Ecological Literacy Training

Jodi Levine-Wright spent years exploring the state of California as a teacher with Naturalists at Large before returning to her hometown of Orange County to begin new adventures as the founder of Earthroots Field School. Jodi was steeped in a community of young environmental educators brimming with energy to share what they knew.

This past spring, Earthroots instructors spent 3 days with Naturalists at Large educators right here in OC. Thirty five Naturalists from all over the state experienced the beauty of Big Oak while being immersed in ecological literacy training hosted by Earthroots.

“It feels like a completion of the circle to be able to host current Naturalists at Large educators at Big Oak Canyon and share what we are passionate about at Earthroots”, says Jodi of the training.

The training included hands on instruction on Bird Language, Habitat Restoration, Native Plants as Food & Medicine, Composting, Organic Farming and Natural Building and was funded in part by a grant from the Nature Connection Mentoring Foundation.

The next Ecological Literacy Trainings will be Spring 2018. Teachers, parents and administrators, please inquire for future dates info@earthrootsfieldschool.org

Photo: Naturalist At Large educator tending Wild Hyacinth at Big Oak Canyon during the Habitat Restoration program.

Pine Needle Tea Party!

We recently we had our first, of hopefully many, tea parties in Forest Kindergarten class. It was the idea of one of our Instructors, Stacey Anderson, who this summer attended a Forest School training where she was inspired to bring back what she learned. Another teacher at the training hosts tea parties throughout the year, culminating in a graduation celebration where the class dresses up and goes out to enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. Imagine that, a room full of 3-6 year olds out to eat. Thankfully they have practiced their manners at Forest Kindergarten.

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Tea parties are an opportunity for children to cultivate calmness and respectful manners while gathered around a table.  It can form a bridge between Forest Kindergarten class and activities we do in everyday life.  At our first tea party we had the children practice sitting with their bottoms on the picnic benches, backs straight, elbows off the table, and hands folded in their laps – requests that are not easy for a group of excited 3-6 year olds!  In Monday’s class, Stacey, modeled being a good host, while I modeled being a pleasant guest.  We practiced our ‘please’s, ‘thank you’s, and asked to be ‘excused’ when done.  We also made our first attempts at being calm and quiet around the table.  In our Tuesday class, Director, Jodi Levine-Wright, gave instructions in her most proper British accent, mimicking her dear Aunt Rose. When Jodi was a child, her Aunt Rose was aghast when she and her brothers strayed from their manners at the table.  We continued on for the rest of the party speaking in accents, which added an unexpected element of fun!

12 2 webChildren are included in the preparation of the tea.

How we made Pine Needle Tea:
1. Instructors harvested fresh pine needles to bring to class (harvest where you have permission, away from polluted areas and avoid potentially harmful species*).
2. Early in our day we had the children help remove the brown papery sheaths on the bottoms of the needle clusters, and pinch the needles in halves. Getting kids involved in as many steps as possible brings more depth to the experience.12112245_10153251610262075_3122652767215588818_n (1)
3. Children took turns adding their pine needles to a big jar of water, which we left in the sun. We discussed what the sun was doing to the pine needles, the benefits of drinking pine needle tea, and that it is a local, wild food that has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years. Later that day during our exploration time, we kept an eye out for pine trees and were excited to notice so many!
6. When it was time to serve the tea, we added a touch of honey and poured the strained tea into each cup… so long as each child was showing good manners : )

The children did beautifully and the pine needle tea was a hit.  We are excited to learn about and use other local, wild plants that grow in our area including rose hips, horehound, and nettle as the seasons progress.  As the weather gets cooler we may also make pine needle tea again, but this time mixed with a little hot cocoa!  As the children learn to display excellent manners and calmness at the tea parties, our hope is to allow them to eventually take turns being the host!  We had a fun time together at our first intentional gathering around the table.  We look forward to seeing how the children grow as we continue to have more tea parties throughout the year.  You can find out more about pine needle tea here* including which species of pine needles are safe to use and what the health benefits are. Enjoy!

Nikki Hieb
Forest Kindergarten Instructor
Earthroots Field School

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Thank you Karen Graham and Claudia Boden for sewing our table cloths, and Michelle Watts for donating the cups, bowls and spoons that we use every week. Our classes are held by many loving hands.

Cooking with Acorns

Coast Live Oak AcornsMy favorite trails are littered with acorns from the recent big winds. This incredibly nutritious food has been feeding native people of our region for thousands of years, and is used today by a wide spectrum of cultures.  After reading this blog, I hope that you will feel inspired to cook up a recipe with this local wild edible, take a walk in your local parks and spend time taking in the beauty of nature… and perhaps join me to gather acorns at Big Oak Canyon.

Leaching out the Tannic Acid
An adult friend told me that she remembers hearing as a child that acorns were edible, so she cracked one open, popped it in her mouth and to this day remembers the awfully bitter taste before spitting it out. Our local Coast Live Oak acorns contain high levels of tannic acid that need to be washed out before consuming or they can make you feel sick.

One of my mentors, Jon Young tells a story of how he learned from his elders to leach the tannic acid out of acorns. First, crack the hard shells with a stone, save the inner acorn meat, and toss the hard shells. Put the acorn meat into a basket woven tight enough that the acorns would not fall through the holes, and loose enough that the water could flow through easily. He then set the basket in the creek where the current flowed strong enough that it would wash the acorns, and gentle enough that once secured with stones, the basket would not be swept away. The basket of acorns was left in the creek overnight. The acorn pieces were checked in the morning, and if still tasted bitter, were set in the creek to be washed again. They were finished leaching when the nuts did not taste bitter.

Ground acornsIn our classes, we use the same concept, but with a modern twist. Students remove the hard shells by first cracking them with a stone and separating out the inner acorn meat. They take out any acorn weevils (which are edible!), dark or moldy inner acorn meat and toss that aside, leaving only the lighter fresh smelling acorn meat for consumption. The acorns are then ground with a mortar and pestle until only small pieces remain. Keep in mind, the smaller the pieces, the faster the leaching process. Grinding acorns this way takes a lot of effort, and is great for group activities.

When I’m leaching acorns at home, I fill a blender half way with water, put the de-shelled acorns in the water and blend on high until the pieces are broken up. Some may call this cheating, but hey, it gets my family and I eating acorns! I then leach and strain as described below.

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To wash out the tannic acid, we use a kitchen strainer with a cloth laid on top of it to hold the acorn pieces. We then rinse them under flowing tap water while stirring the acorn meal with our hands to make sure all pieces get washed. Another method is to put the acorn meal inside a nut milk bag instead of using the strainer/cloth. The nut milk bag works best for younger kids so that they don’t spill out any hard earned acorn pieces while rinsing. Try both, see what works best for you!

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You will notice that the first wash leaves the water looking milky. This is good! Repeat washing until the water comes out clear and the nut pieces do not taste bitter. This step could take up to 30 minutes or more of constant rinsing, stirring and squeezing. Don’t give up!

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Once leached, the sky is the limit on how you use these delicious nuts. Jacque Nuñez, a local Acjachemen educator teaches about Wi-wish. Wi-wish is a traditional dish of ground acorns, similar to porridge. I look forward to one day cooking it the old way, in a tightly woven basket filled with water and boiled with fire-heated stones.

Here’s what our classes are cooking:
Earthroots Acorn Pancakes
1 cup acorn meal or acorn flour
1 cup of your favorite flour (corn, amaranth, wheat, garbanzo bean, rice etc)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs (vegan option: ½ tsp flax meal + 2 tbsp water)
¼ cup coconut oil or ghee
½ cup honey
2 cups water or any milk

1. Mix dry ingredients first.
2. Add wet ingredients and mix together thoroughly  (Note: the secret to keeping pancake batter from getting lumpy is to be sure to add all the wet ingredients first, mix thoroughly, then add dry ingredients)
3.  Adjust consistency by adding a little more water/milk or a little more flour if it’s too thick or thin.  Pancake batter should be thin enough to pour, but not runny.
4.  Cook on oiled grill.
5.  Top with Maple Syrup or prickly pear jam

Benefits of Acorns
1. They store well – you can keep them all year long. Adding acorns to your diet makes “eating local” more successful since you will have a good storage of nuts to supplement the seasonal ebb and flow of your garden harvest.
2. Acorns are full of vitamins and minerals.
3. They are a great source of protein and complex carbohydrates.
4. They are 100% local.

Harvesting Acorns
– As with all wild harvested plants, make sure you are harvesting out of harms way from pollution, run off and places where pesticides or other toxins are used.
– Select acorns with intact shells, no holes and no mold. Holes are distinct signs that an acorn weevil has taken residency. If you find acorns with holes, crack one open and see what’s inside.
– Remember to harvest in appropriately designated areas (OC Parks and CA State parks while great places to explore nature are off limits to gathering of any kind) and only take what you need. Leave the rest for the animals who depend on acorns as their food source.

Get to know acorn this season by joining us at Big Oak Canyon, Earthroots 39 acre property in Silverado Canyon where we teach ethical wild harvesting along with sustainable living and nature connection skills. Kids young and old will be harvesting acorns along with many other activities November 7, 2015. We hope you will join us.

Happy Harvesting!
Jodi Levine-Wright