Kate Farquhar’s Synestates: Art, Nature, and Humans

by Communications Intern Charlotte Roach 
20180706_175519
As you wander the trails of the Schuylkill Center, you may notice some objects that look a little out-of-place. What are those chains doing hanging from those tree branches? What are those white geometric shapes on the surface of Wind Dance Pond? Those objects are art installations, part of our LandLab environmental art residency, created by resident artist Kate Farquhar. Kate is a Philadelphia-based environmental artist and landscape architect with a passion for green design. Her series is called Synestates, and its purpose it to explore how human-made building materials can interact with nature.

pvines, located on Pine Grove Loop, is the first of two works Kate has installed so far. The piece is made out of steel chains, intertwined with capillary fabric and sunbursts of plastic straws, draped over the branches of an Amur cork tree. The purpose of pvines is to encourage a native vine, Virginia creeper, to climb up the chains. Capillary fabric has the special property of being able to wick water upwards against gravity. Thus, the fabric provides the vines with a source of water. 

20180706_175451

In landscape design, rain chains are often used as alternatives to downspouts. Capillary fabric can be used in the building of a plant-covered green wall, which can help insulate a building. Green walls and rain chains are functional, decorative, and artistic, and Kate has brought these materials unexpectedly into nature to help create new habitat. The plastic straws in pvines are arranged in an aesthetically appealing way, and have even become homes for various types of insects like spiders and earwigs. 

The second of Kate’s installations is called dolmbale, located on Wind Dance Pond. It is comprised of dense white foam cut into geometric cubes and pyramids. These shapes parallel the molecular structure of nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt. These three substances cause some of the most significant water pollution issues that Pennsylvania faces. An excess of nutrients in the water causes a huge spike in growth for bacteria and algae in a phenomenon known as an algal bloom. The bacteria and algae consume a lot of oxygen, leading to the water becoming depleted of oxygen for other organisms to use. This is known as hypoxia, and it’s lethal for aquatic life. dolmbale’s goal is to raise awareness of nutrient pollution in waterways. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and salt molecules are far, far too tiny to see, but their effects are massive, and clearly visible to the naked eye. Kate’s work imagines if we could see nutrient molecules themselves in a size that’s proportionate to their impact: huge. 

690A7677

To accompany the Styrofoam shapes, Kate collected water quality data on Smith Run (one of two streams on the Schuylkill Center property) as part of a larger citizen science initiative to gather information about water pollution in Pennsylvania. Under smaller versions of her floating cubes, Kate installed leaf packs, which gathered a community of aquatic macroinvertebrates over time. (Aquatic macroinvertebrates = little critters living in the water that you can see unaided, without a microscope). Then, Kate observed, counted, and identified the organisms she caught in the leaf packs. The basis of the method is that some little bugs are more pollution-tolerant than others. For example, leeches can handle just about anything. You may find leeches in filthy, heavily-polluted water, but also in clean water, so the presence of leeches doesn’t definitively indicate clean or dirty water. On the other side of the spectrum, mayflies are delicate little guys, and they need pure, clean water to survive. If you find mayfly larvae in your water, that’s a sure sign the water is relatively free of pollutants. This method is practically universal and can be used to compare pollution levels across regions. It’s not precise, but it’s far more accessible to citizen scientists than expensive machinery. All you need is a body of water, a net, and a key to identify critters. 

The data Kate gathered at the Schuylkill Center can be seen here if you zoom into Philadelphia on the interactive map: https://leafpacknetwork.org/data/ Happily, Smith Run received Good or Excellent scores at all three of her sample sites. Check out Stroud Water Research Center’s Leaf Pack Network to learn more about how you can set up your own leaf pack experiment.

Kate’s third Synestates piece, called urlog, will be installed in late summer 2019. urlog will be “a heap of undead wood manipulated to host new seedlings and native pollinators side-by-side”, in Kate’s words. Look forward to seeing urlog in a few weeks, and in the meantime, come observe pvines on Pine Grove Loop and dolmbale on Wind Dance Pond! Ponder the significance of humans and our by-products in the natural world as you enjoy lovely art and scenery. Also, check out this post for some concept art and behind-the-scenes of Synestates as well as some of Kate’s past work, including a spectacular green roof for Urban Outfitters’ Philly HQ! 

Reflecting on Remembering Water’s Way: Artist Guest post

By Cassie Meador, Choreographer/Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange

Editor’s note: The LandLab resident artists of 2017-2018 (including this Dance Exchange project along with Kate Farquhar and Jan Mun) will be featured in a gallery exhibition at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, opening with a reception on January 10, 2019. More information at: https://www.cfeva.org/events/cfeva-exhibitions/landlab2019

DSC_0225-925x614

Over this past year, I have been working with the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency program to address an environmental challenge through dancemaking and community participation.

On our first research walk at the center, I noticed several large bundles of sticks being used to slow waters movement across the land and to collect debris that might otherwise end up in the Schuylkill River. We learned that these curious bundles are called fascines. I was struck by the fact that each stick individually does very little on its own; it is the aggregate of them that holds the strength and ability to slow and divert the powerful force of water.

new-e1543517488234DSC_0231-e1544466657213

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of the walking and performance tours we shared at the Schuylkill Center, we built a loom with designer Zeke Leonard to create large weavings of sticks and native plants. These were then rolled, bundled, and carried on our shoulders as audiences followed us in and through the woods. We placed the fascines in areas impacted by increased storm occurrences due to the warming climate; they will help slow the water that is cutting through and eroding the land.

DSC_0234-925x614The fascine has been useful to consider as we reflect on the times we live in, and our response to a changing planet. We know that strength can be found in the the ways we come together, that this will require us to slow down at times, and that our collective action can move us in directions that offer resilience and strength to each other and our communities.

As you view the fascines in the CFEVA gallery or on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds (along the Fox Glen Trail), we invite you to reflect on a moment in your own experience when the coming together of many has offered the resilience and strength to move in new directions.  

"Dance Exchange  has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It's a powerful combination". --Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

“Dance Exchange has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It’s a powerful combination”. –Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

Remembering Water’s Way was the culmination of a year of research and art making with Dance Exchange and communities connected to the Schuylkill Center as part of the LandLab residency.  The artists led a series of animated hikes on our trails that connect participants to local ecology and reflect on the ways that water shapes our lives. These hour-long experiences wove together performance, installation, science engagements, and other opportunities, surfacing concerns and questions about the Schuylkill River and local waterways, and contributing to our understandings about the impacts of climate change on the region. The project was led by choreographer Cassie Meador in collaboration with Christina Catanese, Elizabeth Johnson, Zeke Leonard, Marcie Mamura, Sarah Marks Mininsohn, Talia Mason, Jamē McCray, and Kelly Mitchell. Watch a video documenting the project here.

About the author: Cassie Meador is a choreographer, performer, educator, writer and Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange. Her works have tackled numerous social and environmental issues, like How To Lose a Mountain, which reflects on a 500-mile walk Meador took from Washington, DC to a mountaintop removal mining site in West Virginia to trace the impacts of the energy that fuel her home. Meador’s Moving Field Guides, an interactive outdoor experience led by artists, naturalists and regional experts in ecology, is being implemented nationwide in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. Meador has taught and created dances in communities throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, England, Ireland, and Guyana. She has worked with the Girl Scouts to enhance environmental curricula through the arts. Her work with Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment has influenced educators and students to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education.

Moving Field Guides: Learning through Dance at Naturepalooza

“The Moving Field Guide  relies on discovery and observation, which are important skills across all disciplines. It allows nearly all age groups to participate, it promotes critical thinking, it encourages participants to engage their environment, and allows for creative expression.” Jessie L Scott III, Boston Urban Connections Coordinator, USDA Forest Service

 

Blog image6Blog image3

 

Cassie Meador is thrilled to be returning to Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education as part of Naturepalooza, the Center’s Family Earth Day Celebration. As part the festivities, families will get outdoors to learn about local ecology and the ways in which water shapes our lives through a series of movement activities in Cassie Meador’s Moving Field Guide program. Cassie will partner with the Schuylkill Center’s very own environmental educator Eduardo Duenas on two Moving Field Guides during the celebrationat 11am and 12:30 pm. Join them on these interactive nature walk to learn, move, and make new connections to the outdoors and each other through dance.

Cassie, Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange, and a creative team from Dance Exchange will return to the Schuylkill Center this June as part of the LandLab artist residency program. The residency will culminate in September 2018 with an invitation to families and other local folks in the region to join in the creation of a performance and an environmental art installation, reflecting on the ways water shapes, moves, and sustains our lives.

Through the LandLab residency, Cassie Meador will collaborate with Jame McCray, an interdisciplinary ecologist, and Zeke Leonard, an artist who mobilizes community-based sustainability efforts through interactive musical objects and installations. The creative team will use interdisciplinary artmaking approaches to move people from a place of observation to participation to active stewardship.

 

Image credits: Jori Ketton and Schuylkill Center LandLab collection.

Blog image 4

DANCE EXCHANGE

Founded in 1976 by Liz Lerman and under the artistic direction of Cassie Meador since 2011, Dance Exchange is a non-profit dance organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland. Dance Exchange’s innovative local, national, and international performance projects engage communities and partners across a wide range of disciplines. Dance Exchange ignites inquiry, inspires change, and connects people of all ages more deeply to the questions at the heart of our lives through dancemaking and creative practices by collaborating across generations, disciplines and communities to channel the power of performance as a means for dialogue, a source of critical reflection, and a creative engine for thought and action.Blog image 5

LANDLAB

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that operates on multiple platforms: artistic creation, ecological restoration and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space on our 340-acre wooded property for visual artists to engage audiences in the processes of ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation.

 

Dance Exchange (2) (2)

LandLab: Introducing our artists in residence

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Even though I haven’t myself had a first day of school for a few years, in the fall, I still get a back-to-school-esque twinge of anticipation.  In this season, you can feel something new coming in the air – something to be learned, something to gear up for – and I find it to be the most exciting time of year. This year, one of the most exciting new things for the environmental art program is the beginning of the second offering of our LandLab residency at the Schuylkill Center.

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that integrates artistic creation, ecological restoration, and education.  A joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab offers resources and space here at the Schuylkill Center, on our 340-acres of woods and meadows for visual artists to engage audiences in ecological stewardship through scientific investigation and artistic creation. LandLab residencies will create innovative installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage while raising public awareness about local ecology. It’s a way that we bring different parts of our mission work together – artists working with people to engage with our land in a meaningful and restorative way. Continue reading

WE THE WEEDS LandLab sculpture

Weaving Good and Bad

IMG_1982-925x1387By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & PR Intern

When you think of weeds, you probably think of unwanted, unsightly plants invading and stealing vital nutrients from your lawn or garden. While this may be true for some species, further thought about weeds brings up interesting questions. What is it about a plant that categorizes it as being invasive, and could these pesky plants be of any benefit?

Artists Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya S. Levy explored ideas such as this at the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency, an environmental art residency program that integrates art, ecological restoration, and public engagement in conjunction with a joint project with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA).

DSC_0650-925x612
Pomerantz, an artist, and Levy, a botanist, work together in their botanical arts initiative WE THE WEEDS, which aims to expand knowledge of wild plants in Philadelphia. Their installation at the Schuylkill Center, titled Interwoven, is a sculpture made from invasive vines that explores the interwoven histories of humans and plants, and their mutual global migrations.

The duo began this project by investigating the flora on Schuylkill Center property. Botanical surveys in the spring and early summer resulted in a list of common plants, including natives like the Mayapple and Black Cohosh, and non-natives like Wineberry and Oriental Bittersweet.

Observation of these plants provided an interesting historical snapshot. While the re-establishment of many native species spoke of a renewed interest in being responsible stewards of the land, the presence the invasive species told of habitat fragmentation, pollution, and the material desires of humankind.

While they learned a lot during their exploration, more questions were raised. How long had the plants been there? Where did they come from? How and with whom did they travel? What ecological roles do they play on this land, and what did the flora of the property look like in other times?

Interwoven was originally woven on two large hand-built looms, using dead, invasive vines harvested from the Schuylkill Center to create the base. During the growing season, the piece is overwhelmed and covered by newly growing invasive vines, constantly changing in appearance depending on the time of year, weather, and hardiness of live, invasive vines in the surrounding area. Interwoven provided a function of removing some invasive material at the Schuylkill Center, and also served as a platform to involve visitors with hands on experiences, opening up dialogue and raising questions in the debate over invasive plants.

In conjunction with this installation, a number of coordinating programs were created, including a vine identification and harvesting workshop, facilitated weaving sessions, summer camp and afterschool programs, and even a botanical cocktail hour. Visitors at the Schuylkill Center were also welcomed to participate in the weaving of Interwoven at stations along the trails. Continue reading

GirlMS

How to Be Like the Glaciers Melting

Guest contributor Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

A few years ago I sat at my computer reading the latest on the demise of the glaciers in the Arctic. I was angry with the polluting corporations, fed up with the greed of the oil industry, disgusted by people’s consumption, and alienated by a government ruled by lobbyists. I felt frozen, as if calamity had already happened; some days I was even bleak about the future. My home thermostat was set to 69, two of my computers were on, I was surrounded by electronic parts for a project and I was getting ready to drive to Whole Foods in a Honda Element wearing a puffy NorthFace jacket picturing a tall Chai Latte. Feel free to laugh, as I’m certainly laughing now as I write this. How long did it take me to figure out that I was the problem?

RavineA2

Luckily for me a a few years ago I also discovered the Schuylkill Center’s LandLab program and started an investigation of a gully that had formed from stormwater runoff on the southeastern side of the Center’s property near Port Royal Ave. This water finds its way down to Wind Dance Pond, where it eventually overflows into the stream. With the help of Stroud Water Research Center I was able to develop a monitoring system to measure the changing depths of the stream. While this was an interesting project, what is pertinent is the fact that I was forced to face climate change head on. Philly is getting hotter and wetter, and while the Center can’t stop mother nature’s waters it can encourage artists like me to communicate the problem and get involved.

ClimateDisrupted

After the project was over, the Center asked me to collaborate on two other art/education projects dealing with water issues, thanks to a grant from CUSP (Climate & Urban Systems Partnership). CUSP is working on preparing Philadelphia for the future issues brought by climate change and they work locally getting neighborhoods on board using friendly techniques. I decided to join their efforts and have become part of a team of organizations and individuals starting conversations, offering education and demonstrating mitigation techniques.Thanks to their workshops I’ve learned how to discuss this topic without scaring people, have discovered what other partner cities are doing to face the same issues and have attended lectures by experts in the field. I should mention that I don’t have a science background, but I do consider myself a citizen scientist. CUSP’s strength is its ability to bring all types of people together, and later in the year I worked with another member artist to create the first climate change art festival under their umbrella in Fishtown. It was exciting to create my own art on the topic of corn and weather, and fascinating to see how people expressed their climate concerns using mixed media, including spoken word and music. The Schuylkill Center’s fall 2016 exhibition on climate change was part of the same grant and has brought together even more artists and enabled more people to join the conversation.

PublicLab

As you can see, what started as a small project has snowballed, and I find myself looking for other ways to combine my interests to work on the problems of climate change. One of my strengths is working with electronics, so I recently joined Public Lab, a grassroots movement using DIY techniques to address environmental concerns. I attended their LeafFest gathering, which was a weekend camping trip where members demonstrated their latest environmental work including solar balloons, an Arduino modem style device and a trail cam. I learned about a project they are developing which uses a houseplant and aquarium pump to help reduce toxins in the air. They sent me home with those materials and soon I’ll be creating a tutorial for the project that can be shared around the world. It’s all part of the mission to offer open source methods to monitor and mitigate environmental issues.

So, having come from a state of being frozen like a glacier, I too am melting. There are many small changes that can help this planet,and I’m starting to make them part of my life. Nowadays I’m walking to the grocery store with my husband. It’s great exercise, less stressful and certainly kinder to the environment. I recently learned just how important it is to give feedback to our government officials about environmental matters. So, I’ve returned to my old ways of calling legislators and writing emails. Now I’m learning how to combine art and activism through free webinars from The Center for Artistic Activism. Someday I hope to engage other groups and artists in work that goes beyond education and actually encourages others to make changes.

PublicLabGroup

My story isn’t “yea, me” because there is probably a lot more I can do to serve this world. However, it is a huge thank you to the Schuylkill Center for helping me to realize that by working on one small problem I would gather the courage to do more. There is a reason for the Center’s commitment to the arts and it goes beyond appreciation for beauty; it’s another strategy for voice and change. We all have the ability to do more, whether it be to add water-loving plants to our yard, to make a roof reflective, to buy our food locally or to just have a conversation about the environment with our neighbor. Doing one small thing makes all the difference. What kind of strategy or skill can you offer to help Philadelphia prepare for the changes that are already beginning?

Native Pollinator Garden art installation changes over time

Art + Time at the Schuylkill Center: a 2017 wall calendar

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

One of the most important aspects of environmental art is leaving time for nature to respond to an art work.  Change is a constant in the natural world, and when artists venture outside the controlled setting of the studio or gallery, art must be responsive to change, time, and seasons.

Indeed, many environmental art works are not complete until nature has had time to respond and artists have had time to understand and reconcile change in the work.  Stacy Levy’s Rain Yard needs rain to fall for the collaboration with water to happen; Jake Beckman’s Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise needs fungus and other soil organisms to grow, and the piece won’t truly be complete until it becomes soil, many years from now.

Many environmental art works are invitations to nature, which nature will respond to in its own time.  WE THE WEEDS, for instance, installed their woven tapestry of invasive vines in a vine-filled meadow, hoping that the living vines would contribute to the artwork by growing and weaving themselves onto and into the work, that the vines heartily accepted this invitation.

Environmental art can itself even become a calendar of sorts, revealing the change in seasons and cycles. I know spring has sprung when the columbine sprouts in our Native Pollinator Garden, and that fall has arrived when the asters bloom in Welcome Home.

We present environmental art on various timescales – some is temporary, disappearing from our forests after a just few weeks’ time, while other works are with us indefinitely.

So, this year we decided to put together a 2017 wall calendar, celebrating cutting edge, contemporary environmental art in our fields and forests. Founded in 2000 as an opportunity for artists and audiences to explore and interpret the natural world and current ecological issues, our program has brought 277 artists to our site. This calendar highlights works here from across 17 years; three of the works are still with us today, continuing to evolve with our site and with time.

We hope this calendar is more than a time marking tool, but something that activates your imagination throughout this year, perhaps inspiring you to notice time and change in your own environment.

So, take a look, support our art program, and order your 2017 calendar today!

Image 3 Late June 2015 (1)

Time + Art, Part 2: As an Anniversary Approaches

By Catalina Lassen, Art + PR Intern

As spring bounds in again, another year has come and gone, and almost a year has passed since our LandLab artists in residence installed a variety of exciting environmentally minded artworks last April. This cycle of a year signifies not only an anniversary, but is also a reminder of the changes that have occurred during the time in-between. As far as the art of LandLab goes, the works have been activated by nature, shifting as the seasons do. Back in November we took a look at the progress of one of these installations, but it’s now time to turn our attention to Interwoven, a project created by artist-botanist duo WE THE WEEDS. Woven from invasive vines, this installation is an exploration of invasive plants, examining the history, perception, and impact of such species on local environments, while working to remove and recycle this flora. As the year has passed, there has been exciting movement among Interwoven, as the natural cycles of the earth activate the framework of this large sculptural work.

(Before Photographs): If you’re interested in more discussion of this project, or of the ecological and cultural roles of native and non-native plants, please join us on April 14th for a Botanical Cocktail Hour with artist Zya S. Levy.

 

5.Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 10.25.44 PM.W

It’s not about the bees, it’s about the we

By Marguerita Hagan 2014 – 2015 LandLab Resident Artist, for the Native Pollinator Garden Residency with Maggie Mills and Ben Mills

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

“In the village, a sage should go about like a bee, which, not harming flower, color scent, flies off with the nectar.”  – Anonymous, Dhammapada

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

One year has circled around completing our complex LandLab residency.  We launched out of the gate enthusiastically to address Colony Collapse Disorder, the devastating loss of 1/3 of our honey bees with the Native Pollinator Garden.  Our discoveries informed our process while simultaneously bringing to light simple truths, more questions, our collective opportunity, and the gravity of our choices.

Thank you to our guide, the Bee and to you for following our journey.

3.2015-06-18 17.53.24.W

“We stand now where two roads diverge.  But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair.  The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster.  The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

What’s Essential?

Monoculture, tilling, GMOs/genetically modified organisms and chemical methods are standard conventional farming practices in the U.S. today and the belief is that chemicals are essential to growing food.  The conventional systems often means that farmers need to buy and use only modified seeds, rather than saving seeds from their crops – in fact, farmers growing GMO seeds are legally prohibited from saving and planting any seeds from those plants.  With the prevalence of GMO seeds, many wild plants are being pushed out of even the narrow margins alongside fields.  Healthy forage is essential to bees, all pollinators, and to us.

Bee gathering pollen.

Bee gathering pollen.

Finding Our Way Home

When bees and other pollinators come into contact with chemically treated flowering plants, their finely tuned nervous system and brain suffers dramatically.  The chemicals destroy the bees’ GPS system, a lethal move for a bee who cannot survive outside the hive over 24 hours.  This is just one piece of the complex issue.

Honeybees are something of an ambassador for other pollinators and their environment as they are the ones most intrinsically linked to humans through pollination of essential crops and wild plants.  For the bees, their life mission is mutual benefit for the hive community.

This puts them in a powerful position to get our much-needed attention.  And people are taking notice of the plight of the bees; and it’s about time since bees provide every 3rd bite we take.  Farming that is dependent on honeybee pollination sees bees as a source of profit or loss, rather than a living part of the ecosystem.  For example, almonds, California’s largest export are 100% pollinated by honeybees.  Without bees to naturally pollinate crops to meet industry demands, a new tier of stress has been put into motion.  To meet that demand, 90% of the bees in the U.S. are used as pollinating migrant workers, trucked from crop to crop around the country.  Consider the fuel and costs required to keep this unhealthy cycle rolling.

Homesick

One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

Genetic seed modifying began in the U.S. in the early sixties, over 50 years ago.  Since then it’s grown exponentially.  Today, it is often considered one of the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Our tiny eco ambassadors seem to be the Ghost of Christmas Future shaking us to wake up.  The resilient honeybee has thrived for over 40 million years, until now.

The widespread collapse presents a clear message.  In the long run, how will it affect us?  We have Rachel Carson to thank for her decades of perseverance in making DDT illegal.  The insecticide sprayed openly from trucks through neighborhoods with children playing in the fumigated fog was originally developed for chemical warfare in WWII.

As Rachel Carson put it, “How could intelligent beings seek to control few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Positive Shifts under our Feet

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Good News!

We are in an Agrarian Renaissance and holistic practices are on the rise with no till, chemical-free, and organic farming.  These principles are alive in our own practices.  Innovative farmers have stepped off the chemical wagon of conventional practices to weather the transition and investment in sustainable farming.  I’ve recently come across a few examples to share:

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlsen is an exciting work sharing the journey of those listening and responding to our environment successfully.  It is a thrilling return.  Organic farmers working this way for decades are producing even during drought.  Their reciprocal-minded process is enriching crops with carbon rich soil.

The Farm to Table concept is being delivered to more tables both at home and commercially.  My LandLab teammates Ben and Maggie Mills have a year-round organic chemical-free garden- yes, even foraging in winter.  As a master craftsman, one aspect of Ben Mills’ practice includes custom built chemical free raised beds.

Gotham Greens in Brooklyn is the world’s largest urban farm and expanding.  Produce is harvested and served in restaurants within a few hours.  Nell Thorn Restaurant in La Conner, WA has held the torch for years and is joined by sprouting conscious restauranteurs.  The present Hand-Crafted Movement is in step with its Agrarian Partner utilizing a material from earth to fire to table: CLAY.  It is my main means for sculpture and my line of Farm to Tableware.  Chefs classically have sous chefs and now some have personal ceramicists creating works for their original cuisine.

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) - planting & watering seeds

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) – planting & watering seeds

Forward Movement

Our immediate focus on the bees grew with the Native Pollinator Garden.  The problem is complex but solutions are often simple and best ones start at home.  The honeybee showed us it is not about the bees – it’s about the we.  We are a part of the bee’s lives and they are a part of ours.

The mini messengers that brought us to this residency speak loud and clear: We are in this together.

Our Native Pollinator Garden provided forage and food for thought- starting with healthy seeds, native plants, and organic soil in chemical-free Douglas fir raised beds.  As we wrap up our residency, we ceremoniously handed off the watering can to the Schuylkill Center.  Like ongoing adventures, it’s a beginning. As the Native Pollinator Garden embarks on a new season, we leave you with an invitation to pollinate awareness.

 

Thank you!

Marguerita Hagan

For the Native Pollinator Garden:

Maggie Mills, Ben Mills, and Marguerita Hagan

CanalSense

#StormSnakes – The Experiment Continues

By Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

My LandLab project started with the idea of examining water quality and morphed into understanding and mitigating stormwater run-off, the primary water quality concern facing the Schuylkill Center’s streams. It’s been interesting to see the changes along the way, much like a meandering stream. There’s been discovery in understanding how storms are affecting the land at the Center, brainstorming around ideas to deter the run-off, and definitely a period of inventing. Last we left off, I had been in discussion with Steve at Stroud Water Research Center about the sensors for my stream monitor. I learned that Steve was going to pay a visit to a canal community in Delaware for a monitor installation, and knowing it would involve boats, I was all in!

BoatCanal

This community was going to experiment with oyster colonies to reduce the amount of algae in the water. As you can imagine, algae can build up and make it difficult for boats, so they were looking for a solution. They would need to test the water before and during the experiment in order to see if the oysters were successful. So, monitoring devices that could detect oxygen levels would be just the thing. Of course, the monitors would have to be installed in canals which were filled with saltwater–unlike the freshwater at our Center. It was interesting to see how the monitors were placed using a pole driver, which caused a bit of clanging. One family was particularly curious about the project, so I actually went ashore to explain it to them. They were so amazed and happy to hear about this possible sustainable solution for their community. All was going well with the monitors until we started testing. We got a negative read on conductivity–what??. Apparently the briny water caused a different affect on the sensor and had to be accounted for in the programming. It was a great lesson in coding, and Steve was able to tweak it to get the correct reading.

CanalSense

Back home, it was time to make some decisions on parts for my monitor. Steve knew I needed a water depth sensor to measure the amount of stormwater coming in, as well as something to do temperature and conductivity.  For water depth, a specific ultrasonic sensor did well upon testing at Stroud, so Steve was excited about using it. Also, a new combination sensor for temperature and conductivity had come to market, and based on past sensors from the company, there was a sense that it would work well for my application. So, surrounded by some fun parts, I got started soldering.

Solder

I started with the main boards that would be used for the monitoring device. Since one little mistake in solder can cause a short circuit, I had Steve inspect each connection. Two opinions are better than one–especially late at night! Later I worked on soldering the parts for the XBee communication, which would allow the monitor to talk to another unit which would transmit the data to the internet. Besides soldering, there were also the project boxes that needed holes to be drilled. The drill will always be my favorite tool on the workbench :). It was a happy moment to be finished the assembly, but it was short lived when I moved onto testing. The ultrasonic sensor was definitely getting a reading, but the information was not transmitting properly. The data is supposed to get stored on an SD card on the unit and also transmitted to a website where it is formatted into a table. After double checking the hardware, Steve figured out that there was an issue with the Arduino code that had been uploaded. So, by tweaking one line, it was quickly repaired and we were back to testing. It’s so darn exciting when things work!

Video: https://youtu.be/1lkr7QeqoEU

While Steve and I awaited a good-weather installation date for the monitor, I got together with Brenna to continue work on the larger Storm Snakes made of burlap. I remembered that the proportions had looked off on our small version, so I googled the dimensions of one of the largest snakes in the world for the new version. It seemed like each snake worked well with five coffee bean bags for length. Then, it was just a matter of trimming off the sides to create a skinnier snake. After I was finished stitching, I worked on stuffing the long casings of burlap with the mixture of coir, wood chips and stones. It took so long to shovel the materials into those casings, so my husband helped design a funnel out of a plastic plant pot to make the job easier.  I successfully filled three large snakes, and they were looking quite plump. For decoration, you may recall I was interested in having plant material growing on the outside of the snakes. Well, I learned about moss graffiti and talked to a moss supplier in the Poconos, Moss Acres, to be sure this would be viable. A few days later I received a box of moss and after getting some large containers of yogurt, I was ready to roll.

SnakeBuild

On the day of installation, it took a team of us on a utility vehicle to place each of the three snakes–they were heavy! Christina Catanese (the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art) had surveyed the team at the Center to determine the areas of the path that were most in need of stormwater protection. One ended up in the meadow to deal with parking lot run-off, another was located on a steep curve of a popular path where water often gathered and the final was placed on a path near Wind Dance Pond to slow down the water coming off Port Royal Ave– the inspiration point for the entire project. The next step was decorating the snakes. I mixed a moss yogurt slurry and attempted to paint it. It was tricky to apply, and in the end, I gave up on a brush and just used my bare fingers. It was fun creating the patterns, and I found that simple shapes worked best, as the mixture would easily crumble with intricate lines. The families passing by on the trail found them quite interesting.

SnakeBeauty

As for the monitor installation, Steve and I finally found a good day to get it situated. I helped to hold parts as Steve hammered a mounting pole in the stream bottom. Now that things are in place, it is time for my favorite part–gathering data. So far the stream monitor seems to be collecting data fine. In its first week or so, it transmitted to the spreadsheet sporadically. This was due to the fact that the receiving station is set up in a metal building, and having problems getting a signal. Steve is currently testing different antennas that might be more suitable for this location. For now, we fetch the SD card and periodically upload, so there is some historical data currently on Stroud’s site to view, if you click on the table. Right now it is not transmitting at all, so Steve is also checking the code as it might have something to do with the way the system resets. No matter what, the data is still going to the SD card, so we will definitely have it.

One of the interesting things I’ve already learned from the data is that the conductivity is almost identical to a stream behind Stroud. I would have thought that our stream would have been more polluted as it stands near the bottom of the chain of watersheds leading to the Delaware River. Also, I thought that when a storm would come that there would be a big change in depth for quite a while, but apparently with urban streams, storm water comes in rapidly, but also dissipates quickly. So, you really have to look at each day’s numbers in order to view a difference. My hope is that these figures will be used as evidence of stormwater run-off so that future funding can be obtained to really mitigate the water coming off Port Royal Ave.

 

It has certainly bStreamMonitoreen an interesting adventure and I’ve learned so much about stormwater run-off. I’ve also had an opportunity to get more involved with science, and use my electronic skills for sustainability. I don’t think I could have found a better match for my interests, and I’m so thankful that our Center makes environmental art a priority. Getting to meet other like-minded artists has also given me hope that there is still the possibility of change in this world. It’s not going to be from corporations or governments, it’s going to have to come from people like you and me. My next step will be to create a tutorial that will be posted on Stroud’s website for creating the storm monitor. Thanks to open source solutions and the web, we can all share information and build our own solutions for environmental problems. This all ties into the idea of being a citizen scientist, which organizations like Public Lab and NASA are embracing. So, don’t be scared to be the scientist or the innovator. At the end of the day it isn’t necessarily who has the degree, it’s who is doing the work. There’s a place for all of us here on this planet, so be bold.