Belated Earth Day at 50 exhibition in our gallery

“There is no planet B” was one of the many slogans calling for environmental action during Earth Day in 2019. Even if this year’s celebrations of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary have been subdued in the wake of the worldwide pandemic, its ideals and insights are more vivid than ever before. After a significant delay, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is presenting for this occasion the new exhibition “Ecotactical: Earth Day at 50,” which opened to the public on September 21, in its newly reopened Visitor Center.

Since its beginnings, Earth Day has lobbied for an expansive view of the environment, ensuring both healthy habitats and healthy people, as well as fair housing, food access, and racial justice. The new exhibition “Ecotactical” offers a look into Earth Day’s legacy through the lenses of six artists whose works explore the connections between Earth Day activism since the 1970s and today’s concerns, responding in multimedia installations to the question of what this anniversary might mean 50 years later. At the Schuylkill Center’s gallery and on its trails, the artists present stories of nature, community, and environmental justice in Philadelphia and beyond. While reflecting on Earth Day’s origins, they underscore that memory and reflection lie side by side with activism and artistry at this milestone in its history.
The turmoil of our own time and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis gives the historical roots of Earth Day new relevance. “Both the artists and myself, we have been following and adjusting the exhibition to the ups and downs of COVID-19 over the last months,” says exhibition coordinator Liz Jelsomine. “Putting this into perspective, I believe the artists in ‘Ecotactical’ offer exciting new thoughts on the meaning of Earth Day today.”

Following in Earth Day’s creative footprints, the artist collaborative Tools For Action created inflatable sculptures for the People’s Climate March in 2014; they reference a “survival performance” the group Ant Farm presented in 1970. A documentation of their inflatables for today’s climate and earth-related demonstrations and actions is displayed in the gallery.

The activism of Tools for Action is mirrored in an outdoor installation along our trails, “For The Future” by Julia Way Rix, of cyanotype flags that draw on signs and slogans from recent climate strikes and environmental demonstrations. Also on the Center’s trails one can find fragile sculptures by Nicole Donnelly whose arrangements with invasive vines and handmade plant-based paper draw our attention back to the liveliness of nature.

“The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures,” said Senator Gaylord Nelson during Earth Day in 1970. These and other remarks and stories, particularly at Philadelphia’s ecological celebrations that were arguably the most vigorous in the nation, emerge from an archival arrangement by artist and teacher Kristen Neville Taylor. Her presentation incorporates historic ephemera and imagery of Earth Day’s demonstrations and activism in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood, reminding us of the claims for environmental justice on our streets still today.
Another visual response is offered by local environmental educator and urban planner, Pili X, as he documents in a vivid photo album the rich community activities at the North Philly Peace Park. This self-identified ‘ecology campus’ champions alternative urban farming methods, fights for environmental and racial justice, and offers a holistic health approach in response to the Sharswood neighborhood’s profound needs for education, employment and food security. “We’re not going to be able to solve all these issues and answer all these problems overnight, but to begin to add some relief to people,” comments Pili X about his practice on philadelphianeighborhoods.com.

Close beside that series is Sophy Tuttle’s display “Solastalgia,” which offers a shrine for healing and grief. Resembling a cabinet of curiosities, Tuttle’s work is a memorial to the estimated 150-200 species that go extinct every day, and a prompt to reimagine our domination-based relationship with our surroundings. The gallery presentation is rounded out by “Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline!” a family-friendly eco-musical by music duo Ants on a Log that follows a young girl’s journey into community organizing, and “Water Ways,” a series of illustrations by Meg Lemieur and Bri Barton that depict water, health, and justice in relationship to fracking.

Calling for action, reflection and humor, the artists’ responses in “Ecotactical” demand our attention and accountability to the past, present and future.

Due to COVID-19 safety measures, masks are required in the gallery, with no more than three people per group, at 6 feet apart. The Schuylkill Center looks forward to belatedly celebrating this year’s Earth Day anniversary with you.

By Tina Plokarz, Director of Environmental Art

Weathering the Storm: How wild weather affects wildlife

Fallen tree limbs and storm damage got you down? If the recent inclement weather and severe storms are having an impact on your neighborhood, imagine what they are doing to the homes and shelters of our smaller wild neighbors!

From downed trees and flooding to high winds and extreme heat, wildlife is feeling the effects of severe weather patterns just as much as humans. The consequences of these storms are clearly seen in the number of animals admitted to the wildlife clinic which are often 4-5 times higher following stormy weather than would be seen on a typical day. Here are some ways you can support your local wildlife before, during, and after severe weather hits.

High winds:

The same soft wood that makes dead trees and boughs appealing to cavity nesting animals like woodpeckers, screech owls, squirrels, and many others, also means those trees are much more likely to fall or be damaged by heavy winds. Installing secure nest boxes on the sides of sturdy living trees gives wildlife a safe place to shelter no matter what weather comes their way.

High temperatures:

Increasing temperatures are hard for wildlife to bear, especially in urban areas where scalding pavement and lack of grassy or shaded areas can make their lives miserable and even dangerous. Plant native trees and shrubs in your yard or neighborhood to provide essential shade and shelter. Bird baths or dishes of water will be readily used by many birds and mammals in the heat of summer and are a great way to safely observe wildlife from home. Just make sure baths are in a semi-sheltered area, are no more than 1-2 inches deep, and are cleaned and filled with fresh water daily to prevent the spread of disease.

Flooding:

Flooding is especially dangerous to mammals and birds who make their nest, den, or burrow on the ground. Baby cottontails are a frequent victim of flooding, as their nests are only shallow depressions in the grass and quickly fill with water in heavy rain. If you know a downpour is in the forecast you can protect rabbit nests by sheltering them with an upside-down wheelbarrow, umbrella, or other covering that will still allow access by the mother. If the nest starts to fill with water, act quickly! Remove the babies from the nest, gently dry them off with a towel and place them in a cardboard box with a heating pad to stay warm. Do not try to feed them but call a wildlife rehabilitator right away for advice on how to reunite them with their mother once the rain stops.

Even if a nest is destroyed by flooding or is blown out of a tree in a storm, it is often possible to reunite the babies with their parents. Keep the displaced animals warm and safe in a cardboard box and call the wildlife clinic for guidance- we can give you instructions for making a replacement nest and reuniting lost babies with mothers. Orphaned birds and mammals quickly become dehydrated during the heat of the day so rapid intervention is important to their survival, and if the babies show any signs of injury they will need professional medical care as soon as possible. Call 215-483-7300x option 2 for assistance with injured or displaced wildlife- we respond to all emergency calls during open hours within 30 minutes or less. For non-emergency wildlife questions, email us at wildlife@schuylkillcenter.org.

By Rebecca Michelin, Wildlife Rehabilitation Consultant

We’re (Carefully) Reopening on Sept. 8

While our trails have been open through the pandemic, our Visitor Center closed on Friday, March 13–and has not been open since. Until now.

We are happy to share that our Visitor Center– at last!–reopens to regular hours on Tuesday, September 8 at 9:00 a.m. From that day moving forward, we are open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm weekdays and Saturday; our Sunday visitors may park at the Hagy’s Mill lot and walk on our trails, as always, but the Visitor Center remains closed on Sundays.

We welcome you to again visit our center, exhibits, art gallery, and gift shop. Yes, you can even purchase our world-class birdseed again!  In fact, our acclaimed native plants also will be for sale at our front door. 

Of course, visitors will be required to wear masks, there are posted limits on the number of people in each room, and our reception staff is behind a plexiglas barrier, all for the protection of both you and our staff.

Our Wildlife Clinic is currently accepting patients for rehabilitation, but is unable to accept walk-in patient admissions. If you have found an injured or orphaned animal in need of assistance, please call our 24-hour wildlife hotline at 215-482-7300 x option 2. Please do not bring a wild animal to the clinic without first speaking with us by phone. 

Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday — 9am-6pm
Saturday, Sunday — 10am-4pm

We are still not offering person-to-person programming yet as well– check out our robust schedule of virtual programs. 

But we look forward to welcoming you back into our front door.

Our Staff Pandemic Stories

Over the past five months, most of the Schuylkill Center staff has been working at home. For us, being indoors is anathema to the spirit of our mission of connecting people with nature. But, we have pressed on with our Zoom meetings and online teaching while continuing to learn how to share our passion for the environment with our students, members and the public via a virtual platform. Here are three vignettes of how our staff is facing the Coronavirus head-on.

Teacher Ann with feathered friends Louis and Serena

Ann Ward, Kindergarten Lead Teacher
When the virus hit, Ann, together with her co-teachers, embraced the new digital format and delivered Nature Preschool to her virtual classroom, the Mighty Oaks.

While she missed the in-person morning meetings, she noted, “the fun thing about the virtual meetings was that our students were bringing guests with them like pets, siblings, and the occasional parent.” She smiles, “the children could share their environment with us through their computer or Ipad and there became this sense of normalcy in the midst of all this uncertainty.”

Towards the end of the school year, Ann decided that having each student raise their own silkworm at home would lend itself to emergent learning, an approach that relies on the children’s interests and the circumstances of the day to dictate the learning content. ‘Project silkworm’ became a chance for children to have hands-on observations of the lifecycle of their silkworms; they could then share their observations with each other online. While the school year is over, the silkworms continue their metamorphosis of spinning their cocoons which will molt into a moth.

Naomi and Aaliyah Green Ross

Aaliyah Green Ross, Director of Education

Aaliyah was managing her work/family balance until her spouse suspected he had contracted the Coronavirus in April. Despite his test coming back negative, “he had all the symptoms and was sick for five weeks,” she says.  “That meant that he couldn’t help take care of our two kids.”  This was especially time-consuming with her daughter, Naomi, who was attending 2nd grade virtually. 

While Aaliyah appreciated the work and dedication of Naomi’s teachers, she still had an incredible amount of responsibility as a parent.  “I had to copy down all Naomi’s assignments, print them, photograph them then upload them to submit.  I felt like I had two full-time jobs.”  Fortunately, her husband has recovered from the virus and Naomi is enjoying the warm weather and sharing in the joy of the outdoors with her mom. 

Chris and Sarah Strub

Chris Strub,  Assistant Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation

In mid-March, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic staff quickly assessed their situation and realized protocols were going to have to drastically change in order for them to safely care for the patients and each other.  

Even with a reduction in the intake of patients and an absence of volunteers, they faced an additional challenge when Chris’ spouse, Sarah, contracted the Coronavirus in mid-May.  This forced Chris to quarantine for 14 days and the Clinic temporarily closed due to limited staffing.  “While I never tested positive for the virus,” Chris says, “I didn’t come into the Clinic because I  didn’t want to infect my co-workers.”  Happily, Sarah recovered from the virus and the clinic reopened in mid-June.

Donna’s mom, Nicoletta, and her granddaughter, Lea, celebrate their “twin” birthdays on April 2.

Donna Struck, Director of Finance

Donna Struck has been juggling her work/life balance while caring for her mother who was moved into her assisted living  facility’s memory care unit in February. With three siblings in close proximity, each one would try to visit her mother regularly.  “Having that human contact really helps her,” Donna says. “But since March, they’ve curtailed all visitors, stopped all memory care activities and eliminated communal dining.”  For a person with dementia, removing these familiar routines compromises their mental health and Donna is concerned about her mom’s rapid decline.  Instead of visiting in person, “we see my mom through the window of her first floor apartment.  It’s kind of ridiculous watching us make our way to her window through these beautifully manicured flowers.”  As of this writing, scheduled outdoor visits have commenced and Donna and her siblings are starting to see signs of improvement – a huge relief.

Amy Whisenhunt, Assistant Director of Individual Giving

The impact of the virus hit close to Amy’s family.  Her aunt Margaret passed away from COVID-19 in April in Richmond, VA.  “My aunt was always very supportive of me,” Amy reminisced.   “I remember her sharing her love for animals.  That has definitely had a positive impact on me and the work I do at the Schuylkill Center.”

All of the Schuylkill Center staff is still navigating the challenges/opportunities the virus continues to have in our home and at our workplace.

By Amy Krauss, Director of Communications

Kindergarteners reboot their relationship with nature

“To Cattail Pond! To Cattail Pond!” several of the kindergarteners shout as they skip towards the Schuylkill Center’s serene, sunlit woodland opening at the edge of our forest, just a few quick steps outside our back door.  This is one of our most active sites on the property in the late winter and early spring when water is abundant and vegetation is emerging.

For our 5- and 6-year-old kindergarteners, it’s an ideal place to set the outdoor classroom scene. Given the overwhelming evidence of the many health benefits of learning outdoors, especially in the context of the current health crisis, the Schuylkill Center kindergarten is shifting to all outdoor classes.  This fall Ann Ward, a 30-year veteran in the field of early childhood education, will lead the class.

As a nature preschool, one that uses nature as the primary context for learning, research confirms that being outdoors improves physical, mental, and emotional health and development in children. 

Ann, and her co-teachers, embrace an emergent (child-led) curriculum rooted in the outdoors with the intent to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion while instilling a love for the environment.  A typical day includes child-led play in the understory of the woodlands or a hike along the banks of the ponds or streams that traverse our space here.  We bring materials with us on the trails including, writing paper, art tools, books, magnifying lenses and bug boxes, journals and  cameras; all with the intent to collect documentation of our day’s adventures. All of our “natural” learning is interwoven with the Pennsylvania kindergarten standards.

As Teacher Ann well knows, these “mindful adventure seekers are becoming lifelong stewards of the earth propelled by an innate curiosity.”  In this organic way, we enable these young minds the ability to build an intimate understanding of the natural world, one element at a time.  

Nature Preschool has honored the relationship between children and nature as the core of our mission since its founding.

According to Interim Director of Nature Preschool, Marilyn Tinari, “in both the preschool and kindergarten classes, the children are offered the gift of developing their emerging skills – in literacy, in learning, and socially and emotionally – through engagement with the natural environment on the grounds of the 340-acre Schuylkill Center.”  

Teacher Ann observes that “the majority of other schools have indoor programs where they need to take the student outdoors to learn or they take them on short field trips. What we’re doing here is essentially flipping that and our children will be spending all of their time outdoors this coming year.”  We incorporate all of the Pennsylvania standards into those activities so our children are growing physically and cognitively.

In terms of their sensory integration, playing and learning in nature is helping them develop fine and gross motor skills in a very organic way.  When they’re outside, children naturally encounter different types of surfaces as they’re hiking. At the Schuylkill Center, they navigate over logs, rocks and up and down hills; they adapt to changes in the environment, across different weather systems, and different seasonal experiences so their bodies are constantly engaged in vastly different ways.  

Our graduates of our state-licensed Kindergarten are raised to be stewards of the environment and how to find their place in it.  Ann observes, “they know how to engage with the outdoors without destruction, without conquest, without overpowering, and therefore their mark on the world is sustainable.” 

Our outdoor programming offers a rich and healthful alternative to traditional early childhood education, something that is essential now more than ever.

In the midst of natural and social crises, we have the opportunity to reboot and, reenvision our relationship with Nature and one another, starting with the education of our youngest citizens.

The Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool and Kindergarten will offer on-site programming outdoors for the 2020-2021 school year.  We will be following all required safety procedures as described in our COVID-19 plan (required by the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning, one of our regulatory agencies).  Masks will be required for children (over 2 years of age) and adults, cleaning and sanitizing, monitoring health (of children and staff)  and, as much as possible, social distancing.  Additionally, in order to reduce exposure, we will be working to create “pods,” small consistent groupings of 6 children with one teacher.

For more information about the Schuylkill Center’s Nature Preschool, contact Marilyn Tinari at marilyn@schuylkillcenter.org

Schuylkill Center’s latest response to COVID

While the Visitor Center remains closed during the week, we are open on Saturdays for the month of August.  Hikers and visitors to our trails will be able to use our facilities and visit our gift shop from 9-5 on Saturdays only.  The Visitor Center will remain closed weekdays

The gates to our main parking lot are now open 9-5. 

The Wildlife Clinic is currently accepting patients for rehabilitation, but is unable to accept walk-in patient admissions. If you have found an injured or orphaned animal in need of assistance, please call our 24-hour wildlife hotline at 215-482-7300 x option 2. Please do not bring a wild animal to the clinic without first speaking with us by phone.

The clinic is functioning with limited staff at this time. If we are unable to answer the phone immediately, leave a detailed voicemail and we will return your call as soon as possible. For non-urgent wildlife questions or concerns, please email wildlife@schuylkillcenter.org.

Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday — 9am-6pm
Saturday, Sunday — 10am-4pm

All on-site public programming is suspended until further notice.

If you want to get your nature groove on, check out our virtual offerings about nature and the environment from our YouTube channel.

Thursday Night Live: Free weekly online events/programs presented by Schuylkill Center staff with special guests

Ask a Naturalist: Get your nature groove on with an environmental educator recorded from FB Live every Monday at 5

Schuylkill Saturdays: Live video recorded each Saturday at 10:30 with one of our environmental educators.  Leave with an activity to continue your nature exploration at home.

Year of Action: Call-to-action videos to learn how you can help the environment

Backyard Biodiversity: Fun outdoor nature exploration right in your backyard

Nature Crafts: Make-it videos with natural materials

Our trails are open dawn to dusk, every day. Enjoying sunshine and fresh air will help get us through this unusual time, as nature alleviates stress and anxiety. Please practice appropriate physical distancing while on the trails and give those around you at least 6 feet of space—one full stretched turkey vulture, to be exact! As per the governor’s and CDC’s recommendations, please wear a mask when walking our trails.

We ask you to keep the nearby roads safe by parking appropriately in designated lots and take all of your trash and belongings with you when you leave. Please also keep your pets at home.

Thank you again for enjoying the Schuylkill Center.

Film Screening: The Story of Plastic

As if the pandemic, the economy, and racial justice were not enough to worry about, as if last week’s hot spell doesn’t remind us that climate change needs to be addressed too, the Schuylkill Center invites you to consider one more threat to your health and well-being: plastics.

On the cusp of the pandemic, Philadelphia was about to ban plastic bags in the city– something many neighboring municipalities have already done, as the rising tide of single-use plastics has come under increasing scrutiny. But plastic bags are just, pardon the pun, the tip of the plastic straw.

For our planet is drowning in plastic waste. Literally. A report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that “there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if drastic measures are not taken to move away from our disposable plastic culture.” Today, the world consumes an estimated five trillion plastic bags per year, with only about 1% being recycled. We have produced more plastic bags in the last decade than we did in the previous century.

And don’t get me started about single use plastic water bottles. 

Worse, studies confirm that people are ingesting thousands of microplastic particles year after year, in our food and in our water– yes, microplastics flow through our drinking water– and that human blood carries with it some of the most persistent and toxic chemicals associated with plastic. What all this is doing to our health and well-being is a rising concern. 

To address the issue, a new documentary, “The Story of Plastic,” has been released, and the Schuylkill Center is offering free virtual screenings. When you go to our website at www.schuylkillcenter.org and register for the event, you will receive the link to the screening– which you watch privately whenever you’d like.

On Thursday, July 30, join me at 7 p.m. for a live Zoom conversation about the movie and the issue.

The film takes a sweeping look at the crisis of plastic pollution and its effect on both people and planet. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, mountains  of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. With engaging original animation, archival footage beginning in the ‘30s, and first-person accounts, the film shines a bright light on this increasingly important issue.

Many people– including concerned Schuylkill Center staff and members– have already been reducing the amount of single-use plastics we consume, forgoing water bottles, sandwich bags, produce bags and those ubiquitous shopping bags for permanent products. Water bottles are easy, but weaning yourself off shopping bags can be quite the challenge. And there is much more to do.

The plastics industry has long promoted the idea that recycling is the best way to keep plastic out of the landfill, but more than 90% of all the plastic ever produced has not been recycled. Plastic is far more likely to end up in landfills, incinerators, or in the environment than to be recycled, and recycling systems cannot keep up with the huge volume of plastic waste being generated. Plastic recycling is always complicated– you need to first unlock the secret code on the bottom of your yogurt container and then remember which numbered plastic your municipality takes.

Consequently, much of the plastic we ship to recycling facilities– usually in China– are hopelessly contaminated with the wrong plastics. And too much of our plastic is “downcycled” anyway, turned into products like plastic lumber, which itself is not recyclable; neither is that down jacket made from spun plastic bottles. While that one more use is better, it is not classic recycling, where an aluminum can becomes an aluminum can becomes an aluminum can…

While soda and water bottles, milk jugs, and laundry detergent containers are commonly recycled, recycling rates are still shockingly low: half of the PET sold (PET is the plastic in bottles) is never collected for recycling, and only 7% of those bottles collected for recycling are turned into new bottles. 

This has an impact on nature, of course, in addition to the infamous photos of animals like seals and turtles with six-pack rings choking their necks. Earlier this year, a sperm whale washed ashore in Spain, having died from ingesting 64 pounds of plastic debris. Carcasses of sea birds on remote islands have been found– decomposed– with a pile of plastic where their guts would have been; they pick bright floating objects off the ocean surface, which are not jellyfish or dead fish, but are plastics, and die as a result.

The rising tide of plastics is not the happiest story, of course, but it is  an important one, perhaps even a necessary one, as that microplastic floating in your gut and those plastic chemicals in your blood present yet-unknown consequences. Join the conversation; go to our website. See you Thursday on Zoom.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Three Musketeers Walking our Trails

If you’re out on our trails early on a weekday morning, most likely you’ll happen upon an energetic trio enjoying the sights and sounds of our 340 acre forest.  Dr. Evamarie Malsch, Dr. Louise Lisi and Gail Harp are our neighbors from Cathedral Village, the continuing care community around the corner.  As frequent visitors, they have come to know our trails intimately.  “We’re really lucky to have the Schuylkill Center so closeby,” Evamarie comments, “and we’ve been going there at least twice a week to hike since the start of the pandemic.”

Three “masked” Musketeers walking our trails.

Evamarie took up hiking soon after she retired and was fortunate to meet Gail and Louise, avid hikers who also reside at Cathedral Village; together they are affectionately referred to as the Three Musketeers in their community.  Evamarie is delighted to explore the far reaches of the Schuylkill Center because every time she goes out, she finds something new in bloom.  “We have been having such fun learning about animals and ephemerals.”   

One creature that recently caught their attention was a red eft, a stage in the left cycle of the Eastern newt salamander.  The hikers disagreed about whether the bright red coloring was poisonous, but they eventually confirmed that, indeed, this was the most toxic stage of the eastern newt and a clear warning to predators.   

Red eft salamander

Louise muses, “because the Schuylkill Center landscape changes so rapidly, our hikes never feel the same.”  Her favorite spot on the property is Smith Run. “I feel like I’m in some far away country when I’m listening to the stream while enjoying the trees and foliage.”  Now that restrictions have somewhat eased, she has extended her love of the Schuylkill Center to her grandchildren and even made up a scavenger hunt for their introductory trip.  Gail remembers the pear trees in bloom.  “You see these beautiful flowering trees and yet they’re only flowering for a short time.” 

Evamarie has been a loyal member of the Schuylkill Center for five years and shares why she supports it.

“I get so much pleasure from going there so I choose to give to a place that aligns with my values of educating people about nature.” 

She also appreciates the fact even though it’s “in the city limits, it feels like I’m in the wild.  Here, everything is natural which is calming and peaceful.”  

We invite you to explore our trails this summer.  We’re open dawn to dusk every day and studies show that being in nature helps relieve anxiety and stress.  Who knows? Perhaps you may run into our Cathedral Village friends.  Ask them a question, they may very well know the answer given their time spent at the Schuylkill Center.

If you’re enjoying our trails, please consider helping us to maintain them by becoming a member for as little as $50/year.

By Amy Krauss, Director of Communications/Digital Strategy

Foraged Flavor: Eat Your Weeds!

Visit almost any open space in Roxborough or Manayunk, and you’ll find a surprising cornucopia of wonderful taste sensations: dandelions and daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace and curly dock. That’s right, these are all weeds that simply taste great, and are free for the taking.

Wild plant forager Tama Matsuoka Wong has written a gorgeous cookbook, Foraged Flavor, featuring 88 recipes for the plants named above, and more. Recipes like chocolate-dipped wild spearmint leaves. Sumac and fig tart. Chilled mango soup with sweet spruce tips. Wild mustard greens and chorizo wild rice. Sound yummy? You bet.

Tama, a New Jersey resident and old friend of the Schuylkill Center, will take center stage in our next Thursday Night Live! series, set for July 9 at 7:00 p.m. The evening is free and takes place on Zoom; you can register on our website.

Many high-end restaurants offer foraged food sensations on their menu

And foraging is catching on big these days.  Tama supplies foraged plants to many, like Daniel in New York City, the acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant whose chef de cuisine, Eddy Leroux, co-wrote the book with Tama. I walked into Whole Foods recently, and cracked up when I saw dandelion leaves on sale for a surprising high price. Dandelions? For sale? Really?

But dandelions are edible in so many ways, and were actually brought to the New World from European settlers wishing to bring greens with them. You can find green dandelion leaves deep into December, and find them again as early as February. Rich in vitamins, these greens saved many winter-starved colonial settlers. In fact, its long scientific name translates roughly as “the official cure for everything.” Those settlers planted it outside the kitchen door, where the plant of course escaped, and is now the bane of most suburban lawn owners and the featured pest in too many lawn chemical commercials.

Not only are its leaves edible. The sauteed buds are really tasty, the taproot can be roasted for coffee, and its flowers have been turned into wine. Tama of course kicks it up a notch or two: she creates a dandelion flower tempura with savory dipping sauce. Whoa.

What sets Tama’s book and philosophy apart from so many other similar books is that the previous ones would exhort you to boil the tough weedy leaves of many plants with like three changes of water, turning them into mush. Or fry them with bacon and butter– where everything tastes good, even cardboard.

Tama’s search is for wild plants that are not just edible, but taste great.

In her book, she recalls hauling garbage bags filled with stinging nettles– stinging nettles! The bane of so many hikers as when you rub up against it wearing shorts, your legs start burning right away!– onto a NYC subway from her Jersey home, toting them to Restaurant Daniel where “Eddy immediately pounded on the nettles, turning them into a foam to partner with a hazelnut-encrusted scallop dish.”

Tama even eats devil’s walking stick, one of the most hated plants at the Schuylkill Center (we don’t hate many plants, not even poison ivy, but devil’s walking stick is hard on us). Not native to the America’s, this invasive fast-growing shrub sprouts long skinny trunks loaded with thorns, lending the plant its name. Heck, even its giant leaves are covered in thorns– if Klingons had vegetables, this would be them. But it crowds out native plants, and grows like a monoculture of one plant, which Tama notes are “clonal stands.”

In its native Japan, where it is better known as the angelica tree (Aralia elata), its buds are treasured as a delicacy called tara no me. So Tama forages for the buds, picking them at the exact right time of year, turning them into such treasures as tempura-fried Aralia buds and just-poached Aralia with mustard vinaigrette.

Intrigued? We’d love to introduce you to the charismatic Tama, one of the most dynamic people you’ll ever meet– just spending an hour with her is upbeat balm for the pandemic soul. Go to our website, look for the link, and join us on Thursday evening. When our gift shop reopens, which we pray is soon, Foraged Flavor is for sale; of course, you can purchase it online.

After the event, you’ll never buy dandelions at Whole Foods again. You’ll forage for them along Germany Hill and the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Reserve Park. And you’ll stop spraying your weeds– you’ll harvest them instead.

The Schuylkill Center’s Thursday Night Live! series includes additional events into the summer. Coming topics include the surprising lives of moths, climate change in Philadelphia, and the Green New Deal.

Love to have you join us.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Help us Restore our Damaged Pine Grove

P3 - Pine Grove_2Pine Grove is easily one of our most beloved features, kids climbing in its many branches, parents inhaling the calming scent, everyone grateful for its cooling shade. But the grove was devastated in early June from a derecho– a supercell thunderstorm– that slammed into the region, knocking down trees and branches everywhere, causing massive power outages, and killing several people. 

The storm sliced through Pine Grove like a knife cutting butter, a straight-line of trunks tumbling to the ground, more than 20 trunks snapping off and piled unceremoniously on the ground– and each other.

We closed our trails for a week to wrestle with downed trees and dangerous branches overhanging our trails. While our trails are now reopened, Pine Grove remains closed even now– our staff needs to pull down lots of hanging branches before we allow you back in.

Which is where you come in. We are starting a fund to restore the grove, as we need to both remove branches and trunks while planting new trees in the canopy gaps now present there. Please go online to donate to the grove’s restoration; please help us bring back this unique feature of our campus.

About that storm: a derecho is a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms, often thunderstorms, that moves a great distance. This one rolled 250 miles to the Jersey shore, where a gust was clocked at 92 mph, hurricane force. From the Spanish for “straight ahead,” derechos are associated with warm weather– they need heat energy for fuel. While no one storm event can be pinned on climate change, a warming climate increases the chances for large storm events. What we saw that day was weird, excessive, and points to large amounts of heat in the atmosphere in only early June. For me, that derecho was spawned by climate change, a stark reminder that, with power outages, people killed, and houses, cars, and trees damaged, the price tag for ignoring the climate crisis is steep, and rising. We will continue this conversation in our programming, of course.

And I hope you will join me in donating to the Pine Grove Fund.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director