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:

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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.
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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!

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The Boil Down Approaches

Today while sitting at my desk, I took a moment to mentally step back from the hourly coordination craziness that happens during the syruping season.  Assessing the overall progress of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project this year made me much more positive after a morning of creative crisis management.

Groundwork Interns and Staff Help Tap

Sap collection is going at full throttle despite strange winter conditions.  We filled locally available freezer storage space and are now filling up the walk-in refrigerator at the Winter Hill School.  We have volunteers committed to collecting the accumulated sap each day of the week and an intern working to manage this piece of the project.

Students act out the layers of a tree trunk

Education sessions are in their final week in 20 classrooms across the city.  They’re powered by 19 volunteer educators and a second intern, and they’ve have gone on despite an onslaught of recent sickness.  Our Maple Education intern has run two of four “Maple-y” children’s workshops at the Somerville Public Library, which are free and open to 5-9 year olds.

All permits, an added urban complication to sugar making (must have Public Event, Fire, and Temporary Food Service Permits), are in place for the Boil Down Festival.  A third intern is working on planning this time and energy intensive event and creating a manual so the project can be more easily coordinated in future years!

Want to be part of the collective energy, learning opportunities, and fun?  Here’s how you can get involved or help out:
– Families, attend the  Maple-y Workshops at the Library!
– Volunteer to help make the Boil Down Festival a success – volunteers needed March 2nd, 3rd, and the week of March 5th. Email
– Sponsor the Boil Down Festival – last year Groundwork Somerville drew over 700 people to the Growing Center for this event; do you want them to know about your business or come to your store or restaurant after the event? Email
– Print and post the Boil Down Festival Flier in your neighborhood, office, or school
– RSVP and invite your friends to the Boil Down Festival on facebook

Hope to see you on March 3rd!

Get Involved!

Maple Tapping Time

Supporters or the Somerville Maple Syrup will be tapping sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Thursday January 26th at 3pm.  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 dress appropriately to be outside for an hour.

The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Friends of the Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.  In late January, maple trees in Somerville are tapped and the collected sap is stored for a 2-day public boil-down event in March at the Community Growing Center.  Sap starts flowing when temperatures drop below freezing at night, and rise above freezing during the day.

In addition to daily sap collection, Groundwork Somerville staff and community volunteers teach a 4- week arts and science curriculum to 2nd graders in all of Somerville’s public schools and at the Somerville Public Library.  High school students working in the metal shop provide annual maintenance on the wood stove and evaporator pan they made in 2005.  The syrup produced is given as thank you gifts to key partners, and/or sold in small maple leaf jars at the Groundwork Somerville booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. To learn more about the project, visit and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.

Children and Nature Get Involved!

Celebrating an Urban Summer, Outside

Who would have predicted I’d still be living in Somerville, the most densely populated city in New England, six years after coming here for school?  The small natural spaces in our city made it possible.  Coordinating the programming in and maintenance of our eight school gardens has been an incredible learning experience for me.  I can hardly believe that my job is to encourage play, exploration, and learning in these small urban ecosystems.  However, there is one additional space that provides Somerville with an especially special natural oasis: The Somerville Community Growing Center.

The Growing Center is a city park, but it’s nothing like any other.  Built as a result of a community-driven design process with volunteer labor and donated materials, it has matured into a vibrant ecosystem.  Within its mere 1/4 acre, there’s a pond, trees to climb, a performing stage, fruit trees, wild flowers, a bee hive, solar panels, community compost bins, vegetable gardens, a grassy lawn and labyrinth, and numerous pieces of art.  Some see it as a place to play, some a cultural center, some a medatative safe space, some an outdoor performance area, some a place to learn to grow food, and still others that place where maple syrup is made in the city each spring.

One of my favorite events of the summer was the first ever “Growing Villen Voices Open Mic.”  Youth from Teen Empowerment and Groundwork Somerville joined together to organize the event which featured youth-cooked free food (with lots of yummy produce) and a talented line-up of youth poets, singers, performers, and activists.  The event drew a diverse crowd of youth, mentors, and fans – many of whom hadn’t ever been to the Growing Center before.  The outdoor venue certainly wasn’t the focus of the event, but it did influence its vibe.  Bird songs accompanied stand up poetry.  Wind interrupted the line-up by lifting a tent into the air.  The dusk signaled the end of the event.  We appreciated the sunny dry day.  Natural rhythms like these are rarely factors in our daily urban lives because we spend so little time outside.

The most important part of the Growing Center for me is the sense of wonder, exploration, and spontaneous learning it prompts in visitors of all ages.  Being in natural spaces seems to encourage these responses.  Those of us living in paved, built, urban spaces, however, rarely get to have these experiences especially if we lack the means to travel outside of the city.  For me, the Somerville Community Growing Center is one of Somerville’s gems – setting our city apart from other dense urban communities and making it a great place for all residents to live, work, and play.

Get Involved!

Volunteer Opportunities: Maple Syrup Season

I’m busy gearing up for the final celebration of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project: The Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival.  I hope everyone in the area will be able to join us at the Somerville Community Growing Center (22 Vinal Ave.) on Saturday March 5th any time between 10am and 2pm to celebrate the finale of the 2011 syruping season.  Attendess of all ages are invited to come to this free event to watch and learn as sap from local trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  If you come, you’ll have the chance to taste syrup, join in the singing of sappy songs, participate in kids’ activities and demonstrations, and more! Waffles, syrup, and T-shirts will be on sale to support the Somerville Maple Syrup Project.

Volunteers at the 2010 Maple Boil Down
Volunteers at the 2010 Maple Boil Down

The Maple Syrup Project is run on an extremely tight budget but is hugely successful thanks to the amazing support of many partners.  Some folks give time, some give money, and many businesses provide materials and services needed to make the entire project run smoothly.  Check out the list below to see if there’s anything you can do to help out.  Even joining the crowd and adding excitement and energy the day of the boil down is appreciated!

Maple-y Workshops: are better than ever! If you know young families with kids between 6-9 years old, help spread the word!  We’re hoping to boost attendance for the last workshop and build up momentum as we near the day of the Boil Down

Boil Down Preparation Work Day: February 26th, 10am-2pm, Join volunteers at the Somerville Community Growing Center and help to prepare the space for the Maple SyrupBoil Down Festival the following weekend.  This is a great opportunity to be active and outside in the early spring and volunteer in the community!  Bring work gloves if you have them. Tasks will likely include shoveling, moving the boiler, stacking wood, creating activity stations, and cleaning up some storm damage.

Activity station volunteers needed Friday March 4th from 8:30-noon or 11am-2:30.  This first day of the Maple Boil Down is devoted to field trips for second grade participants in the education component of the project.  Great for folks who like working with young elementary students and being outside.

Musicians needed for at least hour long blocks Friday March 4th from 8:30-2:30 and Saturday March 5th from 10-2.  If you’re avaliable during any of these times and would like to lead simple sappy songs with attendees of the Boil Down, we’d love your help!

Print the flier and spread the word


RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook: and “like” Groundwork Somerville while you’re there!


Bucket Washers needed AFTER the Boil Down: Volunteer to come to our office for hour long blocks the week after the boil down to wash a round of buckets and leave things in good shape for next year!

Hope to see you soon! If you’d like to help out, email or call 617-628-9988.  Thanks!