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.

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.

8th Grader to install Rainwater Garden at School!

Earthroots is honored to be providing on campus ecological education at the Journey School in Aliso Viejo as one of their Green Partners.

OC Register Article
Aliso Viejo Patch Article
CBS 2 News Clip

8th Grade Student, Cyriene Adams inspired to design and install 

Rainwater harvesting demonstration Site
at Journey School a Public Charter Elementary School in Aliso Viejo, CA
Installation date: March 26th and 27th

Journey Parents and community Volunteers are invited to help  . . . 

Inspired by Brad Lancaster’s, (Author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond) presentation last year, one 8th Grade Journey Student, Cyriene Adams, has decided to create a rainwater harvesting installation on her elementary school campus. She’s currently receiving weekly one-on-one support with her Rainwater Harvesting project by Jodi Levine, director of Earthroots.
Cyriene measured and calculated how much rainwater falls on the school’s office that is currently being ineffectively washed down the drain. The goal of her project is to get as much water as possible absorbed into the soil to hydrate local native plants which will beautify the school entrance while offering habitat and food to local bees, butterflies, lizards and other creatures.

The installation of Cyriene’s design will be March 26 & 27 by 5th grade Journey School students, parent and community volunteers to include SOKA interns and Earthroots staff.  The group will dig a mulch basin to accommodate overflow rainwater from two roofs at the front of the school. 

“This project is changing lives and improving the environment around campus,”
 says Jodi Levine. Hundreds of people each day walk through this area of campus. It has not been effectively irrigated for years and needs more water. Instead of bringing in water from the city – one brilliant student, with support from Michelle Spieker, her 8th grade teacher Mr. Martin and Journey School administration & her mentor, Jodi Levine - Cyriene is demonstrating how we can all live in better balance with natural water flow. She is an incredible inspiration to her peers and elders alike
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Parents and Community Volunteers welcome.  Please go to www.journeyschool.net for more information.