Gifts from the Forest

Gratitude to those who planted and cared for this tree many years ago.

These delicious mini persimmons are one of our favorite snacks this time of year at Big Oak Canyon. If you like wild greens, those are popping up as well. But this persimmon steals the show.


Photo: Ron Plomell

The tree grows in the forest between pines, majestic oak trees and a wood rats nest. Poison oak, English ivy and Matilija poppy are close by. Birds of prey nest on a neighboring tree: excrement and leftover scraps of bone and fur drop to the forest floor daily. I imagine the boost of nutrients it’s roots receive from that wood rats nest. In this forest, nutrients cycle continually and will for as long as there is Big Oak Canyon.

When the persimmon fruit is orange, it is bitter and hard to eat. As it ripens and turns brown and then purple, the flavor sweetens and the fruit begins to shrivel. I’ve been managing Big Oak Canyon for 7 years and I have not seen anyone water it, even once.

Intercropping cultivated foods in the woods is looked down by conservationists who want to conserve as much native habitat as possible, and popular by those wanting to live off the land and keep forests from being cleared for mono-crop agriculture.

Making our backyards work more like a forest gives us all who live in town a way to benefit from the concepts of food forests. You don’t need to put a rats nest in your back yard and crane in an 80-year-old oak tree… but you can use these 5 simple strategies to create a more holistic way for nutrients to cycle in your yard.

1. Plant species of various heights and various fruiting seasons.

2. Create earthen sponges to receive more water by covering the ground with leaves and mulch. If you do nothing else, this simple act will give the currently established trees more water by holding more moisture in the ground and extending access to moist soil until later in the dry season.

3. Feed the soil by composting your excess food scraps and manures. Without nourishment, soils and plants wither away. Compost replenishes the soil. It can be as complex or simple as you make it.

4. Use the energies moving through your space more intentionally. Wind, sun and human presence have an impact. Situate activity zones, plants and walkways in a way that allows for the most benefit from the various energy sources.

4. Plant species that provide native wildlife with food and shelter.

5. Share gratitude and give back to the earth whatever you can.

Stay tuned to the first newsletter in 2019 when we announce upcoming programs on tending the forest with Shane Brown at Big Oak Canyon.

Bring the Future Into Balance

End of year blog by Jodi Levine-Wright

Every one of us understands that our personal health is directly connected to the health of our planet, the health of our ecosystems and the health of our organizations and communities. Feel yourselves be a part of something that’s transformative.

~John D. Spengler

This OC Register article was written by a participant in a recent Bird Language course held at Big Oak Canyon, Earthroots’ 39-acre property. Since the article came out last month, I’ve heard from people who are shocked that you can get this kind of deep nature connection experience in Orange County…programs like this area far cry from the mainstream reputation of our OC.

Forest Kindergarten-Thurs-Web-19I smile inward thinking about that because we have been doing this work for 10 years unnoticed by many, yet those who we have mentored are forever transformed. Earthroots is not big and flashy, we are slow and steady. We are deeply connected to a path of building authentic relationships to the earth and the natural systems that support healthy individuals and communities.

It is because of you, and others in the Earthroots community that we exist here at all. The transformational life experiences for our scholarship recipients, the 39 acres of wilderness now protected through the purchase of Big Oak Canyon are still intact and more school children attend nature connection field trips because of you. Thank you for your years of support.

It is this time of year that we ask that you continue to give what you can to support the slow and steady ripples that Earthroots creates in Orange County. We are working to #BringTheFutureIntoBalance.

IMG_4807What are the benefits to Earthroots participants? Read a blog by Kristin, who comes to class every week with her two kids, to hear what she has to say. As the founder of Earthroots, having worked with hundreds of students over the years, I see a whole generation transforming. It’s a big claim to say that I see people taking responsibility for their actions with regard to caring for themselves, the earth and each other, and I see it year after year. People are inspired to make the world a better place once they understand how “what they do” affects the world around them. Earthroots mentors start at the foundation and help participants build relationships of connection that naturally shift how we each live in the world.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.“- Margaret Mead

Please visit our new donate page and contribute today.

IMG_4958In this short video, you can see what we do and hear the kind of impact Earthroots has on today’s participants and future generations. We aim to raise $85,000 to complete the purchase of Big Oak Canyon, continue offering scholarships and expand our programs to give more students in OC life-changing experiences in nature.

You can help facilitate a beautiful change here by supporting Earthroots. Please contribute to our end of year fundraising campaign: www.earthrootsfieldschool.org
Thank you!

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.