Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The joys (and spills) of Maple Syrup

Another great post from our guest blogger - Earlham Bonner Student Shannon Hilbert!

Adventure in Sustainability: The “What is going on here?”
As the resident blogger here at Cope Environmental Center, I hold the responsibility of attending the occasional event at the Center and detailing my experience. My supervisor suggested that I go to the syrup-making event, in which families bring their kids to learn about the history and science behind the making of maple syrup. I agreed to shadow this program, not because of any innate desire to learn the ins-and-outs of syrup making (although it is very interesting), but in order close a chapter in my life regarding my (not at all) tragic experience with maple syrup.

I should start out by saying that my entire family holds the belief that I hate maple syrup. They’re wrong, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m the one who led them to this conclusion. I was first introduced to maple syrup at a young age when my father bought a Snoopy-shaped waffle maker in an attempt to inspire an enthusiasm for breakfast food. This worked marvelously, and soon my mornings were filled with drowning my favorite cartoon character in syrupy goodness. However, there was one problem that forever changed the role of maple syrup in my life:

As a child, I spilled everything I got my hands on.

That’s right. As long as it was a liquid, it was going to find a way out of its container and onto my clothes. Because of this unfortunate tendency, and my new-found affinity for breakfast food, I spent many mornings ruining my clothes with an overflow of generic Mrs. Butterworth. Eventually, this routine became tiresome, and I decided to do something about it. My little kid logic immediately cast aside the idea of trying to eat without making a mess. Instead, I decided to inexplicably declare my hatred for syrup and shun Snoopy and all he had to offer.

This brings us back into the present, where I was following a group of young kids and their parents through the Center to learn about syrup. The program, being family-centered, began by educating the multitude of kids on the basics of trees. Seeing as I already know the basics of trees, I spent much of my time trying not you yell out, “It’s chlorophyll! Chlorophyll! No, it’s the inner bark!”

After the information session, our group took a walk through the Center in order to look at the maple trees that produced the sap used to make syrup. Along the way we were met by two Cope workers dressed up like a Native American and an early settler. They both described their experiences with syrup to the group, and I had to admit that their stories were probably more interesting than my own syrup adventure. During the walk, the kids were asked a lot of questions, and I could see their enthusiasm for showing off what they learned during the information session at the beginning of the program. The program concluded with a demonstration of how Cope creates syrup today, and then the entire group was invited for a big pancake breakfast.

It was clear to me that the kids really enjoyed the program, and at Cope there are many programs such as this that offer parents the opportunity to have their kids be active in a productive way. The maple syrup program was a great combination of informative and interactive with the added bonus of a nice walk throughout the Center, and I would recommend it to anyone interested.

Lastly, if anyone cares to know, this program did inspire me to bring maple syrup back into my life. After finishing this program I got a stack of pancakes and loaded them up with syrup. I felt proud of reclaiming my place as a syrup-eater until I looked down to see…

…a syrup trail making its way down my shirt. Oh well, old habits.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another one from guest Blogger Shannon Herbert. With gardening and all the joys of spring right around the corner, now is a great time to start or revive your compost pile! Read Shannon's blog - any questions? call 855-3188, Facebook your question at!/copeenvironmentalcenter

We can answer questions to help guide you in starting a compost pile that will fit your needs!
Adventures in Sustainability: The “What is that?”
Now that I have made a commitment to attempt a green lifestyle, I feel like my eyes have been opened to an entirely new world. It’s similar to when I saw Inception for this first time and started looking everywhere for signs that I was dreaming. (“Do I really remember how I got here? I don’t think that’s what that building looks like. I could have sworn it was a darker grey.”)

Because I’ve started looking for “green” things, I no longer walk right past them as I once did. I now see the sticker that says my notebook is made from 100% recycled material, the bottles of all-organic (and surprisingly delicious) apple juice, and the numerous recycling bins on campus. With this new perspective—my “green vision,” if you will—I have begun to look deeper into the environmental efforts on campus, starting with the one I am faced with every day: composting.

In Earlham’s cafeteria, there are three trash cans in the area where students drop off their plates. One of these is used for regular trash (aka the barbeque pizza that looked good but really wasn’t), and the other two are designated for composting. Before coming to Earlham, my knowledge regarding composting could be summed up with, “…It’s something to do with rotten food, right?” However, after receiving withering looks from people upon dropping a piece of cake into the composting bin, I have been forced to learn a bit more.

For those who are unfamiliar, composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter, which is then applied to a garden to improve the soil. Or, in more comprehensible terms, things such as vegetables, fruits, lawn clippings, et cetera are put in a container and left to rot until they become an effective fertilizer. Seeing as I’m a lifelong city dweller, my knowledge of gardening is fairly limited, so I decided to contact my grandma, the only person I know with a garden, for more information on composting. Here is the basic run-through on one method of composting used by my grandma. (I assure you that her garden looks very nice.)

1. Take an old 50 gallon oil drum and drill holes in it—sides and bottom.
2. Inside the drum, put/layer anything organic (i.e. grass clippings, weeds, potato peels, carrot tops, clippings from everything, et cetera).
3. Between the layers, pour a special “composting tea" that consists of hot water, old tea from used tea bags and old coffee grounds.
4. Let it sit and then take a pitchfork and turn it. It will smell a little as it rots.
5. When it has decayed enough, empty it into the garden, spread it and work it into the soil.

There are many books and websites devoted to composting and several different approaches to it. I know it’s an added effort, but the environmental effects are significant. Composting reduces the amount of trash sent to landfills and puts it to better use. Also, it creates a thriving garden that can be used to grow all kinds of food that one would otherwise have to buy. All and all, I believe it is a very worthwhile endeavor and something I will surely try (once I’m out of this dorm).

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at composting, check out these helpful websites that will get you started and provide information on what not to do: