, a non-pharmacological option that helps improve the patient’s attention, reduce stress and help improve their sleep patterns.

Outside health, gardening can also be a potential source of additional income. Hobbyists can channel their passion into business by serving as suppliers to organic restaurants and other local food businesses. Especially with the emergence of the farm-to-table concept, small and independent farmers play a key role in building sustainable businesses. Many of today’s most successful restaurants source their ingredients from local farmers, cutting carbon emissions from long-distance delivery and empowering the lives of small-scale growers.

REPOST: 4 ways AI helps business protect the environment

Once only confined to realms of science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly gaining ground in almost every aspect of everyday life. But of all the industries and applications it is a part of, it is the environment that actually reaps the biggest rewards. Here are more insights from GreenBiz:


The environment is a hot topic, literally. As global temperatures have warmed since 1850, the discussion on what to do about it has heated up as well. Humanity is having an undeniable impact on the natural world. Our growing demand for resources is leading to land-use changes, loss of biodiversity and pollution. Climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns, temperatures and water availability, leading to impacts on human and natural ecosystems — even the forests are on the move.

The good news is that there is more information than ever before about the environment. Growing global attention is leading to increasing regulations, deeper research and deployment of advanced sensing and mapping technologies. However, connecting the dots for better insights and solutions is difficult because the relevant information is often siloed, and decision makers are reluctant to act without a high degree of certainty.

Today’s complex supply chains make this an even tougher puzzle to unravel. Cognitive technology, enabled by artificial intelligence, or AI, is uniquely adapted to helping with these challenges, from finding patterns and interconnections within macro datasets to providing local, personalized diagnosis and predictions that learn and improve over time.

With its ability to understand, reason and learn, cognitive technology is proving a great ally in protecting our planet in four key ways:

1. Better conservation of natural resources. By combining satellite imagery, sensors and machine learning, companies and governments are reducing water usage in their operations as well as pinpointing the variables that lead to better soil health. One winery created a cognitive irrigation system that can deliver water in a way that’s situational, hyper-local, automated and self-tuning, helping it cut water use by 25 percent over three years.

2. Earlier pollution detection. Advanced machine learning and self-organizing mesh networks are helping organizations pinpoint the sources of pollution faster and more accurately, whether air pollution or methane leaks. This enables more targeted mitigation actions that are better for business and the environment, such as improved natural gas operations with reduced emissions.

3. Accelerating sustainable options. Cognitive technology is accelerating more sustainable energy and product choices for consumers. One of the biggest barriers to widespread use of renewable energy has been forecast accuracy. Not only is it tough to predict how much renewable energy will be available at a given time on a given day but solar and wind farms are adding to the supply (while decreasing their own demand), making forecasting more difficult. By combining advanced weather forecasting models with cognitive self-learning capabilities, a Vermont-based power company is developing a more precise, automated renewable energy forecast for solar and wind power.

Cognitive technology also can assist with environmental regulation compliance — an important first step toward greater transparency and greener product choices for consumers. Cognitive platforms equipped with natural language capabilities can read large blocks of regulatory text and extract essential obligations, such as a local requirement for a specific label on a product.

4. Learning from nature’s ecosystems. Policy makers and companies that manage natural resources face an increasingly tough challenge to develop those resources sustainably as they change over time. It’s not always clear how a single stressor, such as salt runoff from roads, affects a natural ecosystem, let alone multiple stressors. Environmental assessments are often manually collected over time, making it more difficult to pinpoint and monitor cause and effect.

One research project in upstate New York is working to advance knowledge in this area. Scientists are analyzing data from environmental sensors around Lake George to build and refine computer models of the lake’s ecosystem. As more data is collected, machine learning will provide a better understanding of what the norms and anomalies are, enabling decision makers to run what-if scenarios and tradeoff analyses for better insights. This can lead to important applications for real-time environmental monitoring and more targeted remediation — a critical need for the $7 trillion natural resource industry.

While dire predictions remain about the future of our natural world, indicators are strong that the green economy is here to stay. With the help of cognitive technology, business leaders are more empowered than ever before to build a brighter — and greener — future for their business and the world. By detecting and acting on environmental harm faster and providing more sustainable choices for consumers, they will grow their competitive advantage. It’s a win-win proposition.

Three greenest websites that are saving the planet

“Achieving high standard of living must not be done at the expense of the environment. After all, every aspect of life–from food and housing to technology and economics–is entirely dependent on the health of Mother Nature. Saving the planet could be one’s biggest life investment.”


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We have always been reminded of how important nature is to humanity and while some of us ignore the signs that the environment might give up on us soon, there are still others who try to make a difference. Through their sincere and innovative efforts to save our planet, we are given another chance to change our ways and start doing our part.


In fact, these are what some of the greenest websites wish to achieve with their creative and inspiring content through a proven formula: by embracing technology and at the same time, incorporating eco-friendly values in everything they share to the online community. If you want to be a part of this global movement, here are some the greenest websites that you should know and use:


Inhabitat was founded by the New York City designer Jill Fehrenbacher in 2005. The website’s writers and editors believe in the philosophy that a good design is a green design. The page offers informative articles covering green architecture, energy and technology.



Grist was founded in 1999 and it offers expert solutions to the most serious environmental problems in the world. Their writers are composed of experts who are not afraid to present the raw reality of the deteriorating environment with their snarky headlines and a witty splash of comedy.



TreeHugger is one of the top eco websites in the world. Their contents focus on the combination of green technology and cool designs. Their writers cover a wide variety of topics related to design, building and fashion, science, cars, and more.



Indeed, these websites have greatly encouraged and inspired people from every part of the globe to go green and live green, saving the planet and changing the world one click at a time.

REPOST: Startup upcycles discarded chopsticks into new decor & furniture

High-level creativity can spawn excellent pieces of art, regardless of the base material that will be used. In the case below, used wooden chopsticks. Treehugger has the full feature:

Chopsticks have a long and storied history, dating back to 2100 BC when Da Yu, the founder of the Xia dynasty, was trying to reach a flood zone. In his haste, he didn’t want to wait for his food to cool down, and adapted two twigs to help him eat his food quickly. With the popularization of Asian food all over the world, chopsticks — especially the disposable kind — are now being used all over the world.

But throwaway chopsticks are an unmitigated environmental disaster. In China alone, 80 billion chopsticks are thrown away each year, requiring hundreds of acres of forest to be cut down every day just to keep up with the demand. In response, the Bring Your Own Chopsticks (BYOC) movement is gaining ground in places like Japan, China and Taiwan (most notably, in Korea metal chopsticks are used — a good idea).

But what to do still with all those discarded chopsticks? Vancouver, Canada’s Chopvalue has a great idea: cleaning them up and turning them into home accessories and furniture. Watch:

Continue reading on this PAGE.

The rise of farm-to-table restaurant concepts

Everyone in the food industry has seen the increase of the healthy food demand and how consumers nowadays choose fresh and organic products over their genetically modified and preservative-enhanced counterparts. While fast food chains and traditional food houses remain popular, ‘organic’ restaurants are gaining momentum. So what propelled such change?


The truth is, experts suggest that the idea of choosing organic and natural is nothing new. It is rather just a comeback of the “real” food—and restaurant owners especially in the U.S. are starting to realize that this food choice trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  This is where the farm-to-table movement entered the scene.


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The farm-to-table movement in the food business is centered on the rise of home-grown restaurant concept with its key passion of providing sustainable and locally-sourced meals to their customers. In fact, the popularity of this kind of foodservice can be credited to how consumers started to care more about what actually goes into their tummy and where they come from.


Going organic and home-grown does not just benefit the industry but also the customers that it serves. For instance, restaurant owners can enjoy a limitless source of creativity in experimenting with different flavors, thanks to the availability of newly grown herbs and other seasonal produce.


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Choosing organic through a farm-to-table concept for restaurant owners also offer a long list of advantages. Locally-sourced ingredients and home-grown produce give them the opportunity not only to try out new recipes and flavor combinations but also to introduce a whole new set of exceptional food choices.


Lastly, having a kitchen garden means emphasizing fresh and healthy servings for your patrons. Most health-conscious consumers prefer homegrown ingredients and locally produced meals for several reasons other than enjoying the benefits of fresh and healthy food consumption. One is, they are able to experience seasonal ingredients and unique flavors that other type of restaurants cannot offer.


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The food business as a whole is a trillion-dollar industry that is staple to virtually all countries, and in many cases, it defines a specific culture. In the restaurants segment, it is the most popular place for urban residents, employees, entrepreneurs, and even ordinary individuals. With the farm-to-table concept on rise, new trends will eventually emerge and niche investors are always on the lookout to tap into these potentially viable businesses.

Intriguingly bizarre: Three US national parks to awaken your soul

When the National Park Service was created to protect America’s picturesque mountains, forests and seas, many hailed it as the country’s ‘greatest idea.’ After a couple of decades, citizens can’t still get enough for they frequently visit them with their families and loved ones. Among the most popular are definitely Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. However the country has so much more to offer than just those two. If one just looks hard enough, they will be able to discover numerous more treasures lurking in the corners. For the ones who want a different kind of adventure, these unique national parks might satisfy their tastes.


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For the junkies who love to go spelunking, Mammoth Cave National Park will definitely not disappoint. Its name isn’t the only thing that is big about it. Researchers were able to create a humongous 400 mile map of its interior, making it the world’s longest cave system. Its beautiful cave formations will take anyone’s breath away and its numerous perfectly preserved fossil specimens will stir up visitors inside.


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For a more extreme experience, Death Valley National Park absolutely fits the bill. Not only is it extremely hot during the daytime when temperatures can easily reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but it can get extremely cold as well. This is evident in the snow-capped mountains nearby.


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The ecosystem of the Everglades National Park in Florida is just perfect for the numerous endangered animals and plants that inhibit it. The Florida panther, West Indian manatee, and the American crocodile are only a few of the 36 protected species that live inside its territory.


Millions of tourists, both local and international, visit the national parks each year, translating to more than $16 billion of revenues for the US economy. The parks are also responsible for creating more than 200,000 jobs (whether directly or indirectly), making them an important aspect of the job market. While the ever-increasing influx of visitors might put these natural wonders in danger, it would only take some expert policies, creativity, and strict regulations to keep the parks pristine while generating significant revenues at the same time.

REPOST: HDB farmers in a concrete jungle

Ever heard of ‘high rise farmers?’ They are those who live in, well, high-rise residential buildings growing some food either on their terrace or inside their own home. These urban growers make efficient use of space and turn them into edible gardens where they can harvest some of their culinary needs. Here’s an interesting feature from The Straits Times:

Ms Kit Yong with her Sand Ginger herb. She has about 80 pots of plants, and she spends about 15 to 20 minutes watering them every morning. | ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Whoever says you need a big plot of land to be a farmer has never met Ms Kit Yong, 56.

Like 80 per cent of the population, she lives in an HDB flat.

But tell her that you have a craving for the sweet and sour passion fruit and she might tell you to pick one right off a vine outside her flat if the fruit is in season.

The real estate agent grows more than 20 types of vegetables, herbs and fruits – from chye sim and kale to rosemary and passion fruit – along the 20m stretch of corridor outside her Tampines home.

Ms Yong, who estimates she has 80 pots of plants, is a member of a growing community of individuals passionate about farming within an urban setting.

Community gardens, started by the National Parks Board through the Community in Bloom movement, now number close to 1,000. Residents are turning plots of land beside HDB blocks into vegetable and fruit patches.

Continue reading HERE.

Money in the backyard: The economic benefits of organic farming

An old but underrated practice that is now a growing concept for the new millennium, organic farming can be the most practical and healthiest way to boost food production and address food insecurity.


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Organic farming is an alternative principle to conventional farming: growing food without the use of synthetic chemicals, artificial fertilizers, genetically modified species, and excessive irrigation. Food insecurity, rapid environmental deterioration, and the rise in the number of people consuming contaminated farm produce made organic farming more popular in recent years. The number of organic growers is rapidly rising and more individuals are finding immense nutritional benefits from eating clean, fresh, and chemical-free farm products.


Organic farming has traditionally been viewed as a cost ineffective strategy to producing food—despite its claims for very minimal environmental and health repercussions. Maintenance isn’t cheap and final prices in the markets could be skyrocketing. However, according to a study conducted by the American Society of Agronomy, organic farming is in fact economically sustainable over the long term.


“An analysis of 18 years of crop yield and farm management data from a long-term trial, an organic crop rotation was consistently more profitable and carried less risk of low returns than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic prime premiums were cut by half.”


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Setting up organic farms can come with a high price tag, especially when advanced technology is employed (such as LED chlorophyll activation). Upfront costs can easily overwhelm any investor and will inevitably drive high product prices once it gets operational.  However, the landscape for organic agriculture is rapidly changing. New farming techniques have been proven to be economically viable and government subsidies are growing. In closed looped organic farms (particularly aquaponics), for example, water is conserved tremendously as it is used in a cyclic but healthy way.  In vertical farms, production is more than tripled when compared to a traditional farm land covering the same area.


In regions where strong community relationships exist, organic farms thrive as a private and minimally capitalistic livelihood. Community-based organic farms contribute to good health and nutrition for the population, equal wealth opportunities among farmers, better connections between people (because food is a critical aspect of ethnic cultures), and more liberal decisions for farmers, not corporations, to decide which crops to grow in their farms.


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There is vast potential within the organic farming community for growers, investors, and consumers to tap into. The industry is yet to peak, but as analysts and experts point out, it can be a lucrative opportunity over the long haul.

From organics to aquaponics: The growing interest in sustainable agriculture

Conventional farming has been criticized for its harmful environmental effects, including groundwater pollution due to the use of artificial fertilizers, potential health hazards from pesticides and GMOs, poor water resources management, and ecological destruction due to forest conversions, among others.  All these make the practice even more unsustainable and will put greater pressure on the environment to feed a human population that is exponentially growing.


The ultimate goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and fiber (mainly for the textile industry) needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The movement seeks to promote a healthier environment, economic profitability, and socio-economic equity. Specific issues it wishes to address include soil health, pollution, water conservation, farmworker wellbeing, and higher crop yields. Everyone that is considered part of the food system—farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, policymakers, and waste managers—play a crucial role in making the process much more akin to Mother Earth’s natural ability to preserve itself.


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Organic farming

Simply put, organic farming is all about growing crops without using synthetic chemicals. Instead, it uses natural fertilizers (e.g. animal manure), mechanical pest control techniques, and environment-friendly crop management practices. Organic farming also does not use genetically modified seeds, nor does it employ practices that degrade soil, water, or other natural resources.

Organic farms protect biodiversity and foster the development and maintenance of healthy ecosystems as it is able to grow a variety of plants using ecologically friendly techniques such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and pasture-based livestock husbandry. Even more remarkable is that it produces chemical-free, highly nutritious farm products.


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Vertical urban farms

Vertical farming or high-rise farming is a rapidly developing concept in sustainable agriculture. It grows plants on layers upon layers of grow beds or farming shelves. This dramatically saves space and can be done even in urban areas (such as on rooftops or even indoors), thereby eliminating the high logistical cost of transporting food products from a distant rural farm to the consumer-rich cities.


Vertical farming is an intensive farming strategy—that is still at its infancy—which mainly employs advanced techniques such as hydroponics and aeroponics to produce a wide range of crops like fruits and vegetables continuously. High-rise farming usually grows crops in soil-less media. High-nutrient water solution is sprayed directly to the roots of the crops, improving aeration and saving large quantities of water. As they are typically indoors, they receive lighting from LED lamps that produce only the colors from the spectrum that are needed by the plants in order to grow abundantly. This results in plants growing faster and healthier than usual. Because vertical farms are so closely monitored and tightly controlled by technicians, plants are protected from possible diseases and contamination.


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Aquaponics is a farming technique that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) to grow fish and plants together in one integrated system. This system is necessarily organic as the addition of synthetic chemicals or hormones would mean the death of one or all of the participants. The fish waste serves as food for the growing plants (converted by nitrifying bacteria) while the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. This technique is surprisingly ancient (the Chinese grew plant on fish ponds) but only recently is it gaining mainstream attention.


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The future of farming is definitely promising. The rise of new technologies and sustainable practices may soon eliminate food shortages and help Mother Earth keep up with the rising demands for food, fiber, and other plant- or animal-based products. Among investors, sustainable agriculture has also become a viable alternative investment to venture into. Green entrepreneurs, environmental advocates, investment managers, and angel capitalists are working together to make this ‘new’ industry a huge business in the future.

How to Be Rich Like the Typical American Millionaire


In the book “The Millionaire Next Door,” authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko interviewed five hundred  millionaires to get a realistic profile of the American millionaire.  Their findings surprised them as it challenged the typical images and expectations we usually have about this group of people.

Going against expectations, the majority of those millionaires did not look like “millionaires.”  They didn’t wear expensive watches. Neither did they drive flashy cars or even new model cars.  They did not live in upscale neighborhoods.  They just looked like ordinary people.  Even more surprisingly, their annual incomes were not that especially high.  But they saved enough of it to accumulate wealth.

millionaire lifestyle

The book concludes that the typical American can actually become a millionaire if only he does what this group of people do.

So what do they do?  What can we do to become like them?

One significant, common characteristic of these millionaires is that they spend much less than they earn.  In other words, they are frugal and live well below their means.  For example, the millionaire household that earns an income of $150,000 a year would only spend as much as the typical household in the $85,000 income range.

Here is where a lot of the confusion about wealth takes place.  People tend to assume that high income earners – athletes, actors, stock brokers, doctors – are wealthy. But there is a big difference between income and wealth.  Income is what you receive in your paycheck.  Wealth is what’s left of your paycheck after deducting your costs of living and purchases.  This is why a store clerk can be more wealthy than a highly paid actor.

Nicholas Cage for instance, is a highly paid American actor famous especially in the 1990s for films such as Conair and National Treasure. He earned $150 million USD from 1996 through 2011. In the end he filed for bankruptcy while still owing the IRS $13 million USD .  When the receivers went through his list of “assets” they found outrageous stuff like albino king cobras and a dinosaur skull which he bought for $300,000 USD. Cage later blamed and sued his accountant for the financial mess he was in.  His T-rex skull was in the news recently when investigators identified it as a stolen dinosaur fossil from Mongolia.  Reports state that Cage was cooperative and handed the skull back to the authorities.  I suppose he would be happy about that news since he can sue the museum that sold him the skull for the cost he incurred plus damages. He would be in far better company with cash than with a dinosaur skull these days.

Getting back to the point of this post, you and I, or any store clerk, if we only had one dollar left in our pocket after accounting for all our debt and expenses, would still be “wealthier” than Nicholas Cage.  Cage may still make more than we do when he makes appearances or movies.  But that’s the difference between income and wealth.

What does it mean to be frugal?  Frugality is the opposite of wastefulness.  If you are very economical with the use of your available resources, then you are frugal.  Based on the survey of Stanley and Danko, the typical American millionaire is of all things that can describe him:  frugal, frugal and frugal.  That’s how he built his wealth.  His neighbors think of him as an unexceptional member of the middle class because of his standard of living. The most he’s ever spent for a suit is $399 USD. In contrast, the $1,000 USD suits are being bought by people who have less than $1 million in net worth.  These are usually corporate middle managers, sales people and others who do not have their own businesses.


As for shoes, half of the millionaires they surveyed had never spent more than $140 for a pair. The same case goes for wristwatches. Half of the millionaires in the survey had never spent more than $235 USD for a wristwatch.

Other facts gathered about this group of millionaires was that the husbands had wives who were more frugal than they were.  The majority had lived with that one wife for their whole married life. (Divorce can severely damage a person’s net worth).  They also had clean titles to their homes, free of any mortgage.

Although frugality is just one aspect of a millionaire’s character and strategy for wealth building, it is a cornerstone trait. Making smart investments are also another means of increasing wealth.  However, if you have not been able to save anything out of your income, you will also have nothing to invest.

Frugality isn’t a trait that an individual would typically flaunt.  We tend to view it is being  a“cheapskate.”  However, this may also well be the reason why not everyone has a million dollars in his bank account.The usual mindset flaunts “wealth” in the form of nice, fashionable clothes, jewelry, cars etc.  But none of these are really assets.  They are not actually wealth.  They are status symbols, which, ironically, can be very deceiving as to the real wealth status of the person flaunting them.

Instead of “investing” in status symbols, a person who wants to become a millionaire should instead save as much as he can out of his income, cutting out unnecessary expenditures, and “spend” it on real investments that appreciate in value or earn a passive income over time. This can be in the form of real property, stocks or businesses.  There are a lot of ways to invest and grow your money, but first you must be able to save it out of what you earn.



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