The big move: Somerville, MA to Charlotte, VT

I’m in final stages of packing up my apartment in preparation for a move to Vermont.  Along with clothes, shoes, bedding, and other standard possessions, I’ve had a few more eclectic projects as I pack.  I cleaned up my worm bin and will be donating it to Groundwork Somerville.  I’ve divided up my porch garden and rescued some of the volunteer seedlings that sprouted up in my landlord’s flower garden (after last year’s seeds flew down from my porch).   They’re all going into pots intended for specific friends, school gardens, and community spaces.

As I pack, I’ve also had time to reflect about my change in homes and communities.  Somerville and Charlotte are dramatically different.

Here are a few of the statistics, Somerville vs. Charlotte (from Wikipedia):
-Population:  75,754 vs 3,569
-Area: 4.2 square miles (0.1 sq. mi. water) vs.  50.4 square miles (9.0 sq. mi. water)
-Population Density: 18,147.6 per square mile vs. 86.0 per square mile
3 zip codes and 2 area codes vs. 1 zip code and 1 area code (for the whole state)
69.1% white vs.  97.93% white
-Public transport including bus, metro, commuter rail access, and bike paths vs. a ferry to New York State
-Established in 1842 vs 1762

I hope you’ll continue to visit my blog, converse, learn, and grow!  In Vermont I will continue to  compile memories, observations, pictures, and stories as I garden and enjoy time outside.  My posts are often motivated by friends’ questions.  It’s usually easier for me to write up a response in a blog rather than go back and forth with texts, calls, or email.  If you ever have gardening questions, let me know and help inspire future blog posts!

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!


Early Signs of Spring

On Groundhog Day, February 2, 2012, I noticed Iris leaves poking up into the air, swelling of the buds of some street trees, and blooming Snow Drops scattered across a yard I passed as I returned to my apartment from a morning jog.  We can’t possibly have a long winter, right?

Unfortunately, it took me almost a month to get outside to actually photograph early signs of spring in my neighborhood.  But it is still February.  And I  am still constantly surprised by the things I see plants doing in front yards across the city.

My delay did allow me to take advantage to a predictable change we all appreciate at the end of February: I can go on a walk after five and still enjoy some daylight!  Dusk quickly approached, making it hard to take well focused photos.  As the subject is time sensitive, I’m posting them anyway!  What unusually early signs of spring have you noticed?

An over-wintered Pansy flowering!
Budding illuminated by the sunset
Summer Street sunset
The biggest surprise: Vinca/Myrtle blooming? Doesn't this normally happen in the summer?
Get Involved!

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.

Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To

City Biking

Growing up in Vermont, I thought bikes simply facilitated recreation – I certainly didn’t consider them a tool help me get to any practical destination.  In Somerville, it’s easy to live without a car.  Everything I do for work or in my own time is possible using only a bike and public transportation.  During the winter, however, getting on my bike and heading to work, the store, or an event can seem like something to avoid.  Leave my cozy living room?  I don’t want to!

This winter’s weather has made biking really easy, but even with warm temperatures and infrequent precipitation, I become more mindful of being a biker this time of year.  Recently I’ve come across some great articles that other riders might want to check out.

Amanda Kersey has been writing a weekly column for the Somerville Patch “about the ever-growing passion for cycling in and around Somerville.”  Her articles great resources for anyone biking in the area.

This article makes the best case I’ve heard regarding why bikers should follow the rules of the road.  I often (but not always) stop at lights, even when I could run them safely, and wonder if it really is worth it.  It was good to be given multiple reasons to keep on obeying the laws (although I will admit I go a half block the wrong way to get home).

Appropriate clothing and bike equipment is definitely the reason I can get through the winter without getting frostbite or crashing (knock on wood).  I thought this article provided some really good tips without suggesting high end gear or other pricy advice.  Lights are crucial because it gets dark so early.  Frosty car windshields may also not get cleaned very well and during winter weather, cars take longer to stop, making visibility especially important.  When I’m getting dressed for a trip, it’s most important to have wind proof insulated gloves and something to cover my ears.  My core gets very warm while biking so I usually leave my sweatshirt in my bag and put it on after I get to work.  Wind  pants help a lot when temperatures go below 15 or 20. Mountain bike tires with deep treads have worked fine for me in almost all conditions.  I’ve heard that it’s good to keep them slightly less inflated so more of the tire’s surface can grip the road if you’re biking on ice, packed snow, or loose sand.

It’s been really nice to share the roads in Somerville with so many other bikers.  I feel much safer when it becomes habit for cars to drive with a stream of us on their right hand side.  This site shows which roads have bike lanes, paths, or markings in Somerville – things have really improved in the past few years.  My daily trip down Somerville Ave from Porter to Union Square was recently re-paved and had a bike lane added making it ideal for a year-round commute.  If you’re also a biker in the city and have tips or resources for fellow riders, fell free to post them below!

Photo note: It turns out I only find biking notable enough to document when I’m carrying a large or funny load…perhaps a demonstration on how habitual it’s become for me.  Here are a few fun ones:

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!

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.

Children and Nature Get Involved!

Summer Kids Library Workshops: Check ’em out!

This summer, Groundwork Somerville “healthy Education” programming is expanding to all three Somerville Public Libraries!  In addition to our traditional nature and gardens programming in existing camps and summer programs, I will be leading late afternoon workshops at the libraries on Tuesdays and Thursdays this summer.  This summer’s GWS library programming is free open to the public, best for youth ages five to nine and includes a snack!

At the Main Branch, “Eco-Explorers” weekly Tuesday workshops from 4-5pm will enable young residents to explore nature and wildlife in their neighborhood.  The series at the East Branch, entitled “One world, many critters” will introduce us to insects, spiders, and worms through fun activities, snacks, and games. At the West Branch, we’ll continue our strand of themed workshops connecting to the library’s “One World, Many Stories” summer focus.

Groundwork Somerville would like to thank the Friends of the Somerville Public Library for their support of this programming.  All workshops are on our calendar – we hope you’ll spread the word, stop by and bring your friends!

2010 Library Workshop Participants Show off New Seedlings!
Recipes School Gardens

Rainy Days

Ok, so imagine your title is “Garden Educator.”  Your classroom is a school garden.  It’s lush and chock full of natural learning experiences every week as the seasons pass.  You work after school with students in the garden, so are not constrained by test scores and standards, though you could easily demonstrate that you meet numerous standards every day.  I think this job description sounds pretty good!  …its gets a lot more challenging on weeks with forecasts like this one: 70-100% rain every afternoon.

I often use rain days as opportunities to focus more on nutrition.  Two great themes are “Parts of a Plant” or  “Eating the Rainbow.” Both can culminate in a salad, coleslaw, or stir fry using a vegetable representing each part of a plant or each color in the rainbow.  You’d be surprised how well all three of these snacks are received by students from Kindergarden on up.  If you run multiple sessions and buy all the ingredients at once, each of these recipes is full of veggies and quite affordable.  Check out our coleslaw and stir fry recipes listed at the end of the post!

Both themes are also happily supplemented by “Veggie Twister,” pictured here.  While working at Groundwork Somerville, Maura Schorr Beaufait created this amazingly colorful, engaging, and educational Twister board and accompanying spinner.  The horizontal rows are arranged by parts of a plant and the vertical rows are arranged by color, so the board can be used for each theme.  Maura duct-taped laminated color photos of various produce to a tarp.  Commands such as “right foot leaf” or “left hand seed” will twist your students into knots and test their flexibility.

With cooking and games sprinkled into your session, it’s easy to facilitate your students in learning the functions of the parts of plants or how each color helps promote healthy gardeners.   Do you have successful rain day garden activities?  I’d love to hear about them.  Enjoy your next rain day!

Rainbow Stir Fry: Choose a veggie to represent each color or each part of plant.   Fry in olive oil with salt or soy sauce.  Serve and enjoy!  Here’s an example of what we used this year:

  • kale, ripped by kids (green)
  • red pepper, diced (red)
  • garlic, diced (white)
  • blue potatoes, diced (blue/purple)
  • sweet potato, diced (yellow/orange)

Parts of Plant Coleslaw: Choose a veggie to represent each color or each part of plant.  Some categories could be contested below, but we aim for simplicity especially when working with young students.
Stir veggies together with enough mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper to make a creamy sauce with balanced sweet, salty, creamy, and sour flavors. Serve and enjoy!  Here’s an example of what we used this year:

  • cabbage, chopped finely (leaf)
  • raisins (fruit)
  • carrots, shredded (root)
  • celery, chopped (stem)
  • broccoli, chopped (flower)
  • sunflower seeds for sprinkling on top  (seed)