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Earth Day on the Farm @ Rodale Institute

Earth Day, Earth Day, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Here is the lovely Rodale Garden and Visitor Center at the Rodale Institute Farm in Kutztown, PA. Visitors can still visit and make purchases in person and online while following safety guidelines. Live music is playing between the Theater and the Visitor center. Volunteers are checking in at the blue tent for various farm activities that were held as part of the Earth Day celebration.

Earth Day, 2021

“If we can build—or rebuild—connections to each other, to the land, and to the systems that support us, we can, perhaps, contribute to a growing worldwide web of interrelationships.” ~Jono Neiger, The Permaculture Promise

Every now and then, we have the opportunity to reach out to the stars and touch them, feeling their warm, glittery shine on our fingertips. We take a moment to close our eyes and breathe in the cool, fresh air of the country. We take off our shoes and slowly dig our toes into the living soil, smiling as we become one with this place. I personally feel this way when I work outside with happy people who also want to just enjoy the simple pleasures of life and spread goodness and abundance to others. Time stops, schedules just flow, and stress slips away when we do things solely for the good of doing them. And thus, my never ending calendar of volunteer events.

Earth Day on the Farm at Rodale Institute

How do we show our appreciation to the Earth for Earth Day? Besides the obvious five R's —Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refurbish, Recreate— we plant seeds, compost, read books, eat local foods, and meet up at one of our favorite spots to enjoy the socially-distanced, masked "company" of others. Right now we aren't really closely interacting with others but it is nice to be outdoors and still feel safe knowing that everyone is courteous enough to wear a mask in the presence of others. With the earlier warm temperatures this week in the high 60s and low 70s I have been looking forward to [today] for some time now. On Wednesday night it snowed and we had thunder/lightning hail during the day on Wednesday, so surprisingly the weather was less than ideal. 20mph wind gusts and low to mid 40s left some of us feeling slightly down but as they say, "There is no such thing as bad weather..." only improper clothing choices. So we bundled up and faced the day with appreciation.

On Thursday, April 22, we celebrated Earth Day on the Farm at Rodale Institute. One of our favorite places to go, walk around, support in various ways, and visit. On this special occasion, I was honored to be invited to host children's activities with the lovely Jean, a retired school teacher, and Julia, a budding Chemistry major from Chicago who is currently interning on the farm. Earth Day inspired activities for all ages like scavenger hunts, building a bug hotel, and planting seeds were provided in front of the Garden Center. Everyone was polite, friendly, happy, and helpful on the farm during the event. There were many activities which were hosted on the farm in various locations where volunteers could pick up trash, work in the gardens, take wagon rides, tour the farm, and get to know about some farm operations. The event was also opened to the public and included some Earth-friendly vendors like: Gaia's Tribe, a jewelry maker, and Sunrise Authentic African crafts, @sunrisevibe1, a sustainable, fair trade, eco-friendly provider of woven items. There were yummy food trucks and stands. My children were ecstatic to hear there was a gluten-free -friendly food truck, BlendLife, with gluten free grilled cheese and other sandwiches, smoothies, and gluten free chili. It is not often that we can safely go and eat at a food truck and have so many gluten free options —let alone, sandwiches. There was also live music provided by the dynamic duo, Out of the Orchard, who sang and played guitar joyfully— even with all the wind.


Planting seeds

Children from the Finding Place plant seeds at the activity table. They could choose from Organic Moon and Star Watermelon seeds and Teddy Bear Sunflower seeds. One student is planting watermelon seeds, while the other plants sunflower seeds. They will take these home and water daily until the seeds germinate and the sprouts appear, then they will water as needed when the soil is dry. We are hoping to find spots in our various gardens sometime in June, in case, well... it snows or we get frost in May.

I want to live in a world that is brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable. So anytime I am working with children and their caregivers, I always remember to add helpful narrative while completing tasks. When working with Organic seeds or Heirloom seeds I always add, "Don't forget to save your seeds." Yesterday, as usual I got some surprised and inquisitive reactions. "Save the seeds? Then what?" Then you plant them. Sometimes participants are surprised [Hmmm. but where do you get the seeds?] From the fruit or the flowers. Then we really take a moment to look at the seeds. "Do you see this watermelon seed? What does it look like?" The children and parents will lean in and squint a little expecting to see some generic seed, possibly some small black nondescript oval. "It is just like the one from the slices of watermelon from a picnic!" [a child will exclaim]. "And what do you think would happen if you planted the seeds from the watermelon you eat?" ~It will grow into a new watermelon??!! But then how do I get the seeds? "You rinse them, dry/clean them, and save them in a cool, dry, dark space. You can always look up online how to save each kind of seed but most seeds like to be rinsed, dried with air, then kept in a film canister <dating myself>, an envelope, jars, old vitamin containers, or a little dry box. Do you think you could try that?" Children's eyes always open up, they nod their heads in agreement, they turn to their parents or caregivers as if to get approval or say "Let's do this!"

Children love to plant seeds and see something form. A green leaf popping up from a small black speck. It seems mind blowing. And, yet, nature provides. Nature is built to keep going. It is a vibrant cycle of life and death. So teaching children at a young age where food comes from, how seeds turn to plants, and plants turn to seeds is vital to a mission of sustainability. You eat the food. You clean and save the seeds. You plant the seeds. You grow and eat the food. You repeat. Eating organic can be much more financially manageable if we take a little time to grow some of our own food and supplement our meals with greens, micros, kale, culinary herbs. The health benefits from these whole foods rich in nutrient-dense material and phytonutrients are unquestionable.

We plant the seeds of wonder and awe surrounding nature and children will grow the story. Children will tell the story and remember. Seeds grow food, food grows seeds, I can plant my own food and keep the cycle going. I can save seeds and grow food. [If it is organic food, it can potentially grow seeds that will sprout and grow again.]


Building Bug Hotels

Look what I collected! I'm ready to make this bug hotel now!” ~Enthusiastic young participant, S.

Another engaging activity that we hosted at the "Children's table" was using recycled and found materials to make bug hotels. Heather, the smiling face of the Garden and Visitor Center, had gathered some hay, pinecones, sticks, bark, washed out water bottles and milk jugs, and paper straws which are perfect for solitary or mason bees. Jean, a longtime Rodale volunteer, created a demonstration bug hotel to show the participants what to do with materials. We also gave out small potting vessels to children who wanted to do the scavenger hunt and I instructed them to put on their exploring eyes and try to watch for nut shells, bark, branches, sticks, sweet gum or horse chestnuts, hulls, and other nature treasures while they were completing the scavenger hunt and tasks.

One child came back an hour later, bubbling over with excitement. She had filled her pot with corn husks of all sizes, corn stalks, pine branches, pine cones, bark, nut shells, lichen covered branches, and one single feather. I got out the last large jug that I had inadvertently stashed under the table for her. As she showed me her treasures, I carefully held the jug as she meticulously placed each item into its spot. I could see as soon as she walked up to the table, she was the kind of child who had already created the bug hotel in her mind and she knew where everything was going to go. At last, her pot was empty, shed had added her selected pieces of paper straws, and then she carefully and gently placed the tiny feather in its spot. "Any thing else or is it ready?" I asked her. Even with the mask, I could tell that she was smiling. "It is ready and it is perfect," she replied. We told her and her caregivers to place the bug hotel in a warm, sunny spot that is protected from wind.

There is a chance that the bug hotels could attract ladybugs, lacewings, solitary bees, mason and leaf cutter bees, and other beneficial insects that help out in the garden. These kinds of bees can pollinate 10-20x the flowers of ordinary honeybees. Ladybugs and other beetles love to lay eggs in straw and old wood. They are great for pest control as they eat aphids and other pesky insects that can infest your garden. Lacewings feed on a wide variety of insect pests and can help to keep your garden healthy. Spiders and centipedes also find sanctuary in wood pieces and bark and help to maintain balance in the garden. Butterflies also are known to lay eggs or sleep in bug hotels if they offer the right protection. By providing opportunities for beneficial insects and integrating a diverse ecological environment with a variety of native plants, we can create a sustainable ecosystem in our own backyard. By inviting children to learn more about beneficial bugs and insects and how to care for all living creatures, we spark a caring and nurturing reaction. We plant the seeds of empathy. People are more likely to think about their impact on the Earth if they, as children, first learn to care about the Earth.


At home extensions

Want to learn more about Bug hotels, beneficial insects, seeds, planting, or gardens at home? There are so many great resources and books that are available. Some of our favorite go-to {children's} books on these topics are—in no particular order:

  • Bug Hotel: A lift-the-flap book of discovery. Text by Libby Walden. Kane Miller Publishing. 2018.

  • Matheson, Christie. Plant the Tiny Seed. Greenwillow Books. 2017.

  • Aston, Dianna Hutts and Sylvia Long. A Seed is Sleepy. Chronicle Books. 2014.

  • Messner, Kate. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. Chronicle Books. 2015.

  • Take-Along Guide: Berries, Nuts, and Seeds by Diane L. Burns. NorthWord Books. 1996.

  • Take-Along Guide: Caterpillars, Bugs, and Butterflies by Mel Boring. NorthWord Books. 1996.

  • Ehlert, Lois. Growing Vegetable Soup.

Of course, there are so many great books about gardens, seeds, planting, beneficial insects, and how to books on gardening, create bug hotels, plant seeds. These books offer basic, fundamental ideas in each area. There are easy to identify illustrations and contextual references. These books are small and lightweight making them a good option for taking out to the garden.

Get Connected

For more information and links featuring images of the event. Check out the Morning Call's "Earth Day at the Farm: Photo page" You can also watch a short clip from the news at WFMZ News

You can find more about Rodale on their website. If you are in the Philadelphia area, be sure to RSVP and check out Rodale's Earth Day Event at the ViaDuct on Saturday, April 24. Philadelphia Earth Day Event You can support Urban Farmers such as Farmer Jawn and enjoy the city's hidden gem at the new event space.


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