Urban Wild Adventures – Trip Date: May 31 & June 2 2016

To know your city is to love your city, and Green Spiral has long known Saint Louis to be home to some of the most amazing parks and playgrounds in the country. As the world becomes a more hectic place, nature places and quiet oasis will play an increasing role in the identity of this Great City.

IMG_1613

We have many treasured parks in Saint Louis, but the crown jewel of parks is certainly Forest Park, recently named the #1 Best City Park in America: https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/the-15-best-city-parks-in-america.

2012-09-15 art museum

World class destinations like the Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum and Muny are easy to find in Forest Park, but for those of you looking to get off the beaten track, here’s a short loop we’re calling the “Crawdaddy Walk”.  It’s a two hour excursion at a very leisurely pace, suitable for all ages, including the stroller set.

2016-06 Forest Park Map

Park and meet your playgroup at the Inclusion Playground next to the Visitor Center, and be sure to pack your own water, unless you like paying $2 for bottled water.  Know that the playground is the first inclusion playground built in the city and there is a secret pollinator’s garden nearby.

IMG_1781

Call up Jean Turney, education coordinator at Forest Park Forever, and have her meet you at the blueberries growing right next to the building. Jean’s job is to help folks learn how to use the park for fun and educational purposes, and she organizes Teacher Academies in the Summer.  561-3287

IMG_1771

Begin your walk between the parking lot and the tennis courts and head for the Mary Orr MacCarthy Bridge, or the “Love Lock Bridge”. On your way, you can have kids pick clover; tie them together to make some clover crowns!  Know that there is a famous bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts, which has grill-work laden with locks.  Lovers carve their initials into padlocks, affix the locks to the bridge, and throw the key into the river, thereby sealing their love forever.  Looks like we now have a “Love Lock Bridge” in Forest Park, so if you’re a lover, go ahead and affix your lock, it’s the “good kind of trouble” to get into.

IMG_1582

Continue walking along between the creek  and the Boathouse, an area we call “Cottonwood Corridor”.  If you travel through in June, the cotton puffs will be floating through the air like snow; see if kids can catch some cottonpuffs.

IMG_1585

Stop and sample the service berries growing on bushes to your right.  Service berries are important bird food, and edible for humans too.  The service berries ripen in early summer, and get their name from the “olden days” when the ground was too frozen to bury the dead.  When the service berries came ripe in late May, the ground was warm enough to excavate a deep hole, and a service could finally be performed. Thus the name” service-berry.  Thank you Bellefontaine Cemetery for the story!

IMG_1617

Continue following the path until you find the water-play area on your right.  This is a great area to play in the water.  Our creeks and waterways are in bad shape, and questionable for young children for a multiplicity of reasons including sewage and radioactive contamination. But because the River des Peres was long ago used as an open sewer and buried under the park in advance of the World’s Fair in 1904, the surface water in Forest Park today is pretty close to tap water, and the cleanest natural water-play area we can find for kids.  It’s kind of sad that we’ve contaminated so many waterways as a society; therefore, it’s important to educate yourself and thus join the fight to clean up and protect our waterways, if nothing but our own enjoyment. Technically, there is “no swimming” in Forest Park, but Green Spiral happens to know that the park rangers will turn a blind eye towards kids frolicking in the water.  If you do get in trouble, put big tears in your eyes, and say “…but I want my kids to touch a creek at least one time in their lives before they grow up,” and put on your best and most sad pouting face…  Back to the self-guided tour:

IMG_1624

“Crawdaddy Cove” is a great place to fish for crayfish.  Bring a paperclip on a string, and fix some cheese to the open “hook” of the paperclip.  Drop the paperclip in the water, and when a crawfish clamps on to it, hoist the little feller out of the water. We forgot our paper clips, but did find a dead crayfish. By the way, Missouri is a hot-spot for crayfish biodiversity, due to our plethora of magnificent spring-fed rivers.

IMG_1642

“Crawdaddy Cove” is a great area for a family picnic, and you can almost always find frogs, turtles, minnows, green herons and egrets. This is the best place for spying wildlife with kids that we’ve found in Forest Park so far. Remember to bring your hand sanitizer and sun protection. This is a wonderful destination for a picnic dinner in the evening, thus avoiding the “witching hour” at home. On the official map, this place is really called the “Post Dispatch Lake Riffles”, but we think “Crawdaddy Cove” is more romantic.

IMG_1649

When you are ready to depart, walk towards the main road, and over the “Bridge of Swallows”, which has lots of swallow nesting under it.  Continue walking past the Dwight Davis Tennis Center, and ultimately back to your car.  This is about a two hour adventure, conducted at a leisurely pace. Many thanks to talented nature guide Angela Wildermuth for scouting and leading this adventure with her Spring series of adventures called “Urban Wild Adventures”, which takes families on nature hunts at parks and playgrounds all over the Saint Louis area.

IMG_1580

 

Now here’s your homework:

  1. Count how many creatures you can find on your walk and have the kids make a note in a journal you keep in the car.
  2. See if you can name any plants, or make a crown made of clover.  Simply tie them together as you would make a “daisy chain.”
  3. Come back to the Visitor Center someday and ask for the free ipod walking tour that teaches you about the history of Forest Park, and walks you past the Art Museum and Picnic Island. It’s very well done; many thanks to the Trio Foundation.
  4. Comment below with your observations and improvements on the map and adventure for the benefit of others.
  5. Love your City. Get out and get to know it. To know it, is to love it.
Advertisements

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.

      

 

Friday, September 21, 2012 –

In Summary – Maplewood is attracting a constellation of businesses devoted to sustainable and healthy living, and children learn through their senses, so Green Spiral combined the two into a “Sustainable Sensory Tour” of the City of Maplewood.  Key “take aways” include how much you can learn on foot, and the power of small group learning.  You simply learn more, faster, on foot, and in a small learning group, than you can by driving to an establishment all by yourself.

Starting at The Salt Room, we learned about the salt caves in Poland, and about how salt is used therapeutically in other parts of the world to address respiratory issues.  From Clay, owner/operator of the Salt Room, we learned the story of bringing the Salt Room to Saint Louis as part of their family’s odyssey in addressing their daughter’s asthma.  The Salt Room is literally a room made of salt, with salt on the walls, and piled thickly on the floor.  Participants lie comfortably in lounge chairs, the lights are turned low, soft music plays, and pulverized salt is infused into the room.  It’s much like going to the beach.  Small children are given toys and allowed to play in the salt like sand.  The sessions last a little less than an hour, and the rates are quite reasonable, however, the Green Spiral walking tour allowed us only enough time to get a “taste” of the Salt Room before pressing on with our busy morning.    http://mysaltspa.com/

The sun and the sea Kakao  

Moving along to Kakao Chocolate, with chocolatier Brian Pelletier, we learned about FairTrade and sustainable chocolate practices.  Most of the world’s chocolate is grown on small farms, which means family farms, where child labor is essential, so issues surrounding certification and child labor are complex and filled with subtly. Brian knows his chocolate and is clearly devoted to bringing the finest and most ethical chocolates to market in Saint Louis.  Kakao adds value by blending chocolate, and using as many local and sustainable products as possible.  In the center of the chocolate shop is a long table, used for chocolate tasting parties after hours.  Chocolate Party dates are difficult to come by, as the tasting parties are popular.  The cost is $10/per person and you are allowed to bring your own wine, with no corking fee.  We were reminded that dark chocolate is one of the most antioxidant rich foods you can possibly eat, and that probably helps sell a bit more chocolate, but what a wonderful way to make people happy and support your local merchants.   http://www.kakaochocolate.com/Home.aspx

Around the corner, behind the Schlafly Bottleworks building, we found the gardeners of the Schlafly Gardenworks, Nolan and Jack.  Nolan gave us a tour of the gardens and everyone asked a lot of questions about what was growing in the newly planted fall garden.  The compost pile greets visitors on their way into the garden, and at this time of year, the compost pile is predictably full of spent hops and tomato plants.  As any gardener knows, healthy soil is the first rule in gardening success,  and the compost pile is key to feeding the soil.

 

At one point, Nolan pulled a “weed” from the garden, purslane, and held it up to us, exclaiming at how this little volunteer plant was probably the healthiest thing to eat from the garden, full of omegas and antioxidants. This is exactly why field trips are so important:  learning to identify purslane, or indeed, learning about anything important, like gardening, healthy food, and parenting, is almost impossible to do over the internet, and requires lots of face time mixed with real world experiences.  Most people don’t realize that Schlafly Bottleworks has a garden, located just around the corner from the patio, so if you haven’t found it yet, it’s totally okay to get a beer from the bar and wander out to enjoy the garden.  Also, know that food from the garden goes into both restaurants, and shows up mostly in the daily specials.   http://schlafly.com/bottleworks/gardenworks/

Finally, we found ourselves getting weary and were relieved to land on the soft couches in the reading room at Cheryl’s Herbs, located further down on Manchester.  Cheryl’s Herbs embodies a whole world of healing, healthy living and herbs, and we were honored and delighted that Cheryl herself came out to chat with us and share some of her deep knowledge with us.  She sprayed a hydrosol of orange blend mist into the air, and the children immediately settled down to nurse and play.   Cheryl’s Herbs offers free “Healing Night” forums, about once per month, which are very much worth attending.  Watch their web-site closely for these dates.  At these sessions, Cheryl gives a little talk, followed by short talks by other practicioners, who might be energy workers, therapists, etc. http://www.cherylsherbs.com/

Social Impact:  While many were interested and couldn’t make this exact date, 18 people came out to enjoy the field trip, along with the Maplewood editor of Patch, which is always a thrill.  In case you don’t know Patch.com, they are a “hyper-local” news service that reports on neighborhood events, including school board votes and football scores.  http://maplewood-brentwood.patch.com/search?keywords=green+spiral  Rachelle L’Ecuyer, the Director of Community Development in Maplewood, served as our tour guide; upon their request, Green Spiral made a $60 contribution to the Ryan Hummert Scholarship Fund, in honor of a young fallen fire-fighter, who died from a sniper attack in the line of duty.  As a note, the park across from Stone Spiral Coffee in Maplewood, is dedicated to Ryan Hummert.   www.cityofmaplewood.com/ryan.hummert  Green Spiral families clearly enjoyed the field trip as evidenced by the action provided to the merchants’ Facebook pages after the field trip. To be sure, a bit of cash was sprinkled along the way, enriching the Maplewood merchants by some small measure.

What you can do:  Watch the above establishments on Facebook.  Schlafly in particular is a nexus point for sustainable practices, with many groups including Slow Foods and Green Drinks meeting regularly in the Crown Room at the Bottleworks.  The best way to keep up with the Schlafly events and activites is to watch the Gardenworks Facebook page, and to check the physical announcement board for posters, located just inside the front door on the way into the restaurant.

You also might be inspired to host your own sustainable walking tour of Maplewood, by contacting the above merchants through their web-sites and referencing Green Spiral Tours.  Many other entrepreneurs came to our attention as a part of the walking tour, including Foundation Grounds, Pie Oh My!, Shana Watkins Photography, Scheidt Hardware, Saratoga Lanes and Mystic Valley.  Visiting four merchants in one busy morning worked out just fine, but you might consider exploring two locations in depth, followed by lunch!

 

Image

Sunday September 2, 2012 – Forest Park

Inspired by a real arrowhead hunt earlier in the summer, about four families came out for a crawdad and arrowhead hunt designed specifically for younger children in Forest Park.  The “River des Peres” was diverted shortly after the World’s Fair in 1904, and now runs beneath Forest Park; it runs south and empties out into the Mississippi River, and, like many of our rivers, currently functions as a combined storm water and sewage drain.

The “river” that now flows through Forest Park as part of the restoration effort is basically tap water from the city water supply, making it suitable for exploration by small children.  Swimming in Forest Park is prohibited for obvious reasons, but wading into the water is a bit of a question mark; I think most forest rangers would agree with the Green Spiral philosophy that we need to find a ways to let children touch a river before they grow up.

The River des Peres, from our rich french heritage meaning “River of the Fathers”, is a particularly fitting setting for this type of adventure, as Dads are especially good at catching crawdad after crawdad.  If you’ve read “Last Child in the Woods” you know that without frequent outdoor experiences, children are likely to grow up to be fearful of nature. Adults light up when provoked by memories of catching crawdads, but it’s hard to find many kids at all who are comfortable picking up, much less catching crawdads these days.   On our field trip, we made crawdad catchers from paper clips, plus we caught crawdads by hand, putting them into a bucket for closer observation.

One five-year-old, Clara, fearlessly plunged her hand into the bucket and pulled out a squirming crawdad.  Surprised, I asked her mother how she knew to do that, and the answer came back describing how the fishermen in Scotland taught little Clara to do it with lobsters!  Green Spiral families are adventurous people, and I am always pleasantly surprised to see them show up with things like river gear, hats, buckets and nets.

Later, we hid arrowheads, like easter eggs, to include two other families that showed up.  The arrowheads were not easy to find, yet the kids were persistent in their hunting until they were greeted with success. Along with developing a host of abilities, such as visual discrimination skills, real-life outdoor experiences are an easy way to stretch a child’s ability to persevere through difficult circumstances.  Green Spiral families tend understand the importance of developing persistence and resilience in children, and there’s no better classroom for that than the great outdoors.

What you can do:  Go crawdad catching with kids and friends! You can read how to make a simple crawdad catcher out of paper clips and string in earlier posts.  Find a centrally located clean stream suitable for small children and share it under the “comments” section for future Green Spiral field trips.  Locate restaurants that serve crayfish on the menu and ask them where their food comes from.  Champion the many organizations who are working hard to restore our waterways to good health.

A river runs through it…

Patch.com Post – August 2012

Family reunions call for equitable activities, meaning free activities, and nature is able to answer that call.  My mother called a family reunion, so we ventured down to the river, all 22 of us, plus a dog, in search of arrowheads and other treasures.  We had very young children and princesses in tow, along with several kids who don’t like to unplug for long.

*

There was a moment of trepidation at the river’s edge, and then, in one glorious movement, everyone entered the shallow river, skipping rocks, flipping shells, happily exploring the river and it’s many wonders.  Nature is the great equalizer and the great individualizer: we each found something unique, and completely compelling to do, to the point of ignoring the first pouring rain in a 90-day drought.

*

Watch the way children play outdoors very carefully, it’s easier to discern their learning modalities outdoors than it is indoors.  For example, if they are visual learners, they will be the first kids to spy the fish bones, or arrowheads.  If they are auditory learners, they will be the first to hear the airplane overhead.

*

When visiting a river with extended family, always bring paperclips with you, for with paperclips, you can make “crawdad catchers’ and keep everyone entertained for hours. To make a “crawdad catcher” simply unfold a paperclip into the shape of a fishhook, tie a piece string to it, and fix a bit of meat to it.  Teenagers and toddlers alike can safely “fish” for crawdads, who pinch the meat with their claws and won’t let go, even when you lift them out of the water to watch their spiny legs claw frantically at thin air.

*

The proper name for crawdad is crayfish, and surprisingly, Missouri is a biodiversity hotspot for them, largely due to our rivers, which are among the biggest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers in the world.  Sadly, our rivers are under siege, from many point sources, including monster vehicles with enormous wheels, that crush delicate creatures in their wake.

*

Who will speak for the truffulla trees and crawling things, if no one takes kids crawdad fishing?

If not you, then who?

*

What you can do:

Take your kids “crawdad fishing” – and remember to bring your paper clips.  Splash photos all over social media.

Start a family nature club – and bring all your friends crawdad fishing.  Make sure they bring their cameras.

Find restaurants that serve crayfish and ask where the crayfish come from.

Join any number of worthy organizations, like Missouri Stream Team, and help clean up our rivers.