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Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

August 1st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.

I wedged myself between two boulders on the summit of Silver Star Mountain in Okanagan County, Washington and peered out over the North Cascades range. It was May 1, 2016. Mount Baker was crystal clear some 100 miles to the west across the snow cover peaks. The mountains were shimmering, almost blindingly so, in all directions with miles and miles of snowfields. The day was hot, almost 60 degrees in the sun at an elevation of 8,875 feet. Our ski boots were standing on a snowpack of over 8 feet deep I was trying to fathom the amount of frozen water surrounding me. Looking to the east I saw the Methow Valley and Okanagan County expanding into the horizon and tried to imagine the journey that the water molecules beneath my feet will make, providing habitat for migrating steelhead trout, nourishing Cottonwoods, and irrigating crops that become food to nourish the people. I chugged the last bit of water that was in my Nalgene, filled it to the brim with snow, stuffed the bottle in my pack and skied down 5,000 feet of glorious spring corn snow.

Snowpack in the North Cascades has declined between 20% and 40% since 1950 (Stoelinda, Albright, Mass, 2009, p. 1). Snowpack in the mountains is stored water that provides life to all organisms including humans by irrigating and growing the food we eat. Snowpack is declining due to natural climate fluctuations and anthropogenic global warming.

» Continue reading Eating Snow: Climate Change, Snowpack and Agriculture Water-Use Policy in the Methow Valley

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

» Continue reading Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

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Blue House Farm

April 18th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Tyler Davis, member of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

Spring has arrived and summer will be here before we know it. When I think about summer, I think about juicy, red tomatoes, summer squash and fresh cucumbers, picked right off the vine. This summer, we should be able to find all of those things (and more!) at North Cascades Institute’s “Blue House” in Marblemount.

North Cascades Institute has implemented a Foodshed Program that encourages the use of organic, local, sustainably sourced foods in the Environmental Learning Center Dining Hall for program participants, visitors, staff and graduate students.

In an effort to find more ways to encourage healthy food choices and to support sustainable food systems, the organization has decided to start a farm – tentatively named “Blue House Farm.” On Sunday, April 10th North Cascades Institute Staff, graduate students and neighbors all came together to build the “foundation” of the farm!

Currently, there are some graduate students from the 15th cohort and North Cascades Institute staff members working to plan and start the farm. As plans go, the Blue House Farm should be operating for production and educational use in the summer of 2017. This year we are dipping our toes in the water, so to speak. We will be planting various crops over the 2016 growing season that will be used by the upcoming graduate cohort (Cohort 16). Some will be available to staff and Cohort 15 graduate students. We also plan to donate a portion to local food banks.

» Continue reading Blue House Farm

Meal at FSS

North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

January 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, Tyler Davis, and Ginna Malley-Campos who are all graduate students in the institutes 15th cohort.

On December 4, 2015, over 20 local farmers, educators, chefs, advocates and organizers from our region gathered at the Environmental Learning Center to connect on challenges and opportunities to strengthen the health of our regional food system. The weekend was filled with lively conversation and inspiring stories. The North Cascades Institute was inspired to host this particular group of community change makers because of our belief that in order to protect the North Cascades ecosystem we need to also protect the health of our local foodshed, the region where our food comes from.

Friday night started with a locally sourced meal followed by a discussion led by Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition. Mary has over 30 years of experience working as a food systems advocate in Washington State. The group identified that in order to move forward with discussion we needed to understand what each person does, and is motivated by, on an individual level within this complex food system. Friday night offered an open space for story sharing and connecting with individuals such as Don Power and Joel Brady-Power, father and son and co-owners of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Don and Joel gave us a multigenerational look at how they have provided sustainably caught fish for the institute for over 10 years. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
These personal stories about where our food comes from were intertwined throughout the weekend and we recognized a need to tell these stories; where and who our meals come from and, most importantly, why this matters.

Activity at FSS

Deep into discussion.

» Continue reading North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

Classroom in Bloom Circle

Classroom in Bloom: Growing the locavores of tomorrow

October 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Hot. Dry. Dusty. A perfect description for the Methow Valley, an area currently in a severe drought. So it was rather surprising then when the new graduate cohort arrived to the Methow Elementary School to see an oasis of a garden in full bloom!

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Learning circle space in the middle of the garden.

Part of our Graduate Program curriculum is to study local environmental education programs for examples of how we can give students different educational experiences. Classroom in Bloom is a nonprofit founded in 2004 that works with the Methow Elementary School to provide curriculum to the students based on growing food. The actual garden is located 100 yards away from the school, making transfer of students and food back and forth as easy as running outside for recess.

Kate Posey, the Executive Director of CiB, met with us first thing in the morning to explain that that day was Local Food Lunch and the students’ “farmer’s market” day. With that half of the cohort went to go help the fourth grade class with their market, while the other half went to wash carrots.

While washing the carrots, Kate explained that not only does this garden provide a space for students to learn hands-on experience, but it also produces food that the students eat. Two Thousand pounds worth each year. We were washing carrots that were planted, harvested, and soon to be eaten by the students. How much more local could you get?

As we finished up, it was time to go to lunch in the cafeteria, with food provided not only from the garden but also local growers in the valley.

Classroom in Bloom Plate

The colorful local school lunch.

» Continue reading Classroom in Bloom: Growing the locavores of tomorrow

Taking a Stance on Food

June 27th, 2012 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Before I begin, I want to remind all of my readers that my views are just that. Mine. They do not always match up with the North Cascades Institute or anybody else’s in the world for that matter. I just like to get people thinking. I love a good healthy conversation and flowing of ideas. Especially if it involves a campfire and s’mores!

I believe even though a person might not be directly responsible for global environmental degradation, they can bear some responsibility through their consumption, use, and purchases of goods and services. For that reason, we should clean up after ourselves properly. By this I mean that we should be responsible for the life of a product from the moment we purchase it until we finally dispose of it in an ethical way.

I also believe we are all part of nature and the environment and do not stand outside of it. I think we are part of the planetary cycle of life. Because all humans on earth must eat, the food that we grow, how it is grown, and how far it travels to get to our plates all have impacts on the greater environment.

We should all think about the carbon footprint our food leaves behind. This also includes not only the growth of the food itself, but also its packaging and transport. We might put that local cornucopia of fruits and vegetables in a box from China made from old growth timber from Alberta. Do we really need to jump in our cars to pick up that cucumber you forgot? Do we use hemp reusable grocery bags?  What about the impacts of rubber production for the tires that our food rides on?

 One of the greenhouses at Viva Farms where starts are grown for transplant into the fields!

Roughly ninety-five percent of waste is produced during manufacturing rather than post-consumer after it has passed through a person’s hands. It seems pointless to recycle disposables such as the old growth fruit box from Alberta when so much harm is done before we even get it.

Agricultural waste is a huge issue. It impacts our world greatly – from runoff polluting our water, to methane from cows and insecticides killing our bees.

» Continue reading Taking a Stance on Food

Some Food Considerations

March 24th, 2012 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

[We are excited to publish the fourth piece in our Foodshed Series, with monthly updates from the amazing chefs working hard to provide program participants and staff at the Environmental Learning Center with sustainable, seasonal, and deliciously fresh food. In an age where the production and consumption of food are heavily disconnected, North Cascades Institute works hard to preserve those ties by considering how food flows from the farms to our tables and all the processes in between. Purchasing from local farmers allows us to draw connections between their livelihoods and our own while at the same time contributing to our mission to conserve Northwest environments through education. Learn more about our Foodshed Initiative on our website at www.ncascades.org/foodshed]

When I first began working at the Environmental Learning Center, I believed I already had a good understanding of food issues. It started in college when I wrote a paper on genetically altered foods (1988!). I thought I knew how to cook healthy meals, and was doing better than most. Like a fool, I thought a carrot was a carrot was a carrot. Chicken was better than beef. Today I know that I was hardly even scratching the surface. Barely a week goes by now that I do not learn of another issue to look into when it comes to food. Below, I’d like to share the some of the questions I consider and the process I go through when evaluating the quality and sustainability of foods to purchase for the Environmental Learning Center kitchen.

The two largest issues that I deal with are getting the food up to the Environmental Learning Center, and working within a budget. I wrote about the process of bringing food up the Skagit Valley in my last blog. I will not start in on the economy! It is a challenge deciding what is most important to spend money on. I prioritize for fresh produce and protein. They are the two most important additions to a meal, and I believe you get the most for your money. The factors I consider are (in no particular order): sustainable, healthy, ethical, and local.

» Continue reading Some Food Considerations