Art as Environmental Leadership: Stacy Levy to receive the Meigs award

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Rain Yard

Every year, the Schuylkill Center gives the Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award to a deserving environmental professional for leaving a meaningful and lasting impact on their community and our region, and embodying a spirit of leadership, integrity, and vision.

In twelve years, we’ve never given this honor to an environmental artistbut that changes this year. On November 7th, Stacy Levy will be presented the Meigs award for her pioneering work joining the worlds of art and science throughout her career of creating compelling artwork, both site-specific and gallery-based.

In Levy’s words, she “use[s] art as a vehicle for translating the patterns and processes of the natural world.” Today, creating novel modes of revealing natural systems and solving ecological challenges have become critical, and artists have an important role to play in connecting people with nature. Levy is among the preeminent environmental artists working today, and is unmatched in the elegance with which her work reveals ecological processes that otherwise may go unnoticed.

She has broken new ground in working not just in but with the environment. Along with showing how nature works, Levy has created many projects that solve environmental issues in a place. For an example of this, we need look no further than out the back door of our Visitor Center, where we can experience Rain Yard, Levy’s 2013 artwork which manages stormwater runoff from our roof. Operating in this intersection, Levy has a spirit of collaboration and uncanny ability to galvanize community members and specialists across disciplines.

After being presented the award, Levy will be joined by a panel for a discussion on the intersection of art, science, and the environment particularly through the lens of water. Then, we’ll celebrate the opening of a new installation by Levy in our gallery with a reception.

We recognize that environmental leadership can take many forms, and in this year’s Meigs award, look forward to celebrating how artists can shine as environmental leaders.

 

 

Andorra’s Lance Butler grows mightly mussels

mike's mussel story

 

While Roxborough is famously home to numerous civil servants, especially cops and firemen, Andorra’s Lance Butler has among the most unusual city jobs.

He’s growing mussels. Thousands of mussels. To place back into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. And it’s surprisingly important work.

A senior scientist in Philadelphia Water’s Office of Watersheds, Lance was staring into a microscope last Thursday afternoon, measuring and assessing the health of baby mussels no larger than a grain of sand. He was sitting in a laboratory, what he calls “a living breathing laboratory,” tucked into the back of the Fairmount Water Works, Philly Water’s great museum of the city’s water history housed in the iconic building below the Art Museum. The lab doubles as the Mussel Hatchery, an exhibit in the Water Works where you can visit to learn about mussels too — and sometimes see Lance working.

The unassuming white plastic buckets that surrounded him on shelves, with a spaghetti tangle of clear plastic hoses running into and out of them, held thousands of baby mussels in various stages of their life cycles. Freshwater mussels are bivalves, two-shelled mollusks like clams and oysters, cousins of the marine versions you eat in marinara. Lance says these creatures are “bio-sentinels, the canaries in the river’s coal mine,” as they crave fresh, clean water, but have no ability to escape a pollution event — they can’t pick up and move away. If pollution strikes a river, mussels are doomed.

Consequently, over 70 percent of the world’s 700 mussel species are at risk of extinction, and freshwater mussels are among the most endangered American animals. Many were extirpated — made locally extinct — in the Delaware River basin, hence Lance’s project. But why does this matter? And why is the city spending money on this?

“Mussels have a huge impact on water quality,” Lance told me while unscrewing a jar containing baby yellow lamp mussels. As mussels anchor themselves in a river’s bottom and filter algae out of the water, “one mussel filters 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. With a million mussels in a river, that’s 20 million gallons of water. They remove nutrients, they remove solids, making the water more clear, and they remove harmful things like E. coli and other bacteria.”

Water is cleaner and safer for us because of the work of mussels.

That’s the key to why the city is investing in this. In addition to restoring to our rivers the plants and animals that belong there, Lance says, “mussels save money. If our water is cleaner going into our intake pipes, cleaning the water is easier and cheaper for the Water Department.” So spending money here saves money elsewhere.

And if you love to fish in the Schuylkill, you’ll especially love mussels. He says mussels practice “terraforming,” changing their habitat. “With mussels filtering the water, its clarity improves. Light can shine deeper into the water, so there is more submerged vegetation. And the plants hold sediment down, making better habitat for fish.” So the more mussels we have, the better the river is for fish (and fishing).

He also opened a larger lamp mussel for me, showing me a dark section inside the small soft body of what is a mother mussel. The dark spot was actually thousands of glochidia, larval mussels, hiding inside the mother. These larvae don’t have the bivalve shells and look like completely different organisms — but they are what hatches from mussel eggs. When the glochidia are ready for the next phase, some mama mussels have lures that attract the correct host fish over, and the female “spits” the glochidia at the fish, the larvae attaching themselves to the gills of the fish, “snapping like Pacman onto its gills.” And the larval mussels go for a ride.

“This is how they disperse themselves throughout a habitat,” he told me. “The fish are their Uber ride upriver.”

When ready, the glochidia transform again into small mussels and drop to the river bottom — where some species might live for as many as 100 years!

So the Mussel Hatchery also includes fish like yellow perch, the unwitting host in this extraordinary project. This week, Butler and other project scientists from the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the Academy of Natural Sciences will be discussing what happens to the 15,000 baby mussels now stored in holding ponds at several locations in the region, all products of this process. Ultimately, they will begin releasing mussels back into the wild. And hope they take.

Lance is also senior scientist in the long-awaited restoration of the Manayunk Canal, a project which is moving ahead and “should go out to bid next year. The canal will turn into a beautiful amenity for the community.” One of the project’s goals is to get water flowing back into and out of the canal again, to reconnect it to the river from which it has been severed. And mussels will definitely be a part of the picture.

Philly Water maintains a website, “The Mighty Mussel,” to learn more about this project (mightymussel.com), and for school teachers intrigued by this, mussels can visit your classroom as well, and your school can help bring mussels back to our rivers.

Visit the Mussel Hatchery soon, and perhaps you’ll see Roxborough’s own Lance Butler performing his critical work, bringing mighty mussels back to Philadelphia rivers.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org This blog was originally published in the Montgomery News September 5.

Ingenious Experiments / Creeping Sogginess

By Kate Farquhar

As a participant in this summer’s Wet Lab exhibit, I received access to the space and tools I needed to start creating a trio of sculptures as part of my LandLab residency this year. Coming into the Schuylkill Center’s gallery space gave me my first chance to connect directly with an audience and gather my materials in one place. As a gesture of inclusion, I wanted to offer something enticing for people to test out alongside me as I worked. Capillary slippersmade from a technical fabric used in green infrastructureconduct water across their surface using the physics of passive, capillary action. Working by day as a designer, I have found myself longing to exhibit, test and share capillary fabric with a wider audience, since it’s usually hidden from view in stormwater management features. This ingenious material mimics how the cambium layer in a tree allows it to passively “drink” water up to the canopy from the soil. On the night of their debut at the Schuylkill Center’s Enchanted Forest Fundraiser, slipper-wearers standing in different kinds of damp material were able to experience the same rate of water movement (creeping sogginess) that trees do when they draw water up their trunks.

Capillary fabric is also a core component of the aforementioned sculptural trio I’m presently working on, called Synestates. As a group, these sculptures pursue questions about materials and the environment: Can conventional building materials extend habitat? Can green infrastructure become a meeting place for humans and other organisms? Can construction byproducts become part of a myth? The first sculpture, called pvines, was completed during my time in Wet Lab. It consists of an installation of steel chains that are attached to the ground and to low branches of two invasive Amur Cork trees. A thin strip of capillary fabric winds up the length of chain, accented by stars made from drinking straws and zip ties. Virginia creeper, a vine native to this area, is planted at the base of each chain. This sculpture seeks to determine whether a rain chain can be combined with capillary fabric to confer growing advantages to a climbing, suckering vine. As my first sculpture initiated its slow experiment, I found myself engaged in a flurry of tasks: cutting, prepping and chatting inside and measuring, rigging and learning about the site conditions outside.

Here are some of the lessons I brought home from my month at WetLab:

1) measure twice cut once (even though you still might waste some material)

2) nothing in nature is square or plumb

3) both optimistic over-design and stoic editing are important to the outcome

4) don’t force yourself to do anything you wouldn’t ask of a helper, and vice versa (climb too high)

5) if possible do some of your prep work in good company of friends and other creators

6) if you’re looking for participation from people you don’t know, those strangers will decide the pace, style and outcome of their participation, and (if even a few people engage) it will be far better than if you did it alone

7) brilliant artists are everywhere, sometimes incognito in other roles!

 

 

Kate Farquhar is a Philadelphia based artist and landscape architect, whose work combines her artistic interests with her apprenticeship in cutting edge green infrastructure. Her process occupies the space where habitat, green infrastructure and myth overlap. Currently, she collaborates with the interdisciplinary studio at Roofmeadow, designing green infrastructure and places for people.

Wet Lab is the current project in the Schuylkill Center’s gallery, on view until August 18, and is a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.  Over the course of the summer, twenty artists are responding to water in a variety of media, and presenting their work and process in our gallery for two to three week periods. Artists display completed works along with works in progress, at times using the gallery as their studio to work through a new idea or test creative hypotheses. Artist Carolyn Hesse participated in Wet Lab for three weeks in June and July, and reflects on her experience in this post.

 

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.

The Art of Wood Bending

By Carolyn Hesse

Carolyn Hesse is a resident artist part of our summer gallery, Wet Lab, a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.

 

For most artists, success is predicated on having enough time to work creatively.

This is true for me as well. Having time to make mistakes—and grow from them—is what drives every endeavor and can be what makes or breaks the spirit. So, to be given the gift of time at the Schuylkill Center was like a jewel that emits light at every angle; a non-objective based chunk of creative time immersed in a woodland setting. Wet Lab was consciously, and generously, set up as an open-ended concept. As result, it became a breath of fresh air in my artistic practice.

I used the time to make pieces for a current body of work that deals with wave and water imagery, titled: (i kept your sea ( i kept it safe)).  Springhouse Pond is down the hill behind the Discovery Center and I used it to soak strips of cedar of different lengths and widths for different amounts of time. I then brought the wood up to the gallery to bend and clamp them around forms where they would dry into the curves of those forms. Or break.

 

Either way, the experience was useful. These are some images of my process.

 

 

If you enjoy them, feel free to check on my website (carolynhessestudio.com) in the near future to see what they become after they’ve been cleaned up, sanded down, and incorporated into new sculptural pieces. My gratitude and appreciation for everyone I came into contact with at SCEE couldn’t be more heartfelt, thank you!

About the Author

Carolyn Hesse is one of our Wet Lab artists whose work is influenced by her time spent working for a wooden boat builder for 11 years. Her work is influenced by traditional wooden boat building techniques and she likes to engage in the idea of suspension, in the literal spatial, chemical sense, and the ephemeral sense related to time. Her pieces explore these concepts through visual repetition as well as reference to the straight line and the horizon. More recently she has been creating pieces that are less formal and more narrative.

 

Wet Lab is the current project in the Schuylkill Center’s gallery, on view until August 18, and is a space for artists and Schuylkill Center visitors to explore and reflect on water in a dynamic environment.  Over the course of the summer, twenty artists are responding to water in a variety of media, and presenting their work and process in our gallery for two to three week periods. Artists display completed works along with works in progress, at times using the gallery as their studio to work through a new idea or test creative hypotheses. Artist Carolyn Hesse participated in Wet Lab for three weeks in June and July, and reflects on her experience in this post.

Thinking Like A Butterfly

By Mike Weilbacher

It’s high summer, which brings with it erratic weather patterns, fierce storms, rising tides, raging stormwater pouring through our communities, and other climate change concerns. As someone who worries about climate change, I have stumbled upon a powerful way to change the world.

We need to think like butterflies.

Consider the butterfly–born as a humble, often ugly caterpillar. A living weed-whacker, caterpillars plow through living plants, mercilessly devouring leaves, hell-bent on defoliation. Tent caterpillars ravage the Schuylkill Center’s cherry trees every spring; gypsy moths ravage whole landscapes. Last year, I planted a stand of dill to attract black swallowtail caterpillars, since that’s one of its host plants. The plan worked: the dill raised about 15 caterpillars, but was a skeleton when the caterpillars were done. Not one living leaf remained.

The caterpillars crawled away, hung upside down, and transformed into chrysalises–their body parts magically melting inside their shells to rearrange as completely different body parts. And a wickedly different creature emerged, the adult.

 


2018_Butterfly Count

 Monarch butterflies are exquisite botanists, the females laying their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Caterpillars ingest the leaves, using toxic chemicals in the leaf’s milk to make them taste terrible—their protection from predatory birds.  

 

While the caterpillar devoured everything, the butterfly has no mouthparts whatsoever for eating solid food. As if making penance for the sins of its youth, a butterfly drinks its world, using its coiled straw of a mouth to sip nectar. When the butterfly flits from flower to flower, it pollinates each in turn, allowing it to make seeds. That’s the key: while the caterpillar takes from the world the resources it needs for survival, the butterfly gives back, turning flowers into seeds that grow the next generation of flowers. Caterpillars devour, but butterflies pollinate.

And they don’t just pollinate the zinnias in your backyard. They pollinate the native plants that sustain entire ecosystems; there would be no milkweeds without the pollinating work of butterflies. More importantly, pollinating insects like bees and butterflies enable so many flower trees to make fruit. Oranges, cherries, grapefruit, grapes (and therefore raisins and wine), apples, lemons, limes: all are produced by pollinating insects like butterflies.

For millennia, humans have been caterpillars, taking from the world the stuff we need to live: food to eat, water to drink, lumber to build homes, coal and oil to power our lives. Living on a finite planet on limited resources, we’re running out of stuff to devour. For us to live sustainably, it’s time we grew up. Metamorphosed. Transformed into butterflies, giving back to the resources that sustain us, metaphorically pollinating the world and making seeds.

Thinking like a butterfly means conserving water, switching to renewables, buying electric cars, radically recycling everything, growing our own organic food, protecting biological diversity, cooling the climate, consuming less stuff, ceasing suburban sprawl across whole landscapes, and so on.

Protecting biological diversity means inviting your nonhuman neighbors into your yard: growing milkweed plants to nurture populations of monarch butterflies, installing bat boxes to support troubled bat populations, keeping your cat inside so it doesn’t kill birds, planting native plants everywhere you can, and more.

Thinking like a butterfly also means getting to know butterflies. They are remarkable, delightfully colorful creatures, extraordinarily adapted—and vanishing. We’ve got a butterfly event happening soon at the Schuylkill Center—come help us count them. And we’ll continue the conversation about thinking like a butterfly.  

 

Annual Butterfly Count

Thursday, July 5, 1 pm, $3/person

Help our staff count the butterflies in our forests and meadows in an annual effort orchestrated by the North American Butterfly Association. To register, call 215-482-7300 ext. 110 or email scee@schuylkillcenter.org.

An Invitation to the Nesting Bird Census

By Mike Weilbacher

Join us on June 16th for coffee, donuts, and peak birding! The annual Nesting Bird Census is one of the many opportunities to engage in citizen science at the Schuylkill Center. 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, by Chris Petrak

In early May, a small group of us spent a morning walking the Grey Fox loop, the long trail that ventures through diverse habitats meadows—Pine Grove, farms, a stream, and Wind Dance Pondsearching for birds that were then migrating through the Schuylkill Center’s extensive forest. There is a narrow window of opportunity to see themand our group jumped through that window in style.

In a highly organized effort, birdwatchers fanned out across Pennsylvania to count migrating birds. For the first time in a few years, this effort included Philadelphia. While Roxborough was well represented in the count (other teams counted along River Road and the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve), our group looked for which birds were using the Schuylkill Center as a migration stop.

Four hours and almost 300 birds and 52 species later, we submitted our census.

We counted plenty of year-round residents that you’d see if in December, or if you had bird feeders in your yard: the robin, cardinal, crow, and blue jay.

In addition, we saw two predatory birds. A red-tailed hawk rested in a large tree only a stone’s throw from Hagy’s Mill Road, oblivious to the traffic right below. Its rust-colored tail is a easy giveaway, but it also is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania. We also glimpsed a black vulture flying overhead. This soaring, thick-winged bird is a specialist in eating already-dead animals; call them nature’s garbage collectors.

What we were all secretly after were warblers, small jewel-like birds, most of whom migrate through Pennsylvania on their way to northern nesting grounds. Obsessive birdwatchers are out a lot this time of year, bending backwards staring high into trees, fighting off “warbler neck” to get a good view. For me, the Holy Grail is the Blackburnian warbler, its head a complicated and stunning helmet of orange-and-black striping. I have only seen a handful in a lifetime of birding, and none showed Saturday. Still, we did great in the warbler department.

Then there was the catch of the day: a large pileated woodpecker, the crow-sized songbird upon which Woody Woodpecker was modeled, a blackish bird with startling red crest, armed with a chisel-like beak that breaks off huge chunks of dead wood. Not seen easily or often, this one was focused like a laser beam on the ground around a dead tree trunkpossibly a colony of ants was warranting its attention. Two of the group were skilled photographers, and we made sure they got good shots.

There is a higher conservation purpose to all this. Between climate change and habitat loss, outdoor house cats prowling and too many shiny windows to fly into, bird populations are reeling. While Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring worried that pesticides like the now-banned DDT would remove birdsong from our experience of spring, other issues have arisen to take its place. As noted here last week, migrating birds like those warblers heading between nest sites in Canada and overwintering grounds in South America need protected habitats both in the north and in the south, not to mention in migration corridors along the way. 

The Schuylkill Center was proud to participate in a conservation effort to document which migrating birds were passing through the region when. Over time, and with years of data, conservation scientists will be able to monitor trends.

While we were doing important science, we had the pleasure and honor to be in the presence of some pretty amazing creatures.

On June 16th, at the ungodly but very bird-appropriate hour of 6:30 a.m., fueled by coffee and donuts, we’ll fan out across the Schuylkill Center again, this time looking for nesting birds, as the migrants have moved on. We’ve been counting nesting birds for almost 50 years. Come help us continue this crucial citizen science effort and we’ll introduce you to some pretty cool creatures.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Climate March, DC 4-29-17

Why I Marched

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Today I’m writing as a neighbor and friend, and I’m writing about something personal. On Saturday, under a brutal April sun, itself both oxymoron and bad omen, my wife and I joined more than 200,000 people in Washington, D.C. for the People’s Climate March. It was an extraordinary event, witnessing a rainbow coalition of people from every corner of the country and in every walk of life coming together for action on climate change.

We walked alongside a nurses union from New York, behind the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, themselves just behind the Service Employees International Union.  Grandparents marched alongside their grandchildren.  A Jewish group paraded just ahead of a Catholic organization carrying banners of Pope Francis quotes, the Quakers right behind them.  “The seas are rising, and so are we,” said the Unitarian banner. Continue reading

pine_grove_1

Children Need Nature: Fort building as a way to connect

By Alyssa Maley, Nature Preschool Teacher

When you think back on your childhood memories what stands out to you? Perhaps it was a less complicated life where you spent most of your day playing outside, when you were not bombarded with technology at the end of your fingertips. More and more parents are actively seeking out educational programs that match this outside nature component of their childhood memories. They are quickly becoming aware of technology, and the sedentary life it provides for their children through interacting with iPads, computers, and gaming systems. The excessive use of technology in the home drives a disconnection between both children and parents on a socially. As a new parent myself, I am concerned with the amount of screen time that my child may encounter daily. I want my daughter to appreciate the wonders of nature and all of the unique play opportunities it provides. It saddens my heart that the concept of building forts has been successfully buried under the accessibility of technology. So what can be done to connect parents and children in a more authentic way and while simultaneously bringing playing out in nature back into the fold? Continue reading

2017 Calendar january feature_Jake Beckman

Reflection of Environmental Art and Time: January

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program.  Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Artist Jake Beckman, LandLab Resident Artist from 2014-2015, sheds light to the often over looked world of forest decomposition in his ongoing installation at the Schuylkill Center, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise.

Beckman explored the detritus cycle of a forest and its disruption by invasive earthworms by creating sculptural installations that make these hidden processes visible to visitors. This wooden sculptural installation inoculated with local fungal spores will break down over time and enrich soil health. The piece poses questions about where the raw materials of life come from, what happens to “waste” in the forest ecosystem, and how the components of soil can affect the health of an ecosystem. The sculpture exists as a quiet meditation in the forest.

The name of the piece, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise, can be related back to multiple sources. Sol Lewitt was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. You can see these geometric and modern influences in the design of Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise. While Lewitt had created his work to last long after his time, as many artists do, Beckman intended for his sculpture to slowly disappear and eventually cease to exist. “Sol” can also play as a double meaning in the sculpture’s title, relating to its meaning in Spanish, “sun.” The sun is a major component of Beckman’s sculpture, in which it helps organisms to grow and aid in the decomposition of the piece.

It has been a year-and-a-half since Beckman’s sculpture has been installed at the Schuylkill Center, but the effects nature, the elements, and decomposition have had can already be seen. The once new and bright wood composing the sculpture is now dark and saturated. Leaves covered the sculpture in the fall, which will continue to play a large role in decomposition. Slight decomposition of the wood can already be seen, and depending on the time of year, various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes have popped up in and around the sculpture.

Beckman’s work is the featured art work for January in our environmental art calendar.  You can view the rest of the calendar and order it here.

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About the Author: Liz Jelsomine is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a BFA focusing in fine art photography. She provides commercial photography services, is involved in several photography organizations in Philadelphia, and is currently an Environmental Art & PR intern at The Schuylkill Center.

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All about our staff vegan challenge

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

Michelle Wilson’s Carbon Corpus, in our fall gallery show Going Up, explores food and carbon – for this conceptual art piece Wilson ate vegan for each week that participants sponsored, essentially selling credits for the carbon saved by eating vegan (estimate at 35 kg of carbon per week of veganism).

Inspired by this, eight of our staff gave veganism a try. Here, they reflect on learning to eat without animal products for a week.

Emily, Public Programs Coordinator

Having been vegetarian in the past, I was not at all worried about missing meat.  I was terribly surprised how much I did miss it once I started (I having gotten used to eating meat again)!  However, about three days in I was very much back on the bean-over-meat train.  I had been most worried about yogurt, egg, and cheese.  Egg and cheese I did surprisingly okay without! In terms of yogurt, I explored both the almond and coconut substitute, and they were both pretty good (albeit expensive).

For recipes, I reverted to my vegetarian go-to:  Quinoa, black bean (or any bean), and sautéed greens.  I spice up the greens with oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, and ginger.  Quick, easy, cheap, and good for making in big batches. I also really enjoyed making butternut squash soup again, especially this time of year.

Emily’s Butternut Squash Soup
  1. Cut and de-seed squash.  Sprinkle inside with salt, pepper, oil, and bake until almost fully cooked.  Not done completely, but enough to where peeling is easy (425 or so for about 30-35 min – I like to let it finish cooking with the other ingredients).
  2. Peel the squash and cut into about one inch cubes.  In a big pot, sauté shallots (or onion, you can also add garlic) in oil until caramelized.
  3. Add squash and enough vegetable stock to cover squash (you have to kind of eyeball this-how thick do you want the soup).
  4. I then add more pepper, and cayenne or nutmeg/dash of cinnamon depending on my mood.
  5. Let it all simmer together until the squash is soft, then I use an immersion blender to blend into soup.
Elisabeth, Manager of Public Programs

I was consciously aware of the treatment of animals after trying the vegan challenge. This is something that’s frequently in the back of my mind. To me, being vegan is a very delicate balance between what’s good for humans, animals, and the environment. And a lot of those things compete with each other. So I did make a conscious decision to shop at a store that, while I know is not perfect, is one where I can at least be more broadly knowledgeable about where the food is coming from.

I found that transitioning to a plant-based diet takes time, money, planning, and also failures. You can re-contextualize your commitment through your failures and reflection on those failures. For me, I’m trying vegetarianism. Veganism was too much of a challenge for me in my current lifestyle.

Christina, Director of Environmental Art

I’ve given up meat for Lent a few times, and one time both meat and cheese, but this is my first time going without any animal products at all. I always find that restricting my diet in some small way helps me make healthier choices about what I am eating in general – it’s a heightened consciousness of eating:  I can’t eat meat, hmm, I should eat a salad.  Just an extra beat to make a more mindful choice.  Overall, I feel like it is helpful and productive to realize how much my diet relies on animal products, and how unnecessary that is.

Besides the fact of not eating cheese (which as a person of Italian descent I think I am just not equipped to do) and having cream in my coffee, what I didn’t like about eating vegan was that it sometimes forced me to make choices that felt less healthy for reasons that felt somewhat arbitrary.  For example, an otherwise healthy breakfast of (non-dairy) yogurt, berries, and honey is off the table, so if I want to take the edge off the unsweetened yogurt, more refined sugar it is.  Getting enough protein has been a little bit of a challenge also, without being overly reliant on soy and other super processed synthetic proteins.

In terms of meals, I enjoyed Mollie Katzen’s Curried Squash and Mushroom Soup (I always skip the yogurt topping) and came up with my own soba noodle salad recipe. I also found an amazing chocolate peanut butter pudding recipe which I had to share.

I’ve come out of this vegan journey with a renewed sense of balance and moderation in my approach to eating – I think I’ll reduce the portion of my diet coming from animal products, but not to a strict degree.

Christina’s soba noodle salad:

Peanut sauce:

1/3 C vegetable stock

4 Tbsp peanut butter (could use another nut butter)

4 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp Sesame oil

Scallions to taste.

Veggies: thinly sliced/grated kohlrabi, bell peppers, carrots.

Seitan

Soba noodles

Mix together the peanut sauce and combine with veggies, seitan, and noodles.

Donna, Director of Finance and Administration

I knew I loved cheese but I don’t think I realized just how much I love cheese.  This was by far my biggest challenge.  Non-dairy coconut creamer made a nice addition to coffee; an addition I may continue in the future.  I did miss my yogurt but, again, cheese was harder.

I went into the week striving for a 90 to 95% success rate and made it to around 85%.  I showed up at my 84-year-old mom’s house to take her out to lunch and she had food on the table that she wanted to “use up” so she didn’t wish to go out…food consisting of eggs, cheese, turkey… I couldn’t turn her food down but went heavy on tomato and light on other ingredients.

In summary, as I was hoping, this challenge raised my consciousness for the foods I consume.  While I certainly am promising no one I will give up cheese and dairy forever, I will be more mindful of my choices in the future, and continue to strive to support ethical and responsible food suppliers.

Jenny, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Vegan week was a little challenging but I went really hard on lentils and chickpeas, and had to cave for pizza one time but it felt good to abstain from dairy for the most part, especially with allergies and seasonal colds going around. I made pumpkin oats in a crockpot and a vegan “tuna” salad out of chickpeas which was pretty great and lasted all week for lunches. I ate it on toast with greens all week (sometimes with sriracha). Really good with some sliced avocado, too, and if you’re really hungry, a veggie burger layered on top.

Jenny’s Chickpea “tuna” Salad:

1 can chickpeas

Big scoop of veganaise (vegan mayo)

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

Some garlic powder

~1/4 of an large yellow onion, diced

Tiny bit of olive oil

All you do is mush it all up in one bowl and enjoy!

Jenny’s Pumpkin Oats in a Crockpot

2 cups steel cut oats

7 cups water

2 cups pumpkin puree

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp table salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

½ cup dark organic maple syrup

2 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. 1 cup serving size.

Optional: ½ cup honey, peanut butter for a layer of protein and deliciousness!

Seven of eight staff joining in the vegan challenge stand inside Michelle Wilson's "Carbon Corpus." Left to right: Mike Weilbacher, Jenny Ryder, Michelle Havens, Patty Boyle, Donna Struck, Emily Harkness, Elisabeth Zafiris. Not pictured: Christina Catanese

Seven of eight staff joining in the vegan challenge stand inside Michelle Wilson’s “Carbon Corpus.” Left to right: Mike Weilbacher, Jenny Ryder, Michelle Havens, Patty Boyle, Donna Struck, Emily Harkness, Elisabeth Zafiris. Not pictured: Christina Catanese