Berry Good 2018-05-22 COLOR252

Strawberries are the first berries to ripen each year; they are the leaders of the berry world, followed by raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and again, late summer raspberries.  Strawberries arrange themselves in the shape of a heart, and serve as a reminder to stay sweet, and always lead from the heart.

2014-05-31 strawberry heart

Start watching the weather on Mother’s Day, and plan on picking strawberries around Memorial Day, or as soon as school lets out. Strawberries need sunshine in order to ripen, but when it gets hot, the berry picking window begins to close fast. May is a busy month, but don’t let your kids grow up without picking strawberries because of that. Skip school or take the whole kindergarten classroom with you if you have to.

Strawberry picking will stain your knees, so wear old clothing, duck boots and bring sun protection, hand sanitizer and water. See if you can find a toad under the leaves, and look around for bees. Picking strawberries teaches a reverence for the land, while catching toads teaches empathy.  Look around for workers in the fields.

2012-05-12 Thies Farms Toad

It’s easy to pick far too many berries, so to protect your afternoon nap, work backwards from a recipe before heading out into the fields. Think: strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, chocolate dipped strawberries, and strawberry jam.  Freezer jam is easy to make, and is an excellent gift for teachers, family and friends. Finding strawberry jam in your freezer is like opening a bottle of summer sunshine on a cold winter’s day.

Many families are worried about kids eating “dirty” strawberries in the fields. Weirdly, the dirtiest strawberries are the ones in the grocery stores, from customers “fingering” the fruit. Farmers want you to pay for your fruit, but farmers also understand the importance of growing happy new customers. So enjoy watching that toddler’s first taste of strawberry in the sunshine, and take lots of pictures.

2012-05-12 Thies Farms Saoirse

Millennials know that strawberries are #1 on the “Dirty Dozen” list, and local farmers are responding to that wish for organic strawberries. Ask lots of questions and take the “Strawberry Challenge” up a level, by growing strawberries at home. Or find organic berries at your farmers market, by showing up early and looking for the longest line.

2013-05-25 strawberries landscape

Arrange your sweet heart in the shape of the “Strawberry Leader”, and be the one who takes kids into the strawberry fields. Help cultivate a good food culture while embedding memories that last not only a lifetime, but arc across the generations. You’ll be glad you did.

2018 Babb Blueberries

Below are destinations that have been field tested by Green Spiral adventure families, in alphabetical order:

Babb Blueberry Farm in Beufort – If you miss the chance to pick strawberries in May, you can pick blueberries later in June. Blueberry picking is perfect for inter-generational groups, as there is no bending over for the elders, nor “too high” fruit frustration for the youngers.  Babb Blueberry Farm uses organic fertilizers, and no pesticides or herbicides. They also sell frozen blueberries and homemade jam. Located one hour west from the Arch along I-44, this is a small family operation with nice restrooms, a fishing pond and excellent hospitality. Bring a picnic lunch.  Or, stop in Eureka, Pacific or at the Junie Moon Cafe in Union along the way. They keep up on their Facebook posts, but always call before you go.  GPS: 2751 Highway 50, Beaufort, MO 63013 * (636) 667-1171

#BerryBikeRide – Annual Strawberry Bike Ride sponsored by Trailnet, ending with a strawberry festival in Saint Jacobs, Illinois, located about 40 minutes east from the Arch.

Eckert’s Farm in Belleville – The grandmother of all U-pick farms, Eckert’s is a seventh generation business, and the largest PYO orchard in the country,  offering U-pick strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. This is a full blown agri-tourism operation, with a restaurant, store, concerts, festivals, pony rides, cooking classes and all sorts of things to do. They also offer school tours and operate four other farm destinations. Because Eckert’s is a mature business, they always answer their phones, monitor social media sites and keep their web-pages updated. Look for their online recipes.   GPS: 951 S. Green Mount Road, Belleville, IL 62220 *(800) 745-0513 or (618) 233-0513

EarthDance Organic Farm School – watch for EarthDance Farm in Ferguson to add U-Pick Strawberries soon. EarthDance is one of the most remarkable organic farm schools in the country. GPS: 233 S Dade Ave, Ferguson, MO 63135 * 314-521-1006

Farmers Markets of Saint Louis – Strawberries are popular items and sell out quickly.  If you want to find local organic strawberries, just show up early at your favorite farmers market, and look for the longest line. There is no apostrophe in Farmers Markets, because it is literally a market for farmers, plural.  Farmers Markets are business incubators, and at the core, farming is a business. If you want to support small farmers, and the local food movement, head for your local farmers market. Farmers Markets are the “Mothers” of any local food ecosystem, and strawberries are their favorite little darlings.

Grocery Stores – Most organic strawberries in local grocery stores are grown  in California. Sometimes you can find Thies Farm strawberries — look around and ask your grocer about local strawberries.  Beware of food from other countries, which have different protections for workers and from pesticides. There is a big discussion in the food community about organic foods versus local foods, so feel free to join in, as there are many right answers. Don’t swap berries between cartons, as it’s not healthy for other customers, plus, it’s rude. “Fingering the fruit” is why clamshell containers were recently invented, and it’s a surprise to learn that strawberries in the fields are cleaner than grocery store strawberries, for this exact reason.

Hermans in Saint Charles – for blackberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. GPS: 3663 N. Hwy 94, St. Charles, MO 63301 * (636) 925-9969

Lakeview Farms near St. Peters – This is a tiny farm that is easy to miss, sandwiched between suburban neighborhood tracts. Sign up for the Lakeview Farms e-mail list, or follow the “Strawberry Report” on their simple web-site. They also send out a postcard each Spring.  Always call the morning of your trip; Farmer Karl answers on his cell phone in the fields. There are no porta potties so plan accordingly. When you get there, pick up a box, and you will be directed to a specific row to pick, marked between two flags.  For an extra fee, kids can prospect for gold and other treasures in the nearby creek. This is an especially nice location to pick raspberries later in the season. Fritz’s Ice Cream is located nearby on Hwy K, past Feise Rd GPS: 8265 Mexico Road; St. Peters 63376 * (636) 978-8830 (Farmer Karl)   Special Note: Be careful! Your GPS wants to divert you to a similarly named farm nearby. Stay in St. Peters.

Missouri Botanical Gardens – Visit the vegetable gardens, specifically the raspberry patch in early summer, to see how it’s done. The Kemper Center will help you with any questions, or you can call the hotline any morning before noon at (314) 577-5143 or send them an email at plantinformation@mobot.org

Ozark Berry Farm ===>>> field trip!

Thies Farm – The Thies family has been farming in Missouri since 1885 and now has three locations.   The three different locations makes the web-site, Fb and phones a little confusing. You can ask about strawberry picking on their Facebook Page, but it’s better to call and ask about field conditions before heading out. By the way, the way to pronounce Thies Farm is like this: “TEES Farm”.

The North Hanley location is the oldest and the smallest, with toddler swings and spinning tractor tires, perfectly sized for very young children.  It’s located near the airport, so you get to watch planes drop down in preparation for landing AND pick strawberries at the same time, which is super exciting for young children. Typically open only on Saturdays, this is a good destination for your very first strawberry picking trip. For older kids, come back later in the summer for blackberry picking and peaches. Watch out for thorns on the blackberries. You can also pick your own flowers. There is a small store, with porta-potties on site.  GPS: 4215 North Hanley Road, 63121 * (314) 429 – 5506 *  

The Maryland Heights operation, located near Creve Coeur Lake, is the largest Thies Farm, offering strawberry picking, a playground, a larger retail operation, and tractor rides into the fields on weekends, a highlight for kids. Thies strawberries are not organic, but Thies does practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management), crop rotation, and drip irrigation. Be careful with your GPS, as the road used to be named Creve Coeur Road and recently changed names to Maryland Heights Expressway. Again, always call before you go.  Farming is exhausting work, and it’s hard for farmers to find the time to do the work AND keep up with web-sites and social media. Maryland Heights GPS: 3120 Maryland Heights Expressway; 63146 * (314) 469-7559 *

The Thies Farm St. Charles location is a new retail operation, located along the Katy Trail; it sells plants, produce and specialty items, like grass fed beef, harvest pies and quail eggs.  GPS: 3200 Greens Bottom Road St. Charles, MO 63304 * (636) 447-2230 *  

Wind Ridge Farms in New Melle – This family farm offers wagon rides for kids and blueberry, blackberry and peach picking. It’s a bit of a drive from Saint Louis, but well worth it, especially if you are looking for peaches or blueberries. Located one hour west of the Arch, along 40/64 just past Weldon Springs.  GPS: 3511 Highway F, New Melle 63341 * (636) 828-5900

The End

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This is Angela Wildermuth. She’s an amazing family nature guide.

Her last name means “wild spirit”.

2016 Angela Notepad

Angela is inspired to take families “into the wild” places at the edges of parks and playgrounds all over the Saint Louis area.  Green Spiral has now hosted two series of playground adventures that we are calling “Urban Wild Adventures”.

20150917_135340

In the wilds of Maplewood…

 

This blog debriefs “Winter Wild Adventures” in hopes of getting kids outside in all kinds of weather. You definitely need proper clothing, and friends, to help keep you warm, and overcome that indoor inertia.

If you can find REAL felt or alpaca foot inserts for kids (NOT polyester), and put them inside standard wellie-type rain boots, you’ve just created a pair of warm kid boots for a fraction of the cost of snow boots. Wear wool socks for extra measure.  Buy rain boots a size too big in fall, and as kids grow, take out the wool inserts for spring and summer.

Fit for a prince...

Fit for a prince…

The weather is not likely to settle down anytime in the near future, and families who follow Green Spiral know all about raising resilient kids.  Green Spiral field trips are not for everybody; they’re kind of like “Outdoor Leadership School” for toddlers, kids and families.  But for those who do follow the wild spirit into the woods, the magic and the misadventure makes every extra effort worthwhile.

2016-01-25 Memorial Park (7)

The colder the winter the sweeter the spring, and even rain feels nice compared to ice. Getting outside in cold weather is good for you — and here’s an introduction to the fairly new concept of “brown fat”.  Brown fat is abundant in hibernating animals and newborns, it’s function is to keep the body warm.  But “brown fat” has also recently been discovered in adults as a response to cold exposure.  Brown fat keeps you warm, and it also burns “white fat”.  In short, being outside in winter causes you to build brown fat, which eventually keeps you warmer, WHILE, it makes you thinner!

2016-01-25 Memorial Park (15)

Nature doesn’t hibernate in winter, and there is plenty to do. The first three “Urban Wild Adventures”, to the Webster Sculpture Garden, Memorial Park and Tower Grove Park were cold, cold, cold. Kids have less body mass than adults, and thus get dangerously cold faster, so bundle little ones up well, wrap babies close to the body, and bring warm drinks in a thermos for when you get back to the car.  As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

2016-01 bridge

Memorial Park in Brentwood (near the YMCA), is a fabulous destination for a short cold weather hike, as the secret paths are easier to find in winter, mulched with recycled Christmas trees.  Be careful not to fall into the creek when crossing the stepping stones, and make your way to the bridge with the arch.  Keep your eye on the creek — we had a magical moment when we spotted a great blue heron! It’s nice to have a tour guide who carries along bird books, and that nature guide could be you.

2016-01-25 Memorial Park (12)

Along with a moment of magic, every trip has a misadventure; the misadventure on this trip was the sad realization that trash along creeks is highly visible in winter.  On a positive note, mothers can’t stop themselves from cleaning up this pretty planet:  the moms found a lost garbage bag, spontaneously started cleaning up the place, and the kids jumped right in. The nice thing about winter hiking is that you don’t have to wash hands, just mittens! Panera would be your closest cozy stop, across the street in the same shopping center as Whole Foods.

2016-01-25 trash

Here’s your map should you want to catch up with Green Spiral Tours, or simply organize your own playgroup adventure.

2016-01-25 map Memorial Park

 

The Tower Grove Park trip was even colder, with one or two misadventures. But know that Tower Grove has a secret natural playground, and Angela took us there. Our destination was these “gnarly knee trees” underneath a bald cypress tree.  This type of natural wonder cannot be landscaped – they’re very old and only grow in the wettest ground.

BUT! it snowed, covering up the gnarly knee destination! And, sadly, one of the cars got broken into —  so always remember “Adventure School Rules #3” – remain aware, and always lock valuables away and out of sight.

2016 Adventure School Rules

HOWEVER! Tower Grove has a pony! Who knew? AND, it was early February, so we saw the earliest sign of spring: witch hazel in bloom.

2015-02 Tower Grove pony

Tower Grove is a known birding destination along the “Mississippi Flyway”, so you might want to  return around Mother’s Day, with a picnic, when the songbirds pass through. We learned that a bird sanctuary is planned to be installed in Tower Grove Park soon. By the way, Hartford Coffee is a nice place to warm up, with quality coffee or hot chocolate.

 

Mr. Cypress Tree

Blackburn Park in Webster Groves is an amazing park to explore, and Angela & the families ventured forth in the rain, which seemed like  fun after the first three cold trips. Blackburn is famous for it’s sinkholes, and the kids had a blast jumping in and out of them; but be careful, what happens if the sinkhole doesn’t let you out? Remember, these are true off-the-beaten adventures and not sanitized, canned experiences, so you have to stop and assess the risks and hazards.  Fortunately, most kids have highly developed survival skills, and in this world, they need to be encouraged to take more risks, not fewer.  As always, use your own judgement.

Sink into the goodness...

Sink into the goodness…

By the way, ponchos are better for kids than umbrellas, because ponchos are cheaper and last longer than umbrellas, plus, nobody gets poked in the eye! Here’s a darling blog by a “Wild Mom” which tells you all about the adventure to Blackburn Park, and how to become a “Wild Family”. Imho, wild families have more fun, AND they are going to save this beautiful earth:

Becoming a Wild Family

The trip to Lindberg Park in Maplewood resulted in a great horned owl sighting as well as the welcome sight of wild purple crocus flowers — the first wink of spring! Also found: rabbit fur from owl hunting, as well as multiple groundhog burrows.  Teach kids to look up, down, and all around.

12628354_1058835330834310_4167808225513355593_o

Kids don’t learn about nature by osmosis or by magic; they must be taught directly how to pick up trash and put on wool socks.  Schools are not particularly set up to teach kids about nature, so the amazing nature teacher in your life is likely to be you. Hopefully this blog inspires you to get outside and shake off the winter doldrums.  As a tip to future trip leaders, it works well to meet your playgroup at the playground, to get the ya-ya’s out, so when the nature hike begins, everyone is in a calm mood of ready awareness.

Think on these things?

Think on these things?

In short, Winter Urban Wild Adventures, are good for you, good for kids, and good for Saint Louis. Be inspired to launch your own trips with the maps provided, or follow Angela Wildermuth on future “Urban Wild” adventures, by watching for future Green Spiral emails or following the Green Spiral Facebook Page.

Now here’s your homework:

  1. Go to your favorite park and get off the beaten track.  Look along the edges, where the wild things might be.  Look up, look down.  Collect nature items as you go, and arrange them in an interesting way at the end of your explorations.  Take a picture of it, along with the kids, for your photo journal.  Mark it with the date and location. This is a “Goldsworthy”; following in the footsteps of famous artist Andy Goldsworthy.
  2. Buy wool socks, rain boots & ponchos, and train your family to get outside in all kinds of weather.  Get your friends to come with you. Tell yourselves how resilient and awesome you are becoming with each passing day.
  3. Create a winter terrarium by collecting a small sample of soil, plus a small patch of frozen moss.  Put it inside a pretty jar with a lid, spritz it with water and set it on the kitchen table.  Prepare to be amazed at the tiny creatures and ferns that unfurl as the terrarium warms. Toss the soil and moss into the compost pile when the tiny riot of life has played itself out.
The one on the left?

The one on the left?

First a Quiz, and then the Lesson:

Guess which strawberry was locally grown, and which one was imported?

Guess which strawberry was bred for size & travel?

And finally, guess which one tastes better?

To find out for sure, you’ll have to go strawberry picking…

Strawberry Fields Forever...

Strawberry Fields Forever…

Strawberries are the leaders of the berry world, followed by raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and finally, late summer raspberries. Strawberries arrange themselves in the shape of a heart — and as a reminder to stay sweet, and always lead from the heart.

2014-05-31 strawberry heart

Strawberries ripen in their own time, usually just before Memorial Day in May, when everyone seems so busy.  But skip school if you have to, and go strawberry picking at least once with your kids.  You’ll be glad you did.

If you have preschoolers, head for Thies Farms location on Hanley Road, which is a smaller operation with a toddler-sized playground.   If you have kindergarteners, head for the Thies Farm Maryland Heights location on a Saturday, when Farmer Dave brings out the tractor & wagon to help ferry families to the fields.

Hop on board the strawberry wagon!

Hop on board the strawberry wagon!

Because strawberries ripen on their own time, and field conditions are always in flux, always call first, and go early to beat the heat and the crowds.  Thies Farms now has three locations, one on North Hanley, one at Maryland Heights, and one at St. Charles, and their online presence can be a bit confusing.

Here’s the main phone number: 314-428-9878. Note that the MARYLAND HEIGHTS location can also be a bit confusing, as the road changed names in 2015.  It’s located near Creve Coeur Lake and SportPort; here’s the GPS:

3120 Maryland Heights Expressway; 63146

(Formerly known as 3120 Creve Coeur Mill Road; 63146)

Here’s the Thies web-site with location and hours; and here’s the Thies Farms Facebook Page. Again, be careful with web-site and Fb information, because farmers are very busy in the fields, especially in spring, and it’s hard for farmers to keep their online presence up to date.  Just call and ask for the strawberry report.  By the way, the way to pronounce Thies Farm is like this: “TEES Farm”

Check out this earlier Green Spiral post about picking strawberries, beginning with the end in mind.

Pick Me!

Pick Me!

If you’re looking for a more rustic and utterly charming strawberry experience, head for Lakeview Farm in St. Peters.  This is a small operation, located between strip malls, and marked by this tiny sign on the fence:

Strawberry Farm, Turn Left!

Strawberry Farm, Turn Left!

Again, always call first, as strawberry fields get tired, and sometimes have to take a nap. Farmer Karl has a cell phone and will answer your call in the fields.  One nice thing about Lakeview Farm is that they’ll let you pick berries in the rain.

Make sure your GPS says MEXICO ROAD, as apparently, there are two Lakeview Farms in the area.  People find these things out the hard way, but make special note, and you won’t have to:

Lakeview Farms

8265 Mexico Road; St. Peters 63376

(636) 978-8830

Here’s the web-site to the farm and here’s the strawberry report. And here’s Farmer Karl with a paying customer:

Ask Farmer Karl!

Ask Farmer Karl!

As mentioned, this is a small operation, so don’t expect any porta potties, or a credit card machine, — so bring cash. While picking at Thies Farms is a free-for-all, at Lakeview Farms, you will be guided to your very own special strawberry patch, marked with a flag.  This is only because farmers know that each little strawberry is precious, and to be treasured. Some people don’t like to be restricted in their strawberry picking, so it’s nice to know the deal in advance.   It costs about $1.60 for a quart of strawberries, or $10 for a flat like this:

Take me home!

Take me home!

Don’t forget to bring sunhats, drinking water and your rubber boots.  There are lots of u-pick destinations near Saint Louis, but based on annual Green Spiral field trips since 2008, these are the three best places, located nearest Saint Louis.

Here’s an “oops” when we got into trouble for letting kids climb on the tractor. It’s a working farm, and kids could get hurt.  Oops.

Oops, we did it again!

Oops, we did it again!

The strawberry picking window is short and sweet, and the chance to pick strawberries with kids is even shorter and sweeter; so turn your thoughts to picking strawberries as soon as school lets out, and don’t let your kids grow up without picking strawberries.

All for you!

Good for you!

“More fun than an iPad” says this three year old!

Here’s your 3 second parting shot of Bix singing “Strawberry Bad Guys Forever…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZddxKyCHJ0&feature=youtu.be

2014-08 Know Your Farmer

It’s getting harder and harder to find family farms to visit, but it can be done, and here’s one way to do it. You can visit Windcrest Dairy, the only makers of homestead yogurt in our area, conveniently located just 40 minutes east of the Arch, in Illinois.

Here’s the link to the farm, along with a map, and here’s the address to the farm:

Windcrest Dairy

14898 Old Trenton Road; Trenton, IL 62293

 

(Be careful with your GPS device, as it seems to want to divert to Wing Crest)

2014-07-17 Windcrest cows in the barn

Here’s Farmer Kurt, third generation farmer, with a broken rib.  Thank goodness farmers don’t stop farming just because they have broken ribs, or because it’s frightfully cold, or because it’s blisteringly hot outside — because we love to eat!  Call up Farmer Kurt anytime, and organize a field trip; afternoons are best.  Here’s his phone number: 618-910-346four.

Do you know this farmer?

Do you know this farmer?

Farming is hard work, and harder still due to economies of scale and “Get Big or Get Out” farm policies.  Milk is a commodity, so bigger producers have a competitive advantage over the little family farm, yet Windcrest Dairy has found a way to stay in business by making yogurt. 

 

When you go, ask them what “homestead” yogurt means.  Small farms are little businesses, and thus they need to be very entrepreneurial; making yogurt is known as a “value added product”, and has made a big difference for this family-owned farm operation.

2014-08-06 Windcrest  (59)

You can buy Windcrest Dairy yogurt at Schnucks, Straubs, and local foodie establishments; Wash U uses Windcrest Dairy yogurt in their yogurt parfaits.  It’s nice to “Know Your Farmer”, and it’s important know where your food comes from. Heck, do you think a factory farm would let us visit their operation with little girls in tutus?

2014-08-06 Windcrest Tutu (36)

If you visit the farm at 4:30, you get to see the cows get milked at 5 pm.  Otherwise, there are lots of cows, pigs, ducks, geese, donkeys and miniature horses to pet or maybe feed.  Depending on the composition of your group, ask to milk a cow!

2014-08-06 Windcrest  milking (51)

Of course, the stars of the show somehow turn out to be the barn cats. And sometimes toads.

2014-07-17 Windcrest Barncat

A bit of mischief and misadventure always seems to present itself on Green Spiral field trips, as these are true adventures and not sanitized experiences; thus we were surprised, but not surprised, when a big goat jumped up on our yogurt tasting table.

 

Don’t park under the shade trees, as tempting as it might be, unless you want a goat on the back of your car, reaching for the tasty leaves.  Needless to say, goat hooves are not kind to car paint, and I feel badly about that.  Hey, it’s a farm!  What else can we say about that?

2014-08-06 Windcrest Sally and the goat

Green Spiral brought about 34 people, which was just about the right number, although a bit crowded in the yogurt making room.  A better number might be around 24.  Be sure to ask what makes Greek Yogurt different.  One answer is that it has more protein, which makes it a “superfood” for growing kids. 

2014-08-06 Windcrest  (41)

Sharing food builds community. We all got to sample different flavors of yogurt. Here’s a yellow cucumber from Schlafly Gardenwork seeds, along with a simple recipe to inspire a cool summer treat made with greek yogurt and mint:

2014-08-06 yellow cuke

2014-08-28 Cucumbers

You can also just show up at Windcrest by yourself or with a small family group, as dairies are always open, and cows still need to milked, twice a day, even on holidays. There is a “store” where you can buy yogurt, and even buy frozen yogurt not available at your local grocer.  Remember to bring your cool pack or cooler for transport.  An indoor restroom facility is available on site.

2014-07-17 Windcrest windmill and horse

This is a fabulous field trip for any age and you can pretty much wear anything you want, including a tutu. Every adventure teaches us something new, and from here on out, everyone is encouraged to wear batman capes and tutus to future Green Spiral field trips!

2014-08-06 Windcrest  Elisha and tutus

You’ve been on the field trip, and now here’s your homework!  It’s important to take time to reflect on your experiences and integrate what you have learned into your framework of understanding. You can respond in the comment section below.

2014-08-06 Big Red Barn

Homework: 

  • Got milk? Do you have a basic understanding of how milk gets to your table? Does it matter?  What if you lived in China? Would it matter then?
  • Patronize your local farmer’s market and help grow the local food ecosystem (every dollar makes a difference!)
  • Share recipes and food to help build community. (Remember, the best place to store food is in other people’s bellies!)
  • Ask your own special magic question.  You will know you have found the magic question when you just have to find out the answer!
  • Inventory books in your personal, school and public libraries.  Do they include The Omnivore’s Dilemna by Michael Pollan or Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver?  Do your children’s books present an accurate picture of how food gets from farm to table?
  • Ask children where milk comes from.  Then ask them what cows eat.  Write down funny answers for later.
  • Know your farmer!  Visit a local farm, or better yet, lead a field trip to a local farm! Take kids.
  • Buy Windcrest Dairy yogurt, if you live in the Saint Louis area.
  • Blog! or use social media to show what you know.  Here’s a blog called Magpie at Heart which has particularly nice photos from our field trip: http://www.magpieatheart.com/dairy-farm-adventure/
  • Vote! Amendment One is a constitutional amendment that gives the courts, not the voters, the authority to decide about future farm practice disputes. In general, this is probably a long term win for those with deep pockets, such as  puppy mills and factory farms. For more, here’s a non-partisan link to Ballotpedia.

As with many things in life,

the trick to picking strawberries

is to begin with the end in mind:

2014 Index Begin with End

 

The end begins in the kitchen, for a short trip to the strawberry fields can leave you with long hours in the kitchen, when you might rather be napping.  Start with a simple recipe and work backwards from there.

insert recipe here

 

Located near Creve Couer Lake off Page Road and the Maryland Expressway, Thies Farm is a long favored Green Spiral strawberry picking destination, and it’s nice to watch their eco-tourism business grow.   It’s important to “Know Your Farmer”, and strawberry picking is a good first step in building eco-literacy in children.  The best age to pick strawberries seems to be from “The Magic Years” (pre-school) until second grade.

 

Miles of Smiles

Miles of Smiles

 

Thies Farm now has three locations; here is the GPS location for the strawberry fields in Maryland Heights as well as the phone number: 314-469-7559.  Call before you head out to make sure the strawberry fields are open. Farmers live outdoors, and they’re getting better at using technology, but the phone beats Facebook on most days.  Green Spiral almost never cancels a trip due to weather, and neither should your adventure group, but do know that strawberry picking is one of the few things you can’t do in the rain. The fields open at 9 am and you will want to get there early to beat the heat.

2014-05-31 Jack Shuff

You will get hot, and you will get dirty.  Children’s clothing will get strawberry stained, and so will your knees.  Take a sunhat or hoodie, and a bottle of water per person.  Short rubber boots are nice for kids.  The strawberry window lasts for about two or three weeks, and it’s easy to miss during the busy month of May.  Strawberries need sunshine to ripen, but when starts to get hot, know that your strawberry window is beginning to close fast.

2014-05-31 Evelyn Ryan

People want to know if it’s okay for kids to eat strawberries in the fields, and Farmer Dave once told me, (Jessie), that it was okay.  That said, there’s a big difference between a toddler nibbling on one precious strawberry, and a teenager mowing through dozens of strawberries that belong to someone else (the farmer).  Obviously, the important thing is to teach children about reverence and respect, for food, the farmer and for each other.

100_3676

Real Food Comes from Sunshine, and Dirt.

Strawberries are on the dirty dozen list, and many people ask if Thies strawberries are organic.  They are not, as it is difficult to grow organic strawberries at scale.  The best way to get local organic strawberries is to be first in line at your local farmer’s market, or to grow them yourself.

Thies Farm is often spotted hanging out with EarthDance Farms, which is a stamp of organic approval.  Here’s what Farmer Dave has to say their IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices. https://www.facebook.com/notes/thies-farm-greenhouses/integrated-pest-management/281999848483956

Thies Farm

Now in three locations!

Strangely, when researching the topic of eating strawberries fresh from the fields, it turns out that the greatest danger from strawberries comes from people “fingering” the strawberries in the grocery store, which is why strawberries now come in those clam-shell containers.  Gross!  As they say “dirt is not dirty, people are dirty;” so fear not the  strawberry in the field, and be polite by not switching strawberries from container to container with your fingers at the grocery store.

That's me, Jessie, and Virginia

That’s me, Jessie, and Virginia

 

As a nature teacher and mom, I encourage you to study the many complex issues surrounding the simple act of picking strawberries. In my estimation, the experience of picking strawberries as children is so indelible, and so important, that it might well be considered part of a “true core curriculum”.

 

2014-05-31 Kevin, Miles, Amanda, Evelyn Ryan Family

 

Put strawberry picking on your bucket list, and make sure kids don’t grow up without picking strawberries.  Begin with the end in mind,

 

Strawberry Zentangle

Strawberry Zentangle

 

 

After one of the coldest winters on record, Green Spiral families ventured forth on a warm day in April to visit the famous “Chicken Ranch” in Kirkwood.
Fresh Eggs!

Ranch Fresh Eggs!

The Chicken Ranch is simply the fun name that Bill and Joan Ruppert have given their backyard hobby and chicken house — the complex is big enough to hold 50 chickens, and includes a second story look-out post! It’s quite famous in chicken circles, and if you ask to be on Bill’s email list, you’ll get an informative email about chicken happenings about town from time to time.
Let's go see the chickens!

Let’s go see the chickens!

It was super fun for the kids to feed the chickens, mingle with the chickens and even collect some eggs. After a mink came through a few years ago (yes a mink) and wantonly killed many of the chickens, the Rupperts are in the process of rebuilding the flock, now numbering about 23. They have all sorts of chickens including Americanas, Speckled Sussexes, Barred Rock Plymouths and Rhode Islands.  They also have a rooster, called Ike, who came with a hen called Tina. See if you can spy Ike, the fancy white rooster below:
So many chickens so little time

So many chickens so little time

Fond childhood memories of rural chickens was a theme and the link between generations; who will keep backyard chickens in the future without fond childhood memories to draw upon?  Would a factory farm allow Green Spiral Families to tour their chickens?  How exactly to you check a chicken to see if it’s about to lay an egg in time for dinner?  These are the kinds of questions that rise up when you join an adventure learning group together.
checking the chickens

checking the chickens

Many Green Spiral field trips involve something unexpected. Sadly, or not, there was no misadventure associated with this trip; only a pleasant outing on a warm spring day. The only surprise was that we got to buy fresh eggs at the end of our field trip!

Each a different color.

Each a different color.

 

Of course, the real prize was getting to talk to Bill Ruppert in person.  As a purveyor of wholesale plants, he’s an expert in horticulture and a major player in the movement towards native landscaping; he’s recently worked on the Citygarden, Novus International, and the MICDS projects.  If you get a chance to hear him speak, I would recommend it. Here’s Bill, plus a few links:

Here's Bill

Here’s Bill

About the Ruppert Chicken Ranch: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.showpage/pageID/7/index.htm

Best Plant Ideas: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/plants.main/index.htm

Bill’s Speaking Calendar: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/calendar.main/index.htm

More chickens!

want more chickens!?

In the future, you can tour the “Chicken Ranch” by watching for it to be featured on the annual Sustainable Backyard Tour:

http://www.sustainablebackyardtour.com/grassrootsgreenstl.com/Tour.html

2013-10-06 Stinger fishpond with kids

Here’s a magical field trip anyone can put together:  a visit to see Joy Stinger’s urban micro-farm in the shadows of the highrise buildings near downtown Clayton.

Joy is somewhat famous, and widely known among urban chicken circles in Saint Louis.  In her backyard she has 20-30 chickens, nine beehives, a gazebo of songbirds, an upstairs greenhouse, a koi pond as big as a swimming pool, and two rambunctious Portuguese Waterdogs.  Downstairs, she has a workshop for processing honey and making specialty beeswax candles which she sells at farmer’s markets and local shops around town like Schnaars Hardware and Winslows Home.  You can find Joy at the Clayton Farmer’s Market every other Saturday.

2012-06-01 Stinger Farmer Market

You can see by the photo above that much is written about Joy by major publications; here is a particularly nice posting by local blogger “Recycled Goodness” that includes some very beautiful photos of the downstairs workshop:

http://goodnessrecycled.blogspot.com/2011/02/joy-stinger-beeswax.html

Something interesting always happens on every Green Spiral field trip, and the weather always plays tricks on us; it’s part of the Green Spiral formula about teaching children the power of resiliency by enduring hardship, boredom, and the weather.  In this case, the temperature dropped 30 degrees overnight, and tons of people turned out unexpectedly, making people have to wait their turn to see the chickens, the songbirds, or whatever.

Those who hung around in the workshop got a treat in the end; Joy took us on a tour of her house to see the indoor fishpond, the cookie molds in the kitchen, the exotic kites hanging in the living room, the handmade quilts in the bedroom and the art studio on the third floor.  Joy has had multiple careers of creativity, including that as graphic designer, furniture maker, painter and quilter.  Here are some of her many beautiful quilts, hanging on the stair railing, just above her indoor aquarium:

2013-10-06 Stinger quilts

Joy is happy to host tours, in exchange for selling honey.  When you go, take about 12 – 16 people, (not over 40 as we did), and ask for a honey tasting lesson in the basement; you’ll get to taste three kinds of honey.  Spring honey is the lightest color, as the bees are limited to mostly clover in the spring.  Summer honey is darker in color, as the bees have more food choices, and fall honey is the darkest honey, as the bees diet changes once again and sugars become more concentrated as the days become shorter.  In the workshop, Joy will also show how honey comb is harvested, how honey is processed and how to make candles from beeswax.

 

You can find Joy Stinger and chat with her at Farmer’s Markets and other festivals about town, or buy her honey and look at the label which includes her address and phone number.  Call her up, but don’t bother looking for her email, as Joy doesn’t do email.  When you see her backyard and workshop, you might wonder: who has time for email anyway?

 

2013-10-06 label

Speaking of email: the Green Spiral Field Trips are announced by email, and debriefs are posted on this WordPress blog.  If you sign up for this blog, it doesn’t mean you are on the field trip list, and vice-a-versa.  Send me (Jessie) an email if you want to be on the field trip list, and sign up through WordPress if you want to follow the Green Spiral debriefs, which are posted about once a month, after every field trip.  The debriefs are nice if you are looking for your own ideas for field trips.  The email to get on the field trip announcement list is: GreenSpiralTours@gmail.com