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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Growing Indoors: A Revisit

Trying to stay safely distanced from everybody is the name of the game nowadays. But, don’t worry! We’ve got a few ideas to help you stay productive, energized, and positive. March is the time where getting the garden started sounds like a good idea. However, with cool temperatures and snow still on the ground in Minnesota, you’re choices to get started are limited to pretty much indoors.

In the hope of using your self distanced time for something constructive, here are four past blog articles that can help you with some ideas on creating your very own indoor garden.

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Our first blog post features some easy DIY indoor gardening ideas. Purchasing seeds is still available through catalog and online, so don’t let self-quarantine stop you from getting your green on.

Indoor Gardening Ideas Part 2

In the second blog post, we touch on how to improve the gutter system and why it’s beneficial to add an automatic watering system.

Windowsill Gardens

In this article, we give some tips on the most easy indoor gardening systems to build: the windowsill garden. While they are tiny, but effective, you can make some delicious meals with your sill herb garden and also add a touch of color to your kitchen by adding orchids with almost zero effort.

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If you’re still looking for some help on making your own indoor garden, check out our last article, which covers 5 very easy methods to green your indoor space. From adding zero effort succulents to entry level veggie pots, you’ll find something to get you going.

That’s what we’ve got for indoor gardening ideas, but if you have anything you’d like to share with us, we will make sure to let everyone know about it. We love spreading the love of gardening!

 

Hydrogeological Data

 

What do isotopes in water have to do with soil? One of my go-to podcasts is Down to Earth hosted by The Quivira Coalition.  The Quivira Coalition is a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience on western working landscapes. According to their website, the coalition was formed to preserve the region’s rich agricultural heritage. It states: 

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The Quivira Coalition is based in New Mexico and is dedicated to building ecological and economic resilience in the arid southwest. A tricky idea, indeed!

In 1997 two conservationists and a rancher who believed that a ranch that supported wildlife and a healthy ecosystem could also support a viable ranch business, came together to create the Quivira Coalition.  Then, in 2003, twenty ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists met for forty-eight hours to figure out a way to take back the American West from the decades of divisiveness and acrimony that now truly jeopardizes much of what we all love and value. But we also met to take the West forward, to restore ecological, social and political health to a landscape that deserves it and so desperately needs it.” 

One of their recent podcasts, titled The Science of Water, features the work of Dr. Kate Zeigler, a geologist/ hydrologist. 

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Dr. Kate Zeigler

Dr. Zeigler’s work has focused on groundwater recharge rates in the dry southwest where the average annual rainfall is seven inches. The soils in this region recharge very slowly, often percolating through the soil at the same rate your finger nail grows. She goes on to explain that not all water is the same.  As groundwater ages, the isotopes in it change. By studying the changes in protons versus neutrons in the individual atoms in the water, they can determine how old the groundwater is and how fast the aquifers are recharging, or how fast they are being depleted. With the philosophy that knowledge is power, they share this information with farmers and ranchers as a tool for decision making.    

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Microplastics

This year, World Water Day occurs on March 22, focusing our attention on one of earth’s most important resources: water. According to the United Nations, we’ll hit a global population of 8 billion by the year 2023. As our population continues to grow, our water resources are becoming increasingly stressed. The World Health Organization shared that 29% of the world’s population still do not have safe drinking water located on the premises and roughly 2.2 million people die from water-related illnesses each year. Unfortunately, there is a new cause of concern as it relates to our water.

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Global plastic production has skyrocketed over recent decades as we’ve increased our reliance on plastics to allow us to live a life of convenience. Originally, plastics were introduced as a “cheap” alternative to other materials, such as fabrics, animal products (like bone or tortoise shells), metals, and other ores. They made many consumer goods less expensive, increasing accessibility for many products. Plastic production continued to increase as we moved into the convenience of disposable products: diapers, cups, straws, eating utensils, plates, to-go containers, bags, cleaning aids, and more. If you look around your house, you’ll probably find that many (if not most) of your items have some sort of plastic in them – food containers in your fridge, toothbrushes and other cosmetic products, most fabrics, carpets, electronics, office supplies, home decor and so much more. If it wasn’t made with plastic, there’s a good chance that it came packaged in plastic. But what does our use of plastics have to do with the safety of our water? Continue reading

Get a Head Start on the Growing Season with Soil Blocks

Don’t look now (and I would hate to jinx it), but it seems that winter is loosing its grasp over central Minnesota. The ravages of winter snow storms and below zero temperatures are being replaced with sun showers and melting snow.

However, that doesn’t mean you can just start planting into the (frozen) ground. Your little seedlings wouldn’t stand much of a chance and you’d break your tools digging a hole.

What we do around here is create our very own soil blocks to help the little seeds get a head start to the growing season. With a giant atrium in the Mani Shop, we’ve got a good place to let them stretch their baby root legs.

Dave W. (our Food Production Coordinator) likes to use the following formula to build our soil blocks for the little seedlings.

  • 4 Parts Peat Moss
  • 2 Parts Compost/Soil
  • 1 cup Perlite/Vermiculite (helps prevent soil compaction)
  • .5 cup Pel Lime (helps balance pH of soil)
  • .25 cup Green Sand/Azomite Clay (adds micronutrients)
  • .25 cup Humate
  • .25 cup Kelp

This recipe is good for 4-5 trays that can hold 50 or so 2in blocks. All in all, you can make about 300 blocks, which is a good place to start if you’re just getting into it.

It’s a fun process, but can be a little dusty, dirty, and muddy. There’s a lot of mixing by hand and sifting of small sticks and other larger bits so it can be best used for the block mixture.

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Here, Dave sifts the detritus from our homemade compost to get nothing but nutrient rich soil.

Once you’ve got the mixture down, add a little water and to make it nice and sticky (this is so it will hold its blocky shape. We have several types of soil blockers, but for the majority of our uses, we prefer the 2 inch model.

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These soil blockers are good for 2in cubed cubes. They’re good enough size for most starting seedlings.

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Back to Basics 2020 – A Review in Pictures

On Saturday, February 15, we held our 14th annual Back to Basics sustainability event at the Pine River-Backus School. There were a record number of participants and a wide variety of new and repeating vendors & presenters.

We were able to have a roving photographer (Thanks Marisa!) take some awesome shots of the event, and we would like to share some of them with you.

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