Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On the Eskenazi Sky Farm with 3 and 4 year olds

I was recently invited to the School for Young Children on the campus of IUPUI, because they are starting a STEM pilot program for pre-schoolers. When they asked me for ideas, I immediately suggested the Eskenazi Sky Farm, as it is but one block away from the school. The people at the School for Young Children thought it a good idea and they've been preparing all week, studying plants and irrigation and even growing kale as part of Farm2School's kale initiative.

We were fortunate to be received by not only the Sky Farmer herself, Rachel White, but also the Sky Farm's beekeeper, Kate Franzman.

Words are no longer useful, let's let my photos tell the story of today's adventure.

It was a short jaunt on a beautiful day to Eskenazi.

Eskenazi's Commons is designed for interactive fun.

Art and sculpture is integral to the overall aesthetic of Eskenazi.
Ready to enter.
One of the day's highlights: being crammed in the Eskenazi elevator. To the left is Jennifer Bohannon, from the School for Young Children, who prepared her students for this trip with STEM activities. Teaching assistant Mariah is to the right.
Eyeing the landscape before entering the Sky Farm.
Touring the Sky Farm, where food grown goes into the hospital cafeteria — as well as in some cases, home with the staff.

Beekeeper Kate Franzman also works at Growing Places Indy and so was explaining the various plants.
Rachel White, Sky Farmer, interacts with the kids.

Conferring over the kale crop.

Megan Hart, right (in the green sweater), was kind of enough to volunteer her morning to spend time with us. 

Kate describes the workings of the bee hive behind the fence.

Rachel answers questions.
Attentive children!

Thanks to the great folks at Eskenazi for always keeping their door open and thanks to Kate Franzman for showing up and to Megan Hart for volunteering her time. And thanks to the teachers and teaching assistants who dedicate their lives to their students.

When I think about the threat to their future because of climate change and ecological destruction of all kinds, it takes me to some dark places. Today, I was overwhelmed by the sweetness of this experience, and I will return to it again and again to redouble my efforts to inspire education, stewardship and civics.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gone fishin' ... via bike and bus and walking

Today was an amazing day.

I set off on my bike early, and the temp was in the low 40s. Gloves and clothing layers were helpful as I rode to the Rachel Glick Courage Center to meet with the kids. This was my second visit to the Courage Center; last week I took them on IndyGo to White Pine Wilderness Academy.

These young people, with ages ranging from 8 to into their teens, live at the Courage Center for durations up to six months and beyond. They are suffering from symptoms of PTSD, or other challenges. Honestly, I can't fathom what these kids have been through, and I'm not in a position to know their stories just yet. You won't see any photos of them in this blog, because the Courage Center does not allow permission for that.

While we were at White Pine last week, we discussed what our next adventure together might be. I'd long been wanting to collaborate with my friend (and fellow EEAI member) Clint Kowalik. Clint is one of the most hilarious people I know, and he is truly the most committed-to-fishing person I've ever met. He works for DNR and runs their Go FishIN program, that gets kids — with their families — out fishing and enjoying Indiana's waterways.

When I suggested to Courage Center kids that we could go fishing with Clint, they were excited and said yes. Well, some were not so excited, but would be glad to go on a field trip.

Meanwhile, I attended the recent opening of Groundwork Indy, part of the national non-profit, Groundwork USA. The organization engages in on-the-ground projects that revitalize communities, training and employing a team of area teens. Phyllis Boyd heads up Groundwork Indy, and they are already cleaning up the neighborhood and planting trees.

Phyllis and I had been talking about uniting Groundwork Indy our youth program, Youth Power Indiana. So it seemed sensible to get the Groundwork Indy teens and the Courage Center kids together to go fishing.

That's why I was on my bike in the chilly morning of Friday, Oct. 16, with a large, heavy backpack on my back. Inside were my projector and computer, because doing a presentation on climate change,is part of my repertoire as I regularly take area youth on field trip adventures to various destinations — often relying on the generous contributions of bus tickets from IndyGo. You can eye some of those adventures here and here.

Seven youth, three Courage Center instructors and I left the Center at 9 a.m. for a quick walk to catch the #5. We barely caught it in time.

From there, it was a quick trip to Groundwork Indy, located on Burdsal Parkway, on the city's west side. A half dozen or so Groundwork teens were present and after brief introductions, I did a short presentation.

In my presentations, I cover some pretty fundamental but easy-to-grasp aspects of climate science and the crisis that we face: 1) sources of carbon dioxide pollution; 2) the greenhouse effect; 3) warmer air holds more water moisture; 4) the albedo effect; 5) the rapidly melting Arctic. I added a couple elements to the standard presentation, including the recent fact that about two dozen climate scientists in Indiana wrote an open letter to the governor, saying the science is settled, it's time to get to work on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and that these scientists are at-the-ready to help. You can read that letter here.

Next, it was time to walk to Riverside Park to go fishing in their pond, which is part of DNR's urban fishing program, Go FishIN in the City. It took about 15 minutes to stroll to our destination, and there was Clint, his colleague Brian, and Clint's daughter who was on break from school.

Clint, with his daughter, greeting us as we arrive.

Some of the items we needed to learn about fishing.

Of course this is an important item as well — fish food!

I knew a bit about the Go FishIN in the City project, because of my friendship with Clint. I had no idea, however, we would learn everything about the basic infrastructure of fishing. We had to put our fishing poles together, place the reel on the pole, thread the fishing line thru and then tie the fishing hook to the end of the line. We — each and every one of us — also placed the sinker on the line, as well as the brightly-colored robber.

At last, it was time to take some instruction from Clint and Brian ... and then get to fishing.

Many of the kids had never fished before, and it was a joy to watch them take to easily to the activity. Some kids who were experienced helped their fellow youth learn how to cast and when to reel it in.

For a good while, no one caught a fish; a couple kids expressed the certainty that there were in fact no fish in this little pond.

I started to get a little nervous. I spent a lot of my childhood fishing and remember the disappointment of staring at an unwavering bobber. But soon, one of the girls cried out; she'd caught a fish! Sure, it was a little dude, but it was a fish.

All the kids gathered round to marvel, then redoubled their efforts to get one of their own.

Over the next half hour or so, more kids caught fish. One, our youngest member at 8 years old, caught two fish. Or, perhaps it was the same fish twice, for all I know. Each time he caught a fish, I watched him run in place in utter excitement.

I saw other small victories. Kids who had sworn earlier in the day they would not touch a worm or a fish were doing both.

I will say it again; Clint loves to fish.
I feel much gratitude for everyone who helped out today, from the good people at IndyGo, to Clint, his daughter and Brian. This is the first of many FishIn trips, I guarantee, especially if Clint get some help. Clint wanted me to mention that he could use some volunteers, adults who love to fish who could be trained to train these kids to fish, so that more youth can enjoy the waterways of Indianapolis and beyond, with an ultimate goal of encouraging conservation and stewardship.

Just send me an email and I'll be glad to introduce you to Clint.

I'm excited to see what the teen workers of Groundwork Indy will do to make our city a better place. You can send me an email and I'll introduce you to Phyllis, in case you have some ideas for projects.

The bus ride back was a breeze. Both buses, to and from our destination were right on time, as they almost always are in my experience. And my bike ride home, backpack weighing me down, was a bit of a struggle as I hit quite the headwind.

Writing this blog, downloading the pictures, makes me smile. We had a little bit of everything today, climate science, hands-on activities, good exercise, a mass transit adventure, and even a couple of fish to brag about. As I said, it was an amazing day.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Happy birthday to Heaven ... and other IndyGo adventures

Thanks to my Climate Camp partner Kristina Hulvershorn, Youth Program Director for the Peace Learning Center, I was recently introduced to Louis B. Russell School #48. This introduction was in the context of a Climate Camp day camp we were doing at Freewheelin' Community Bikes, pretty much right across the street from #48.

That was about a month ago, and while none of those students attended our camp, we had a wonderful day on bikes and you can read about it here.

This intro to #48 led to planning an IndyGo adventure to Indy Urban Acres. Those of you familiar with this blog know that Indy Urban Acres is a frequent partner for our work at Earth Charter Indiana and Youth Power Indiana. Tyler Gough at Indy Urban Acres is in charge of growing food that goes directly to food banks in Indianapolis. Indy Urban Acres is part of the Indy Parks system, and is in partnership with Gleaners Food Bank.

Tyler himself is engaged in constantly improving his farming methods, adding a no-till strategy to his already organic-minded one. You can read a story about Tyler and his work with Kevin Allison, from the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District here.

Tyler is an educator as well as a farmer, so I love taking kids out there for the fresh air, the fun, and the food instruction. Depending on the time of year, Tyler sends soil and seeds home with kids to start their own food garden.

As of last year, I began to take students to Tyler's Indy Parks farm on IndyGo.

It doubles the sustainability instruction: responsible farming is an act of sustainability, carbon dioxide footprint reduction, and carbon sequestration and thus climate recovery. To take mass transit is to reduce our carbon footprint and increase our sustainability.

It's a win-win from Mother Earth, who desperately needs a lot of check marks in the "win" category.

Ms. Stone from #48 — along with numerous staff members of the school, including the principal, Mrs. Sam — invited me to come in and talk to the 6th graders before our bus adventure. I did so on Tuesday this week, first presenting my standard Climate Change 101 slideshow, then connecting climate change to our decision to take a city bus for our field trip, and lowering the carbon footprint.

Whether I am advocating for bikes or for cars, the message also includes the numerous studies I've read that say one can save up to $10,000 a year by not even having a car. That amount is based on car payments factored out of time, plus gas, parking costs, insurance, maintenance, and other factors. That usually gets a wide-eyed response!

On Thursday, I returned to the school with a couple dozen day passes in hand, courtesy of my friends at IndyGo. IndyGo has now provided me passes for about a half dozen adventures, and as the word spreads, I have no doubt other schools will want to get into the game.

The three dozen 6th graders, along with their teachers and a volunteer, emerged from the school to await the #19. On my Tuesday visit, we determined our path using IndyGo's web site, which I shared with IndyGo so that the drivers would not be surprised at the sight of a mob of kids waiting at a stop.

As we got ready to head to the bus stop just across the street from the school, located at the intersection of Central Avenue and 34th Street, one kid pointed up Central and asked: "Is that our bus?"

The bus proclaimed "GARAGE" on its display sign, so I responded that no, it was headed the garage and just happened to be stopped right there.

Boy was I wrong.

IndyGo had actually sent a bus especially to us for our field trip. The teachers were happy about that, and while I was struck dumb by the generosity and sweetness of that, I was also a little disappointed, as it wasn't quite the authentic experience I was hoping to have.

The teachers were happy however, because most of the students had never been on IndyGo before, and so they like the more controlled setting of having a dedicated bus. After a moment's thought, I decided I agreed. Especially as it took a long time for the students to line up and run their cards through the IndyGo machine!

Boarding the bus near School #48.

Once the students were on board, I learned an additional bit of information that this route, the #19, would become our next bus, the #30, and so we wouldn't even need to transfer.

While this made it easier, I have to say I was once again slightly deflated.

Two summers ago, I visited a summer camp in Fountain Square via the Southeast Community Services Center. It was those kids, aged 8-17, who taught me how to use IndyGo in a robust way, transferring from one line to the other. Honestly, I had only gone on direct trips (to and from the downtown, never downtown, then east or west). So thanks to the great educators at that program for helping me understand just how effective our mass transit system can be.

The now number 30 took us to the intersection of 21st and Shadeland for the nearly mile walk to Indy Urban Acres. The supervisor, whose name I never learned, pulled me aside at that stop. I told her back at School 48 how grateful I was for the special treatment but that I thought we could handle it on our own. She asked me on Shadeland, with hundreds of cars hurling past us, if we wanted to be on our own in catching the #30 and then transferring to the #19 for the voyage back.

I told her yes, and responded that we were on our own.

And so we were.

We walked to Indy Urban Acres and Tyler Gough did his tour and instruction. Here are some images from the experience, before we return to our mass transit story.

Tyler always encourages kids to race through this structure to blow off some steam before the tour.

Tyler Gough, center, showing the kids around.

Discussing the farm.

The #48 science teachers, Ms. Stone and Mrs. Peterson, turned this visit into an assignment. Here, one student is taking notes that will form the basis for the essay he'll be producing for the class.

When the students learned about the vital importance of bees to pollinate our food, they agreed to pose as bodyguards in front of Tyler's apiary, a hive that houses approximately 60,000 bees.
As we finished our tour, and started hiking back to catch the #30 at Shadeland and 21st, I realized that there was a bus stop for the #21 right next to Indy Urban Acres. A quick search on my cell phone resulted in an IndyGo map that said #21 would be a perfect way to return to the school. In fact we'd end up transferring downtown which I thought would be fun for the kids.

So after a quick consult with the teachers, we changed our plan and awaited the #21.

These three gentlemen showed great leadership skills throughout the day, helping with our tour as well as giving up their seats for others on our way back to their school.

We had a brief pause downtown as we awaited the #19 to get back to the school. There, I gathered a bunch of students around me to announce my son Julian was turning 25 that day, and asked if they would they sing to him. They had heard about Julian on Tuesday, as I told them that one of my sons had decided not to drive, in good part because of that cost savings.

So they were more than happy to sing to him, but first, we had to sing to someone else.


One of the School 48 students on our field trip is named Heaven, and so we sang "Happy Birthday" to her, before singing to Julian on his voicemail.

I had never sung "Happy Birthday" to Heaven before. It seemed like fitting celebration for our lovely day of travel and fun, a moment to pause and be grateful for everything, from the beautiful sunlight, to the generosity of Tyler Gough and of IndyGo, and the friends we made on the bus, like Midnight Rose, whom I spoke with the entire trip from Indy Urban Acres to downtown.

We are already planning our next adventure.

Waiting on the #19, downtown.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Climate Camp on bicycles

I've long been a fan of Freewheelin' Community Bikes. It's a wonderful organization that educates youth about bike safety and maintenance, while creating a vibrant community center for the Mapleton Fallcreek Neighborhood and larger Indianapolis community. Freewheelin' also empowers youth to leadership positions within the organization.

Among other initiatives, Freewheelin' takes kids through an Earn-A-Bike Program where kids work with Freewheelin' mentors to learn all about bicycles, earning different colored aprons (a la the martial arts) as they gain mastery of all aspects of this healthy activity — healthy for the individual and for the planet.

Freewheelin' is a natural partner for our work at Earth Charter Indiana and Youth Power Indiana, and our shared interest in empowering youth and building self resiliency. And so it was a perfect fit for our most recent Climate Camp day camp. We ended up with 20 youth, ages 8-17, from numerous areas around Indianapolis. We spent the morning learning bike safety and maintenance, then I showed a brief presentation on climate change during lunch, detailing how bikes are a meaningful antidote to the carbon pollution emitted from cars.

We calculated the pounds of carbon we would in fact save that afternoon as we broke up into two groups and two different destinations. The overwhelming conclusion: Choose bikes!

As usual in my blog, I'll let the pictures do the story telling.

In the morning, Freewheelin' led us through a bicycle workshop.

These three youth are veterans of the Freewheelin' program and instructed our Climate Campers.

After the workshop, we ate at Unleavened Bread Cafe. Here we are after lunch at the adjacent Fall Creek Gardens, an exemplary community garden.
We broke up into two different groups that afternoon. Our group was headed to Eskenazi, a regular destination for Climate Camp, to observe the Skyfarm and other sustainable practices. Our group actually broke into two sub groups for further safety considerations.
The second group ended up at another Climate Camp favorite, White Pine Wilderness Academy.
On the way to Eskenazi, Kat talked with our group about the Cultural Trail and how to be good and responsible cyclers.
We enjoyed the Commons outside Eskenazi, cooling down after a hot ride.

Carter was happy to get wet after our long ride.
Cora (left) led campers through a food exercise that assesses the carbon footprint of food choices. The Skyfarm, on top of Eskenazi, is a perfect place to talk about food miles!
Thomas blended right in with flower garden on the Skyfarm.
Some of our campers got good and wet before the long ride back to Freewheelin'.
On the way home, we took a break along the Cultural Trail.
This was a meaningful stop to me, because Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate, is helping to fund our Climate Camp day camps, so this was a prefect place to rest and be grateful.
Meanwhile the other group was coming back to Freewheelin' via Crown Hill Cemetery. Thanks to Jerome Delbridge who volunteered that day and shot this photo — and the White Pine one, too.
A happy crew at the end of the day.
As it turns out, the White Pine group logged about 9 miles, while the Eskenazi group rode a bit over 12 miles. Some of the kids were tired by the end, but thankfully, everyone along the way — cars, other cyclers, and also pedestrians — was nice, and their were no injuries or mishaps to report.

Some of the Climate Campers are excited to join the Freewheelin' Earn a Bike Program. Classes begin Oct. 10!

I believe our shared commitment to youth empowerment means this camp was the beginning of numerous collaborations. Bikes create opportunities for fitness, resiliency, carbon pollution reduction and community leadership. Thanks to Freewheelin' and the wonderful adult and youth volunteers who made this an extraordinary Climate Camp!

For more on Climate Camp and to learn about our next camp, tentatively scheduled for the second week of October, email me or message me via this blog. And keep on riding!