- Ozark County Times Articles: October article0001 March 30th article0001
- Photo Caption: David Haenke, Alford Forest Manager, points out a stack of white oak logs on the tour of the Alford Forest. Photo Credit: Michelle Gurley
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
- Project Duration: 8 months (including planning and outreach)
- Date of Report: January 14, 2017
During college in Kirksville, Missouri I volunteered at Ray Miller Elementary School’s garden and also prepared and taught students a hands-on lesson about composting for a class assignment. I later worked with the 4-H program in Howell County, Missouri. I hosted a series of garden workdays for middle school age 4-Hers as well as members of the local Boys and Girls Club at the West Plains Community Garden. Later, while serving as an Americorps VISTA for the non-profit One Garden Inc. I worked with middle and high school students at two schools to start and transplant heirloom tomato seedlings that were distributed to the local community. I became acquainted with the staff and students at Lutie School during that project and then received a 2015 SARE Youth Educator grant for another project with Lutie School. “Engaging Youth in Sustainable Agriculture through Hands-on Experience (YENC15-088) consisting of two parts: the field trip to Stella Luna Farm and hands-on lessons at Lutie School. It was a great opportunity to further expose youth to sustainable agriculture techniques and ideas. I built upon that experience (and that of the students) when planning this one.
The goal of this project was for students to gain an understanding and appreciation of the importance of Ozarks forests and how they can be good stewards of the land by applying sustainable forestry techniques. We also wanted them to become familiar with the following practices and concepts: Timber stand improvement, Biodiversity, Agroforestry, The three pillars of sustainable agriculture, and Carbon sequestration.
On April 27, 2016, eleven students from Lutie High School embarked on a field trip to the Alford Forest, a 4,300 acre oak-pine-hickory forest located along Bryant Creek in Ozark County. The objective of the trip was to make youth aware of the economic, environmental, and social benefits of managing our local forests in a sustainable way, and to foster their appreciation for nature in general.
We started the day with an introduction from David Haenke, long-time manager of the Alford Forest. He explained the history, mission, and management philosophy for this unique forest. A demonstration of the swing-blade sawmill followed. Students watched as employee Eric Tumminia sawed boards from a post oak tree. Students then learned how to stack the freshly sawed lumber for curing. We counted the tree rings and discovered that though the tree wasn’t all that big around, it was over 100 years old.
Michelle Gurley, Secretary of Alford Forest Inc., then gave us a tour of her shiitake mushroom operation. She inoculates white oak logs inoculated with spawn from several varieties of shiitake mushrooms that will fruit at different times throughout the year. She explained how soaking the logs in a stock tank helps encourage them to produce. Then David talked to the students about biochar, a soil additive created by burning wood in a low oxygen environment. We learned how biochar, which can be made from waste wood, can improve garden soil, combat climate change by storing carbon, and even be used as a fuel.
Next we headed to the woods. First we stopped at a sight that had been selectively logged several years ago. David explained how “timber stand improvement” enhances the health of the forest by removing unhealthy and less desirable trees, rather than “high grading” or cutting the largest healthiest trees to market.
Then we took a nature hike in a beautiful riparian area. The students took turns using field guides to identify interesting plants they found along the way. We dodged poison ivy to see wild ginger, fire pink, Indian paintbrush, sassafrass, and even a morel mushroom. Exploring the mouth of a small cave turned out to be an unplanned highlight of the day. After the hike we shared a meal featuring a variety of forest-grown foods including chili with shiitake mushrooms, salad with walnuts and pecans, and blackberry-blueberry muffins. Finally, we planted five redbud trees on the grounds of the One Garden library and seed bank at the old Brixey church.
I chose to organize this field trip because I think allowing youth to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste is a great way to teach them. I also wanted to get them outdoors because that alone is mentally, socially, and emotionally beneficial, and not everyone takes the opportunity to spend time in nature. I also think creating a special day for the students will give what we learned a more lasting impact. The field trip had several aspects and topics, which I find to be a good way to engage each person involved.
Derek Cornett is the Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor at Lutie School. Derek helped me coordinate the trip and keep students on track during the tour.
Scot Young, Lutie School superintendent, helped with logistics and provided general support for the project.
David Haenke is the manager of the Alford Forest and executive director of Alford Forest Inc., the non-profit that oversees the forest. He helped plan the field trip and took the lead in conducting the tour. David explained the history, mission, and management philosophy for the Alford Forest, talked about the potential of biochar in sustainable agriculture, and introduced the students to sustainable forestry techniques and their long term effects on forest health.
Eric Tumminia works with the Alford Forest on timber stand improvement, sustainable timber harvest, forest monitoring and boundary marking, and milling. He is also a farmer. Eric planned and conducted a demonstration of the swing blade sawmill. He showed the students how a raw log is turned into boards and how to stack boards for proper curing. He also helped with the tree planting, and general management of the students throughout the day.
Michelle Gurley grows shiitake mushrooms on logs harvested in the Alford Forest. She led the students on a tour of her growing operation, and provided the mushrooms for our lunch. She also helped manage students throughout the day, and helped them identify plants on the nature hike.
I believe we very successfully achieved the goal of fostering appreciation for Ozark forests and exposing youth to sustainable forestry techniques. Project results were measured by a worksheet and group discussion at the end of the day.
Student comprehension was tested by asking them to match the terms “biodiversity”, “agroforestry”, “Timberstand Improvement (TSI)”, and “carbon sequestration” to their definitions. Ten out of the eleven students correctly matched all 4 terms.
They were also asked to list the three pillars of sustainable agriculture. Six out of the eleven students correctly listed all three, and 3 additional students were able to remember 1-2 of the pillars correctly. Everyone was easily able to list at least three resources that come from forests.
I also asked the students what they thought was the most interesting part of the field trip. The nature hike was by far the most popular portion of the day. Several students said finding the cave was their favorite, while others especially liked looking at plants or exploring the stream. A few of the students identified the sawmill demonstration as the highlight of their day, and one boy said learning about biochar was the most interesting part of the day.
In addition to the more concrete educational goals of this project, I wanted to introduce the students to positive role models in sustainability and good land stewardship. I think they all enjoyed spending the day with David, Eric, Michelle, and I. The experience was also beneficial to their agriculture teacher, and I think he will incorporate the information into his future classes.
This project confirmed my belief that spending time out in nature is very beneficial to youth and all people. I think the field trip exposed at least some of the students to a new way of thinking about forests, and strengthened their appreciation for nature. The results were basically what I expected. One thing that did surprise me was how unsure the students were about trying new foods. Almost all of them were suspicious of the shiitake mushrooms in the chili, and many of them were hesitant to try black walnuts and pecans. It is interesting that people are not more accustomed to eating foods produced in the forest considering how much forest is around us. Of course, the majority of families in our area do eat wild game. I think having a variety of activities ensures that every student finds something they are interested in, and I would certainly recommend that approach for other youth educators. One of the girls on the trip had always been difficult for me to engage, but she finally opened up on the nature hike. Even though many of the students wanted to run ahead and play in the water, she was intent on looking up wild plants in our ID guides. It probably goes without saying that hands-on and outdoor activities are a great way to reach youth.
Our county newspaper, The Ozark County Times, covered the project funding announcement in “Amelia LaMair selected for stewardship grant” published March 30, 2016, and also published a follow up article which described the project and encouraged other area educators to apply for 2017 in “Residents, educators encouraged to apply for grant for youth” on October 12, 2016. The Ozark County Times has a circulation of 3,050.Photos from the field trip were also shared on the Lutie R-VI School District’s Facebook page, which reaches 580 users.
On April 2, 2016 I presented on this project proposal as well as my 2015 SARE Youth Ed project to a crowd of roughly 50 people at the third annual “Community Congress on Prosperity Through Local Food and Energy Independence” hosted by community organization Ozarks Neighborly Exchange at the Lutie School in Theodosia, MO. I also presented a slide show and talk at the 37th Annual Ozark Area Community Congress (OACC) on October 8th, 2016 near Dora, MO. Unfortunately this talk was not well attended, but I did present to 5 interested audience members.
This is a great program! I really appreciate that the grant is accessible and the application and reporting processes are simple and straightforward. I’m not sure how the call for proposals is shared, but none of the teachers or school administrators I have talked to had heard of the opportunity.