Home Grown Stewards Program

homegrownstewardslogodraft3For over a decade, we’ve been home to the sustainability-based children-focused Eco Camp. It’s our favorite time of the year, to be honest. Getting to interact with kids just discovering the wonder and awe that is found on our planet is definitely a highlight.

Unfortunately, with considerations to distancing guidelines, we have decided to give our in-person programming a break while everyone is able to socially distance.

However, that leaves us with an opportunity to try something we haven’t done before:

We’re very excited to introduce our new virtual summer programs: Home Grown Stewards.

We’ve put together three programs that can best help you on your sustainability journey, and they all can be done remotely, virtually, or digitally.

We’ve been working hard on designing an alternative to our in-person programming. We want you to be able to continue to explore our great outdoors, create that delicious feast from your own garden, and learn all about our wonderful planet, from the safety of your own home.

Program Coordinator Michelle Hoefs describes how difficult making the change was for her and the rest of our staff, “Obviously, we would so much rather be spending the summer with campers in person. Kids need interactions with other kids and also adults that aren’t their parents. It’s good for their development. So, we designed programming that allows for a small part of that interaction.”

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The New Farmers Market

Minnesota residents craving fresh produce won’t have to wait long, as farmers markets are beginning to open across the region — with some coronavirus-related restrictions in place.

According to Governor Walz’s stay-at-home order, farmers markets are deemed essential, but in more ways than one. They are a direct line to your producer. Short of heading out to the farm itself and buying right out of the barn, farmers markets are the most direct way to talk and learn and create a relationship with your local farmers.

According to the Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA), markets are not included in the partial closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars and are encouraged to resume opening for business. However, there are a few caveats, as providing a safe environment for everyone is still paramount.

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New guidelines are implemented for farmers markets this year.

The MFMA suggests alternate delivery routes, such as drive-through options or single-direction flow. Food sampling is banned and social distancing of six feet is required. Additionally, hand-washing stations must be available and are encouraged to be used with gusto.

Markets across the state have been brainstorming ways to make sure that both farmers and customers will be able to continue this positive relationship all the while ensuring both parties will relatively safe during this pandemic.

Some methods include one-way traffic flow for people walking through the markets, creating layouts with stalls facing in opposite directions, and even adding empty tables between vendors and customers to ensure that social distancing takes place are all being considered for markets as they begin opening up.

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Farm to Home During Stay at Home

Some bad news has arisen concerning food production. As the coronavirus pandemic has supply chains disrupted, farmers and producers are being forced to destroy their crops, dump milk, and butcher livestock. The reduction in commercial demand is mainly due, among many other reasons, to fewer people eating out, going to restaurants, and fewer school lunches being produced.

However, that doesn’t mean that people are interested in eating less often. (Personally, I’ve been eating more often while working from home). See, people are less interested in eating at these food establishments and there are many reasons for this.

Simply put, because of a shortage of safety gear and preparation and also through an abundance of caution and a powerful need to still eat, consumers have been going straight to the source to ensure their own food supply.

NPR has a great article on the phenomenon. 

There are a lot of benefits to purchasing directly from the producer. Buying from local farms means fewer hands on your produce, which, incidentally, leads to fresher produce since the food is grown nearer to the purchase point. Buying directly from the producer is utilizing a distribution method that is perfectly geared towards a time that encourages social distancing. It’s been in place for generations!

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Using food from your own garden is best, but CSA is the next best.

Through CSAs, customers get the weekly or bi-weekly deliveries at open-air pickup stations or directly at the farms with little interaction needed.

People are coming to the realization, I think, that fresh food is one of the most essential elements to survival, and with news that food supply chains are now becoming stressed, purchasing food from local producers may be more essential than ever.

Under normal conditions, many local CSA farmers say they operate under tight budgets, especially in the spring, before the harvest (and purchasing) occurs. That’s changed in recent weeks, because the pandemic has brought with it heightened awareness of quality food, and more specifically, from where a consumer’s food originates.

But, where do you start? What are your options? Let’s take a quick look at what you can do locally, and why it’s important.

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Fighting Food Insecurity at the Local Level

Food insecurity is already more widespread in this country than most know. On a daily basis, one in seven households with children are affected by the lack of access to food, or food insecurity. The majority of these children depend on meals that they receive at school from the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. There are over 14 million children that benefit from the school breakfast program, and almost 30 million children benefit from the National School Lunch Program.

Moreover, now that schools are wisely closing their doors in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, these programs are no longer a viable way to ensure food insecure families are able to procure the much need nutrition.

Even during this economic and public health crisis, the US is making more than enough food to feed all its residents. Getting as much of it as possible to those in needs is the challenge, but one that can be met with swift and creative action.

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Full Tummies is an effort in the Brainerd Lakes Area to feed families.

Food banks, food shelves, and charitable food distribution centers are ramping up to fill that gap. Unfortunately, these food banks are already reporting increased demand while seeing operational challenges, such as fewer volunteers being able to step up and fewer donations from retail sources. Demand for charitable food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.

So, what can we do about it now?

If you have the ability, volunteer at your local charitable food assistance program. They need the help. If you have the means, donate spare food or dollars. They will have the ability to make it spread as far as it can go.

Locally, I’ve found no fewer than four organizations in our tiny community that are putting together food distribution services for families in need and they all need help.

Check out Full Tummies, organized by The Baxter Cafe and teamed up with The Raboin & Francis Law Firm, Pan-O-Gold Bakery, and Hubbard Radio to get food to kids who need it. They offer pickup on the weekends at the Baxter Cafe during the hours of 8am-11:30, but you need to call first (218-829-1739). What a tremendous effort!

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Another organization doing its part to help in the area is The Journey North’s Ruby Pantry. The next Pop-up Pantry food distribution is Tuesday, May 12 at the church’s parking lot. You’ll want to show up early to avoid the crowds as it is always a busy time. They are looking for volunteers, as well. So if you’ve healthy and looking to give time during the pandemic, here’s a way to make a difference.

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Operation Sandwich more than sandwiches!

One more program called Operation Sandwich, organized by Bridges of Hope, is offering one meal a week to families in need. Simply go and pick up at the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen on Oak Street. In the past, they have offered daily pickups during the summer for children without lunch, but have pivoted to helping entire families in need.

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The PR-B Community Meal has had to change up it’s service to a delivery and takeaway program, but it’s meeting the needs to an increased clientele base. What a service!

 

One program that has been offering hundreds of meals for months (even before the pandemic became widespread) is the Pine River/Backus Community Meal Night. Increase in demand has risen four fold in the tiny area, but this organization is meeting the need. Delivery to isolated people in need has been added to the already busy take-away efforts. If you are able to volunteer to this worthwhile endeavor, give Chef Brian a message at the local Facebook group.

If you are looking for more ways to help, check out this flyer for food options in the Brainerd area. 

Food insecurity doesn’t have to be an issue in our abundant country. We just need help in packaging and distribution. One good way to make sure our surplus of food gets into the system is by buying local. Shop through your local farmers and producers. CSAs and Farmer’s Markets are opening up now and can use your support, as well. Close that loop Keep the food close. We can all get through this.

Spring Birding for Conservation

Looking for something to keep you busy? Birding is the perfect activity to enjoy while social distancing and your observations can help scientists and conservation efforts across the world! While spring may not be the easiest time to become a birder, it certainly is the most exciting! New birds arrive daily from warmer southern locations, birds are singing loudly to find mates and defend territories, and they’re busy snatching up insects and gathering materials for their nests.  According to a survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 47 million Americans consider themselves “birders” whether it be in their own backyard or somewhere away from home. If you’re not already in that 47 million, consider joining us! Bird watching has many benefits. You spend more time outside (and there are tons of benefits from spending time in nature), it can keep you active, it can be a solitary activity or a community/family building activity, you’re constantly learning by observing, it leads to new experiences and the exploration of new places, it can give you “feel good” sensation, you can help scientists all around the world, and most importantly, it’s a fun hobby that can be done while social distancing! 

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I typically recommend that folks join the bird watching realm during winter, for a couple reasons. 1 – We have a LOT less birds. It’s easier to focus on a few to learn, rather than the greater summer variety. 2 – The birds that remain here in winter may have a hard time finding food and are all too happy to take a free meal at your feeder, giving you a nice observation spot! While you’ll certainly still have birds visit your feeder in the summer, the return of the insects has diverted many of our regular feeder birds. Most song birds, even ones who primarily eat seeds/fruits the rest of the year, need the high-protein food source insects provide during the breeding and nesting season. But don’t fret. Our bird population soars in the spring, as birds return to nest here for summer or pass through on their way to more northern locales. There are plenty of opportunities to find and identify birds, you just have more possibilities! So, where should you start?  Continue reading

Arbor Day 101

Arbor Day is an international holiday that encourages celebrating participants to plant and care for their trees. Did you know that the word arbor is the latin word for tree. The first Arbor Day celebration was organized in a small town in Spain in 1594, but the first recognized celebration in the United States was in the Kansas Territory in 1872 where an estimated 1 million trees were planted.

Across the world, Arbor Day has been celebrated at different times due to the rotating nature of the seasons affecting the prime date for planting trees. For example, New Zealand honors Arbor Day on June 5, while in Namibia, the holiday isn’t celebrated until October 8.

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Jim will be the first to tell you the importance of trees, whether they’re incorporated in your farm via agroforestry practices or simply providing shade on a hot day.

In fact, Arbor Day was only considered a regional holiday in the US until 1970, when, of all people, Richard Nixon initiated a national observance to take place on the last Friday in April (for this year, April 24, 2020).

*On a local note, late April is a perfect time to plant trees in Minnesota.*

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Finding Wonder in the Small Things: A Social Distancing Blog, Part 2

Things are different. It’s okay to feel different. If you need help, the National Alliance on Mental Health is a great resource and can help put you on a path back to feeling more like yourself. 

Nowadays, it is so easy to just get caught up in the big picture. Practicing safe protocols and doing what you can to “flatten the curve” has probably taken over a large section of your day. To be safe, we need to keep abreast of health protocols and guidelines. It’s just smart to do that. However, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the stress.

The fear and the unknown can feel real.

So, the purpose of this article is to help remind you to take the time to focus on the something “close to home”, the something “small”.

The something “small” can be something that brings you joy. It can be the silver lining. It can be the touchstone that helps bring you to center, away from the fear and unknown.

One thing we do during our weekly virtual meetings is help bring everything to center. One of the techniques we practiced is the Awareness of the Five Senses.

This is a guided meditation script that helps to bring mindfulness to your five senses and I’ve found it helps to bring you to the here and now. It’s good for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable and can really center you.

Once you’re centered, you should be able to get a grasp of the little things that make your day.

Here’s what our crew has been doing to help center themselves.

Shop Engineer Simon (Hunt Utilities Group), from over in the Mani shop, shared with me that he’s taking more time with his kids (as they’re home for school), going for bike rides and walks in the forest. He’s even been able to get a few board games in with them.

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Dave snapped this pic on one of the nicer days

Food Production Coordinator Dave (HDT-Pine River) has been working with his hands in this time, which is to say he’s still been wrist deep in seedlings and raised beds. He has been able to get out and paddle around in his kayak, though.

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We’re All in this Together: A Social Distancing Blog, Part 1

This is an unprecedented time. If you need help with your mental health, here are a list of numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health that are searchable for your county. For more information on mental health preparedness, here’s a good article from PBS

We are individuals. We are separate. We’re being asked to stay away from friends, family members, worshipers, and colleagues.

But, humans are social creatures. It’s in our nature to be in close contact with others. We love our get-togethers, our barbecues, our baseball games. Our society we fashion our lives around these social interactions.

However, for now and the near future we are being asked to run counter to what’s in our biological programing, what we’ve done in the past. Now, we are being asked to distance ourselves from each other.

Data is showing that people are doing this in Minnesota. You are flattening the curve and we are so proud of you because it is so hard!  That’s why we wanted to show you that you are not alone, not really. We are all in this together.

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Does this look familiar to you? Our crew has been social distancing for several weeks but we still need to keep in contact. Online is one of those ways. This is our monthly all-campus meeting…not held on campus, of course.

Our staff has been social distancing for close to a month, and we’ve each fallen into our own routines. We are keeping up our workload but we are finding ways to make our families and ourselves stronger.

Maybe reading how we are individually managing at our homes will give you the inspiration and strength to battle on and maybe also the solace in knowing that we are all in this together.

Executive Director Quinn

My days seem to be passing even more quickly. Are yours, too? Although I haven’t identified the reason, I think there are many contributing factors. At-home-working means less physical and mental separation between work and home so my “to do list” for home is growing all day waiting for lunch break or the end of the work day.

So far this morning water plants, empty dishwasher, kitchen clean, and deck sweeping have made the list. Plus, have you been seeing the myriad of amazing online opportunities being shared each day? Facebook Live and Zoom yoga classes, lectures/learning sessions on nearly any and every topic and so on!

*Note, I may never want to visit an in-person yoga class again; I am in love with yoga classes from afar.*

Also, it’s getting nicer outside! My husband and I take a near-daily walk. It used to be each weekday morning about 4:40am. Now it’s shifted to an afternoon/evening after he returns from work time-frame. As the days have grown lighter longer and snow has melted revealing litter the last few have been trash pickup walks.

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We can find purpose even in an afternoon walk. Here Quinn shows off how she’s cleaning up her stretch of road.

Before that, I was searching for acorn “tops” on walks. In the evenings I enjoy craft endeavors and as of late, the craft project du jour has been felting “acorns” to set into the tops.

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Quinn has been able to enjoy crafts with nature while at home.

I have been able to more frequently have catch ups with friends and family, utilizing calls, video chats, and texts, too. Typical or normal and new ways to while away time have made for quickly passing days.

Simply though, I recognize with deep gratitude, that I am fortunate to get to spend any day, let alone these days, in good health.

May we, looking back, find that these days were but quick, maybe productive, blips.

Program Coordinator Michelle

These last few weeks have been a big change for all of us. One of the things that have helped my family stay on track and maintain some sense of normalcy is having a schedule. Even before we started distance learning last week we made a schedule that included time for reading, writing, outside time, and STEAM games and activities. Now that they are doing formal schooling again, this schedule has helped my girls focus on their work and be productive.

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Getting outside is important.

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Focusing on the good things is too.

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Finding time to relax

We aren’t strict with our schedule, though. My girls are 8 and 10, in 2nd and 5th grade. Suddenly being home all the time and trying to figure out distance learning can be hard and stressful. Sometimes we need a break, even during our scheduled “work” time, so we take a break if we need to.

Getting outside is almost always what we need to regain focus. We’ve taken daily family walks, sometimes two or three times a day. There have been hula hoop contests, batting practice, and target practice with a bow and arrow. With the snow mostly gone, my youngest has finally been able to get to the swing set. She could swing for hours! My oldest and our puppy love to head off into the woods to explore and almost always come back with a pile of sticks to practice her fire building skills with.

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Routine is important.

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Schoolwork can keep you busy.

The guidance and support we are receiving from our school is absolutely amazing, too! Their teachers have gone above and beyond in providing instruction and work for our students. Each of my girls have spoken on the phone with their teachers, more than once, and that is a huge morale booster for them. The teachers are delving into new, unknown territory right along with us and they have more than risen to the occasion.

We recently started receiving lunch and breakfast from the school that they deliver each day. We didn’t sign up for them at first because we didn’t think we needed them. That was before we tried to come up with something different for lunch every day! The girls so look forward to that walk to the end of the driveway every day to pick up lunch and there hasn’t been anything yet that they haven’t eaten!

All in all, while this is not an ideal situation and there are still a lot of unknowns, I am thankful to have this time with my family and incredibly thankful for all of the support and services that are available.

We hope you found a little inspiration today in reading this. We will drop another post next week where other members of our staff share what they are doing through this difficult time.

“Log In At Eco Camp”

Eco Camp registration is now open! If you’d like to learn more about a specific camp, visit our website for more details. You can even register and pay online.

Right now, we all need something to look forward to, especially our kids. What better time to sign them up for Eco Camp! This year, our theme is “‘Log In’ At Eco Camp” with a focus on the forest and trees, specifically maples, oaks, birches, and pines.

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Kids will get outside and be up close with nature.

Here are the dates:

Grades 1-2 (Mighty Maples), June 22-26
Grades 3-4 (Outstanding Oaks), July 6-10
Grades 5-6 (Brilliant Birches) July 20-24
Prek-K: Ages 4-5 (Powerful Pines) August 3-7.

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The Plant-Based Burger’s Soul

Plant based protein is all the rage.  Given the state of our current agricultural system, one that delivers us unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) meat and degraded water, animals make an easy target.  Livestock are living beings, much like our pets who become part of our families. If we just stop eating meat, no animals will suffer and die, we’ll reduce our environmental footprint, and we can put people to work extracting protein from legumes and grains. And because we, as eaters, aren’t exposed to the dangerous saturated fats, cholesterol and other harmful ingredients in meat, we’ll all be healthier.  The world will be saved and we will all live healthy, happy lives. 

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CAFO is a very efficient system, but maybe doesn’t take into consideration the soul of the animal.

One of the first replacements they went after was the iconic hamburger.  If they could make a burger from plants that tastes like ground beef, it would serve as a powerful example of the potential of science. Next they went after the existential, versatile egg, extracting protein from mung beans and turning it into an egg substitute.  As these products have advanced, consumer interest has grown. Economists and agronomists are tracking dollars and trends. Environmentalists, vegans, and investors are touting their support and backing this technology with their dollars.

But nobody asked the cow, the chicken, or the bean.

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