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The Biggest Day in 50 Years

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

This piece was originally published in the Roxborough Review on Thursday, September 10 in the column Natural Selections

Saturday, September 27 might just be the biggest day in the Schuylkill Center’s storied 50-year history.  On that day, we’re offering the first bird seed sale of the year, the last native plant sale of the year, and launching the University of Nature, a full day of outdoor learning for adults.  We’re beginning the day by presenting the ninth annual Henry Meigs Award for environmental leadership to Ann Fowler Rhoads, and ending the day by unveiling a new show in our environmental art gallery.

One big day.

The University of Nature is the latest in a series of new programming thrusts the Schuylkill Center is rolling out.  We’re offering university-level expertise in a one-day outdoor setting.  Over the course of the day there are nine workshops and walks from which to choose, and you’ll leave at day’s end graduating to a higher level of environmental understanding. Continue reading

Farmsand

Local Food Culture in Philadelphia: A look at a growing movement

By Daphne Churchill, Intern and Educator

FarmsandA bright sunny Saturday draws you out for a morning walk.  You look up the street and see the white tents with tables of fresh products: red radishes, leafy green lettuce, freshly cut flower bouquets, free-range eggs, fresh goat cheeses, liquid amber honeys.  The tables are bountiful and the tents abundant.  Neighbors chat with one another as they nibble free samples and discuss their purchases.  You overhear growers converse about sustainable practices and their business with the consumers as they debate and make their purchases.  This typical scene of a farmer’s market has become ever more common in Philadelphia during the last decade.  The local economy has seen an increase in the number of farmer’s markets and a diversification of what’s being sold.  Local goods are no longer coming only from Lancaster but from Philadelphia’s own neighborhoods.  City dwellers are increasingly advocating for the use of green space for gardening and are collaborating with a growing number of organizations for food, environmental, and health education initiatives supporting local food culture.

So what is it about local food culture that attracts so many people?  What exactly does it mean for a city like Philadelphia to be described as having a great local food culture?  Is local food viable for long-term sustainability, not just for some but for everyone?  How does growing and buying food locally change one’s relationship with food and with one’s social and economic community?  What are the benefits of growing and buying local foods? Continue reading

Find Nature – Philadelphia: Guest Post from Lauren Ferri

By Lauren Ferri, posted from Finding Nature Philadelphia

Finding Nature Phildelphia

Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I had a huge yard with plenty of space to roam and explore. I remember playing outdoors for hours as a child, unearthing rocks and breaking them open hoping to find gems. I would dig through the dirt, pretending to be an archaeologist looking for lost cities and treasures. We had a garden where I would help my mother harvest lettuce, cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes. Fortunately I didn’t have to leave my property to experience the beauty and wonder of nature. These experiences left a lasting impression, and began my love and fascination with the natural world.

As an adult, I moved from New York to Florida, met my husband and had a child. Early on I could tell my son also had a love of the outdoors. When he was a baby I would bring him out to the grass behind our home with blocks, bubbles and books. I would read, sing and play with him. There was something about being outside in the sunshine that made us both relaxed and happy. He loved to crawl through the grass and would always smile when a breeze picked up and touched his face. I would carry him around and point out all the different trees, bushes and flowers. We would listen to the birds and walk in the grass. We would sit for hours, and just take it all in. I truly believe these experiences were helping my son become aware of the natural world around us. This was confirmed while playing indoors: he heard a bird-call from outside and suddenly stopped playing and began pointing to the ceiling. He was excited and wanted to investigate. I took him out on the patio to find the sound, and he happily sat watching the bird singing in the palm tree. Although he was unable to talk, I could see the curiosity that nature was inspiring in his life, and his desire to learn more. Continue reading

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How do you see nature? Schuylkill Center photo contest 2014

birch in snowIn celebration of the opening of Frost in the Environmental Art Gallery, the Schuylkill Center invites community members to send photos to our Winter 2014 Photo Contest.

Submit your winter photos by February 27!

More about Frost:

It is safe to say, this has been a winter of surprises, with temperatures plummeting well below what we usually expect for this region and snowfall far above.  This cold is actually at the heart of our upcoming exhibition, Frost.  We’re thrilled to welcome two Philadelphia artists to take on winter with a show that runs from February 15 – April 18.  Amie Potsic and Nancy Agati delve into the meaning of winter through a mixture of photography, sculpture, and drawing.  An opening reception on March 1 at 4 pm offers a chance for the public to see the artwork and meet the artists.

In winter, patterns emerge from the harsh relief of cold temperatures and heavy snow which illuminate the relationship between us and the changing environment we live in.  Potsic explains, “I find winter to be particularly seductive as it simultaneously highlights the stark beauty of our environment’s dormant cycle while hinting at the potential growth of spring.”  Agati’s work, exploring the ephemeral through use of natural materials, emphasizes the cyclical patterns of the natural world.  Agati writes eloquently about the details that are highlighted by winter: “Working in the studio while the snow falls – again. Linear patterns are further defined as I notice the stark contrast of branches against a pallid backdrop.”

Now, it’s your turn to be a part of it: Take your camera outdoors and capture this remarkable winter!

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Come out to the Opening Reception for Frost, on March 1 at 4 pm, to see photos submitted to the contest.  The three photo contest winners will each receive a special handmade Schuylkill Center mug.

Guidelines

The rules are simple:

      • The photo must have been taken this winter
      • The photo must be taken in the Philadelphia area
      • The photo must be outdoors or feature the outdoors
      • The photo must be your own creation and its publication may not violate the rights of any third party
      • Photos must be submitted by 5pm on February 27.

Please note:

  • No explicit or offensive photos.  The Schuylkill Center reserves the right to determine whether a photo is explicit or offensive.
  • By submitting a photo, you grant the Schuylkill Center non-exclusive rights to reproduce your image.  You maintain copyright and you will be credited.
  • Winners will be chosen by a panel of Schuylkill Center staff.

How to Submit a Photo:

We look forward to finding out how you see nature – submit a photo now!

Sassafras

Of Sassafras & Spirits

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

SassafrasBeer, wine, scotch, tequila, even sake all have at least this in common: they come from plants.  In her wonderful book The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart explores the dizzying array of flowers, trees, and fungi that we have transformed into alcohol over the centuries.

Join us at the Schuylkill Center on Thursday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. for a special chat-and-sip event. We’ll talk about and read from the book, and Olivia Carb from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, that extraordinary Philadelphia distiller, shares their drinks like Root, Snap, and Rhubarb Tea, all from plants.  Snap, for example, comes from at least six plants: sugarcane, clove, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and tea.

Sassafras Grove3

And Root, inspired by old birch beer and sarsaparilla soda recipes, includes almost a dozen different plants, including lemons, oranges, allspice, anise, cloves, mints, and nutmeg. But no sassafras—and we’ll tell you why in a moment.

Sassafras grows in abundance here, its snake-like trunks wiggling through the understory.  About sassafras, Amy Stewart writes, “Imagine the situation that European colonists found themselves in when they arrived in North America.  They brought what food and medicine they could, but much of it was already consumed, or spoiled, by the time they came ashore.  They encountered plants and animals they’d never seen before and had no choice but to find out what they could eat or drink. Any berry, leaf, or root could either save them or kill them.

“One such plant was sassafras,” she continues, “a small and highly aromatic tree… The leaves and root bark were put to use as a medical remedy right away… to promote perspiration, to attenuate thick and viscous humours, to remove obstructions, (and) to cure the gout and palsy.”

Old-time sarsaparilla, a precursor of root beer, was made with sassafras, birch bark and other flavors.  But in 1960, after discovering that a major ingredient of the plant was carcinogenic and toxic to the liver, sassafras was banned.  That’s why there’s no sassafras in Root, but tons of other good stuff.

Come and enjoy a spirited conversation about drinking plants—while sipping the fruits of the harvest.

monarch1-goldenrod

Goldenrod and Asters in the Last Chance Cafe

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

monarch1-goldenrod

Autumn is notable for so many things: crisp weather, colorful trees, birds and butterflies migrating south, and my favorite sign of the season, fields overflowing with goldenrod and aster.

Yes, goldenrod, scourge of those hay fever commercials, the ones with some poor sneezing schmuck standing shoulder-deep in a field of stunning yellow goldenrod, waving the white flag of surrender.  Trouble is, goldenrod doesn’t give you hay fever.  Its pollen is too heavy, dense, sticky—we don’t breathe it.

But goldenrod unfortunately blooms at the same time as ragweed, a wind-pollinated nightmare that pumps trillions of pollen spores into the sky, praying one lands on another ragweed. Instead, it lands in your nose, and ACHOO!  So ragweed is the culprit, its nondescript flowers allowing it to float under the radar screen—and goldenrod gets the bad press.

It’s a shame, because goldenrod just happens to be one of the most important plants of the seasonal year.  As the growing season begins to wind down, insect life is at its peak—butterflies and bees, aphids and ants, the creatures that literally hold up ecosystems as the base of food chains, have had the entire spring and summer to go through multiple generations.  Just as they are at their population’s peak, summer wildflowers begin winding down, and these insects need food for their last hurrah before winter.

Enter goldenrod.  Like the wild version of the crocus evolved to be the sole source of nectar and pollen for Eurasian insects in the first moments of spring, goldenrod has evolved to take up the rear of the floral parade, among the very last wildflowers to bloom.  So when you enter a goldenrod field in early fall, you will see the flowers literally abuzz with activity.  Butterflies of all kinds will be nectaring on the flowers, including Monarchs heading south to Mexico.  On a stop at Morris Arboretum in September to check out the goldenrod meadow, at least six butterfly species could be seen nectaring at one time, including two different kinds of swallowtails.  A hummingbird moth, a beautiful butterfly cousin—a day-active moth that hovers over flowers like a hummingbird—trolled one corner of the meadow.  Many beetles were crawling all over the floral heads to nibble on pollen grains, a great source of protein.  Honeybees, bumblebees, flies of all kinds were working the blooms; spiders and praying mantises were stalking the other insects.  Dragonflies cruised above the field, picking off any of the flying insects they could.  Sparrows worked the field for seeds; kingbirds patrolled the edge for flying insects.

This is a goldenrod field at this time of year: a critical feeding station for literally thousands of species.

But it’s also the last chance café.  Goldenrods and their other fall collaborators like asters and ironweeds will bloom deep into the autumn—and then the flower season is over.  No more pollen; no more nectar.  Oh, there will be seeds available for seedeaters in a meadow throughout the winter, and there are no shortage of seed-eating critters, but for butterflies and bees, this is it, their golden moment in the sun.

Goldenrods and their kin are especially adapted for this season.  Insects are intensely cold-blooded (listen, for example, to katydids calling their name loudly at night in big three-syllable chirps; the frequency of their song is directly correlated to the temperature).  As the days cool down, it becomes harder and harder for big-bodied bumblebees to work the field searching for pollen and nectar.  So the goldenrods have compensated by evolving clustered floral bouquets, bunching their flowers closely together into groups, giving bees a target-rich energy-efficient pollen-collecting experience—a bee simply walks along a goldenrod stalk and encounters dozens and dozens of flowers.   In turn, the bees oblige the goldenrod by making sure they are happily pollinated to produce next year’s seeds—a great exchange for both.

There’s even a fly that lays its egg in the stem of the goldenrod, chemicals in its ovipositor causing the stem to swell and grow an almost cancer-like ball.  The fly’s larva sits inside that stem’s swelling ball, hiding during the cold winter while eating the walls of its home.  But chickadees and downy woodpeckers have discovered this secret, and peck open goldenrod ball galls to get at the little maggot hiding inside.

There are six million stories in the goldenrod city.  And none involve hay fever.

Happily, goldenrod has begun to rise in public opinion: I’ve seen it included in fall bouquets at flowers shops, and garden centers often include cultivars in their native plant sections.  In your garden, it can be tall and it can take over, but it does extend your blooming season as late as Thanksgiving—not a bad run.  And it is one critically life-saving plant in the fall season.

Just ask the nearest honeybee.

Mike leads a goldenrod workshop and field trip for Morris Arboretum on Saturday, October 19; visit morrisarboretum.org for more information.  A version of this essay originally appeared in The Main Line Times. 

Below is the information about our upcoming conference, a large part of this planning project. Online registration is available here!

Beyond the Surface: Environmental Art in Action

Hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

May 31, 2013

Stacy Levy, Pier 53

Join us for a day of ideas and innovative thinking, investigating relationships between art and nature.

 

 

Conference Description

How can environmental art engage the environment and the individual, activate awareness, and integrate perspectives that result in unexpected and innovative approaches to environmental literacy?

While the natural world has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, more and more of today’s artists are thinking beyond the studio, blending art, science and social practice with a fresh sense of immediacy, connecting art to nature and environmental issues.  No longer content with scratching the surface of environmental problems, these artists want to move beyond the surface, engaging audiences to become part of the solution.

This conference brings a team of cutting-edge environmental artists and arts professionals to Philadelphia to share this work with you, to discuss ways art can create environmental awareness while restoring ecological systems.

Jenny Sabin, Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils

The artists presenting at the conference have been working with these ideas for much of their careers. To call attention to climate change, for example, Eve Mosher painted a high-water line across Manhattan, showing people where the water would rise to if sea-level projections occur. Stacy Levy’s artwork in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden remediates our building’s stormwater, which had been compromising our own forest.  Lillian Ball projected a shifting, multicolored map of the Arctic circle onto a sphere of ice, the ice melting even as the projected image showed a vanishing Arctic.

The Schuylkill Center’s Art Department has brought artists to its 340 acre site since 2001. This year, the Center has gone further, examining how art intersects with other disciplines –education, ecology, architecture, engineering and planning, to name a few, to create fresh innovations and exciting experiences for the public. Our project has brought together an Advisory Team of the artists and curators who work in the field of environmental art.  (Please visit www.schuylkillcenter.org/art for more information about this project, the team and to read their blogs).

We believe art can help to repair a broken relationship between humans and nature and simultaneously transform audiences from passive observers of art to active participants in ecosystems.

Lillian Ball, WATERWASH® ABC

We are re-thinking how art exists at nature centers, and are eager to share these findings with our colleagues in the art and environmental communities.   We welcome artists, educators, environmentalists, scientists, designers, landscape architects, teachers and students of all ages to this groundbreaking event.

 

 

Conference Schedule 

Morning Session: 9 am – 12 pm

1. Welcome by Schuylkill Center Executive Director Mike Weilbacher

2. Introduction by Jenny Laden, the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art, and Deenah Loeb, SCEE trustee and chair of the Environmental Art Committee

3. Environmental Art Advisory Team Presentations:

Lillian Ball

Sam Bower

Amy Lipton

Eve Mosher

Stacy Levy

Frances Whitehead

 

Lunch: 1 – 2 pm

Optional site visit:  Take aninformal walk throughout SCEE lands with SCEE staff to the pine grove or Penn’s Native Acres

Afternoon:

1. Breakout Groups: 2 – 3:30 pm

Afternoon Breakout groups will delve more deeply (guided by members of Environmental  Art Advisory Team)

I. Engage              Eve Mosher/Amy Lipton

II. Integrate        Frances Whitehead/Stacy Levy

III. Activate         Lillian Ball/ Sam Bower

2. RainYard presentation by Stacy Levy:  4 – 4:45 pm

Levy discusses rainwater, and creating a permanent ecovention at SCEE.

3. Closing: 4:45 pm

4. Outdoor reception:  5 – 6 pm

Celebrate Levy’s new installation with refreshments in the Sensory Garden.

 

 

 

Conference Registration

Conference admission fee $80
Schuylkill Center member discounted admission $60
Students, artists, educators discounted admission $40

Early Registration Special: Until March 31, a 20% discount will be applied at checkout

Register online HERE

For more information, call our art department 215 482 7300 x 113  or visit our website: www.schuylkillcenter.org/art

Or email artprogram@schuylkillcenter.org

This even is funded in part by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and The National Endowment of the Arts.

Restoring childhood play… and Philly’s first nature preschool

Gail Farmer, Director of Education

I was born in 1975, part of Generation X, probably the last generation whose parents felt comfortable sending their kids out into the neighborhood after school.  “Go outside and be back by dinner,” was a common directive from my mother.   My street ran along the bottom of an undeveloped hill, and “The Hill” was where my sisters and I went when my mom sent us outdoors.  My childhood was also filled with Girl Scouts, dance classes and community soccer, but my best memories and my most formative experiences come from the times my mother wanted nothing more than to get me and my sisters out of her hair for a few hours.

preschool hikeUnlike more structured activities, The Hill was totally open to our interpretation and needs:  it was a place where we could try to make sense of the complex world in which we lived by reconstructing it on a much smaller scale.  The Hill had scary places (“the swamp”) and refuges (“rainbow rock”).  On The Hill we were sometimes brave explorers discovering new lands and other times victims in need of rescue.   The Hill was whatever we needed it to be.

A growing body of research in early childhood development is revealing the critical connection between this type of exposure to nature and the developing brain.  Children who spend immersive time in nature (not just outdoors on the basketball court or playground, but in nature), tend to be less anxious and better able to focus, and to have fewer health issues and more emotional resilience, than children who don’t.  (Learn more at http://www.childrenandnature.org/documents/C118/.) The challenge in our increasingly urban environment is: how do we provide very young children with the kind of immersive exposure to nature they really need?

The Schuylkill Center is keenly aware of this challenge, and already offers opportunities for nature play in many of its programs.  Now we are adding another path for children in the critical early years of development: we are opening a “nature preschool.”

The Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool will provide Philadelphia children with regular opportunities for direct contact with nature, on a daily basis and across the seasons—in a risk-managed environment.  Our classroom will open directly into our nature preserve, so students can jump into forests, streams, ponds and meadows.  They will grow and plant trees, rear tadpoles, catch butterflies, and generally just be outdoors in all seasons.

Although our preschool is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, there are more than a dozen nature preschools across the country, and we are modeling our program on the best practices of those schools.

For more on Nature Preschools, visit: http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Nature_Preschools.htmlGreen Hearts founding director, Ken Finch, will be at the Schuylkill Center January 10, 2013 to present the 2nd annual Dick James Lecture: Go Outside & Play! Restoring the Nature of Childhood.  If you’re in the area, come check it out!

Trail

Wellness Walks Even In The Winter

By Gail Farmer, Director of Education

The temperature might be dropping, and the trees might be losing their leaves, but that doesn’t mean keeping up your exercise routine isn’t just as important.

Winter wellness walks have obvious benefits, but we found some more with a little research. In fact, it has been proven that winter walks may have surprising health benefits.

Benefit #1: Reduces Stress

Walking in the winter offers you a refreshing change of pace, says Alan Mikesky, PhD on Prevention.com, director of the human performance and biomechanics laboratory at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. The invigorating cold air can clear your mind and reduce stress, which can be helpful for weight loss.

Benefit #2: Keeps bones strong.

As Lynn Millar, PhD, a physical therapist and professor at Andrews University in Barrien Springs, Mich explains on Arthritis Today, any kind of sun exposure triggers vitamin D production in the skin, and bones need the “sunshine vitamin” to make the body absorb bone-strengthening calcium properly. Not getting outside during winter months slows down production and decreases the body’s store of vitamin D. “Vitamin D is important for keeping bones strong…because they have an increased risk of brittle bones,” says Millar. Going for a winter walk and getting 15 minutes of sun on your face and hands two to three times per week should suffice for getting enough sun for vitamin D production.

Benefit #3: Improves Mood

Sunlight and just being outdoors can do wonders for lifting your mood, says Millar. Just a simple walk in the woods with friends can not only be enjoyable, but also can have positive side effects on your mood and even decrease pain. A University of Washington in Seattle study of 112 women aged 19 to 78 shows that women who took a brisk, outdoor walk for 20 minutes daily had better mood, higher self-esteem and an improved sense of well-being at the end of the eight-week study. Winter walking could provide an effective, easy-to-stick-with therapy for mild-to-moderate depression, say the researchers, especially for those who experience side effects from prescription treatment options.

Benefit #4: Burns Calories

This one might seem a little obvious, and it is true that outdoor walking through the park or around the neighborhood on a cold day won’t burn any more calories than walking on a warm summer day, but walking in the snow will. “You expend more energy because it’s harder to move your feet in the snow, and you lift your legs a little higher,” Dr. Millar explains.

It might be cold outside, but clearly #WellnessWalks are a great idea.

On one of Schuylkill Center's Trails

Philadelphia’s Top Trails

On one of Schuylkill Center’s Trails

As Thanksgiving is fast approaching, you might be in need of an activity for your visiting family members.

Even as the weather starts to grow colder, the greater Philadelphia area offers many beautiful and relaxing nature trails. Try one of the following trails with your family, your partner, or even just for yourself this holiday season.

Looking for a more active day?

-Wissahickon’s Green Ribbon Trail (20 miles): This multi-purpose path stretches along the Wissahickon Creek from Whitemarsh Township to a point near Lansdale Borough.

-Schuylkill River Trail (27 miles): Following the beautiful Schuylkill River, this trail ranges from the Valley Forge National Historic Park to the Philadelphia Art Museum, while passing the Center in between.

-The Manayunk Towpath (28 miles): Parallel to the Canal and the Schuylkill River, this varied-surface path is a favorite for joggers and off-road cyclists.

Want something a bit more peaceful?

-Schuylkill Center’s Ravine Loop (1.0 miles): Crisscrossing a spring-fed stream, several rustic bridges, and Smith’s run, this peaceful walking trail includes a few challenging slopes and even a view into the Center’s oldest section of forest in Roxborough.

-Cobbs Creak Recreation Path (4 miles): Particularly cyclist-friendly, this path runs from Market Street to 70th Street, hugging the westernmost boundary of West Philadelphia.