With support from Mary Kay, Inc., Nature Explore Classrooms helping to heal families affected by domestic violence

“It is an immediate pleasure to see children’s enthusiasm as they build, create, and discover in these nature-rich spaces. Children’s lives are more joyful, and they will always have in them a nature inspired sense of wonder.” John Rosenow

In 2009, as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative (Pink Changing Lives) and in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Mary Kay, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Education Research Foundation, began sponsoring the development of Nature Explore Classrooms at women’s shelters across the United States.

Nature Explore Classrooms are outdoor learning spaces designed to incorporate nature in to children’s lives and have been found to be greatly beneficial for children affected by domestic violence.

Research done by environmental psychologist Dr. Nancy Wells has revealed that nature acts as a buffer of life-stress for children. Wells found that “having nature close to a home protects the psychological well-being of children. And the impact is strongest for children with the highest levels of stressful life events. In addition, having green space around the home boosts their cognitive functioning”, encourages resilience, and supports healthy development.

Nature Explore Classrooms consist of building, climbing, music and movement, nature art, garden and greenhouse, gathering, and messy areas.  Children can lose themselves in the calming activity of arranging natural materials such as pine cones, seed pods, or seashells in the Nature Art Area, or alleviate stress through climbing, crawling, and balancing in the Climbing Area.  The Gardening and Greenhouse Area involves children in gardening and develops a sense of wonder about the world, growth, and new beginnings, while the Messy Area expands a child’s curiosity and imagination and gives them a sense of accomplishment by allowing them to dig for snails and worms or build with natural materials.

Each Nature Explore Classroom’s design is unique to fulfilling the shared purpose of enabling children to experience the joy, wonder, excitement, and peacefulness of discovery, fresh air, and pure play in outdoor splendor.

Mary Kay Inc. and The Mary Kay Foundation’s partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation led the way in 2009 as the first Nature Explore Classroom extolling the healing powers of nature to ever be constructed at U.S. domestic violence shelters. By the end of 2012, Mary Kay will have sponsored a total of 17 Nature Explore Classrooms.

The impact Mary Kay has had for victims of domestic abuse by partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation can be seen in the following video. This clip is testimony to the benefits of a quiet, safe and fun place for children to learn, play and heal.  Nature Explore Classrooms “provide a connection to nature that keeps people connected to the best in themselves and battles trauma and tragedy with play and purpose.”

Christian Science Monitor surveys benefits of shade trees

The Christian Science Monitor’s “The Simple Dollar” blog this week touts the value shade trees can bring to both the wallet and the quality of a neighborhood.

Contributor Trent Hamm notes the difference he observed between the “slow-growing” tree in part of his house and “beautiful shade tree” in his neighbors yard that provides countless benefits just twelve years after being planted. Noting the shade from his neighbor’s tree makes gardening easier in his own yard, Hamm added:

For them, it’s even better. For a good portion of the morning, the tree provides shade to the back of their house. It keeps the hot rays of the morning sun from going in their windows, enabling them to throw open those windows for fresh air without worrying about the heat of the sun and keeping them from running their air conditioning until a bit later in the day than they otherwise would.

He goes to discuss many of the benefits of trees we talk about all of the time here the Foundation: lower energy bills, higher property values and chance to literally watch your own investment grow into something great. He also adds the important caveats about planting the right tree in the right place, and doing one’s homework prior to digging.

The whole piece is available here.

Fighting the pine beetle will help in the next fight against forest fires

The pine trees that populate our national forests – particularly in the Mountain West – are in continued need of protection. Critical to the ecosystem, their decline would be felt in a number of areas, starting with the very real threat to safe and secure drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service and state and local partners are series about the preservation of pine trees. Some of their strategies were the focus of a Washington Post article last month.

We know how important this work is for the long-term. What we are seeing this week is how much these steps can save lives and property in the short-term as well.

The pine beetle is arguably “enemy no. 1″ of pines trees. For years, the pest has been quick and resilient, and forest professionals have struggled to keep up. As firefighters in Colorado continue to tackle what has become one of the largest forest fires in state history, the Associated Press reports that beetle-stricken trees – many of them dead or dying – have become an increasing safety concern. The challenge was particularly apparent in the foothills about 15 miles from Fort Collins:

Fire managers said the blaze’s west side was a concern because 70 percent of the trees had been killed by pine beetles, leaving drying wooden poles with branches and red pine needles that pose a hazard for firefighters.

The pine beetle is a pest that must be contained, for our own safety and security. Through comprehensive forest management, that looks possible. An honest discussion about the role of climate change – warmer winters make it easier for the pine beetle to survive and breed – will also be critical.

Pine beetle devastation in Wyoming. Courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

The issue is starting to receive more attention in Washington, DC, where Colorado Senator Mark Udall (nephew of Arbor Day Award winner and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall) has been leading the charge for additional resources to fight the pine beetle. His effort is attracting bipartisan support, including from South Dakota Senator John Thune.

The Associated Press has more information on the latest developments in Colorado.

Record-breaking temperatures and drought increase risk of wildfires, highlight need for replanting

U.S. Forest Service and fire officials have now contained about 10 percent of the fast-moving and far-reaching wildfire that has burned through hundreds of square miles, primarily in Colorado and New Mexico.

According to CNN, hundreds of residents ordered to evacuate their homes in the Fort Collins area will be able to return this week:

“We’re gaining,” said Bill Hahnenberg, the U.S. Forest Service’s commander for the team battling the High Park wildfire, which has burned 46,600 acres in northern Colorado.

The last two summers have seen record fires throughout the country. Texas had the worst wildfire season on record in 2011, and the High Park fire that remains burning in Colorado has quickly become the second largest in the state’s history. Extended drought and high temperatures are up throughout the southwestern United States, according to the Washington Post.

The strain of fire damage is a key subject of the Arbor Day Foundation newest public-service announcement on Replanting Our National Forests. The message? Our precious natural resources depend upon us – not just to replant for lost and damaged forests, but to preserve the land for future generations.

The immediate objective is to make sure our fellow Americans in Colorado, New Mexico and adjacent states are safe and able to return to normalcy. Looking forward, we must remain committed to doing our part to support the future health of our forests. We hope you’ll be a partner with us in that continued effort.

Art in the Woods coming to Arbor Day Farm this Saturday

There’s a bit of a buzz through the trees at Arbor Day Farm this week — and I don’t just mean the summertime cicadas.

The buzz I’m talking about is centered around the grand opening of our new exhibit called Art in the Woods. This collection of nature-inspired sculptures and artwork will be unveiled here Saturday. The days leading up to the grand opening are filled with artists coming and going, hauling supplies deep into the forest, overcoming unexpected challenges (“…what do you mean the epoxy isn’t holding?…”) and making sure all the parts and pieces are in place.

It’s been a fun process, really.

We should start with a big thank you to The Nelson Family Foundation in Nebraska City for their support of the arts in general, and specifically of this Art in the Woods exhibit. Susan at the Tree Adventure has logged many hours communicating details via email, phone call, text and smoke signals with the selection of artists — not to mention with the 25+ other artists who tossed their ideas into the hat for consideration. The selection committee (Jenni, Rebecca, Mike, Lu and others) pored over each submission and put in some healthy debate on which ideas made the final cut. Rod, Darry, and others on the Arbor Day Farm landscape crew know the in’s and out’s of these 260 acres better than anyone and have been irreplaceable in working with the artists to make their creations look their best and hold up to the elements.

And then there’s you.

We thank you for helping us spread the word about Art in the Woods to your artist friends and in your creative circles. It’s because of your networks and friends that we have a collection of very cool, very interesting pieces that we think you’ll enjoy this summer at Arbor Day Farm. And we thank you even more for bringing friends and family to the Tree Adventure this summer to check them out. We thank all the artists who’ve obviously spent a lot of time, effort, and energy refining their work and getting it ready for our enjoyment, too.

If you can, please join us on Saturday, June 9, 10 am at the Tree Adventure and help us unveil Art in the Woods to our visitors and friends. We’re expecting a number of the artists to be with us that morning, so you can chat with them about their creative vision and inspiration for their works. But consider yourself warned: maybe don’t mention the epoxy.

The Family Bond, by Doug Hoevet; Gering, NE

Amy Stouffer lends a hand for all-things-communication at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE. Her favorite tree is the ginkgo. This piece was cross-posted on the Lied Lodge & Arbor Day Farm Blog.

Recapping the role of Lied Lodge in Omaha’s Elevate 2012

The following guest post was written by Amy Stouffer, the Nebraska City-based e-communication specialist and web content manager for Arbor Day Farm.

People enjoy locally-raised food at the to-g(R)o food station at Emerging Terrain: Elevate.

Omaha’s 36th street bridge drew an eclectic crowd on Sunday afternoon — one of artists, foodies, locavores, and people just fortunate enough to score tickets to one of Omaha’s coolest food-meets-art events, called Elevate.

The event was the brainchild of Emerging Terrain, an Omaha non-profit that, in their own words, “uses whatever we can – exhibits, installations, paintings, feasts – to get people to think about and really see our environment. At Emerging Terrain, every project starts with the same questions – what story have we written on our landscape? And what more do we want to say?”

Judging by the chef and artist collaborations on the bridge, there’s plenty more to say.

  • Burlap bags filled with mini-gardens, suspended from cables high above.
  • A tabletop skateboard-on-a-pulley-system that delivers tasty food to eager diners.
  • A 20-foot table etched with names and addresses of people displaced by the construction of Interstate 80 through Omaha in the 1950s and 1960s.

Lied Lodge’s Chef Matthew Taylor teamed up with two artists, Bob Trempe of Philadelphia and Brian Hamilton of Omaha, to bring about their food-and-art station, entitled to-g(R)o. In concept, the design centered around physical changes to a landscape over time as a space becomes forested, colonized, deforested, and otherwise changed as a society develops. In practice, the display looked like 3-D rolling hills of corrugated cardboard, with tree seedlings and cones of food tucked into the cells between sections.

(Ed. note: Chef Taylor and his team were also featured in the Omaha World-Herald’s photo gallery here).

“Our exhibit today recognizes that as people come into a space,” said Chef Taylor, “they have to make room for themselves. So as participants in this station, people need to step into the design and pick up food from the landscape, which clears a spot for them to sit and enjoy it.” Once inside the 14’ x 20’ design, diners were encouraged to sit and relax in the space while dining on three kinds of locally-raised food: chicken, bison, and pork, each paired with fresh greens and edible “dirt.”

Before moving on to the next station, diners were encouraged to take an Arbor Day Farm tree seedling from the exhibit space and plant it at home – giving them a role in changing our landscapes for the better through tree planting.

“There really couldn’t be a better fit between the artistic concept and design that Bob and Brian dreamed up for this event and the food that we serve at Lied Lodge,” Chef Matt said. “By staying local and sourcing the best of what’s in the landscape closest to us, we’re treading lightly on our environment and preserving its viability. Plus, it just plain tastes good.”

The collaborators, from left: Artist Bob Trempe of Philadelphia; Lied Lodge Chef Matthew Taylor; Artist Brian Hamilton of Omaha

to-g(R)o by the numbers:

  • 14’ x 20’ dining environment
  • 375 sheets of 40” x 80” corrugated cardboard
  • 630 individual, interlocking sections
  • 33 modules that combine to produce the form
  • 150 tree seedlings from Arbor Day Farm

to-g(R)o menu:

  • “Micro Farm Scapes” – selections of farm bounty served with edible soil and micro “pastures”:
  • “Sunny Side Ham” – TD Niche Farm Heirloom Pork, carrot-horseradish emulsion
  • “Prairie Fire” – Perfect Ten Ranch organic bison, juniper, smoke
  • “Chicken or the Egg” – Plum Creek Chicken confit, pickled egg, Woody Creek Farm Lavender aioli

What’s next:
After the event, this exhibit will go back to Emerging Terrain headquarters in Omaha for a while, with the anticipation that at some point, it will be relocated to Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City for its permanent home.

For more:

See a photo slideshow of to-g(R)o at the Emerging Terrain event.
Watch a short video of preparing food and the exhibit before the event.

This piece was cross-posted on the Lied Lodge & Arbor Day Farm Blog.

Lied Lodge & Conference Center executive chef participating in “Elevate” event in Omaha Sunday

Attendees at this Sunday’s “Elevate” event in Omaha will have the chance to sample dishes titled “Sunny Side Ham,” “Prairie Fire” and “Chicken or the Egg,” as well as edible soil, all prepared by Lied Lodge & Conference Center Executive Chef Matthew Taylor.

The location – the 36th Street bridge over I-80 – is also worth noting. The bridge overlooks a series of transformed grain elevators (pictured below), representing the event’s focus on food, transportation and design.

Elevate is sponsored by the Omaha-based research and design non-profit Emerging Terrain.

Chef Taylor is participating in a team with two designers during the Sunday event, which aims to highlight the connection between what we eat, how it gets there and the infrastructure that supports the process. Each team is constructing its own menu and station, and more than 100 people are expected to attend.

He is working with designers Bob Trempe of Philadelphia and Brian Hamilton of Omaha. Hamilton also produced one of the six pieces selected for this year’s Art in the Woods, launching Saturday, June 9 at Arbor Day Farm.

The title of the team’s contribution is “To Grow.”

A number of known quantities in the area will also be on teams. Grey Plume, Pitch and Nebraska Brewing Company are among the Omaha eateries represented at the event. Lincoln-based GUP Kitchen and Bread & Cup are also participating.

We’ll have photographs and a recap of the event early next week.