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Opening a Nature Center (Finally!)

Opening a Nature Center (Finally!)

by Julie Burkhard

I first found out about SEMPBA (Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance) last summer when I was changing jobs and looking for some volunteer work to keep me busy. I found a post on Volunteer Match saying they were looking for a volunteer to help open their nature center. I was able to help a few times and we were able to move a few things around so that the room flowed a little more, but unfortunately, I couldn’t help for very long. I had started a year of AmeriCorps with TerraCorps and was placed at a site that matched my career interests more. But, when I found myself switching service sites halfway through my year, the universe brought me back to SEMPBA to help finish what I started.

When I arrived at SEMPBA in January, I was glad to see the room was still set up the way we had it last summer, although, it hadn’t been used as a nature center yet. And, when things aren’t being used, they have a tendency to end up as storage. Space and resources are tight in the non-profit world and nothing goes to waste. But it was always SEMPBA’s intention to use this space as a learning center, so that has been my main capacity building project – to get the space up and running and to create a year’s worth of environmental education activities (complete with signage, worksheets and pictures of set ups). Once my service year is a complete, all SEMPBA has to do is find a volunteer to staff the center, but everything will have already been created and documented ahead of time.

The first step was to get the place organized and move things around so that people could move through the space easily. Once we were able to move things around a bit, there were some items like stools and fabric curtains that needed to be bought, so that the space could be used as both storage (hidden behind the curtains) and a learning space (with a place for children to sit). Since we had no budget, we had to ask for some donations, and we were lucky enough to get enough money and in-kind items to get the things we really needed. I was even able to turn the packaging material from the stools into a pine tree for the reading nook. After the room was ready, it was a matter of planning activities and getting the word out. We had our first visitors this past week, and we are expecting more during the upcoming February Vacation Week. It has been very exciting to see this project I started even before I began TerraCorps finally come to life and to help SEMPBA accomplish one of its major goals in a way that can be sustained even after my service year is complete.

Julie is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at South Eastern MA Pine Barrens Alliance for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

From Turtles to Trees and More

From Turtles to Trees and More: Connecting the Outdoors to Schools and Beyond

by Jessica Tierney

When I first heard about TerraCorps, I knew nothing about AmeriCorps or what a “service year” meant. I had also never heard of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps protect forest and farmland in Franklin and Worcester Counties. As a former teacher in the throws of a career change into Environmental Science, TerraCorps, an AmeriCorps organization that pairs service members with environmental organizations, seemed like the perfect place to begin my exploration. Mount Grace also seemed like the perfect organization to serve with, as they were looking for a Youth Education Coordinator. The position would allow me to learn about my newly chosen career while using what I knew about the profession I had previously dedicated so much time to. Now it is February and I have been serving as Mount Grace’s Youth Education Coordinator (YEC) for almost six months. What started out as a simple curiosity about Environmental Conservation has turned into a soul-enriching experience for reasons that I never expected.

One of my goals this year as Mount Grace’s YEC has been to compile former YEC’s lessons into an organized curriculum that will serve grades K-4 in the Athol-Royalston school district. At the beginning of my service, I thought this would be my biggest accomplishment of the year. I started off with a sense of motivation and excitement. I taught pollinators to fourth graders, seed dispersal to second graders, and trees to first graders. As the months progressed, I began making visits to Kindergarten with Turtles and taking third graders outside for bird watching. Regardless of the grade level or topic, the students were always ecstatic; they exclaimed things like, “this is the best day of school this year!”, “why can’t we do this every day?!”, and, “I love these turtles!” Of course, hearing these statements and watching students become engaged with learning was magical and never failed to bring tears of joy to my eyes; but it was a commonplace joy I was used to from all my years of teaching. I had gone into this experience looking for something new and I had expected it to come from some new revelation I would have while teaching students- but it was the same joy I had always felt in a new environment. As the year progressed, I found out that my biggest accomplishment of this year will not be this new curriculum or the students that I teach. It will be something more personal that I can already feel happening. It is due to the change from working in an urban, indoor classroom to serving at a quiet, slow-paced, rural office. It is bringing with it an opportunity for personal growth that is changing my perspective on professional life. I now believe this shift will ultimately be my service year’s most profound achievement.

Part of this change has been brought on by the sense of community that this rural office has. At some point each week, there comes a time when we sit around the kitchen table at our office as a staff for a team meeting. It is always professional, of course, but it has a different feel compared to the meetings I have grown accustomed to in prior professional places. Before, meetings felt sterile, down-to-business, and dis-ingenuine. Ideas were spoken of, but they were not always listened to or cared about. People danced in their seats, bored, tired, and wanting to leave. In this new space, the meetings feel warm and welcoming. They are met with energy and excitement for the projects being discussed. There is a sense of ease around the table. No one seems to stay out of obligation and nobody takes it personally if anyone leaves early to attend to something more relevant to their professional life. Not to mention, there is a drawing my daughter made when she visited our office one day that one of the staff members hung up on the refrigerator, right in view of our meeting table. It reminds me daily that everyone genuinely cares about what is best for the team and for each other- not just about what looks good and what boxes must be checked. This is something I had never thought was possible or would have even hoped to find in a professional environment and yet here it is. It is the thing Education has been missing for me and I happened to walk right into it by accident, through this TerraCorps experience.

The camaraderie and welcoming atmosphere I have experienced at Mount Grace has caused me to rethink my professional environments of the past, to reflect on what my former expectations have been, and to consider what they could be in the future- more collaborative, more energetic and creative, and overall happier. It is something I did not even know was possible that I have been lucky enough to find at Mount Grace. I will never stop delighting in the excitement of wonderous children in the throws of new learning. They will always be a huge part of what drives me to do what I do- whether I continue on to work in Environmental Education or I switch to a role that involves more land stewardship, I will always consider children when I do because shaping children is my life’s calling. However, I now know that my work doesn’t always have to about emptying myself to fill children’s lives. I can now open myself up to the possibility of working in environments where I am filled up by my team and my community because that is what I have found at Mount Grace through my experience as a TerraCorps service member. It is not some big accomplishment that can be documented on paper or in mathematics, but it is changing my life for the best.

Jess is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

Want to learn more about our current members? Click here!

Greater Quabbin Food Alliance

Spring 2018 Greater Quabbin Food Alliance

by Kat Kowalski

As the Regional Conservation Coordinator for the farm conservation program at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, I am in charge of planning the Greater Quabbin Food Alliance. A twice yearly meeting that brings together groups and people from the region involved in the food system. They then further break into focus groups to discuss progress and actions to take. The Greater Quabbin Food Alliance meeting is a chance to come together as a community and identify ways to further improve our food system!

I received feedback that this Spring’s Food Alliance gathering was the best one yet. We invited local makers to showcase and sell their products, and this really added fresh energy and excitement to the gathering. Not only that, but every working group closed the day with a meeting time and projects to get started on right away. The Food Access and Health group is becoming more independent, which is the hope for each of the groups so we can keep building capacity and relationships within the community. This happened in the past with the Farm-to-Institution working group, so I’m excited that this trend is continuing. The Farm and Food Business Viability group is meeting soon and has many ideas for projects we can all work on to reduce barriers that small producers face, and the Food Waste Reduction and Composting group is planning a workshop series for business owners. I look forward to continuing my service next year and following through on a lot of these great initiatives!

Kat Kowalski served as a Regional Conservation Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for TerraCorps 2017-2018

Kestrel Nest Box Project

Kestrel Nest Box Project

by Jill Fusco

The American Kestrel population has been declining in North America since the 1960s due to pesticide use and loss of habitat. To help its namesake, Kestrel Land Trust built and installed 12 nest boxes in the Pioneer Valley in 2012. What started as 12 boxes has grown to 20 in 2018 through community support with installation, monitoring and up keep.

Throughout my service year I have been coordinating volunteers to help move this project forward. In the fall we took some time to move a handful boxes to more suitable nesting locations in the hopes of attracting a breeding pair. This entailed lifting a 16 foot pole out of the ground, carrying it across a field, digging a 4ft hole, and leveraging them into place. I then spent a few afternoons that winter with a few brave volunteers cleaning out old nesting material and preparing the boxes for spring.

As the kestrels start to arrive for the breeding season, volunteers monitor the nest boxes for activity. They monitor the boxes once a week and take notes on kestrel sightings, hunting, and potential nesting. After months and months of preparation, the time finally came to band the kestrels. I got to band my first chick!

(Why band kestrels? Having individuals banded and recorded is useful for research and management efforts. This simple process of attaching an aluminum band from USGS allows scientists to learn more about dispersal, behavior, life span and other useful information about the species. Learn more here:

Jill served as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Kestrel Land Trust for TerraCorps 2017-2018

Rose Baker Senior Center Harvests Salads in Nearby Garden Beds

Rose Baker Senior Center Harvests Salads in Nearby Garden Beds

by Mackenzie Sains

The Rose Baker Senior Center is located around the corner from the Backyard Growers Office and serves older adults from Cape Ann through various classes, exercise opportunities, and meals. Through partnership with the local food pantry, they provide a free salad bar three times a week. This fall when Backyard Growers built a raised bed outside of our office, we weren’t sure exactly how we would utilize it—we wanted it to be an educational space, and we wanted the produce to directly go back to the community.

Knowing about the preexisting partnership between community organizations, I thought that it would be an incredible opportunity to support the salad bar at Rose Baker by growing lettuce at our corner garden. In the winter I connected with the director of the senior center and began developing a partnership between Rose Baker and Backyard Growers. After months of building credibility and enthusiasm among guests at Rose Baker, I began to advertise a salad planting event; and on a cold April day we zipped up our coats and planted snap peas, radishes, carrots, and a variety of greens into the soil. We wished the seeds well and hoped that spring would arrive soon.

And then I found myself at the end of May watering a garden that was so tall and full of abundant greens it was hard to remember the disheartening chill of April. On a sunny and blissful Wednesday afternoon, I, alongside several new gardening friends, harvested over 5 pounds of spinach, arugula, baby greens, and radishes from our little corner garden. Guests at Rose Baker were involved in every step of the process; from harvesting, weighing, washing, and enjoying. The salad was a great success and many people commented that it was the most delicious salad they’ve ever had!

Mackenzie served as a Community Engagement Coordinator at Backyard Growers for TerraCorps 2017-2018

Local Food Clinic in Franklin County

Local Food Clinic for Community Members in Franklin County

by Sophie Schouboe

The Local Food Clinic provides community members with an easily accessible, welcoming environment to learn about the food access and health resources available in Franklin County. This program capitalizes on strong community partnerships, bringing cross-disciplinary expertise working together to address key barriers to food and health access.

The Local Food Clinic will provide a free, monthly drop-in opportunity focused on connecting residents of Franklin County with local food and health resources aimed at addressing food insecurity. The clinic will take place outside and be paired with the Just Roots market once a month from June through November. Program partners will provide friendly, knowledgeable expertise within their service area; promoting a holistic, healthy lifestyle.

In June there will be representatives from Just Roots, the Franklin County Community Co-op, the Center for Self Reliance, the Community Health Center of Franklin County, the Food Bank of Western MA and Project Bread. Between those organizations we will be offering information about SNAP enrollment, HIP updates, Health Insurance enrollment, nutrition information and information about how to access other local resources. There will also be a food demonstration put on by Project Bread that offers free samples and recipes for people to take home. The clinic is co-sponsored by Just Roots and the Franklin County Community Co-op. The food demonstration will feature vegetables from Just Roots that will be available at the Just Roots CSA pick-up and market that will take place next to the clinic.

Sophie served as a Community Engagement Coordinator at Just Roots for TerraCorps 2017-2018

“Bee Clean, Bee Green” Event with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston

“Bee Clean, Bee Green” Event with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and Sudbury Valley Trustees

by Paige Dolci

In a partnership between Sudbury Valley Trustees and the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, Tempe Staples, Regional Conservation Coordinator and I (Land Stewardship Coordinator)  ran a workshop for big and little sisters with various interactive activities on environmental science. Big and Little sisters played a game to learn about pollinators and their impact on our food system, built model landfills, and planted beans to take home and grow on their own. This is one of several workshops we are running to support girls’ empowerment and help expose youth to hands-on environmental science.

Paige served as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Sudbury Valley Trustees for TerraCorps 2017-2018

Edible Wild and Invasive Plants Event in Westhampton

Edible Wild and Invasive Plants Event in Westhampton

by Alana Carveth

On April 29th, Hilltown Land Trust (HLT) held an Edible Wild and Invasive Plants event, in partnership with Kestrel Land Trust (KLT). The inspiration for such an event first came about as a way for Hilltown Land Trust to assist the Westhampton Conservation Commission in training their volunteers to identify invasive plant species. With an educated volunteer pool, both organizations would have increased capacity to monitor their conserved lands. Adding an “edible” component to the training seemed like a fun way to better engage the participants. As the idea continued to evolve, it expanded to involve the general public, not just volunteers. A local organization, Grown In Westhampton, had been interested in collaborating with HLT on such an event in the past and was willing to sponsor the event and promote it on social media.

The town of Westhampton, is one of the two towns where Hilltown Land Trust’s and Kestrel Land Trust’s service areas overlap. Since both are host sites for Terracorps Land Steward Coordinators, it only made sense for the two organizations to partner up to put on the best Edible Invasive Plants event this side of the Quabbin. So Alana and Jill of Hilltown Land Trust and Kestrel Land Trust, respectively, put their heads together and pooled their resources to find the best edible wild plants expert they could to lead this event, Russ Cohen. Russ Cohen is the author of Wild Plants I Have Known…And Eaten, a well-known book, popular among foraging enthusiasts and is one of the foremost wild edibles experts in New England, having taught about wild edible plants for over 30 years.

Despite the morning rain on April 29th, the event couldn’t have gone better. Russ surprised the attendees with delicious treats of his own recipe, using the invasive plant known as Japanese Knotweed. The attendees consisted of foragers, nature enthusiasts, plant hobbyists, and other passionate outdoor-educators. Russ, as a speaker, was incredibly informative and engaging. The event invoked many discussions between other experts within the crowd and, upon its conclusion, was lauded with high praises from the participants.

Alana served as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Hilltown Land Trust for TerraCorps 2017-2018

TerraCorps Service Day at Carvalho Farm

TerraCorps Service Day at Carvalho Farm

by Logan Johnson

On April 9, Buzzards Bay Coalition teamed up with TerraCorps to move 5 tons of wood a quarter of a mile across a hay field. As a TerraCorps member serving at Buzzards Bay Coalition, I was tasked with coordinating the project for the Carvalho Farm Trail. I designed a 1.2 mile trail, half of the trail winds through portions of a forested swamp. For every section of trail that meanders into the swamp, bog board must be placed in order to protect the valuable wetland resources. Upon a bog board assessment it was determined that 700 feet of bog boards would be needed to protect this resource area.

In order to construct 700 feet of bog boards, we needed to move 1,400 feet of rough cut white pine and 576 feet of 6 inch x 6 inch pressure treated pine a quarter of a mile to the trail head. The amount of lumber was estimated to be around 10,000 pounds, or 5 tons. The obstacle we were faced  with was how to  move the wood to the trail. We did not dare drive a truck across the field, to limit damage and likelihood of getting stuck, so we called on the help of TerraCorps. In just under 4 hours the group of 37 was able to move all 5 tons to the head of trail! Not only this, they were able to cut and clear several portions of the trail. This event was an inspiration to me as it is the perfect illustration of what team work looks like. I was faced with a challenge and the TerraCorps team I am proud to be a part of came to help me accomplish a successful project!

Logan served as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Buzzards Bay Coalition for TerraCorps 2017-2018

18th Annual Maple Syrup Project in Somerville

18th Annual Maple Syrup Project in Somerville

by Josia Gertz DeChiara

At many school garden organizations, the winter months tend to be slower and quieter. At Groundwork Somerville, however, we keep quite busy with the Maple Syrup Project! Now in its 18th year, the Maple Syrup Project has become a Somerville classic that people look forward to all year.

In New England, the growing season is often thought of as the warm, snow-free time of year. This is mostly true, but ignores the maple syrup that is ready in the winter! The goal of the Maple Syrup Project is to introduce as many Somerville students and community members to this delicious crop through education and taste buds.

This year, 23 volunteers were trained to teach 24 classes of 2nd graders across seven Somerville Public Schools, about 415 students total. These volunteers went into classrooms once a week for four weeks to teach maple lessons with a focus on science, math, language arts, and social studies. After learning about the process of tree tapping, maple trees, and the seasons, each class came out to the Somerville Community Growing Center for a field trip. A wood-fired sap boiler allowed each student to taste warm sap collected from Somerville maple trees, a sensory experience that is one of my personal favorites.

Soon after the field trips, 700 people came out to the 18th Annual Maple Syrup Community Boil Down, where many pancakes were eaten, live music set a cheery scene, and many maple crowns adorned the heads of children. Maple season was full of snow, sticky syrup, and so much learning, but as March turned into April, the sap stopped flowing and the leaves began to peek out, bringing us back to the gardens once more!

Josia served as a Youth Education Coordinator at Groundwork Somerville for TerraCorps 2017-2018

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