Teach Green Creative

Educate. Advocate. Create.


Leave a comment

The City of Shaker Heights: Going green can be gorgeous!

FCBlog_House 2_Bay WindowThe weather in Northeast Ohio has been incredible this spring. Temperatures have been in the 70’s, with cool nights and just enough rain to keep everything green. Mother Nature delivered another picture-perfect day for the 10th annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights garden tour, hosted by the Shaker Heights Historical Society.

The “Garden City”
The city of Shaker Heights originated as a planned garden community on the east side of Cleveland. Located on a plateau six miles from Lake Erie and 1050 feet above sea level, this parcel of land was formerly inhabited by the organization commonly known as the “Shakers”. Thus, the name Shaker Heights. Purchased and developed by railroad moguls, O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, the city was formally incorporated in 1912.
Lorategi-hiriaren_diagrama_1902
The community was loosely designed after the Garden City model of development created in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard. This concept of urban planning featured self-contained communities surrounded by “greenbelts” containing a balance of residences, industry and agriculture. However, while Howard’s Garden City combined the elements of town and country in order to provide the working class with alternatives to farm life or crowded urban living, the Van Sweringens designed Shaker Heights for the affluent. They kept a tight grip on the architectural design of each home and reserved the right to reject any plan that did not adhere to their ideal.

The Van Sweringen brothers envisioned the community with large lots, winding boulevards and plenty of green spaces – a suburban retreat from the industrial city center. They built model homes and allowed ample space for schools and churches.

The Better Homes Movement
The Better Homes Movement was launched in 1922 by the well-known women’s magazine Better Homes and Gardens. It set out to prove that moderately priced homes could be built in first class neighborhoods, increasing family protection from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, while at the same time elevating the character of these residential areas. Further, Herbert Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, believed that the construction of better-built houses was “a civic and economic asset to the community” and made possible “a higher and finer type of national life deriving its strength from well-managed, self-reliant homes and wholesome family life.” (Sounds like today’s green mantra, right?) The Shaker Heights Master Model Homes were built in keeping with these lofty goals and served as an example to Clevelander’s that an attractive home in a safe neighborhood was an attainable goal.

A backyard view of Green LakeThe Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights
Naturally, garden design during this time period adhered to the same philosophy of “form following function”. Not only were the gardens of Shaker Heights an extension of the architectural design of each home and an expression of an individual’s private status, but as people adopted more active lifestyles, the landscape surrounding their homes provided residents with “outdoor rooms” to enjoy the healthful benefits of nature. Further, the planned parks and green spaces added aesthetic value to the community and provided residents with additional opportunities to enjoy their natural surroundings. (This seems so logical! Makes you wonder how urban planning ever got so off track.)

Over a century later, much remains the same in the “garden city” and the Gracious Gardens Tour was a rare chance to step back in time and experience life during the early twentieth century, while also observing the latest ideas in modern landscape design. I think the original owners would be pleased to see how their beloved homes have been preserved.

Homes featured in the 2014 Gracious Gardens Tour were as follows:

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

Zen-sationsal!
The first house on the tour was a magnificent Tudor Revival complete with the original English perennial garden that concealed a hidden surprise behind a wall of manicured evergreen hedges. A red torri (a traditional Japanese gate) was the first to clue to the delightful Japanese garden beyond. Winding pathways and a meandering stream divided traditional plantings of Japanese maple, rhododendron, azalea bushes and bonsai specimens to create serene vignettes – perfect for a peaceful getaway.

Outdoor Rooms with a View
My next stop was a stately home on Green Lake featuring well-placed porches and patios that created outdoor living spaces amid lush perennial beds of roses, astilbe, lupine, peonies and a variety of giant hosta plants. The highlight of this property was the backyard that sloped to the lakefront where a gazebo provided a tranquil place to enjoy the view.

Hidden Treasures, Hidden PleasureFCBlog_Golf
Next up was a majestic Meade and Hamilton mansion featuring plenty of green space to experience and enjoy. Lilac trees framed a welcoming statue of St. Ignatius at the entrance to a pear tree allee. Gravel pathways criss-crossed through an expansive back lawn to reveal a sunken garden, water feature, private patio and a putting green complete with sand traps. Wow! Suits my taste to the t (or tee, depending on your perspective).

Classic English Cottage LivingFCBlog_House 4
The fourth stop on the tour was a departure from the first three locations. I enjoyed the appealing mix of traditional and modern elements that complimented this classic English cottage. Formal arrangements of boxwoods, topiaries and lush planters overflowing with annuals, blended nicely with the updated, yet traditional design of the home. However, all formalities were dropped as the brick-lined circular drive gave way to a crushed gravel path leading to the backyard. A patio complete with a porch swing and pretty pillows was set amidst plantings of roses, hydrangea, iris and a lavender hedge. A guesthouse and potting shed provided additional space to enjoy the gardens, giving the property a relaxed, bed & breakfast vibe. The icing on the cake? The homeowners … who provided visitors with pleasant conversation, lemon flavored ice water and cookies. Nice!

Poolside Permaculture
FCBlog_Private Pool & PergolaMy final stop was the horticultural highlight of my tour. Every inch of this summertime oasis was covered with dramatic combinations of colors, textures and blooms. The backyard featured an azure swimming pool flanked by a rose-covered pergola that housed a Jacuzzi framed in stone. Elegant beds of permaculture, including native plants, pollinators, edibles, organics and more, surrounded the pool. Proof that going green can be gorgeous!

There were two more stops on the tour, but I was running out of time and due at a gathering across town. The sixth location was a beautifully landscaped home set back in the woods, with perennial gardens surrounding a curvilinear pool. The last stop was the Unitarian Church that featured a “nibbling garden” of tasty edibles like asparagus, persimmons and berries. This unique garden was created by a large group of volunteers and donors from the congregation. The Unitarian belief in the Interdependent Web of Life served as an inspiration to what is now one of the largest permaculture gardens in Northeast Ohio.

All in all, I had a wonderful afternoon and learned a lot. I met a nice group of people and left with many new ideas that I want to try in my own gardens. But as I pulled away from the last house, it occurred to me that many of our “new” ideas about sustainability and “going green” aren’t new at all. The seeds were sown long ago and then in many cases abandoned and neglected in the name of progress. But not here.
FCBlog_Garden Cat
Today, Shaker Heights is still known for its strict building codes and zoning laws, which have not only helped to preserve the community’s housing stock and historical significance, but also retain the original gardens and green spaces that make this such a special place. As a result, approximately 75% of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Shaker Village Historic District.

Once again, nearly 100 years later, this city serves as an example to Clevelander’s and people everywhere, that an attractive home in a safe and healthy neighborhood remains an attainable goal.

Spread the word… let’s make it so.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

Advertisements


Leave a comment

School’s Out. Now What? Teach Green Summer Reading List for Kids

Teach Green Creative

I am the mother of four children, three boys and a girl. I will always remember the sound of the school bus as it came to a stop outside our front door on the last day of class. I still associate its screeching brakes with the energy that was unleashed in my household the minute my exuberant kids raced through the back door, shedding book bags and uniforms as they ran. I learned early on that the best way to channel an over abundance of youthful enthusiasm (and preserve the sane existence I had come to appreciate during the school year) was to get them interested and involved in stimulating activities as quickly as possible.
The Farm House
So, it became a family tradition that as soon as everyone was finished with school, we would load up the Suburban and head to my parents farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Here, they had 200 acres…

View original post 1,102 more words


Leave a comment

Cleveland’s Oldest Publicly Owned Market

As populations migrate to city centers and sustainability has hit the mainstream, the demand for fresh, affordable and readily available produce in urban areas continues to grow. In response to this dual shift in the American mind-set, innovative ways to produce and distribute food closer to consumers are cropping up in cities across the country and around the world. Urban gardens are greening empty lots, not only providing local residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, but also creating jobs and the opportunity to learn new skills. Rooftop greenhouses are emerging as an efficient way to maximize freshness, while minimizing the carbon footprint of produce transportation costs. Local farmer’s markets are also gaining popularity, offering city-dwellers better tasting produce with greater nutritional value. Buying local just makes good sense, both economically and ecologically.

Great idea. Why didn’t we think of it sooner, right?

Well, in Cleveland, this idea is hardly new. In fact, the West Side Market has been providing the city and its surrounding suburbs with affordable, locally grown food for over 100 years.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on “food deserts“, a term used to describe urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. I received tremendous response and interest on the topic. In the meantime, my daughter Sarah, who is studying Integrated Marketing and Environmental Science at John Carroll University, created an excellent photo feature of Cleveland’s West Side Market. I feel her journalism project captures the true essence of what this landmark means to our city… both as a healthy resource of fresh food for some and also a refuge for many more. I would like to share her article with you here:

The West Side Market
by Sarah Milli

page-0The West Side Market, Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market, has been a one-stop grocery shopping experience for Clevelander’s and tourists for over a hundred years. Located on the corner of West 25th and Lorain Road in what is known as Ohio City, this market contains everything from fresh meat to local seafood, fruits, vegetables, candy, bread and much more. It is a hub for Cleveland businesses and possesses an abundance of rich culture and heritage. Whether it is tourists from out of town or people who have lived in Cleveland their entire lives, the West Side Market is a bustling place to get groceries or grab lunch. The market has been recognized by the Travel Channel and Food Network for its unique market-shopping experiences and ethnic food selection. In the market’s centennial year, it was estimated to have had close to a million shoppers come through its doors.
page-1
The West Side Market is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and offers the true feel of market shopping. Anthony Sudano, a local Cleveland resident states, “I come to the market a few Saturday’s out of the year to get fruits and vegetables. It’s a great opportunity to buy locally and spend the day with friends and family.” During the week, the usual shoppers who return to buy their weekly groceries take advantage of smaller crowds and better parking, whereas a Saturday shopping experience can be crowded with people wanting to grab lunch before an Indian’s game or spend their day in the city. The Market is essentially funded through each business and organized by the Market’s office. Each vendor pays for their spot, inside or outside the Market, and the cost varies on the size of their stand.
page-2
“A little help from the homeless”, are words that can be heard shouted outside the West Side Market by a homeless man named Raymond Jacobs and other homeless people living in the Cleveland area. Jacobs, a Cleveland “resident of the streets” can be seen and heard selling newspapers in order to raise money for himself and other homeless people living on the streets of Cleveland. But this newspaper, unlike The Plain Dealer or Sun Newspaper is completely composed of articles and columns written by homeless people. “We stand outside the market here because we know it’s a place that Clevelander’s come every week to buy their food”, says Jacobs. “We want shoppers to know we’re doing something to get donations from people instead of just begging.” This newspaper called “Cleveland Street Chronicle” has been around for more than 20 years. What started out as photo flyers and stories of the lives of each homeless person, turned into a small newspaper filled with stories of all local Clevelanders. Jacobs stated that to write for the paper, contributors must be drug and alcohol free, an incentive that the money earned from the paper would only be used for necessities such as food or clothes.
page-3
The West Side Market, being around for more than a hundred years, has become many Clevelander’s source of livelihood, fresh food, and civic pride. John Busch, 82 years old and born just down the street from the market on Franklin Avenue, has been buying his groceries from the market for 65 years. Busch said that his favorite stand in the market is Foster’s Meats, the stand pictured to the right. “Honestly, they are all my favorite”, said Busch. “The market has everything I need from meat to cheese, chicken, steak, and vegetables. The best part is that I know my food will be fresh.” Many West Side Market shoppers like Busch return to the market each week to buy food for their families because of the freshness of the produce and to support local Cleveland businesses.
page-4
Classic Seafood, one of the market’s more recent stands, opened up six years ago and is one of the few stalls at the West Side Market that offers a wide variety of fresh and local fish. They pride themselves in the selling fish from Cleveland’s own Lake Erie, as well as seafood they have flown in overnight from Pacific and Atlantic regions. While they have a wide range of ocean selections such as shrimp, scallops, cod, caviar and mussels, they also offer the local catch of catfish, perch, walleye, and white bass. Many of the workers at this stand have extensive culinary training and pride themselves in the freshness of their seafood. Anthony Cunningham, 19 year-old Cleveland resident and newly hired employee of Classic Seafood stated, “I have learned a lot working at the market and dealing with people who know their seafood.”

I want to thank Sarah for allowing me to use her photo essay on Teach Green. I appreciate her power of the pen and keen eye for human interest stories. We hope to work together more often in the future.

In a speech on November 13, 1974 (40 years ago) at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, Moses Henry Cass, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Conservation cautioned, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” It is up to us to teach them how to take care of it. I believe that providing them with a place to test their ideas and find their voice is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth


Leave a comment

Introducing The Green Beans & the Litterbugs: A Multimedia Approach to Environmental Education

1525366_695396423825150_1412516447_nIn celebration of National Environmental Education Week and Earth Day next Tuesday April 22, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who read my blog in the United States and around the world. TeachGreenBlog now has readership in over 30 countries! I appreciate your continued support and shared interest in environmental education.

Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of The Green Beans & the Litterbugs at www.getgreenandgrow.com. For the past three years, I have been working with three of my talented and accomplished cousins to develop a unique model of interactive green entertainment for young children and their families. We envision The Green Beans & the Litterbugs as a franchise of engaging children’s programs, trade and ebooks, online games, webisodes, toys and other associated products. The Green Beans stories are designed to entertain young audiences, while promoting basic environmental themes, cultural diversity and positive social behaviors.

We have carefully constructed The Green Beans & the Litterbugs with an international worldview. We adhere to environmentally sustainable practices and support the United Nations’ definition of sustainability, “to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Initially, we are using our newly launched website and social media to spread the word.

Teach Green with Ecofriendly Characters
It is well documented that children like learning activities more if they involve beloved characters. When they see them on television or online, they want to imitate their behaviors. So why not use these influences to encourage good habits rather than unhealthy ones? In addition, popular characters can also be influential in shaping the ideas, behaviors and purchasing decisions of families with young children.

The Green Beans & the Litterbugs features five members of the Green Bean Team – Ruby Monkey Bean, Bella Brontosaurus Bean, Bentley Bear Bean, Gibbon Monkey Bean, and Crawford Crab Bean. With the help of their roving satellite Bloorb, the Beans travel the globe solving environmental emergencies caused by the Litterbugs. Each Green Bean story highlights a different ecological issue that becomes part of the plot. Real world environmental challenges are placed in the context of animated action that children can absorb and understand.

In order to shape a positive message, we created the Green Beans content with two important themes that run through the story lines. The first is a “green” theme highlighting an environmental issue in a specific geographical location that becomes the setting of the story. Young viewers will have the opportunity to observe how the Green Beans work as a team to respond to the problem, determine its cause and use logic to find a sustainable solution.

The second element that runs through the stories is a “character” theme. Virtues such as truthfulness, helping others and the importance of family are just a few of the positive traits that are subtly embedded into the plot to reinforce pro-social behaviors. These traits are demonstrated in the actions of the Green Beans and help children learn tolerance and conflict resolution by observing their positive example.

Children Virtually Explore the World
Each episode features a different location where a local child and indigenous animal assist the Green Beans in solving the ecological problem. As a result, viewers gain a global perspective of the challenges other kids may face in their part of the world. The stories are fictional and fun, but environmentally, culturally, and geographically correct.

The Green Beans & the Litterbugs is designed to also provide factual information about nature and the environment that can even be used as a supplement to classroom curriculum. Our website is full of interesting “field facts” pertaining to geography, habitats, flora, fauna and cultural influences on the environment. We host “Bloorb’s Blog” with up-to-date information on green events, activities and crafts, as well as sustainable tips for healthy living. We also welcome feedback from children who are making a difference in their communities. It is truly a green movement designed just for kids.

It is our ultimate goal to lead young viewers to a better understanding of the world around them in order to prepare for a sustainable future. We are seeking to partner with like-minded organizations that will join us in further developing The Green Beans & the Litterbugs for the benefit of kids everywhere. I hope you will visit our newly launched website at www.getgreenandgrow.com and “like” us on Facebook.Green Beans Logo

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth


Leave a comment

In the Garden: A Universal Sanctuary for the Body, Mind and Spirit

The next time our leaders plan to discuss important issues that affect all of humankind… maybe they should meet in the garden. Throughout the ages, its virtues have proven to be common ground that everyone can agree on.

A Blue Morpho butterfly on an orchid at the Cleveland Botanical Garden

A Blue Morpho butterfly on an orchid at the Cleveland Botanical Garden

So, what is the common denominator that brings us to the garden?

I believe that connecting with the earth in direct and meaningful ways helps us to connect with what is best within ourselves, making us healthier people overall. Throughout time, gardens and parks have not only served to nourish and heal our bodies, but also to feed our minds through the study of the natural world, and replenish our spirits with its beauty.

The First Gardens: Food Security
Forest gardening is the world’s oldest form of food-based plant production. Although this is not a term that is widely used in modern horticultural circles, the early humans responsible for the development of forest gardens may have been more sensible than we give them credit for. During pre historical times, forest gardens first emerged along tropical riverbanks and in the foothills where monsoon rains drenched the earth at regular intervals. Families transitioned from a hunter-gatherer existence and began to improve their immediate environment by identifying and protecting useful fruit and nut trees, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which were of direct benefit to humans. Foreign species were also incorporated into these early gardens and walls were built to protect family plots from animals and intruders.

The Healing Power of Plants
Over time, people looked to nature for ways to treat diseases and alleviate pain. The origins of plant-based medical treatments cannot be attributed to one specific civilization, but developed concurrently in cultures around the globe. Natural healing systems can be traced to the traditions of the Ayurvedic and Unani people of the Indian subcontinent, Chinese and Tibetan cultures in Asia, the Native Americans of North America, the Amazonians of South America and several local tribal systems within Africa. There is also evidence of medicinal plant recipes from Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, the oldest written evidence of the deliberate use of plants for medicinal purposes was written on Sumerian clay slabs found in area south of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq. The artifact included formulas for various ailments using 250 plant species.

A fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty

A fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 18th Dynasty

The Gardens of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Asia: An Expression of Cultural Beliefs
The first recorded examples of formal gardens created for reasons other than subsistence, date back to the early civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Asia. They began for a variety of reasons beyond basic food production. Pleasure, prestige, power and possibly even prehistoric instincts of our nomadic beginnings, made people yearn for wide-open spaces to experience and enjoy. Later, formal gardens were rooted in the divine and reflected the timeless quest for the meaning of life and our place within it.

Ancient Egypt
Gardens were essential to the lives of ancient Egyptians. They created neatly ordered green spaces filled with fruit, nut and ornamental trees as well as flowers, grape vines and papyrus. Gardens also had religious symbolism associated with specific gods such as Orisis, Nut, Isis and Hathor. There is evidence of elaborate cultivated grounds around tombs and temples to honor the deceased and provide them with natural spaces to enjoy in the afterlife.

Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 16th Century by Maarten van Heemskerck

Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 16th Century, by Maarten van Heemskerck

Mesopotamia
The imperial gardens of Mesopotamia were grand…even by modern-day standards. In fact, the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon were once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, although no archeological evidence remains to prove their existence or original location. The Assyrian garden differed from the symmetrical Egyptian garden, because they incorporated the natural terrain into their cultivated spaces. Assyrian kings brought back animal and plant species from foreign invasions and used their imperial gardens as evidence of their conquests and military might.

The Persian Chahār Bāgh
Traditional Persian gardens may have originated as early as 4000 B.C. The Persians are known for the chahār bāgh style garden layout, (chahār meaning “four” and bāgh, “gardens”). The Persian garden was designed to emulate Eden, with four rivers and four quadrants that represent the world. Typical designs often feature water channels that run through each of the four quadrants and connect to a central pool. The idea of the garden as an expression of an earthly paradise (derived from the Old Persian word “paridaida”), spread through Persian culture during the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 B.C.). The Persians also influenced garden design in other cultures from Andalusia to India and beyond. The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian garden interpretations in the world, from the era of the Mughal Empire.

Asian Garden Traditions
The earliest Chinese gardens were created by emperors and aristocracy…and were designed to impress. These modified landscapes could be more accurately described as vast parks filled with select plant and animal species that were used for hunting and leisurely indulgences. Later, gentleman scholars, poets, government officials and merchants began to create more intimate spaces for personal reflection and escape from the outside world. Over time, the gardens and parks took on a sacred role and have been influenced by Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Daoist, Shinto and Modernist beliefs.

A typical Chinese garden has enclosed walls, a water feature, rock formations, trees and flowers, all arranged in halls and pavilions connected by winding paths that lead visitors through a series of composed landscape scenes. These spaces are meant to evoke a feeling of being part of the natural world and reflect the traditional Chinese values of sensibility, self-confidence and harmony between man and the universe. The constantly changing scenery, altered by the effects of the seasons and changing light, is believed to promote philosophical inspiration and intellectual thinking.

Dry garden in Koyoto, Japan April 2004 by Stephane D'Alu

Dry garden in Koyoto, Japan April 2004 by Stephane D’Alu

Japanese gardens were developed under the influences of their Chinese neighbors. However, the Japanese gradually began to create designs based on the unique terrain of their island archipelago and the Shinto religion. Their gardens first appeared on the island of Honshu, and were shaped by the distinct characteristics of the Honshu landscape with rugged volcanic peaks, narrow valleys, mountain streams with waterfalls and pebble beaches.

Japanese garden styles serve many different purposes. Zen gardens are designed to promote enlightenment through meditation and minimalist design leaves room for spiritual thinking. Roji are simple gardens with teahouses, where the Japanese tea ceremony is conducted. Promenade gardens feature carefully composed landscapes along a winding path.

Throughout recorded history, the creation of gardens and cultivation of plants is universal to civilizations around the world. Although designs vary due to religious beliefs, cultural heritage, climate and landscape terrain, gardens and parks all share a basic unifying element. Experiencing the pleasures of nature make people feel better, both mentally and physically.

The Roman Empire in the 3rd Century A.D.

The Roman Empire in the 3rd Century A.D.

The Age of Exploration and the Business of Gardening
Over time, societal structures became more organized and people began to categorize and cultivate useful plant species for their healthful and healing powers. As people ventured beyond their immediate environment, they began to share their knowledge with other cultures, thus ushering in a new era of international commerce and trade.

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire had a great influence on horticulture. Romans were avid gardeners. From the grand landscapes of imperial country estates to the most humble private plots behind city houses, they treasured gardens both as places for relaxation and as plots to grow ornamental plants and trees, as well as fruits and vegetables. Like the ebb and flow of a great wave, as the Roman Empire expanded to include huge swaths of the Eurasian continent from Britain to North Africa and Portugal to Asia Minor, they flooded every corner of their newly conquered lands with gardens. Later, as their influence began to recede, they left behind the seeds of their horticultural practices that remained rooted in place long after they were gone.

The Romans also influenced the monks. Foundation documents of numerous Christian monasteries, note that gardening was seen as an act of humility and also a necessary vocation. From a utilitarian standpoint, vegetable and herb gardens helped provide both nutritional and medicinal crops, that were used to feed or treat the monks and, in some cases, the outside community. These gardens became the model for the physic gardens (medicinal herb gardens) that would later appear in Italy and other areas of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Another powerful wave swept the globe in the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries. Marco Polo’s expeditions to Persia, China and Southeast Asia, along with the discovery of America in 1492 and Vasco De Gama’s journey to India in 1498, eventually led to the beginning of European overseas expansion and the rise of colonial empires. As a result, contact between the Old and New Worlds produced the Columbian Exchange: a wide transfer of plants, animals, foods, human populations and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

At this point, the Age of Discovery enveloped the world, and with it, the rise of international trade. Organizations such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid were set up to try and cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to tropical locations. They also helped found gardens in tropical regions to cultivate newly discovered plant species for commercial use. These distant tropical plantations were created almost solely to receive and cultivate commercial crops such as cloves, tea, coffee, breadfruit, cinchona, palm oil and chocolate.

Down House, the former home of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and his family

Down House, the former home of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and his family

The Charles Darwin Era and The Origin of Species
As trade routes expanded and new lands were being surveyed, botanists and naturalists were commissioned to accompany these expeditions and document the flora and fauna along the way. By some twist of fate, Charles Darwin, a seemingly ordinary young man encouraged by his father to become a country parson, instead accepted a commission (without pay) as a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, a scientific ship assigned by the British Admiralty to survey the east and west coasts of South America. As the Beagle cast off from the shores of England, no one could have predicted the ripple effect that would be created by this monumental journey…washing away traditional beliefs of divine providence and the immutability (unchanging nature) of species and replacing it with new findings that would uproot the scientific community worldwide.

Darwin spent the next five years on a voyage around the world, collecting natural specimens, including birds, plants and fossils. He had the rare opportunity to study the principles of botany, zoology and geology through a wide-angle lens. The varied nature of ecological systems from South America and the Galapagos archipelago to the Pacific Islands, gave Darwin unique insights into nature itself. He began to see patterns of adaptation that countered established creationist theories. Upon his return to England, he fine-tuned and double-checked his theories through detailed experiments, anticipating a strong backlash from the church. With much trepidation, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection in 1859, and created a tidal wave of controversy between science and religion that remains to this day.

Darwin has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. Why? Because he discovered nature’s golden rule…in order to thrive, we must adapt and live as part of our environment, not apart from it.

21st Century Gardening and the Green Movement
Scientific research has come a long way since the days of Darwin. And yet, we still resist basic ecological principles that ensure our continued health and wellbeing as a species. We are more knowledgeable and connected than any other time in human history. Information and ideas circle the globe at the speed of thought. Food, medicine and other plant-based products are imported and exported in a complex network of international trade. However, even knowing what we do, the earth’s natural resources have been exploited with little thought given to the consequences of our actions. As a result, a new wave of change is looming on the horizon. Climate change…and this time nature is at the helm.

Certain human activities have been identified as causes for recent changes in climate patterns on the Earth and the results of these changes may have a significant impact on fragile ecosystems around the world. According to the United States National Research Council’s report titled America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council:

“Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades. This understanding is crucial because it allows decision makers to place climate change in the context of other large challenges facing the nation and the world. There are still some uncertainties, and there always will be in understanding a complex system like Earth’s climate. Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. “

Today, the nature of gardening is returning to its roots. Environmental education programs are now being offered in schools, parks and botanical gardens around the world. Innovators are building rooftop greenhouses and retrofitting high-rise buildings with vertical gardens and green spaces. Urban gardens are replacing blighted neighborhoods and there is renewed interest in the family farm. According to the World Health Organization, currently, about 80% of the world’s population relies on plants for their primary health care and some 35,000 to 70,000 species have been used as medicines. In today’s global pharmaceutical market, more than 50 major drugs originate from tropical plants. There is also an increasing amount of evidence that humans derive direct psychological benefit from exposure to nature. In retrospect, this should come as no surprise.

Time spent in the garden reaffirms the fact that our body, mind and spirit are deeply rooted in the natural world, regardless of how complex our lives may become on the surface.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth
TG13_White Orchids


1 Comment

What is a Food Desert?

I was planning to write about urban gardening next. However, as I began my research, I ran across a term that was unfamiliar to me…food deserts… so I dug a little deeper. I wondered. What is a food desert, exactly? On the surface, it seems to be a contradiction of terms.

By some serendipitous twist of fate, later that same day (really), I took a break from my work and made a quick trip to the grocery to pick up a fresh loaf of bread. My local store was busy with people stocking up for an impending stretch of extremely cold weather. I quickly completed my shopping and made my way to the exit. I walked past the first few cashiers, swamped with customers, to the last checkout where the line was surprisingly short.

As I began to empty my cart onto the conveyor (I can never leave the grocery with just a loaf of bread), I realized that the young woman ahead of me was paying for her groceries with food assistance checks (a rarity in my suburban neighborhood). The cashier kept up a friendly conversation with the woman, complementing her on the beautiful baby that was wrapped in blankets and sleeping in her cart. It took a little longer for her to complete the transaction, but the cashier’s pleasant demeanor never wavered. An older woman, who I presumed had accompanied the mother and daughter, stood off to the side and watched. When the cashier was finished, she wished them well and the three women left, smiling.

As I continued to unload my cart, the older woman returned to the cashier, gave her a big hug and thanked her for her kindness. It turns out that she was a Good Samaritan who offered to drive her neighbor to the grocery when she ran out of baby food. She had been stranded without a vehicle and the woman offered to help. In the parking lot, I saw them again. The wind was howling and blowing the snow sideways. I thought about the baby wrapped in blankets. As I pulled away, I noticed that my car thermometer read -2° F.

Right then and there, I reminded myself to be more aware of the people around me. I also realized that food insecurity isn’t just a problem reserved for the urban poor or developing countries; it exists in communities all across the United States… sometimes in places where we least expect it.

Food Deserts in the United States

OPFC3Cu - Imgur
According to a report to Congress prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 2.3 million households in the United States are more than a mile from a supermarket and lack access to a vehicle.

That’s not 2.3 million people… that’s 2.3 million households. Think about that. Your refrigerator is empty and the nearest food store is more than a mile away. Now, if you’re living in the city, you may have the option to take a bus or the train to restock your food supply. But what if you live in the suburbs or in a rural area? What if it’s -2° F and you have a hungry baby and no car? What then?

The main measurement used to classify a food desert is the distance from nutritional food retailers. Further, proximity is not the only factor, as individuals may live close to a retailer that provides nutritious food, but the healthy food selections may be more expensive, creating an additional barrier to access. The physical distance from full service supermarkets also leaves residents of these areas more likely to purchase food from convenience stores or fast food restaurants that offer mainly processed foods that are high in fats and sugars.

In 2010, Michelle Obama brought national attention to the problem of food deserts during the launch of her Let’s Move! campaign. This initiative is dedicated to giving parents helpful information about maintaining a healthy diet and links to programs that promote active lifestyles. It also advocates for nutritional menus in our schools and is working to ensure that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. Recent findings show nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. If we don’t change our current habits, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and asthma.

Solving Problems at the Local Level
Part of the problem stems from the fact that we have become a nation dependent upon others for our food production. We rely on imported products and ship domestic produce thousands of miles from its original source. This has not only increased our transportation needs and carbon footprint, but it has also put local farmers out of business. Although we will realistically never return to the agricultural roots of years past, we can all make an effort to increase the amount of locally grown products we consume. This is not a problem that has a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to address the issue at the local level and tailor solutions according to each region and specific growing season. As the trend toward sustainable lifestyles continues to grow, seasonal farmer’s markets, home food delivery programs, backyard gardens and urban farms are cropping up in communities across the country.

Creating a healthy relationship with food doesn’t have to be all work and no play. It may quite possibly serve a dual purpose. Researchers recommend that creating a direct connection between fresh produce and the consumer is an excellent way to promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles. Examples of this include urban farm programs; learning how to a start backyard or patio garden; and school programs… all great ways to experience nature and get outside and active.

Green Schools Can Play a Role
Schools can play an integral part in developing sustainable food delivery systems within the community. One of the most efficient ways to implement wide-scale change to society is through our education system. There are many ways a green school can work with the community to address important issues that affect the health and welfare of children and their families, including:
• teaching students about the impact of their eating habits on their bodies and on the environment
• incorporating healthy food choices in the school cafeteria
• creating edible gardens in schoolyards and local parks
• building kitchen classrooms within the school to demonstrate healthy food preparation
• using green curriculum to give kids hands-on experiences in growing a garden
• utilizing the insights and resources of business leaders and other community stakeholders to meet the needs of the community
• making school the center for community activities and an example of sustainable practices

As Americans, we are blessed to live in a country where the rights and privileges of its citizens are protected by law… Where nearly anything is possible if we are willing to work hard in order to achieve our goals. However, the system and its citizens are far from perfect, and with these rights come responsibilities to each other. Unfortunately, we are often quick to defend our rights, but much more reluctant to live up to our responsibilities. There needs to be a more equitable balance between the two. There is no reason that a young mother should wonder how she’s going to feed her baby in the middle of a snowstorm. It takes a village to raise a child and that should still be the number one priority of communities not only here in the United States, but around the world.

I know this may sound like an antiquated notion, but I took a couple of minutes to go online and read our Declaration of Independence. I was reminded of the monumental effort and risk the signers of that document put forth with no assurances they would ever succeed. The last line sums it up best for me:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

I hope you will join me in helping others in need. CBG_Desert FlowerI believe they come across our path for a reason. At the very least, offer a smile to someone who could use a little encouragement. Like a flower in the middle of a desert, it may just brighten their journey.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth


Leave a comment

Environmental Education in the Flipped Classroom

Throughout my childhood, our family farm in Pennsylvania was not only a summer getaway from city life, but also a place to host extended family and friends. Many times we were allowed to bring classmates from school. One particular friend shared my affinity for horses and was a frequent guest. We spent long summer days playing in the creek, exploring the woods and tending to the horses and cattle on the property, all without issue until one fateful evening when she learned the truth about the origins of beef.

My brother and I with one of the calves we raised at the farm.

My brother and I with one of the calves we raised at the farm.

We were sitting down to dinner, and quite by accident my father revealed the truth…beef comes from cows…and we were having a roast. The chaos that ensued remains vivid in my memory to this day. My friend let out a scream, fled from the table and out into the wilderness, imagining that she was about to consume the calf that we had played with the summer before. In truth, the calf (of milking variety) was grazing peacefully in the neighbor’s pasture. I tried to explain, but there was no consoling her. We all watched, dumbfounded, as she ran up the steep hill behind the house and disappeared into a stand of spruce trees.

Now the terrain at the farm isn’t rugged in most places, but it is remote. If you stray too far from the road you could walk for miles and not encounter another house or human for quite awhile. The hills and hollows all begin to look the same and you could pass within a few feet of any number of wild animals and never know they were there.

After my father recovered from his shock, he simply turned to me and said, “Go find her and bring her back.”

I thought for a moment and then headed out the back door. Judging by the direction she took, I had a pretty good idea of where she was going. I wasn’t so worried about finding her. I was more concerned about what I would say once I did. It wasn’t like a 12-year old kid could do much about beef consumption, right? I climbed the hill and tracked her footsteps through the crushed clover and alfalfa that she left behind on the mountaintop hayfield. I was still contemplating my argument as I reached the summit and looked out into the second hollow. Sure enough, there she was sitting on Table Rock, a big shale formation that cropped up from the valley below, about 4 feet high and 10 feet in diameter…the perfect place to go and think things through when faced with life’s many dilemmas.

Just as I began my descent, a flash of black and white emerged from a hole underneath the rock. From my vantage point, I watched in horror as a mother skunk and her babies appeared, one-by-one, as my friend sat on top of the flat rock with her head in her hands crying. Now the problem had gone from bad to worse. I approached carefully and tried to wave a warning, but she misinterpreted my actions and prepared to run again, still clinging to her misperceptions. I inched closer. At this point, I could even smell the danger. Finally, in desperation, I yelled, “skunk” just as she was about to jump from the rock. Luckily, she saw the danger for herself and retreated until the skunk family disappeared from view.

The Need for Environmental Awareness

The story may seem comical in retrospect, but it has larger implications that mirror a current trend in today’s youth. Our children have become disconnected from nature at a time when understanding the natural world is paramount. We cannot escape from ecological truths, nor can we run headlong into the future without a clear perspective of where we are headed. In the face of ever increasing environmental challenges brought on by climate change, combined with a rapidly increasing population growth due to reach 9.6 billion people by mid-century[i] and an alarming slip in the academic standing of American students on the global stage, we need to seriously reevaluate not only what type of information our students are learning in school, but also how that information is being delivered, in order to utilize valuable class time to the students best advantage and adequately prepare them for the future.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative

In 2010, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers established a new set of educational standards that are now consistent across all fifty states and provide clear expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and mathematics. By transitioning from individual standards unique for each state to the Common Core, the new objectives “promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.”[ii]

However, new challenges have emerged while attempting to raise the bar. How do teachers find enough time in the school day to deliver a 21st century curriculum within a 20th century classroom structure? The reality is…they can’t and don’t. Many schools have eliminated what they deem as non-essential subjects and concentrate only on the subject matter being assessed on standardized tests. Other districts are eliminating recess and reducing the time spent on physical education and outdoor activities…all at a time when children need environmental education, physical activity and exposure to nature the most.

No Child Left Inside Legislation

A growing body of evidence reveals that direct exposure to nature is important to a child’s intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and physical development.[iii] Additionally, physical activity, such as outdoor play, has been linked to increases in students’ grade point averages and more efficient classroom learning, as well as positive associations with children’s physical fitness, concentration, memory, behavior, and school satisfaction.[iv]

As a result, on July 16, 2013, bipartisan bills were reintroduced to the Senate and House that would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and require states to provide environmental literacy standards and associated teacher training for students in classrooms PreK through Grade 12. Continuing education for teachers is expected to include educator resources necessary for providing high-quality environmental education, as well as ideas on how to make use of the local environment as an extension of the classroom.

However, the problem remains. How do we fit a curriculum expanded to include the objectives of the Common Core along with the NCLI environmental education requirements into an already packed school day and still remain globally competitive? The answer? Why not make use of the technology that we are already using in every other aspect of our lives?

Technology Empowers People

We must be careful not to demonize technology in our quest to expose children to the nature experiences we remember from our youth. As parents, if we are honest with ourselves, we enjoy the benefits of technology as much as our children do, and they learn from our example. Electronic devices don’t turn on by themselves. It is our responsibility to monitor the amount and type of media exposure our children receive, just as we mold other time management and social behaviors.

In truth, technology and connectivity are making lives better. Take for example the mission of Worldreader, a non-profit seeking to eradicate illiteracy among the world’s poorest people through delivering quality, culturally relevant content by way of a special app available for mobile phones that the majority of these populations already have. The premise of the Worldreader Initiative is based on considerable data demonstrating that education and literacy have the power to change lives and empower people. If it’s possible to deliver quality content to remote areas of developing countries, surely we can use the wealth of digital resources at home to bridge the gaps in our own education system.

Teaching Green in the Flipped Classroom

In my first article about the flipped classroom, I made a case for an emerging educational model where teachers assign the lecture for homework, reserving valuable class time for problem solving and hands-on learning experiences. The beauty of the flipped classroom is that it allows teachers the luxury of utilizing differentiated instruction, providing students with different ways to acquire and make sense of information and ideas. It also allows time for project-based lessons where students can apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce real results. The flipped classroom structure dovetails nicely with an eco-friendly curriculum by allowing teachers the freedom to engage students in a variety of ways that will get them outside and active, utilizing all of their senses to interact with the environment as motivation and context for learning.

In fact, school is an excellent place to introduce nature and ecology… and I’m not just talking about an occasional experiment or an outing on Earth Day. They need to live it and make it theirs. Kids want to feel like what they do and say makes a difference. So if it’s becoming more and more difficult to get kids to nature. Why not bring nature to the kids? It might not be the exposure that we experienced. It might be even better… They can still experiment and play and get their hands dirty. The difference is that their play will take on new meaning.

Green Schools

I highly recommend watching the PBS documentary, Growing Greener Schools. The excitement of the children featured in the film left a lasting impression on me. For these kids, school is no longer four walls that close them in for the better part of the day. For them, school has spilled out of the classroom into the hallways where natural light or energy-efficient bulbs kindle a new sense of purpose. It has permeated the school roof, where solar panels help reduce energy costs and free up resources for other innovations. Learning flows out the door and into the schoolyard where open spaces (even urban spaces) can be used for outdoor exploration and experimentation. For these fortunate students, school has become a hub of innovation and collaboration…and above all a source of pride for their contribution to its ongoing success.

Edward T. McMahon who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, D.C. explains what makes a place worth caring about.

Place is more than just a location on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental – that provide meaning to a location. A community’s unique identity also adds economic and social value. To foster distinctiveness, cities must plan for built environments and settlement patterns that are both uplifting and memorable and that foster a sense of belonging and stewardship by residents.[v]

Green schools do just that. However, as one teacher wisely cautions in the film, kids can go to school in a green building and without the tools to understand the implications of sustainability, they will have no way of connecting the building to the environment or to their daily lives. She compared it to a tree falling in the forest, that no one hears. In order to have a true cultural transformation that will make a significant ecological impact, our schools need to become models of sustainability and use the environment as a context for learning across the curriculum.

One expert in the PBS film states, “Our timeline as a country in terms of greening of schools was probably about 50 years ago. So the work that we have to do is catch up. Because, if you look at the way the world presently exists with the major issues we’re being affected by and influenced by… carbon expansion, climate warming, those kinds of things. We really should have been dealing with this several decades ago.”[vi]

Teach Green, Think Green, Live Green

The time has come for us to stop looking for answers to outdated questions and start asking new questions. Questions like… What kind of citizens do we want our children to become? And, what tools do they need to be successful when facing an uncertain future?

It has become increasingly evident that all of us must learn to live as part of earth’s ecosystems, not apart from them. We especially don’t want our children to be caught unaware or unprepared to face environmental issues that are sure to challenge them in the coming years. We want them to be innovators and collaborators that are well versed in the cycles and connections that support life on earth. I believe that using our education system as a conduit for change is the fastest and most pervasive way to improve the eco-consciousness of our country. It is also a win-win situation for our children. It will get them outside and active and will prepare them to think green in a global economy.

Food for thought…

Oh yes, speaking of food. As for my childhood friend … Fortunately, the cow incident didn’t spoil her appetite for nature. Today, she and her husband live in the country with an assortment of farm animals on their property. However, to the best of my knowledge, she remains a vegetarian to this day.

Happy Holidays!

Elizabeth


[i] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013).

World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, Highlights and Advance Tables. Working

Paper No. ESA/P/WP.228.

[ii] National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: Authors.

[iii] Kellert, S. R. (2005). Building for life: Designing and understanding the human-nature connection. Washington, DC: Island Press.

[iv] Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R.J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1-12

[v] McMahon, Edward T. (2012). Character is Key to an Economically Vibrant City. The Atlantic Cities.

[vi] Wiland, H., Bell, D., (Producers & Directors). (2010). Growing Greener Schools. [DVD]. United States: PBS.