Sunday, August 16, 2015

Climate Camp: For the love of trees and goats

Saturday, Aug. 15, represented a bit of a shift in our Climate Camp day camp philosophy. This camp was held at Paramount School of Excellence, and I hope to hold more day camps at schools and community centers around the city — and beyond.

"Go to where the kids are at" is the philosophical shift, as expecting kids to come to our beloved home base, Peace Learning Center at Eagle Creek, can be a burden for parents. To set day camps in neighborhoods is the key, and we had a successful climate camp, with the emphasis on stewardship, science and civics.

I have written about Paramount numerous times. This is a remarkable school, set in Brookside neighborhood on Indy's south east side. Its 5-plus acres includes a large garden, plus chickens, bees and goats. It's a paradise of sustainability and student engagement, and the perfect setting for us at climate camp to reinforce local, sustainable agriculture as a key focus of our instruction.

We love the arts too and so after a Climate Change and Civics 101 presentation by me, the crew of fifteen kids (ages 7-14) broke up into three groups, rotating between 1) a tour of the farm, 2) a workshop on poetry and spoken word by the amazing Mat Davis and 3) an eco theater workshop led by Julia Levine, who's been so instrumental to our work.

Julia, just graduated from Butler, with a degree from the Dept. of Theatre, has engaged our climate campers in various creative projects, including one that culminated in a video shot at The Children's House that you can see here. Mat is one of the original co-directors of the first ever Climate Camp, held at PLC in July of 2014. So it was so much fun to see them in action at Paramount:

Julia engages campers in a "climate ambassador" project.

These campers used Paramount's swingset as a makeshift stage.

Dominic, Vanessa and Maciah took turns reading from the Earth Charter.
Mat Davis, left, works with the campers on poetry, spoken word and youth leadership.

Davis, taking notes from the youth. Thanks to Tierney Edon for both these Mat Davis photos.

After feasting on vegan pizza from Pizzadilla Tex Mex, we were joined by tree expert and ISA Certified Arborist Jerome Delbridge. I invited Jerome to this Climate Camp because nearby is the massive old oak tree, reputed to be over 400 years by some. Jerome himself is a bit of tree, around 6' 8" tall and a great educator.

He came prepared with numerous devices and worksheets.

Jerome walks campers through the environmental advantages of trees, including how they intercept rain.
One task was to calculate the volume of water on a leaf held in the canopy of a tree. Here's the worksheet the campers utilized.
Campers weighed the leaf dry, then wet.
Bottom right is Kaitlin, one of Paramount's amazing outdoor educators. 
Adam shows off his chart full of numbers, calculating the amount of water trees intercept.
"Stormwater management is just one service trees provide to urban residents," Jerome told us. "And it's an important one."

Think of the record-breaking rainfall we had earlier this summer. Were there no trees, the rain would fall straight to the ground, creating in many cases erosion of the soil. Tree canopies catch the rain then distribute it more gently to the earth where it can enter the soil and eventually the groundwater systems.

An additional aspect to Jerome's project was to take the calculations of just one leaf's impact and extrapolate out into the entire tree. He used this cube to count the number of leaves within, making it easier to estimate a tree's total number of leaves, and thus the total amount of water intercepted.

Issac, right, and Carter, middle, check out the cube. 
Jerome demonstrates how to use the cube.
It was a short walk from there to what we all call the Mother Tree. Jerome had thought ahead to ask the owners of the house if we could create a habitat for our weary campers, with blankets, water and a sound system to listen to music. The campers loved this surprise — and so did I! We spent about an hour at this tree, enjoying its majesty and beauty, and marveling at its dramatic positive impact on the environment. Trees are an essential component to the watershed; removing them removes a vital link to the system that ensures our overall survival.

Emma and Maciah enjoyed relaxing beneath the Mother Tree, a chinquapin oak.
Later, when we played some music around the tree, we decided to call our little band The Treehuggers.
When we returned to Paramount, we watched a couple of videos that reinforced the afternoon's instruction about trees. One video, by Los Angeles-base filmmakers Jeremy Kagan and Anneke Campbell, details the economic loss when trees are removed — and the resulting economic benefit when trees are planted. You can view this video here.

The other, entitled The Mother Tree, detailed how trees "communicate" with each other and share nutrients and other resources. You can view this video here.

Our subsequent discussion drew together different parts of the day: climate change, the need for civic engagement, how important growing your own food can be; and of course the environmental and economic benefit of trees.

After the videos, there was still time to enjoy Paramount Farm and walk the goats.

Thanks to Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate, and to the team of Paramount outdoor teachers, below, for their assistance!

Paramount's Kaitlin, Jace and Chris watch Jerome's instruction.
Climate Camp's crew for Aug. 15. 
Our next camp is Sept. 5 at Freewheelin' Community Bikes, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Day campers need a bike and helmet to participate. Cost is free. Email me for more information, or leave a comment, below.