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Totally Tubular

Totally Tubular

by Haley Hewitt

At the beginning of my service term at the East Quabbin Land Trust, my supervisor Cynthia Henshaw expressed an interest in placing art installations at the Land Trust properties. From then on, the cogs in my head started turning.

At the Mandell Hill Preserve we have a beautiful sixteen-foot tall birding platform, from which you have clear views of Mount Wachusett and of the grassland birds living on the property.

In one of the EQLT barns I found a pile of old PVC pipes. Inspiration struck! I brought them home. I built a scale miniature version of the platform to test out designs.

I cut the PVC pipes lengthwise on a table saw.

I scrubbed the pipes of their spider webs and farm grime, then I spray painted each piece a different color.

Then I loaded the pipes into my Mini Cooper to take them down to Mandell Hill!

I attached the pipes to the birding platform using a creative array of clamps and bungee cords to hold them in place while I attached the struts.

With the pipes on, I installed a bucket-and-pulley system, several baseballs, and a small step for little feet.

And the project is complete! Since putting this up, many families have told me they make a trip to this preserve just to play with the ball drop. The installation is free and open to the public at Mandell Hill Preserve on 645 Barre Road in Hardwick MA. Now we just need to think of a good name for it!

Haley is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at East Quabbin Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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


Fighting the Good Fight, One Feast at a Time

Fighting the Good Fight, One Feast at a Time

by Megan Saraceno

Hello, it’s me, Megan! I wanted to share a very special project from my year of service at the non-profit Just Roots. Located in the humble, vibrant, town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, I have been aligning work and play through their mission, “increasing access to healthy, local food by connection people, land, resources and know-how”.

As Just Roots’ “Community Engagement Coordinator”, I have had plenty of amazing stories worth sharing, from navigating blossoming partnerships, including the farm and a local community health center, to engaging with our community through food demos and recipe sharing. These diverse experiences have come with cherished memories, challenges, and breadth of professional skill development.

This winter, I have had the pleasure of organizing monthly community meals at two local housing developments through a grant-funded program, The Local Food Clinic. The Local Food Clinic provides community members with an easily accessible, welcoming environment to learn about food access and health resources available in Franklin County. Acknowledging the power of sharing a meal, we decided to rebrand our event to “Feastival”. The events are intended to create a celebratory and community-oriented environment, with food security services and support seamlessly integrated through conversation over the meal, activities, and resources available on the dining tables and throughout the space. We feature a meal with local seasonal vegetables and provide recipes for participants to take home, replicate, alter, and enjoy. Our community members are invited to contribute to the meal prep, 30 minutes before the service time, if they’re interested. Aimed to build the skills and interests around healthy food, while providing resources to accessing them.

Through this program, I have been able to combine and showcase many of Just Roots values and talents. We bring JOY, we bring FUN, we show community members that veggies are delicious and can be used in so many fun and simple recipes! We build relationships and create systems with community members who face many barriers to food access, and stand as allies in the fight to make good nutritious food a human right!

Megan is serving as a Community Engagement Coordinator at Just Roots for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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


Confronting Food Insecurity through Farmers Markets

Confronting Food Insecurity through Farmers Markets

by Tracey Wingate

This year, I am serving as the Regional Collaboration Coordinator at Growing Places, a small nonprofit working to increase acc ess to healthy food in North Central Massachusetts. In this region, 1 out of every 3 people is food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In working to address this issue, at Growing Places, we focus on the five most undeserved communities in our region: Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Leominster and Winchendon. In these communities we have a variety of programs, including farmers markets, youth education and community gardens.

During my service year so far, I have been most involved with our farmers markets in Fitchburg and Leominster. Attending these markets has helped me build connections in our communities and given me a lot to think about in terms of how our food systems operate. For many individuals in Massachusetts, thanks to the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) that gives SNAP customers $1 for each dollar they spend on fresh, local produce up to a monthly limit, farmers markets are important food access points. HIP has drastically increased our SNAP market sales. In 2016, before HIP was implemented, Growing Places started managing the Fitchburg Farmers Market and recorded $392 in SNAP sales. In 2017, after HIP was implemented, there was over $6,000 in SNAP sales at the market, which increased again in 2018 to over $9,500. These numbers show that HIP has been a very effective program in making fresh, local food more accessible in our region, but there is still a lot of outreach and promotion that needs to be done encouraging everyone to buy local.

This winter, I have represented Growing Places at the majority of our Fitchburg and Leominster markets and dealt with promoting them. Despite free advertising tools like Facebook that help me spread the word, actually getting someone, or a family, to show up at the market on a specific day, during a brief window of time, is quite a task. First of all, I’m trying to challenge a general assumption that there is no produce available during the Massachusetts winter. While many farmers chose to take the winter off, there are some who employ a few simple technologies to continue growing despite the cold and snow. Second, I’m dealing with this issue of convenience, if someone is already shopping at a supermarket or box store for some of their weekly needs, it’s so easy to just grab produce at the same time and avoid making another trip to the farmers market. Third, transportation is also an issue for many residents in North Central Mass, meaning that people who may want to come to the market simply can’t because they have no way to get there. While I have spent many Saturdays sitting at markets with very low attendance feeling frustrated, I have to remind myself that these are important events for the people who are able to attend. Additionally, farmers markets are only part of the solution to food insecurity in this region and implementing more solutions takes time. Looking ahead to the last couple months of my service year, my goal is to continue working with Growing Places’ partners to envision system changes and action steps towards making food more accessible for everyone living in this region.

Tracey is serving as a Regional Collaboration Coordinator at Growing Places for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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

Discovering What Makes the Hilltowns, the Hilltowns

Discovering What Makes the Hilltowns, the Hilltowns

by Brigid Ryan

I am serving at Hilltown Land Trust, which serves 13 towns in Western Massachusetts, and within these 13 towns is my hometown of Chesterfield. I am thrilled I earned this position because I am doing what I love in the place that I love. At the same time, I’m able to learn more about the ecology, the history and the community around me.

As a Land Stewardship Coordinator, the largest task I have is to monitor properties that have conservation restrictions (CR). A conservation restriction is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and land trust to permanently protect property. In the fall I visited almost 20 CR properties and I realized that every single property was different from one another. Each week I was able to learn more about the world I’ve grown up. I felt as if I had a behind the scenes, all access pass to the hilltowns. I visited a property with beautiful and large old legacy trees, which are trees that were spared by the axe of settlers or survived a windstorm event. I crawled in and out of some of the steepest ravines down to rivers that cut through the landscape. I walked through pasture land while Scottish Highland cattle grazed around me. I followed stone walls and barbed wire along property boundaries that reminded me these forests were once fields. I stumbled upon a brook with flooding waterfalls at every dip in the earth. I listened to a landowner tell stories about how they used to play in the foundation of their ancestor’s house on the property. I found signs of moose, deer, bear, rabbit and other wildlife exploring the forest.

I was not always the most graceful while maneuvering through the woods to experience all of this. I have gotten my foot stuck in mud. I have been shocked by electric fencing. I have had my eye poked out by branches. I have gotten caught in prickers. But it was all worth it.

I chose this career path because I love to be outdoors and to connect with others in nature. The best part about monitoring is that sometimes you should be taking the road less traveled, and that is where I found the most joy. During each visit I was able to share these moments of awe and wonder with volunteers and landowners. My sense of connection with the community and nature has grown deeper through this position. I am proud to be apart of the efforts in conserving these properties that make the hilltowns, the hilltowns.

Brigid is serving as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Hilltown Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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

Land for the People (of Holyoke)

Land for the People (of Holyoke)

by Lee Halasz

The City of Holyoke recently adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA). This surcharge on property taxes provides a fantastic source of funds for municipalities to support the conservation of open space.

Kestrel Land Trust (my service site) was asked by the City of Holyoke to assist with an application to permanently conserve a 50-acre parcel of forested land, and Lucky Lee has been able to work on the project from the beginning. Should it be successful, it will be the first land conservation project in Holyoke using CPA, with hopefully many to follow.

The parcel (which we named Gloutak Woods after the owner) had recently been placed on the market, with the owner needing to realize its financial value. However, she had always wanted to conserve the parcel but was never quite sure how it could happen. Enter CPA. Now, with a possible route to provide funds to buy the parcel, the City of Holyoke approached Kestrel to help with the process, given Kestrel regularly works with other municipalities to conserve land under the CPA process.

In my service with Kestrel I had dabbled in the land conservation process through assisting several projects in various ways, but the Gloutak Woods project was the first time I had been tasked with a full project from the beginning. I coordinated the application through working with the landowner and her attorney and real estate agent, several local community members, and various people at Kestrel and the City of Holyoke.

After the CPA Committee reviewed the application, Kestrel was asked to meet with the Committee and to make a presentation on the project at a public meeting (attached photo). The committee is now back to deliberating and will soon vote on whether to fund this project.

It has been fantastic to be fully immersed in a land conservation project, and to now more fully comprehend just how much coordination and work is involved. Having invested plenty of energy into the process, I really, really, really hope the application is successful! It would be amazing to know that I helped conserve one of the largest remaining parcels of privately-owned land in Holyoke, so that it can be important wildlife habitat, beautiful open space, and a public recreational resource forever more.

After I have completed my TerraCorps service, I would love to be able to continue to help conserve land and can see land trusts and land conservation in one version of my future!

Lee is serving as a Regional Conservation Coordinator at Kestrel Land Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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

The Support of the Community: Couldn’t do it without them

The Support of the Community: Couldn’t do it without them

by KimLynn Nguyen

Since moving here from Florida, I’ve experience and learned so many new things. The biggest change is the weather change; the fluffy, pure white snow and the changing leaves in autumn are always enjoyable to see. Apart from trying to get use to the extreme temperature changes, I’m getting to learn that the folks in Massachusetts are very hardy and very kind.

With being a second-year member, I am able to continue to build a relationship with the people within the Mount Grace region. I am always amazed by the compassion and dedication that the community has towards land conservation, stewardship, and connecting with Mount Grace. As a non-local, I can really appreciate their kindness and knowledge when I’m unfamiliar with the local hotspots, celebrities, and traditions. Such as the little insider knowledge not found on-line on like where the best places to swim, visit, go hiking in, or the best person to contact for a particular project idea.

Without the support of the community, we could not have complete half the projects that we did. Their expertise has led to the designs, construction, and ideas of trails, bridges, platforms, kiosks, signs, and so much more. I am so grateful my transition to a new region led me to such a wonderful community helping me along the way. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next!

KimLynn is serving as a Land Stewardship Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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

The Change

The Change

by Nicole Wilhelmi

When I first came across the TerraCops position on Indeed. I had no idea what AmeriCorps was. I quickly began researching into the program, and what the position of Youth Education Coordinator consisted of. As I continued to read, I began getting more & more excited at the opportunity to help get children involved more with nature. Nature has always been a huge influence on my life. Especially in my most recent years, spending time outside with my dog, and finding new cool spots to hike with friends. When I noticed Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook, the largest in city wildlife sanctuary as one of the service sites I thought how cool it would be to serve there! I could really help impact children who don’t get the opportunity to explore nature as much living in a city.

Well that opportunity became a reality! I was so excited to jump right into a completely new industry. I came from a 9-5 cubical job to being able to walk trails and teach children about the nature that surrounds them. My first time teaching alone I was extremely nervous, and I felt like the children could sense that and didn’t pay all that much attention to what I was saying. But one girl asked me multiple questions and really seemed interested in what I was trying to teach them, and honestly that was good enough for me. I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something completely new! 6 months later I feel like I have grown and learned so much. Not only about the industry but about myself. This opportunity has impacted my life in such a positive way! I am thankful that I decided to take a risk and try something new.

Nicole is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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

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

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