Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Celebrate Biking: Fun Free Events!

As I plan a move to rural Vermont, I become more and more appreciative of how bikeable metro Boston has become.  I’ve lived here for 7 years without owning a car and have loved it!

May is bike month and this week is Bay State Bike Week and Bike to Work Week.  In other words, it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of fun free events that bike advocacy groups are holding.  If you stored your bike for the winter, it’s time to dust it off, pump up your tires, and get back on the road!  Cities in the greater Boston area have been doing a lot to make biking easier – bike lanes and paths now connect most communities in the area.  This is the week to learn more about what’s going on in your community, check out your local bike advocacy organization, participate in the fun, and get psyched for a season of cycling.  Tons of events are posted in this calendar, and I’ve highlighted the fun ones in the Somerville area below:

-Read about the Rush Hour Race in which a biker beat a T rider and driver from Davis to Kendall.

Somerville Bike Committee’s Commuter Breakfast by Star Market and Petsi’s Pies on Beacon St. Thursday (moved due to rain) from 7:30-9am

Boston Bikes Bike Week Celebration Friday includes free breakfast!

Tours of the Mystic Basin Trails (11am) and Parks of Somerville (2pm) on Sunday.  These are awesome places for Somerville residents to know about, but it really does help to be shown the way by a guide your first time!

Get Involved! Musings

GO: Get Outside

The beauty of April is that we are all stir crazy and it becomes extremely enjoyable to spend time outdoors.  The signs of spring continue to accumulate, weather warms up enough to make pick-up sports enjoyable, and the sun is still up when we get out of work in the evening.   I couldn’t have agreed more when the Children and Nature Network declared April “Let’s G.O.! (Get  Outside) Month.”

Today I coordinated a School Garden Work Day in East Somerville.  We replaced rotting wooden raised garden bed frames with sturdy recycled plastic timber beds salvaged from the old East Somerville School garden.  A reporter from the Somerville Journal covering the event asked me a seemingly simple question: “Why is this good for the children?”

I thought for a moment, and asked for clarification: “Why are school gardens good for children, or why is it beneficial for them to participate in today’s work day today?”  I knew my answer for the first possibility, but hadn’t really thought about the second.

“Why is it good for students to be here today,” she clarified.

I quickly realized that I had many answers.  Youth in the city have very few opportunities to do outdoor manual work with tools.  Shoveling dirt with shovels can provide infinite learning experiences: what happens when I toss the dirt through the air? How can I get more dirt with each scoop? How much is too much – can I lift the bucket I filled?  Beyond the learning experiences, it is also a great opportunity for physical activity and strength building.

The great thing about team work and physical tasks is that we can see, very quickly, the results of our labor.  We started with empty garden beds and a mountain of soil.  By the end of the day, the beds were full and the pile was gone.  Dirt was smeared across our faces, and our arms complained when we tried to pick up heavy things as we cleaned up and prepared to leave.  The space was transformed and improved, and we were the ones who did it!  Participating in this event provided all workers – young and old – with learning opportunities, two hours of physical activity, a chance to improve the school grounds, proof in the power of team work, and a huge sense of accomplishment upon completion of our task.

I encourage everyone – youth and adults – to find opportunities to work and play outside this month.  If you’re looking for events or places to get outside or engage in a community improvement project, here are a few suggestions:

Get Involved!

Boiled Down: A Maple Recap

By the end of the Boil Down weekend, I was barely able to speak in complete sentences.  I managed to take the following notes, which still sum up our season’s success quite well:

Friday: Boiled from 7:30am-10:30pm, had 260 students, and about 60 adult visitors over the course of the day.  Cold weather!
Saturday: Boiled from 8:30am-9:30pm, had about 500 visitors despite rainy weather.  Waffles and hot drinks were a hit.  Tons of families dressed in great raincoats and boots and colorful umbrellas.  Finished off Friday’s syrup on a burner near the evaporator.
Sunday: Finished off and canned from 9am-4pm, finished off Saturday’s syrup, canned Friday’s and Saturday’s batches.  Yield: 3 gallons.

Since photos, it is said, say more than a 1000 words, here are a few from the weekend:

Third snow of the year? On the first day of the Maple Boil Down in March? The first field trip group gathers at the Growing Center.
"Does anyone know what this tool is called?" "A Therminator!" "Well, that's close..." Learning about temperature, evaporation, and fire in a city park...with MAPLE SAP!

…and then the camera went away for our rainy Saturday morning entertaining…

The sun breaks through the evaporating steam to keep the afternoon and evening enjoyable for those tending the fire
Well, maybe it was grilling food AND the sun that kept us going!
Finishing off: The final day of our marathon from the comfort of home.
Get Involved!

You’re invited: Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival

Join Groundwork Somerville on March 3rd at the Somerville Community Growing Center for the annual Somerville Maple Syrup Project Boil Down!   Community members of all ages are invited to 22 Vinal Avenue between 10am and 2pm to watch and learn as sap from local sugar maple trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  Attendees can expect to enjoy syrup-tasting, children’s music by the Animal Farm, kids’ activities, demonstrations, and much more! Waffles, syrup, hot drinks and Somerville Maple Syrup Project T-shirts will be on sale.

At 11am and 12noon, Animal Farm will be entertaining Boil Down Festival guests!   Animal Farm is a Boston-based trio of musicians and educators whose lively performances entertain and engage children ages 3 to 103! Each thirty minute show will be a colorful blend of original music, storytelling, hilarious antics and games.

Hope to see you there!

School Gardens

Meet Your Farmer

How do you get eggs from a chicken if they don’t want to give them to you? Is it hot working on a farm? Are cucumbers fruits or vegetables? Do you have to catch the animals to get them on the farm? Does chocolate milk come from brown cows? Can we grow bananas in Somerville?  Strawberries?

I am always in awe at the enthusiastic curiosity of elementary students.  I had the pleasure of answering questions like these, and many more, during an event I recently coordinated entitled “Meet Your Farmer.”

In a team with Farm School Farmer David Graham, we visited six classrooms over the course of the day.  David contributed stories and experiences from working on a farm and I offered my expertise gained from working in city gardens during each classroom visit.  With each group, we helped students develop a more concrete and respectful vision of the farming occupation. Our goal was to increase their appreciation for the work it takes to produce food.  One of my main roles was to  make sure to connect our learning to actions we can all take in Somerville in the likely case that families can’t bring students out to farms in the suburbs.

What can we do in a city as densely populated as Somerville?  First, we need to figure out where one could even find space to safely grow vegetables.  As a group, the students brainstormed ideas ranging from backyards, to community gardens, to pots in a window, to their school garden.  (For adults considering backyard gardening, make sure to test your soil for heavy metals first!). We then learned that organic gardening is especially important in our community because it offers much needed habitat for important living things including decomposers, pollinators, predatory insects and birds.  There’s very little space in Somerville for these critters to find food, shelter, water, and friends, making urban gardening’s impacts greater than often is expected.

Next we brainstormed a list of fruits and vegetables that we would like to grow in our school garden.  We learned that many tropical plants can’t grow in Somerville.  We even might have to rule out space hogs like pumpkins and zucchinis if growing in small back yards.  Luckily, we learned that we can grow almost all of the favorite fruits and vegetables brainstormed at the beginning of the lesson.   At the end of the program, we all got to sample several slices of MA-grown Macintosh apples.  We liked how they were crunchy, sweet, and sour at the same time.  It was also cool that they were grown at a farm in our own state.

It’s that time adults!  Do you want to grow for yourself this season?  No matter where you live, you can grow food.  And if you find yourself brimming with questions, feel free to post them below and I’ll see if I can answer them for you!  You may also find the series of “Backyard Gardening” posts I made last year helpful if starting a garden for the first time.

Check out the groups that made this event possible!  “Meet Your Farmer” was coordinated by Groundwork Somerville and funded by Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom.  Additional partnering with Somerville Food ServicesUMass Extension Nutrition Education Program, and East Somerville Community School made everything possible.  Also check out the press the program got in the Somerville News and the Somerville Patch!

Answers to introductory questions: -Chickens rarely fight you for their eggs, though if a hen is broody (if she wants to hatch her eggs into chicks), you may have to reach under her with thick leather gloves. -It’s often hot in the summer, but it’s cold in the winter.  We dress for the seasons, like you do when you play outside.  -The animals on the farm were born there; they’re the babies of cows and chickens we already had. -Brown cows make normal white milk.  If you add chocolate and sugar, you get chocolate milk.  -Bananas don’t grow in Somerville because they die in the winter, but strawberries do!

Get Involved!

Free Admission in Honor of MLK!

Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. spent four years in Boston in the ’50s?  I just learned that he came here to complete his PhD at Boston University!   I also just found out that all National Parks and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts are free in honor of MLK Day and thought I should spread the word.

  • On Monday, the MFA is free for all.  The new wing is open and Wood Sculpture, Modernist Photography, Aphrodite, Beauty as Duty, and Around the World in Water Color are just a few of the subjects of current exhibitions.  There’s also a bunch of cool events  including a Local Youth Film Shorts Showcase, chorus concerts, and free tours.
  • All National Parks are free for the whole long weekend!   Yes, that means that from the 16th through the 18th, anyone can visit any National Park without paying.  That includes Boston Harbor Islands, Saugus Iron Works, and the Olmsted site for those of us in the Boston area.  You can also use this website to see what other National Parks are in Massachusetts.


Get Involved!

Holidays can support our Community

There’s some fun events coming up, check ’em out, or suggest others in the comments section!

1) Do you like to draw, doodle, or design things?  Find details here, submissions due Nov. 21st: Maple T-shirt Design Contest  Feel free to pass along to graphicly-minded friends

2) Do you think you might like to eat a HOUSE MADE MAPLE BACON DOUGHNUT?  Or other delicious maple things? I’m running a Maple Syrup Brunch at the Independent on December 3rd to fundraise for the Maple Syrup Project, and would be deeply appreciative if you came and brought a table-full of friends!  Oh, and there’s also delicious Maple-themed cocktails.

3) Last but not least, does your house or apt. want a Wreath this winter?  Early bird rates end Dec. 1st, your purchase helps the Growing Center…that awesome place where we boil sap into syrup in March.

Get Involved!

Harvest Season…or Festival Season?

September is certainly a time of plenty when it comes to local food in Massachusetts. It also happens to be a season plentiful in great community festivals and events.  Attending these events is a great way to get out, show your support for the coordinating community organizations, AND amplify the amazing energy of collective fun.  Here’s what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Check out how many years each of these events has been running for – there’s some oldies but goodies and it seems like Somerville got energized in 2005!

Union Square Farmer’s Market: Saturdays 9am-1pm, Union Square, Somerville
*best time of year for anything and everything you could want at a farmer’s market

Moving Planet Rally: Saturday 9/24 3pm, Parade to Chirstopher Columbus Park, Boston
*the more people, the stronger the message: we need to move beyond fossil fuels

6th Annual “What the Fluff?” Festival: Saturday 9/24, 3-7pm, Union Square, Somerville
*”shenanigans and games” stages among other attractions

9th Annual Community Day: Sunday 9/25 11am-3pm, Tufts Academic Quad
*free lunch and free performances from student performance groups

Green Drinks Meet-Up: Friday 9/30 5-7ph, Johnny D’s Holland St. Davis Square
*free “green” (don’t know if that’s literal or not) appetizers and raffle for all participants in Walk Ride Days

6th annual Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands: All weekend 9/30-10/2, Davis Square
*crazy performances scattered across Davis Square and a parade on Sunday

2nd Annual Boston Local Food Festival: Saturday 10/1, Fort Point Channel
*amazing local food vendors, demonstrations, skill shares (I’m Vermiculture at 12:45), music

17th Annual Growing Center Harvest Festival:  Saturday 10/1, 22 Vinal Ave
*apple pressing, butter making, pumpkin decorating, a silent auction fundraiser, nature activities

3rd Annual Somerville Local First Harvest Festival: Saturday 10/15, Arts at the Armory 191 Highland Ave
*Local beer, wine, food, music, and performance for $20…this will sell out!

Get Involved!

It’s time to tap for sap: Join us!

Join me as I show folks how to tap a tree on Sunday.  We will be tapping the sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Sunday February 6that noon.

Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to wear tall snow boots, gators, or snow pants and dress to be outside for an hour.  We’re still looking for musicians to help us sing sappy songs, feel free to contact me if you’d like to help out!  Here’s the event flier: MSP Tapping Event 2010

-- Joanie Tobin/Tufts University Photo