Summer is coming. Summer is coming. Summer is coming! I’ve had to repeat this reassuring mantra more than usual this spring, but it’s true, I promise, summer is indeed just around the corner. This is especially exciting for us in the WPA Education Program because it means SUMMER CAMPS! We’ve partnered with other organizations in the past to hold summer camps, but this year we’re taking complete control and we couldn’t be happier about it. Having control means we choose the dates, times, themes, activities, size and most importantly the Summer Camp Guides. We put out the call and were overwhelmed by the response, and now after some difficult decisions we’re thrilled to introduce our summer camp team of top-notch environmental educators:
Sarah Short: Sarah is our fearless leader who will be overseeing our Summer Camps this year. She’s a Seattle native who received her B.A. in Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine where she realized that her love of nature and science could best be used in teaching others. Sarah returned to Seattle, her one and only true home, to attend IslandWood and the UW. She will be receiving her M.Ed. in Science Education this June. Sarah loves coming up with fun and interesting ways to connect people to science and nature – that’s one of the many reasons she’s so excited about Arboretum Summer Camps!
Rachel Nagorsky: Rachel comes to us via the University of British Colombia, and IslandWood. She will be pursuing her M.Ed. from UW in the fall. Rachel has worked with kids of all ages from kindergarten to high school both here and in Canada, sharing her love of mountains and nature. When she’s not in class learning about teaching or in the field actually teaching, Rachel is a nanny and volunteer at Seattle Tilth’s children’s garden – she just can’t seem to get enough. She’s bubbly and bright and her “bag of tricks” is filled to the brim. She looks forward to putting those tricks to good use this summer at the Arboretum and we look forward to her infectious excitement.
Gabriel Finkelstein: Gabe is an outdoor and environmental educator who loves exploring the natural world any way he can – by bike, foot, kayak or ski. He has spent the last 8 years providing outdoor learning opportunities for youth that engage their natural curiosities and interests. He holds a B.A. in Education from College of the Atlantic in Maine where he was active in programs
that worked to get public school students outdoors and involved with their natural surroundings. He’s fascinated by the interconnections between humans and the environment and loves sharing this fascination with children.
Kathie Branford: Kathie is a transplant from California where she grew up spending summers attending and eventually working at camps set in the redwoods near Yosemite Valley. She received her B.S. in Biology from Brigham Young University and is currently perusing a M.A. in Science Teaching from UW in conjunction with the IslandWood Graduate Program. Aside from summer camps, Kathie has worked at natural history museums teaching students about animals, and environmental consulting firm teaching businesses about water conservation. She also studied abroad in Paris where she fell in love with the French language and the French cuisine. Her favorite book is “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and her favorite tree is the Western Hemlock.
Summer camp at the Washington Park Arboretum takes place in July this year.
- Week 1: Native Plants and People (July 11 – 15)
- Week 2: Little Green Thumbs (July 18 – 22)
- Week 3: Arboretum Detectives (July 25 – 29)
Read the full theme descriptions and learn how to register at the Summer Programs page.
Family Fun Day May 22, 2011 gives a taste of what summer camp holds.
I continue to be surprised by the life that abounds in our gem located at the heart of the Emerald City. Yesterday, while walking between/through our sites (WPA -> UBNA -> CUH), I counted no less than 27 Great Blue Herons hunkered down in the cattails seeking shelter from the lion-like March weather. In addition to these easily recognized wading birds, I saw and heard a plethora of others that reminded me of my new year’s resolution to learn more birds.
In the past couple weeks the Arboretum has garnered quite a bit of press for the biodiversity it houses. The focus of our first 15 minutes of fame was an incredibly chubby and somewhat groggy beaver that came strolling up from the Foster Island wetland area and into some shrubs near our entrance gate. If you missed the video footage I caught of “Foster”, you can check it out here. Last time I checked it had gotten 1800 hits on Youtube!
The next 15 minutes came indirectly from Rod Crawford’s discovery of a potentially new species of spider that he found during last spring’s Bioblitz 2010 event held here at the Arboretum. Here’s a link to the PI’s article; and another to the Crosscut article by Knute Berger. And below is a picture of our eight-legged neighbor. I am currently recruiting high school students and anyone else interested in helping us find more specimens for a “hunt” in late April to Early June.
My initial reaction to all this attention directed our way on account of our resident fauna was to wonder when we might get a little attention for the 10,000+ plant specimens that make up our world-renowned collection. We are, after all, the official Arboretum for the state of Washington.
But then I remembered what I often tell kids during our fieldtrip programs: “…when you plant a tree, you’re not just planting a tree, you’re planting an oxygen factory, an erosion preventer, a home for a squirrel or bird or colony of insects, a backrest, a poem, a painting, a friend; you’re planting the foundation of an ecosystem upon which all life depends – including us.” So in that way, any attention given to the furry or creeping critters that call this place home is attention to the trees and plants too – long may they live so that the rest of us may as well.
I had the privilege of attending some of the Regional Food Security Conference this past weekend at CUH, and wanted to share what I learned…
The plenary session Sunday morning was a joint effort by 3 presenters who each provided unique perspectives into successful small scale regional farming projects happening around the world. The one that stood out for me was presented by Travis English, a UW MA candidate, who spoke of the Tumaini Women’s Group in Kenya whose members are comprised of 20+ elderly widows. The youngest of these women farmers is Florence at 72 years old. The HIV/AIDS epidemic so prevalent in much of Africa not only claimed these women’s husbands, but many of their children as well leaving them to care for 70+ orphaned grandchildren. Yet despite these hardships, with the help of a progressive organization named Grow BioIntensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya, or GBIACK, these women have been able to lift themselves up out of poverty and become completely self-reliant. It was an inspiring story that makes the obstacles of creating our own sustainable regional food system seem trivial and easily overcome.
The conference proceeded to split up into smaller groups to focus on a variety of food security related topics. I set up shop in Douglas Classroom where our very own Katie Murphy kicked things off to a standing-room only crowd. I was familiar with Katie’s research from a public speaking class we had together almost 2 years ago. Katie, in addition to running the Herbarium, has spent these past two years taking a simple idea and shaping it into a full blown cutting edge research project that takes a hard look at an often over-looked gardening spot, the parking strip. We drive past them and walk over them every day, but could these mundane omnipresent features of our urban environment be better used to grow food? A lot of Seattleites think so and are already growing vegetable gardens in these places, but should they be? Who knows where these soils have been or what heavy metals they may have been hanging out with for the last 100 years? These are the questions that Katie’s research aims to answer through careful and thorough scientific investigation. You’ll have to wait for Katie’s finished paper to get the whole story, but at least from her preliminary results, there is about 190 acres of prime real estate in northwest Seattle ripe for an urban agricultural revival.
The next speaker to present was Steve Jones a plant breeder and the director of The Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center of WSU. Steve is a wheat guy who has been researching and growing wheat for 30+ years. While the first 2/3 of his career was spent testing and growing wheat varieties for use in conventional farming, he’s spent the last 10 years advocating the value and viability of decentralized wheat growing systems. His shift in values seemed based on what to him is a stupefying reality – that the price of wheat is determined not by farmers, bakers or buyers but by traders, lenders and bureaucrats, people who wear ties & suits not coveralls & boots. Most of the wheat that we grow in this country is consumed in China, and most of it is grown from the exact same kind of proprietised genetically modified seed. States like Maine and Vermont and Iowa that once boasted thriving wheat harvests now grow nary a chafe.
But Steve was hopeful because of a recent resurgence of the small wheat farmer and a budding cottage industry based on artisan breads and beers made from local wheat varieties with unique characteristics. One thing that Steve said that stuck with me was his description of the people who make up this movement and the audiences of wheat growing workshops. These people are young, they are interested and they are interesting. It was refreshing to see this same demographic description reflected in the attendees of this food security conference, and indeed in the presenters themselves…
Andrew Corbin also of WSU, was the final presenter in Douglas before lunch, and to look at him and hear him speak he would seem just as natural strumming a six-string around a campfire on the beach as standing in front of a classroom lecturing, maybe more so. Andrew and his colleagues have recently been examining the age old farming question, “to till or not to till”. Since the invention of the iron plow some 2500 years ago, the answer has been “till”. But conventional farming’s methods and industrial efficiency has taken it’s toll on our planets breadbaskets and resulted in increasingly stratified soil profiles that make life hard for root systems. Over time, the soil layer immediately below the reach of the plow becomes an impenetrable hardpan. Steve’s research has shown the advantages of planting cover crops and then crimping them rather than turning them under. This rather low-tech method not only produces higher yields while fixing nitrogen but works as a weed barrier, earthworm haven and lid to keep CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Steve’s trials use a tractor powered crimper, but I have a small-scale farmer friend in CA who does it with simple hand tools…an approach easily adapted for the baker growing his/her specialty wheat in their parking strip.
For more on the conference: http://depts.washington.edu/uwbg/news/food-security/
And for an incredible Ted Talk from an 11 yr old on our food system: http://www.ted.com/talks/birke_baehr_what_s_wrong_with_our_food_system.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2010-12-07&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email
Last spring, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens hosted a bioblitz to take a stab at identifying the myriad organisms for which Washington Park Arboretum is home. Last week, we continued this effort but with a focus on fungus. During Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition, Puget Sound Mycological Society members teamed up with over 60 citizen scientists for a full day of mushroom hunting that by sundown netted approximately 500 specimens.
The folks from PSMS had been with us in the spring for the all-taxa bioblitz, and had expressed a desire to come back in the fall during prime mushroom season. The mushroom people I’ve met in Seattle are like that – deeply passionate, and genuinely enamored with their quarry. As for the 60 more or less random people that showed up on this predictably drizzle October day, they were almost as diverse as the mushrooms that were collected. (I say almost because everyone smelled pretty good; the same cannot be said for the mushrooms.) But what is it about mushrooms that so captures our collective curiosity? It’s a difficult question to answer because the answer differs depending on who you ask.
I participated in all three of the 2-hour hunts, and attended Marian Maxwell’s presentation on “The Role of Mushrooms in the Ecosystem”, and so I had the chance to mingle with a good number of attendees. I hunted briefly in the afternoon with Alex, a recent transplant from California where he worked as an environmental educator – a man after my own heart. Alex likes the way mushrooms force one to slow down and really look at one’s surroundings, even under one’s surroundings. He used to do this on hikes with kids in California. I’ve done this with fieldtrip groups at the arboretum, and I can verify the mesmerizing power of fungi. Alex and I agreed that anything with the power to keep a group of 4th graders captivated for any real span of time borders on miraculous.
That being said, often times kids make the best mushroom hunters. The Allgood family, with their two young daughters, joined us for much of the day (including the lecture), and contributed dozens of carefully collected specimens to our total. The Allgoods are avid P-patchers who believe that the healthiest food is the food you grow yourself. The desire to learn more about a potentially free, natural and local food source is what brought them out.
With the “eat local” movement gaining momentum and food security conversations becoming household, being able to forage for ones food is in vogue and mushrooms are poster children, and why not. They’re abundant, extremely varied, the right ones are delicious, and you’re simply harvesting a fruit much like any other (but without the maintenance), so there’s no harm done. The trick of course is finding the right ones.
The edibility and lure of foraging for ones food was a common tie among many who came out. Colin, a UW freshman only months into his college experience, is already tiring of “dorm food”. While the Arboretum cannot be considered a place to go harvesting ‘shaggy parasols’ (it’s illegal to take anything out of this Seattle treasure), Colin was very pleased to rescue the handful we collected from their immanent fate in the compost pile and eager to get out into the mountains to find his own secret spot.
That’s what my wife likes about mushroom hunting – the hunting part. The idea of going home with something tasty to eat is secondary to the thrill of the hunt. Having a mission to focus on helps to quiet her ADD brain and allows for a much more enjoyable hike with a husband who is perfectly happy wandering aimlessly through the woods. This example speaks to an indirect medicinal property that mushrooms hold, but there are some mushrooms such as the Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis), which only grows on old growth, that are being researched by pharmaceutical companies for their anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and possibly anti-cancer properties.
Of course there are others who are less interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the body and more interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the mind. David, who I met during the morning hunt, though “out there” by conventional standards, is a deeply spiritual man who loves everything about mushrooms, including the ability of some to alter reality. The hallucinogenic properties of mushrooms are well known and well documented in cultures around the world. In many of these cultures, only the most revered members of the society – the shamans, medicine men and mystics are allowed to meddle with these powerful substances. After all, these seemingly innocuous forest dwellers can kill you and every year even experienced mycologists die from eating mushrooms they believed to be safe.
Marian touched on the toxicology of some mushrooms during her talk, describing it as a self-defense mechanism and a way for one mushroom species to stake out turf over another. Often times, but not always, these mushrooms with toxic properties are categorized as parasites – the potentially harmful group that steals nutrients from host plants weakening and eventually killing them. Unfortunately, an example of this group, the Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea), was found living on some of our trees. But that’s part of why we do these bioblitzes, to better know our 230 acres and how to manage them.
Marian also talked about a group of mushrooms called symbionts. These are mutualists that actually benefit their associated host. Examples include some of the more highly sought after mushrooms such as chanterelles and truffles. This group is extremely difficult to cultivate because the symbiotic relationship between tree and mushroom takes several decades to form. Once formed, however, the mushroom benefits by obtaining some of the sugars produced by the tree, and the tree benefits because the intricate mycelial network inhabiting the root zone greatly expands the trees ability to take in water and nutrients (as well as fight off potentially harmful diseases).
I envision roots wrapped in wooly sweaters wicking in the good stuff and keeping out the bad. The really cool part is that specific mushrooms are associated with specific trees, and so once the relationship is established you can go back to the same tree year after year and expect to find the same type of mushroom. This is dependent of course on time of year, weather conditions, and assuming you’ve gotten there first! I think this is what I really like about mushrooms – they so beautifully illustrate the interconnected nature of nature. If you know the tree you’re looking at, you’ll know what mushroom to look for, and maybe even what kind of bird or other critter to expect nearby. A balanced forest ecosystem is like a well choreographed dance, each dance playing an indispensible role and strengthening the overall composition.
The third group of mushrooms that Marian talked about was the saprophytes. These are the forest recyclers that obtain their nutrients by breaking down decaying matter. By doing so, these nutrients are made available to be taken up and used again. This group was by far the best represented of what we found owing to the time of year and abundance of decaying matter (fallen leaves and mulch). Because of this, there are already murmurs among our PSMS partners to come again next year, but a little earlier in the season in hopes of finding different species. So stay tuned, and regardless of what it is about mushrooms that tickles your fancy, come join us next time and take part in this ongoing citizen science experiment to see what we can find living in this wonderland of urban nature that is the Washington Park Arboretum.
The mere thought of actually writing a blog entry w/ pen & paper started to make my hand cramp up. Granted, I have all the signs of early on-set arthritis from years spent farming & gardening for a living (using mostly hand-tools), but even still, this anxiety over the written word is pathetic! And I’ve only been typing on a keyboard consistently since college, about 10 years. It makes me think about the kids I had the chance to hang out w/ today during a Plants 201 fieldtrip.
They were 3rd graders, about 10 years old, from W. Woodland Elementary, and they were a lot of fun. Their excitement to be on a fieldtrip was palpable & contagious & I had a few moments to bathe in it (and the spectacular October sun) while mentally preparing for the ensuing adventure. This Marked my 2nd time leading P201 & so I had an idea of how I wanted it to go, but every group is so different, and I think the last group I was working with was a group of homeschoolers – a completely different animal.
Overall, the program went great. They were a sharp bunch w/ lots of energy/curiosity, the chaperones they came with were engaged and helpful, and represented in this group of 16 there were what I call ‘kid types’ (and what the PhD’s call “learning styles”) from across the board. There were the quiet kids who seem to get it, and the quiet kids who don’t get it at all but who hang in there by reading the social cues; there were the know-it-all kids who do in fact know it all, but who aren’t quite literate in those social cues; there were a few spark plugs (that remind me of my wife), who just need to be entertained (or entertaining) at all times and they’re good; there were a couple too-cool-for-school kids (that remind me of myself) who are into what’s going on, but trying not to show it; etc.
I just overheard a woman behind me (early middle-aged) say, “…oh, you’re not a Facebooker are you…”, and that brings me back to my point. Those kids today have grown up w/ computer keyboards & are most likely far more adept w/ all things computer related, perhaps even typing, than myself. Does this increased exposure to the technological world necessarily result in a decreased understanding of the natural one? Richard Louv might call this a characteristic symptom of “Nature Deficit Disorder”. But what does this mean to a kid on a fieldtrip to a place like the Arboretum, or any “natural” space for that matter? Should we even be trying to teach these kids anything during their 1.5 hour respite from modern life or would they be better off simply having time to explore this strange environment?
This is all merely philosophical musings in this day & age. Pens & paper aren’t yet just archaic relics making up an antiquor’s inventory, and kids aren’t so far removed from tree bark & dirt to be completely enthralled by them w/out some trickery on the environmental educator’s part, but some day… And for some kids that day will be sooner than others. Seattle kids have the natural world at their fingertips (like keyboards), but have you ever seen a picture of a New Delhi slum, downtown Mexico City, Detroit! Kids from these places probably feel like extra terrestrials in an arboretum.
So if you take anything from this rant, just remember to remember that there are all kinds of kid-types when you’re writing/typing up your next fieldtrip curriculum, and do your best to include stuff that will appeal to them all.
So I had the pleasure of leading a group of 5th graders from Emerson today on a Wetlands 201 fieldtrip. It was a first for both us, as this was one of the fieldtrips that we re-vamped over the summer, and my first time trying it out on live victims.
Over all it went really well. Great kids, gorgeous fall day, bald eagle sighting, plenty of macros in the aquatic dip…
Surprisingly, it was the first time some of them had heard the terms “producer, consumer, & decomposer”, or if they’d heard them, they’re understanding was fuzzy. It gave me something to think about on my bike ride home this afternoon.
Recently, one of my veteran garden guides asked me, “why so much emphasis on producers, consumers, & decomposers?” (the concept has been added to pretty much every program we do). My immediate response was something like, “b/c I’m an ecologist at heart, a big-picture kind of guy, and these are the essential ingredients of the big picture…that, and P,C,D’s were pounded into my head at Islandwood”.
But now I have a much better answer…
“If you look deep, deep into nature, you will understand everything.” Einstein said that, and Einstein was a smart dude.
If we can get kids to understand the basic concept of a food web – that producers make food that consumers consume and decomposers decompose so that producers can make more food, then kids will grow up to understand how this world works, and by extension, how to best live in it.
The Industrial Revolution ushered in the era of “humans as producers”. Since then we’ve found myriad ways to harness the energy of the sun to make stuff. The ability has become so engrained in our societies, that to stop making stuff would be to crash everything.
Consuming all this stuff we make is 2nd nature, and nobody owns this “humans as consumers” concept better than we Americans. (An old slogan keeps running through my head…”why only eat just one, we’ll make more”.)
The era we’re only just starting to enter (I hope) is the “humans as decomposers” era. Perhaps b/c we’re surrounded by it, trash is starting to look valuable. There’s big money in taking junk and re-producing it into something consumable. If the titans of industry from back in the day were better ecologists, this would have been a no brainer, and we might not have overflowing landfills and islands of garbage.
In nature, nothing is wasted. This is the simple truth that teaching kids about food webs and the relationship between producers, consumers & decomposers gets at. And if those 5th graders took away one thing today, I hope it was that.
Who knows, maybe one of those kids will go on to invent the trash-powered DeLorean from Back to the Future, and may be he/she will remember that fieldtrip they took in 5th grade and decide to donate a bunch to the Arboretum to replace the golf carts…one can only dream.
This past spring, the UWBG hosted the first ever bioblitz in Seattle. A “bioblitz” is a biological scavenger hunt that aims to inventory all the various organisms living in a given area – the “blitz” part signifies that this inventory is taken within a short period of time.
There are several reasons why the UWBG aims to make bioblitzes a regularly occurring tradition:
- to better fulfill our mission of sustaining managed to natural ecosystems
- to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity in an urban environment
- to bridge the gap between the academic world and the every-day world by harnessing the power of citizen scientists.
During our first attempt, close to 400 different species of plants, birds, insects, spiders, lichens, mammals, reptiles and fungi were accounted for in the Washington Park Arboretum, a major branch of the UWBG. Several groups predicted that that number would have been higher had the bioblitz taken place during a different time of year. The fungi group, comprised primarily of Puget Sound Mycological Society members, was among the groups itching to come back during more suitable conditions (i.e. fall).
And so, the UWBG, in partnership with PSMS, and with support from the Arboretum Foundation gives you, Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition, “The Fungus Among Us”.
- When: Thursday, October, 28th
- What time: 10am – 10pm; with 3 scheduled hunts & a public presentation from PSMS President, Marian Maxwell.
- 10:15am – 12:30pm
- 1:15pm – 3:00pm
- 3:15pm – 5:30pm
- Public Lecture: 6:30 – 7:30pm: “Mushroom Ecology” by Mariam Maxwell, PSMS President
- Where: The Washington Park Arboretum, Graham Visitors Center
- Who: Anyone & everyone, no experience necessary
- Cost: Free
- Contact: Patrick Mulligan, WPA Education Supervisor, 206-616-3381, Simsigan@uw.edu