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.


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.

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:

Best Plant Ideas:

Bill’s Speaking Calendar:

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:

Chain of Rocks Bridge

Chain of Rocks Bridge

Okay, this was more of a scouting mission than a field trip, but here’s the scoop on eagle watching at the Chain of Rocks Bridge during the annual Eagle Days celebration:  basically, if you want to see eagles, wait until it’s really cold outside, cold enough to make the rivers freeze, so that the eagles are forced to small pockets of open water, in this case the chain of rocks in the water that parallels the bridge for easy viewing.  Bundle up, pack some hot chocolate in a thermos, bring your own high powered binoculars or spotting scope, come early in the morning and watch the eagles fish.

Where eagles dare to fish

Where eagles dare to fish

If you want to enjoy Eagle Days, on the other hand, pick a nice warm January afternoon, consider it a pleasant walk in the sunshine, and enjoy the festivities.  You will see one or two eagles in the far distance, but the fun will be had at the re-enactment camp, at the live eagle tent, and with all the happy people enjoying a cheerful walk along the bridge.  Even if it is a relatively warm day, take care to bundle up, as the bridge is exposed, and the wind chill will get to your bones.  Remember, children have smaller body masses and get into thermal trouble very quickly.

Take a walk on the wild side

Take a walk on the wild side

Eagle Days is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and happens around MLK weekend each year. It’s growing in popularity, so you can’t count on prime $5 parking.

Plan to be funneled into one of the free satellite parking lots, and instead of waiting for the shuttle bus, just start walking along the bike path because you will beat the shuttle bus which sometimes has a 40 minute wait.  It’s about a 20 minute walk, which is nothing for a stroller, but probably too far for a toddler or small child.

Walk, don't ride

Walk, don’t ride

To get to the parking areas from Saint Louis, approach from 270 heading east to Illinois and get off at the last exit (Riverview Drive) before you go over the bridge into Illinois.  Turn right after you exit the highway, and the parking lot will quickly appear on your left, very visible and well marked.

Bring your own snacks, as the food offerings run along the lines of what I would call “carnival food”.  Restroom facilities are porta-potty style.

Funnel cakes for everyone!

Funnel cakes for everyone!

The walk will be your major activity, punctuated by chances to peer into the spotting scopes set up by the rangers along the bridge.  One lone defunct firetruck served as a popular jungle gym, for obvious reasons.  Kids like to climb things.

Climbable Sculpture?

Climbable Sculpture?

The Lewis and Clark re-enactment camps are always fun and interesting, but there is not much for kids to actually do, really, except look and learn. The giant eagle nest photo opportunity is nice, but even better, encourage kids to construct their own giant “eagle nests” in your own backyard upon return.  Obviously, for liability reasons, the MDC can’t have a bunch of kids running around with giant sticks, trying to build eagle nests.

Lewis? or Clark?

Lewis? or Clark?

Scoping out the scoop

Scoping out the scoop

Missouri is one of the best spots in the country to view bald eagles, and the story of the returning bald eagle is a positive message that should be purposefully transmitted to future generations.

Recall that Rachel Carson, the “grandmother” of the environmental movement, first sent up the alarm about the dangers of DDT in her landmark book “Silent Spring” in 1962.

Along with hunting, DDT was responsible for decimating the eagle population, which put eagles on the endangered species list with only 3,000 nesting pairs left in the wild during the 1960/1970s.

Since then, due mostly to public pressure and awareness, eagle numbers have grown to over 10,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, and our national symbol is no longer on the endangered species list.  It’s important to keep building awareness, and keep bringing kids out to see the eagles.

Success stories lend courage to the environmental movement, so share the eagle story freely, (along with closing the ozone hole), because painting a positive vision of the future is our primary responsibility as parents and teachers actively cultivating future stewards of the earth.

Teaching children to love and honor our wild creatures is a cultural value that must be directly taught by adults, (usually parents); the kids won’t get it by osmosis, or necessarily from school or friends.  Books, field trips and videos can help, but nothing beats a field trip or the chance to see a real live eagle up-close and personal.  Send me your photo of the live eagle in the interpretive tent and I’ll upload it here: _______

As a note, I’ve also had good luck watching eagles at Riverlands, or simply by driving along the Great River Road near Grafton, where you can see the spectacular free-fall dance of courtship that eagles do in the air.

In vain search of the courting dance, I found this cool video called “aerial ballet” that shows multitudes of eagles along the Mississippi River in Illinois if you don’t want to burn the carbon to get out near the river this year:

Weds Nov 13, 2013

Let's have a party!

Let’s have a party!

(#6) Red Solo Cups are not really recyclable, which is so sad, because the Red Solo Cup song is really fun.  Here’s the “bad boy” version of the song, in case you’ve not seen it:

Now, what we need to do is create a good green cup, and make up a great new song to go with it!

At 22 million views, “red cup living” is culturally drubbing those of us drinking from the “good green cup” — it’s just so much more fun to be naughty than nice! At some point, however, we’ll going to have to learn to be nice to ourselves and to our mother earth.

Yet, I digress from the central topic of green and sustainable field trips in the Saint Louis area.

Here’s a terrific field trip for teens, scouts, and greenies of all ages (except for little kids) — a trip to the recycling facility at Resource Management Company in Earth City.  Ask for Gary Gilliam. 314-770-9898, or send him an email at  Gary’s happy to offer field trips at any time, as field trips are good for growing the recycle business.  And here’s the really good news, not only is this field trip quite interesting, it’s absolutely free!

Many people are surprised to learn that Saint Louis has one of the most progressive recycling ecosystems in the country, and Gary is one of the “solutionaries” who helped figure out how to do it.

"All Together Now"

“All Together Now”

The short answer to recycling success is the rise of the “single stream” process, which means “throw it all in and let the recycling facility sort it out later”.

Gone are the days of sorting bottles from cans into little blue bins. Volume makes the economics work, and switching from little blue sorting bins to big green carts on wheels brings enough volume into the recycling game to make recycling sustainably profitable.

Less than 30% of Saint Louis households currently recycle their trash, so every field trip to a recycling center builds “customers,” thus bringing all of us, earth’s creatures included, into ever greater stability, success, and sustainability.

The original cave man

The original cave man

Our waste stream is valuable; and Gary is emphatic about it:  “There’s Treasure in Your Trash”!  While it’s important to understand the economics of sustainability from a macro-view, most people on this field trip will want to know exactly what can be recycled, and what cannot.

Here’s a link to the Saint Louis County Health Dept ‘Recycling Becomes Me’ website.  Download it, bookmark it, Facebook it, or pin it so you can find it when you want it, as these reference guides can be surprisingly hard to find.

2013-11-13 Recycling Becomes Me graphic.pdf

When it doubt, throw it in.  That’s the beauty of single stream!2013-11-13 Whats in your Trash Infographic

Back to the economics for a minute:  aluminum cans are “infinitely recyclable”, and represent lots of ‘embodied energy’, thus they are the most valuable of recyclables. Metals like aluminum foil and tin cans are the “treasure in the trash”.  Because aluminum cans are made from bauxite, a finite mineral  strip-mined from the earth’s crust, it’s especially important to recycle them always.

After metals, plastic is the second most valuable material for recyclers, especially #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE), which are recycled into furniture, playgrounds, puff clothing, and carpeting.

Now here’s where things get complicated, because I can’t help throwing children’s health into the economics mix. I think it’s so interesting that the most valuable recyclables, plastic #1 and #2, are also the safest for food. We don’t know much about plastic in our food supply, but what we do know isn’t good.  Of course true blue greenies reading this post will have been drinking from glass or metal containers for years.

Avoid plastic #3 PVC (sometimes called the ‘poison plastic’) as well as #6 and #7.

Back to that naughty red solo cup, which is polystyrene #6, a kind of styrofoam. Styrofoam has been listed by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen, and when it melts into your soup or coffee, you can taste the plastic.

Eco-Mama says: “Don’t drink plastic, kids”!  Try to avoid Styrofoam as graciously as possible so you don’t turn into one of those weird people with all sorts of annoying food rules that are impossible to follow.  Beyond health considerations, styrofoam is not recyclable.

The red solo cups, and other styrofoam pieces, are optically sorted out of the single stream process, and disposed of as true waste. Technically, red solo cups ARE recyclable, but you’ll have to organize your own field trip to find out for sure.

Do NOT throw grocery bags into the single stream receptacle (although the recycle facility will indeed sort them out later.)  Return your grocery bags to your friendly grocery store, or bring your own shopping bags to market, to market, to buy a fat pig.

Here’s a photo of a superior collapsible shopping “bag” you can buy at Schnucks for about $5.  As a bonus, the baggers in the check out line find the boxes much easier to load than bags, and if you keep to your grocery list and within the limits of the box, you will significantly reduce impulse purchases.

A box for your bagger

A box for your bagger

And to help you remember that plastic grocery bags have nowhere to go, here’s an amusing “mockumentary” about what happens to the “majestic plastic bag” as it searches for a home during it’s long lonely life:

If you sneak a peak inside your own recycling bin, it comes as no surprise that paper and cardboard comprise the bulk of recycling waste stream by volume;  paper gets bundled and shipped to Iowa or deadheaded to China.  Bring on that dream of a truly paperless society!  Don’t make me upload pictures of clear-cut old growth forests turned into direct mail envelopes.

Enough about what to recycle, here are your tips for hosting a recycle field trip: A group of about 20 – 30 people seems to be the right number for this field trip; a smaller group works just as well.   It might be nice to team up with another organization to maximize numbers and enjoy the synergistic effects.

The first half of the field trip is a lecture by Gary in a nice conference room with video cameras, and the second half is a tour of the plant. Plan on spending about two hours, plus travel time to Earth City. The location is well marked on GPS maps: Resource Management Company; 4375 Ryder Trail North, Earth City, MO; 63045

Again, here’s the contact information for Gary Gilliam: 314-770-9898,

It’s fun to watch the bulldozers and dumpers come in; count the dumpers and turn it into a math exercise on volume.  Count the number of workmen pulling pieces from the line and make some calculations; labor is a big expense for recycling companies.  On the other hand, it also represents job creation in the new “green economy.”

Study each machine to fully understand its job, and challenge yourself to make a map of the assembly line after you come out.  Notice that the plastic grocery bags that have no place to go.  Look for red solo cups. Ponder the magnitude of our waste stream and wonder where it all comes from and where it all goes. Ask about the odd things that find their way into the recycle center. (hint: lots of eyeglasses and TV remote controls, which get recycled along with the newspapers!)

And for those of you who can’t make it out for a real field trip, here’s a nice arm-chair “film” trip:

Again, there is something life-changing about real life experiences as opposed to watching video, so go in person if you can. If you go, be aware there is broken glass everywhere, and that a fine plastic dust fills the air; if you have asthma or are sensitive to respiratory issues, this may not be a good trip for you.  Bring sturdy shoes and maybe a N95 face mask.  The footing is fine, you will be walking on stairs with grates, sometimes covered with broken glass; but this is definitely not a place for high heels or fancy shoes.

I personally would not bring little kids on this field trip, due to the broken glass and air quality conditions.  This is a good tour to do when it’s too hot, or too cold, for comfortable outdoor adventures.  The work area is exposed; it was a cold day when we visited, and we were cold.  If you visit in summer, you will be hot.

I urge you to take a moment after the field trip to reflect on what you’ve learned, integrate it into your learning, and share that with those around you through blogging, Facebook, Instagram, graphic visuals, funny videos, etc.   Let me know if you go, by posting what I forgot to mention in the comment section below, thus helping future adventurers.

I leave you with this green coffee cup video by those smart and funny med students at Washington University:


Postnote 2014:  Want to supercharge your recycling efforts?  Look what IDEO is doing:

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:

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:

Updated: Aug 2018

Found it!  Here’s the scoop on what we’ve long been looking for:   the best time and place to go kayaking with kids.


Missouri is home to some of the biggest and most beautiful spring-fed rivers in the world, and Labor Day Monday is the perfect time to go.  Sadly, families attempting to float our beautiful Missouri rivers are often disappointed by lewd and drunken behavior, obviously not suitable for children. This can be rather frustrating, and legislation has been introduced to address the problem.


Meanwhile, Green Spiral Tours has discovered that the Courtois River on Labor Day Monday is the perfect time and place to take kids on their first kayaking adventure.


You are headed for the Courtois River, which is really a creek.  Courtois is a french word, meaning “polite” river. In Missouri, we pronounce it the “CODE-away”.  Kids should be old enough to swim, problem solve and respect wild rivers.  Middle School is the perfect age to learn to kayak, but of course people of any age will appreciate this trip.


Paddle Courtois Jzka WEB


Start by calculating your mileage to the GPS destination of Bass River Resorts at 204 Butts Road, 65565. (About 1:45 hours from Saint Louis). Call Bass River Resorts at 800-392-3700 to check the price and reserve your kayak or canoe. You are headed out Highway 44, which is Route 66, the “Mother Road”. (Be sure to put your play-list together in advance!)  *

If you have a Green Spiral adventure map, the parade of water towers will help you pass some time along the way.  Exit 208 at Cuba (the “Mural City”) will take you to Steelville, the “Floating Capitol of Missouri”.


Kayaking 2018-08-23 TITLE



Stop for sandwiches at the Subway in either Cuba or Steelville, and gas up now for a quick get-away at the end of the day.  Then proceed to Bass River Resorts, just ten more miles down the road.  If packing your own lunch, BYO+ is the way to go.  (Bring Your Own PLUS” something to share).  Cubed melon is refreshing on the river, as are carrots and frozen grapes. Sometimes it’s fun to build a tiny fire for hot dogs or s’mores on the river bank.


When kayaking, or on any adventure, it’s always good to bring friends, and a small group works best on the river. Remember that canoes travel faster than kayaks, and you will be limited by the slowest paddler in your group. Put younger kids in a tandem kayak with you; it will be fun and easy for them to jump in and out of the kayak to swim. Teenagers will sprint off and be gone before you know it, so make a plan with them to wait for you around each bend.  A canoe and two or three kayaks makes for the perfect flotilla size.


Bass River Resorts is a particularly nice operation because your car is left at the “take out” point, which becomes important at the end of the day when the sun is going down and your tribe is getting hungry.  Bass River Resorts also has a quick sign-up system and clean restrooms. Floating and kayaking are “hurry up and wait” situations, and the Bass River location minimizes this frustration.


Free showers and changing rooms are available when you get off the river, so bring a change of clothing to leave in the car.  If you buy or bring goggles or a face mask at the  Bass River store, the kids will love it.


2013-09-02 fishing*

If you have coolers, dogs, young children, or fishermen: get a canoe; be sure to insist on the fiberglass “Old Towne” style, which slides more easily over the rocks.   Bringing a low slung chair for the canoe is not a bad idea, as a comfort measure for adults.


Two paddle


Pay your money at Bass Rivers, sign the liability waiver, and ask for the “Blunt Trip” which is a 6 mile paddle, lasting about three hours — if you linger.  There is also a 13 mile trip, called the “Berryman Trip” which you can try when you have more time.


Upon check in, you will be given a bus ticket, and directed to move your car to the “take out” point, just beyond the cabins and the horses at the river.


Slather on sunscreen, and use the restrooms one last time while you wait for the school bus. Give your ticket to the bus driver and get on the school bus. Have your school bus songs in mind before you go.


Bass River

Bass River


The bus will take you on a short ten minute drive to the “Put In” point.  The driver will then assign each paddler his or her kayak or canoe.  Ask for a life jacket for kids, and use your flotation device as a backrest in your kayak.  You can see the bottom of the Courtois Creek on this whole trip, so fear not:  as the locals say,  “If you find yourself drowning, just stand up!”  As always, use your common sense and respect all rivers.



The kayaks are the “sit-upon” type, so wear quick dry shorts and flip-flops.  Bring a sunhat, polarized sunglasses, lunch, drinking water, your camera, field guides, and a bungee cord to lash your dry-bag to the kayak.  Or, go minimalist, leave valuables at home and simply use a plastic bag and a piece of string.


Kayaks are highly maneuverable, they put you closer to the water, and you get stuck less often.  If you’ve never kayaked before, it’s easy to learn the unique swivel motion required to dip each paddle into the water. Take some time when you first begin kayaking, to practice maneuvering the kayak: go forward, and backwards; practice spinning, and get comfortable with the paddle in the calm water at the “Put In” point. You will hit some riffles the minute you start paddling down the creek.


In general, the Courtois starts out with high canyon walls, as well as swimming holes, rope swings and ledges; be sure to swim early in your trip, as the opportunities for swimming become fewer as you go down creek. Swim early and often.


Look! No crowds!*

There’s lots of wildlife to enjoy as this trip proceeds. There are tadpoles, craw-fish and frogs to catch, snakes to chase, and large fish to spy beneath your boat. If you stand in the water, little fishes will come to nibble and kiss at your feet.  The torch-shaped red flower you see near the water in September is called cardinal flower, and migrating hummingbirds love it.  The bright red leaves you will see belong to the sumac, the first leaves to change in September. You will also see lots of dragonflies and blue swallowtail butterflies.




The Courtois Creek runs down to meet up with the Huzzah (an old English victory cry among sailors), which then quickly meets the Meramec River  (an Algonquian term meaning river of ugly fishes), before all joining the Mighty Mississippi – the Father of Waters.   French, English and Native American, we are a melting pot of waters. If you live in South Saint Louis, you’re floating on your drinking water!


Leaving Saint Louis at a lazy 9 am, you can easily be on the river by noon, including the Subway stop, returning home before 7 pm.  OR, stop for milkshakes and hamburgers at Dairy Isle, a local independent ice cream shop in Steelville. It’s easy to find, and marked on your Green Spiral Adventure map.


All scream for Ice Cream

All scream for Ice Cream


You might or might not get caught in Ozark traffic on the way home Labor Day Monday, so enjoy the sun-kissed feeling, the people in the car and one long last day of being unplugged before fall arrives and school settles in for good.    Bass River Resorts is open  year ’round, so you can kayak through the changing of the leaves, and even join a paddle on New Year’s Eve!  (Bring long underwear.)


Viva le polite river!


Every summer, usually in June, Green Spiral families venture forth to explore a different (and usually organic) farm.  Seeing something in real life, like hogs clearing the forest, is completely different than reading about it in a book or on the internet.


This year we visited a teaching farm:  The Farm at Kraut Run, located about 40 minutes from the Arch, straight out highway 40, past Weldon Springs.

The Farm at Kraut Run is managed through sustainable handcrafted practices, it’s home to a variety of animals such as ducks, chickens and hogs, and it’s set up to receive school groups interested in learning more about responsible environmental stewardship and our local food supply.  Farmer Chris Wimmer and colleague farmer Ryan Smith are not only passionate about sustainable farming, they also possess a very deep working knowledge of their craft, which is inspiring and somewhat contagious.


Green Spiral Tours is a “family adventure school” for a reason, and true to theme, when we arrived, the farmers were chasing an escaped hog about the farm.  Full grown hogs are big, strong, valuable, and they definitely have minds of their own.  We checked out the ducks, chickens, hoops and gardens, but the hogs, in the end, were the highlight of the tour.

It is fascinating to watch hogs clear the forest right before your very eyes;  in the age of confined animal factory operations (CAFOs), it is thrilling to see an authentic local example of Joe Salatin’s farming style, that Michael Pollan writes about in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (2006).

If you’ve not had a chance to read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” yet, keep it on your reading list, as this book helped launch the current food movement that is only now coming into being.  The dilemma is the question of what to eat, given we now live in a world where everything (from wild mushrooms to McDonald’s) might kill you.  By the way, Michael Pollan has a new book out, called “Cooked” (2013), which is about how cooking, and eating together, civilizes a society. I recommend them both.

While on the subject of books, let me also recommend “Turn Here, Sweet Corn” by Atina Diffley, about organic farming in Minnesota, a book recommended to me by one of my Green Spiral moms, and one I consider to be a modern classic.

2013-06-02 ducks

Back to the farm tour: for a little extra money, farmer Chris and farmer Ryan called in their chef, who prepared fresh appetizers including bean dip, beet punch and pork & kale stew for our school group.  We anticipated the appetizers during the whole farm tour, and, true to course, the delicious offerings exceeded expectations by a country mile.

That makes three very different teaching farms worth visiting within easy reach of downtown Saint Louis: The Community Supported Gardens at LaVista near Alton, EarthDance Farms in Ferguson, and The Farm at Kraut Run out highway 40.  See earlier Green Spiral posts for links to the other farms.

Here’s the link to the Farm at Kraut Run in the event your school or learning group might be interested in visiting. Rates are quite reasonable, as the farmers are passionate about their work, and sharing the mission of responsible stewardship handily increases the “pie” of consumers interested in local and sustainable foods.

By the way: Is there anything in the world better than pink cowboy boots and a chicken!?!


Life Must be Lived as Play

The blooming of the green world is intimately tied to the economy, and as the economy recovers new playgrounds are springing up like dandylions!

Here’s a Green Spiral Map that shows the many great playgrounds around Saint Louis; send an email to if you’d like an email copy of the map which will let you to zoom in for a better look.

Especially if you are involved with a school, it’s extremely important to see  “best practices” before designing your new playground; I recommend taking a large group of PTO families and lots of “stunt kids” out on a bonding bus ride together to test out different playgrounds in real life, long before you begin the playground planning process.

Fortunately we have lots of creative and unique playgrounds in Saint Louis worth visiting, and here I touch on two we have visited through Green Spiral field trips.  On the short list of playgrounds, I would include  “The Awakening” in Chesterfield, the Walter Ambrose Family Center in Webster, Keysor Elementary in Kirkwood, New City School in the CWE, Maplewood-Richmond Heights Public Schools and Citygarden.

Not only do children build their muscles on the playground, they also build their imaginations, and we definitely need lots of kids with powerful imaginations to help solve some of the world’s most vexing problems.  We are moving in the right direction when we build thoughtful playscapes for children which include water, nature, sound, community and lots of positive challenge. The criteria for the Green Spiral Great Playground Map includes “first of kind” playgrounds, play for all abilities including wheelchairs, sense of place and uniqueness.

Pink Ducky Race at Citygarden

2012-09-08 pink ducky raceOur greatest children’s playground is unquestionably the Citygarden, which was not necessarily created to be a children’s playground per se.

Water is life, and an irresistible magnet for children.  To Citygarden’s credit, when all those children spontaneously showed up and jumped into the pools, instead of forbidding the children to touch the water, they hired lifeguards, and let the children play.

In addition, children are allowed to climb on the art sculptures, which is not only unusual, but positively enlightened.   We must offer our best art to our children, as children have big souls to feed, and they feed their souls with their hands, by touching things.

There are numerous areas in the Citygarden specifically designed for younger children, such as the Pinocchio sculpture, the white rabbits, and the hidden musical jump board.  Watch while older kids completely ignore the outdoor video screen, preferring instead to hop in the pop-up spray fountains, race about the garden, climb over the sculptures or dip in the pools, proving without question that water is more powerful than screen-time.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, writes of the many ways we are systematically separating children from nature, and you may be noticing this disturbing trend that increasingly forbids children to touch, crawl, climb, get dirty or certainly destroy things.  Last Child in the Woods started the recent child/nature movement, and is required reading for anyone serious about creating playground habitats for children.

Fortunately for us, through good design and good policy, Citygarden is a “do touch” children’s garden that can withstand the trample of thousands of tiny feet and hands, pointing the way forward in creating playgrounds that include wheels, native plants, creatures, children, dogs, water and a vibrant community life full of all kinds of people.

2009-09 City Garden Bunnies

The Pink Ducky Race during the Pink Flamingo Party every year is a particularly nice time to visit the Citygarden, as it’s thrilling for children to watch their special pink ducky float down the length of the pool, and hopefully win the race.  The Pink Ducky Race is currently scheduled for September 7th, 2013.

There is plenty of available street parking on 10th street near the white rabbits, also conveniently located near the porta-potties.  Bring hand sanitizer, and your dog.

2013-04-12 awakening instagram foot 609kThe Awakening

In Spring 2013 Green Spiral hosted a field trip to explore  “The Awakening” sculpture by J. Seward Johnson in Chesterfield.

Sadly, it was a miserably long cold wet spring and our beautiful April outdoor lunch turned out to be dank, dark, cold and threatening. No one came out to play, and I don’t blame them.

“The Awakening” is a gigantic sculpture of a man erupting from the ground; it is truly remarkable when you happen upon it, and photos can’t quite capture the surprise and magnificence that rise up inside you upon approaching it.  I recommend you experience it for yourself.

What is most remarkable and inspiring about “The Awakening” is Chesterfield’s vision of putting “Art at the Heart of the Parks” and the parks in the center of community.  This is a “do touch” climbable sculpture that figuratively and physically puts children, community and art at the heart of the town center.

There is pent-up demand for destinations that offer nature play, and Citygarden provides economic proof that groups like Green Spiral and others will venture forth to find these destinations, spreading eco-tourism dollars along the way.  The Chesterfield Mall is conveniently located just east of the playground and sculpture.

“The Awakening” sculpture can be hard to find, as it doesn’t yet show up on Google Earth, so I’ve marked it on this Google Green Spiral Playground Map.

Let me know if you can see it:

Here’s a link to the Chesterfield Arts page to learn more about the sculpture:

2013-04-12 awakening from afar

These two playgrounds, The Citygarden and The Awakening, are unconventional children’s playgrounds by traditional standards, but they serve as anchor points of best practice, as readily evidenced upon your first visit to either one of these remarkable destinations.

The Green Spiral Map at the top of the page shows a number of other great Saint Louis playgrounds, in existence or under construction, and include Turtle Park, Tilles Park, the Forest Park Inclusion Playground, Zachary’s Playground at Lake Saint Louis, The City Museum, the Tree Top Adventure Playground and Sensory Garden in Shaw Park, New City School, the cutting edge playground at Maplewood Richmond Heights School, the all-abilities, all inclusive school playground at Keysor Elementary School, and the new Walter Ambrose Family Center preschool playground in Webster Groves that spills beautifully down a steep hill.  Many more are being added to the map all the time.

I encourage you to gather a playgroup and check these playgrounds off your list, use it as a curriculum map for the study of outdoor play; and if you are building a new playground, I’d love to see it on the Green Spiral Map one day!

Invite me to talk to your school PTO for free, by sending a note to, and I’ll come in exchange for selling the maps at $2 each to subsidize the trip.

During Year Two of Green Spiral Tours, families experienced many magical moments, and learned directly from local entrepreneurs, farmers, educators and leaders in the sustainable field, at a wide variety of locations throughout the Saint Louis area.

Experience really is the best teacher!  Plus, bringing friends along is more fun and helps create a vibrant learning community.  At Green Spiral, we especially welcome adventurous families who like to write and photograph, will reflect and debrief online, and will share the learning via social media.

Green Spiral hosted 10 field trips in Year Two, (up two field trips from Year One).

Field Trips Include: 


Pie Making at BEGIN New Venture Saint Patricks Center

We learned how to make pies with “Pie Oh My!” entrepreneur Jane Callahan, at the BEGIN New Venture “kitchen incubator,” a cutting edge program for local food entrepreneurs, located downtown at the Saint Patrick Center. 


IMG_2358Bocce Ball, Herbaria and Ravioli Tour of “The Hill”

One mother’s testimonyI’ve lived on The Hill for seven

years and didn’t know all this stuff was here!”




mail“Living Building” Tour at Tyson Learning Center 

Saint Louis is home to one of the very greenest buildings

in the world, a “Living Building” built by Washington University as a lab

and learning center. We got to see it on a rainy day. Closed to the public.  


2011-05-20 Loden BradstreetStrawberry Picking at Thies Farms at the Creve Coeur location

Still the best place for u-pick strawberries within easy reach.        

Don’t let your kids grow up without strawberry picking at least once!

The best strategy for organic strawberry picking in Saint Louis is still DIY.


mailRue Lafayette Cafe and Lafayette Park Pond and Playground

Saint Louis has a rich french heritage and it’s important to know at least a little something about it. Renting sailboats for the Lafayette Park pond and eating chocolate croissants is a nice way to start! This was our third year to Rue Lafayette Cafe on Lafayette Park.



2011-06-09 Earthdance (4)Farm Tour at EarthDance FARMS

One of the primary movers in the Saint Louis food movement, 

EarthDance FARMS hosts regular tours on Sunday afternoons in the summer. 

If you want to explore to the front edge of the food movement, it’s a must visit!


A river runs through it...Arrowhead Hunting 

The historic drought made this year an excellent year for arrowhead 

hunting, and it’s fascinating to hunt for artifacts from past civilizations,

which may be hiding surprisingly near you!



Crawdad Fishing 

Missouri is home to the biggest spring fed rivers in the world,

and this makes us a biodiversity hotspot for “crawdads” (crayfish). 

We went to catch a few with very young children in Forest Park.


Schlafly GardenworksSustainable Sensory Tour of Maplewood

The City of Maplewood is a hotspot for sustainability, 

anchored by the Gardenworks at Schlafly Bottleworks. 

We went to visit the gardens, along with sustainable

chocolate maker Kakao, and two healing arts centers:

The Salt Room and Cheryl’s Herbs. 


mailMetro Journey to the Whispering Wall at Union Station

Union Station is again in transition, and so the annual

Metro Journey to the Whispering Wall was cancelled this year.

We are holding a bright candle for Union Station and know

that this rich cultural landmark will continue to be part of Saint Louis’ living legacy,

well into the future.




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.