Garbage Can Challenge – YOU IN!?

This past spring, a few of us camp administrators got together and watched the movie Plastic Paradise (Warning: watch before you think about showing this to your children, there are some graphic parts). It was truly horrific, BUT equally inspiring. The film spells out that unless we, the consumers, stop buying plastic, it will not stop being made! And, if you haven’t guessed it – our plastic use is way out of hand and causing major environmental ramifications. Did you know that if current plastic production and disposal patterns continue, there will be more plastic, by weight, in the oceans than fish?

So, how much garbage does your family produce? In a day? A week? A year? Do you have a sense?

I’ve recently been so excited by the stories of families who’ve committed to living a zero or extremely low waste lifestyle. I’ve also heard of other families that only allow themselves to produce enough waste to fill up one garbage can… for the entire year! What courageous and conscious decisions!

For me, these inspiring challenges feel a little out of reach right now. I try to pay close attention to recycling and composting, but the garbage still fills up faster than I expect it to, and to be honest, I am not even sure how many cans of garbage we fill in an average week or month.

Knowing I definitely wanted to make some degree of change, I began asking myself: how can I reduce the garbage our family produces in a real and tangible way? And, what will make me commit to a goal for the long run? Then, I thought of all of you – our camp community, who I know also care deeply for the earth! It is always helpful to work together and get through challenges as a group.

If any of this is resonating, tell your children, get them on board, and start the challenge with us!

Here’s how to get the ball rolling and keep it going all year:

Step 1: Figure out how much garbage your family is producing as a baseline. You could weigh your garbage bags before you put them out for pickup, or simply count how many bags you toss each time. Notice how much of your waste stream is made up of single-use plastics – plastics that are used only once before they are thrown “away” (i.e. plastic bags, produce bags, straws, coffee stirrers, plastic wrap, etc.).

Step 2: Set a reduction goal you think is doable for your family, that will push you to try some new sustainable choices.

Step 3: Over this year, keep track of your garbage consumption and see if you can meet or surpass your goal!

I propose that we complete our baseline garbage tracking and our family goal setting (any ‘1 garbage can for the entire year’ families out there?) by the next issue of The Dirt, say, mid-October.

For the rest of the year, in each month’s Dirt, I will post about how my family (Daniel, Odelia and I) is doing with the challenge. I’ll also write about things we find helpful along the way!

If you’re in, please visit the Garbage Can Challenge page of our blog to reply with a ‘Yes! We are joining the challenge!’. I encourage you to reply regarding what your garbage goals are and, in future posts, how the challenge is going. This community sharing will help all of us all stay motivated and on track! I’m really looking forward to reading your posts. Pictures of your garbage (and/or recycling and compost) are also most welcome!

SO….WHO’S IN? I know Emily Selover, our Sustainability Queen, is!

I’m very excited about this,

Ayla

Upcoming Fall Events

24th Annual Food and Farmers Festival this weekend

When: Saturday, September 23rd, 11 am – 4 pm

Where: The Hungry Hollow Co-op Market @ 841 Chestnut Ridge Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

Join us at the co-op’s annual celebration of farmers and local food producers, featuring live music, grilled local food, organic cotton candy and popcorn, nature walks, hay rides, cider pressing (with us), and more!

Admission to this fun family event is free and your support of the co-op and local food producers is very much appreciated.

       

Green Meadow’s Fall Fair – Hope to see you there!

 

When: Saturday, October 7th, 10 am to 4 pm

Where: Green Meadow Waldorf School @ 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

Join us for Green Meadow Waldorf School’s annual Fall Fair. We’ll be there pressing apples into cider and welcoming autumn back into our lives. A wonderful family event with activities for all ages! Stop by any time between 10 am and 4 pm. Additional details can be found here.

See you there!

Our Fall Open House

 

When: Saturday, November 4th, between 1 and 4 PM – by appointment 

Where:  Meet at the Lower School Building @ Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

The best way to learn more about The Nature Place is by coming to an open house. We’ll take you on a tour of camp, give you a full picture of what we do and why we do it, and answer your questions about the ins and outs of camp.

Please email us in advance at camp@thenatureplace.com to set up your appointment.

So Long, Sweet Summer…

With school underway and tinges of yellow and orange cropping up in our trees, its plain too see that fall is upon us and summer is gently waving goodbye. And what a beautiful, magical, exploratory, nature-ific, fresh, funny summer it was. Here are a few treasured memories from this summer, to carry us through the months until we can be reunited again.

Ed’s Corner

To those of you who are reading our blog for the first time, welcome! To those who are long-time readers, it’s good to have you back. Each year, when I am called to prepare my contribution for September’s issue of The Dirt and its corresponding blog post, it is a tell-tale sign for me that summer is over, and it is time once again to enter the magical and transformational season called ‘fall’.

As many of us know, beyond our personal, unofficial signs of fall’s arrival, there is in fact an official beginning to the season. This year, the autumnal equinox occurs on Friday, September 22nd at precisely 4:02 PM, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. On this day we will have equal parts night and day. From then on, nights will slowly become longer than days, until we arrive at the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice in December. From there we begin the slow lengthening of our days as the cycle through the seasons continues.

With the thought of this cyclical, circular motion in mind, I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote following our last day of camp, just a bit over a month ago. Though the season has begun to turn, the memory of that day is still just as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. It is one that I will hold dear as we enjoy each changing season, until we arrive at glorious summer once again.

 

Love Is All Aground

On the big field, on the last day of camp,
without fail, we take time for goodbyes.
Holding hands, we form one large circle
that this year held one final surprise.

With all of our campers and counselors
each holding the hands of two others,
no matter how many, how far afield,
we always find room for each other.

Once our living circle has formed,
the center we share gives us reason
to recall all the circles we have in our lives:
the earth, the moon…the seasons.

We may feel a little bit melancholy,
knowing this summer’s camp is now done,
but we take solace in the circle of time:
we’ll be back, under next summer’s sun.

As we stood hand in hand, I became aware,
my eyes tracing our ring, start to start:
though our ‘circle’ may not have been perfect,
it did form one great, perfect HEART.

The tipis that still dominated the field
had sent us a little astray,
enough to dimple our circle of souls
in this wondrously suitable way.

I was called to the middle to share
some meaningful, well chosen words.
I had them scripted, but this surprise heart
had rendered them moot and absurd.

All I really needed to do
was point out the heart we had made,
shaped by our own hearts and hands
though we hadn’t known what was at play.

Love and tears suffused the air,
the oohs, the ahhs were all profound.
We’ve always known our camp is Love —
here the proof stood on the ground.

 

 

Black Walnut Riches

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden describes the ways he makes the most of this sure sign of autumn.

Every fall, beginning in mid-September, I gather the black walnuts that litter the ground like green and black tennis balls all around our neighborhood. I try to gather the green ones, as they are less likely to contain the ubiquitous husk maggots. I remove the husks (usually by rolling them underfoot until the husks split) and put the nuts on a tray to dry them out, either in a low oven or in my dehydrator. After the initial drying I leave them sitting on a wire rack, to cure for about six weeks. Around Thanksgiving time they are ready to use.

To make use of the husks, I put them into a large bucket and pour on hot water. After a while, the water turns a deep, blackish brown. I pour it through a strainer into a second bucket, then use it to dye clothes or to stain wood. It makes the best tie dye effects.

Once the nuts have cured, I begin using them in my recipes. If I need nuts in my pastries, I’ll use either hickory nuts or black walnuts (or both), secure in the thought that they are fresh and haven’t been irradiated, like so many commercial nuts. Besides, black walnuts taste great!

The most challenging part is opening these tough shelled nuts. I use a strong knife and a hammer to split them in two, and then some snippers to remove the remaining shells (see below).

I encourage you to explore the many uses of one of nature’s many autumnal gifts.

Back to School

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, recalls daydreaming during class in Catholic School, and what his Third Grade Nun had to say about it…

It happens at the end of every summer. Come September, there is the ritual return to school. The beginning of my third year at Catholic School was much like the year before. Marching in well-ordered lines from the playground/parking lot into the tan-bricked school building and up into our first-floor classroom, we were returned to our formal training. Ricky Cramshaw, Cousin Buzzy, and Cindy Maloney were across the street at the public school, which was called the Washington Avenue School. But I was sent to the Sacred Heart of Jesus school, where my mother Tessie hoped I would be inspired to lead a sacred life. My dad, Walt, didn’t care which school I went to, as long as I skipped as many days possible and spent them in the woods.

Our teachers were called Nuns, and they were women who wore black and white robes with hats that were called Habits. Ricky observed that they looked like penguins (and they did, sort of). My First Grade Nun was an elderly woman who didn’t seem to know why she was there. My Second Grade Nun was an exceptionally short woman, who was one of the toughest Nuns I ever met. But the Third Grade Nun was just the opposite. She was tall and gentle and she sang out constantly—beautiful psalms and hymns while we were doing lessons. She even taught us to sing. She was the first woman teacher at this school whom I was not afraid of.

During the first week of school, I found myself assigned to a desk near the window. The maples had yet to turn and the squirrels were busy running about the branches and pulling on fresh, new acorns. No matter what the subject, my thoughts drifted away and out the window, first to the squirrels in the trees and then further on to the woods back home. At mid-morning of each school day there was a recess, wherein all the kids were marched out to the hall and then each one took a turn to visit the bathroom, whether you needed to or not. On the third day of third grade, when we marched out to the hall, this singing nun (whose name was Sister Barbara Ann) stopped me and looked into my face and said, “Master Stead, for the past three days I have seen you stare out the window and drift away into the trees out there.”

 

I nodded my head in agreement, since there was no sense in hiding what she already knew. But then she said this, “And I can see by your face that you go beyond the trees to some other place.”
Again, I nodded, but I was now scared that she could see inside me.
She said, “Where do you go?”
I spoke slowly and said, “Up the mountain to look for animal tracks.”
“What kind of animal tracks?” she asked.
“Squirrel, opossum, coon, cat and dog.”
“Why?”
I told her, “Because that was how nature writes its story.”
She looked at me and her face was full of wonder. She said, “I’ll tell you what, Master Stead, when I see that look in your eyes and think you are searching for animal tracks, I won’t call on you, OK?”
I nodded my head in agreement.
Then she said, “But sometimes I will need to call on you to help me answer things about places and arithmetic and about double negatives…”
I said, “I ain’t got no double negatives.”
She smiled and said, “I don’t got no negatives neither.”

She then stood up and sent me to the bathroom. And for the rest of the year, I knew there were times when she saw that I was looking out the window, and she did not call on me. Sister Barbara Ann was my first favorite teacher, for letting me go away when I needed to.

The Way We Cook

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, serves up a thought-provoking piece about the ‘ways’ and the ‘whys’ of cooking, along with a refreshing recipe for an autumnal equinox elixir of sorts.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are, ” goes Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous aphorism. Besides being a lawyer and a politician, Brillat-Savarin was also a gourmet and one of the founders of the gastronomic essay genre. I can’t resist mentioning the charming and very long title of his famous Physiology of Taste, published in 1825. The full French tittle is Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savants.

Brillat-Savarin’s famous quote popped into my mind during a cooking class this summer while I was listening to an exchange between a group of campers. Inspired by what I heard, my thoughts went in a bit of a different direction. I was thinking something along the lines of “tell me how you cook, and you will tell a lot about yourself.”

The cooking class conversation involved a group of teenage campers. As one boy was chopping onions, a few pieces fell to the floor, and some jumped from the cutting board to the table. This minor mishap resulted in some friendly teasing from fellow campers. The camper was jokingly called a messy cook. Luckily, he did not feel intimidated, and he had the perfect answer for his friends: “Well, my mom always says that there is no good cooking without a mess in the kitchen.” It did not end here. Another camper offered a very different quote from his own mother: “My mother says that it is very important to always be organized in the kitchen.”

How do you cook? Do you follow a recipe without changing anything? Do you read recipes for inspiration, then close the cookbook? Maybe you don’t use recipes at all. Do you usually stick to several well-tested recipes or does your repertoire always involve something new and adventurous? Do you wash the dishes continuously or do you let them to accumulate? How do you feel about immersing your fingers in sticky dough? Would you avoid a recipe because its preparation comes with a lot of mess? Do you like having company or help while cooking? Are measuring tools your friends or are you just fine without them? Do you plan menus well ahead or just go with the flow?

We are all different and we like to do things differently. The kitchen is not an exception. I always try to remember this when I cook with kids.  When deciding how to engage our children in cooking activities, what tasks to delegate or share, we have to, of course, consider their age first. We need to ask ourselves, ‘what are they able to do and what activities would they enjoy?’. Some children prefer little tasks and want our help, others want to do everything by themselves. Repetitive tasks work for some, but not all. A quiet, patient child will enjoy neatly forming piece after piece of dough into a desired shape. A high-energy, active child will prefer working with a mortar and pestle, or to invest a lot of energy into cranking a manual grinder. Some prefer to imitate the parent and do exactly as told. For others, open-ended tasks are more suitable.

Let’s remember that cooking is a sensory experience. Consciously incorporating this aspect into our projects works especially well with young children. Let them smell, taste, touch, and explore texture. They will take in much more than we would expect.

When we cook together, we cultivate not only good eating habits, but more much: patience, perseverance, creativity among others. We have the opportunity to teach our children about environmental responsibility, the nutritional value of foods we make, and even time management. Cooking also creates an opportunity to improve hand-eye coordination and fine motors skills. Observe your kids as they roll out dough, pour, spoon, chop, measure, decorate, spread, or peel. Do they need help? Are they more skilled than a few months ago? Hands-on experience with food preparation makes for adventurous eaters. By involving children in an activity that makes a difference, we help to build their self-confidence. Most importantly, cooking is a bonding opportunity with our kids—an opportunity to cultivate social skills. We cook together, and while we chop and stir, maybe even teenagers will open up. Maybe we will hear something unexpected; maybe we learn something new about our children. (And, of course, there is a possibility that none of this will happen, but we will still have a nice meal!) It is never too late to start to cook, and never too early to begin to cultivate a lifelong habit of those long conversations in the kitchen.

 

Pear and Lemon Verbena Soda

Summer meets fall in this refreshing drink. Lemon verbena brings the taste of the warm season, pear: the promise of the upcoming harvest. As we say goodbye to the summer and welcome the fall, this is a great drink for the last outdoor gathering of the season, or the celebration of the fall equinox.

Older children should be able to prepare this recipe without help (make sure to supervise them when they handle hot water.)  Ask the younger ones to squeeze out the lemon juice, to measure out the liquids and the sugar, to stir the sugar into the hot tea and watch it “disappear”. Don’t forget to let them smell and touch the fresh herb!

6 sprigs of fresh lemon verbena, about 5’’ long
5 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 bottle of sparkling pear juice

Pour boiling water over lemon verbena. Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea. Add sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let the tea to cool.

When ready to serve, put a few ice cubes into each glass. Pour in one part lemon verbena tea and one part sparkling pear juice. Garnish with slices of lemon and lemon verbena leaves. Enjoy!