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Catching Alaskan salmon for the Learning Center

July 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As part of our Foodshed initiative, North Cascades Institute strives to deliver the highest quality meals for all participants at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center because the food choices we make impact not only our bodies, but our planet too. The methods by which food is grown, processed, transported and prepared has consequences on the air and water that all of life depends on, as well as issues of social justice, local economics and community well-being. That’s why we seek out locally-grown and produced produce, meat, dairy products, grains, herbal tea and seafood, including the amazing Alaskan salmon caught, processed and delivered by Nerka Sea. Here’s a recent report sent to us by Tele Aadsen from the Nerka in southeast Alaska

Greetings from Sitka, Alaska, where Southeasterly winds currently have the good ship Nerka snug in her stall. It’s hard to believe the Nerka is already one-third of the way through her salmon season. We’ve successfully completed two trips, the July king opening and our first coho delivery. Both have been good, very good, with this year’s runs of both species appearing abundant and strong. 

Nerka 2

Joel and I did our best: rising at 3 AM for 19-hour days, hooks shimmying through the Gulf of Alaska’s legendary Fairweather Grounds. I wish you could see the furrows on Cap’n J’s brow through those days, the shadows beneath his eyes as he agonized over every decision, so anxious not to make a wrong call during our limited opportunity. And I wish, too, that you could see the humpbacks breaching alongside us, their breath hanging over the ocean, catching rainbows in the sun, and that you could hear the wolves howling in Lituya Bay, the glacial-walled sanctuary where we rested up before the opening. We didn’t plug the Nerka in those five days, but came back to Sitka with a respectable share of black-mouthed beauties, a good variety of fat-bellied torpedos and long-bodied racers.

Nerka 4

Joel and I have always prided ourselves on the care we devote to our catch. All conscientious fishermen do. What differentiates us from others is that it’s just the two of us on board, a pair of boat kids who grew up doing this work, knowing salmon as something far greater than mere product or paycheck. We’ve cleaned salmon side-by-side in the Nerka’s cockpit for ten years now; we have a synchronicity and routine that vessels with fluctuating crew simply can’t achieve. That difference was never more evident to me than at the end of this trip, when I glazed those kings.

Nerka 1

Bundled to withstand three hours in the Nerka’s -40 degree fish hold, individually dipping every fish into the sea water bath that preserves the just-landed quality unique to frozen-at-sea salmon, I personally inspected every king we’d caught. I checked for bloodless veins and spotless collars. I was so proud of those fish, the obvious care they’d received, I couldn’t help choking up a bit. This wasn’t the biggest load of kings we’ve ever delivered, but it was the most beautiful. That was because of you. Forty-five miles offshore, you were with us. It shows. I’m so glad you’ll get to know these fish as we did, as glorious in your hands as they were in life.

Nerka 5

Words and images © Tele Aadsen.


LEED by Example

April 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

We are the North Cascades Institute. And if you are reading this blog you are somehow affiliated with or are curious about our organization devoted to environmental education. You may know us through Mountain School, Adult learning programs, Snow School, Youth Leadership Adventures, Family Getaways, Stewardship Events, Kulshan Creek Programs, our M.Ed. Graduate Program, Skagit Tours or perhaps you stumbled upon us hiking or driving Highway 20 beneath the steep contour of Sourdough Mountain. You may or may not know that our mission is to “conserve and restore Northwest environments through education.” No matter your age, we believe that place-based education in the rain drenched mossy, cascade cut forests or heather dotted, steep rocky alpine landscape makes a lasting impression. Our programs speak for themselves, but you may or not know about our sustainability efforts.

How effective is an organization that does not employ its values on a daily basis? The North Cascades Institute embodies what we believe sustains the vitality of this ecosystem and beyond. Our unique location, one hour from a grocery store and an hour and a half from a hospital, create obstacles that we are always navigating with different paddles. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
But to give you a glimpse into how we operate sustainably at the base of the Cascades, let me tell you how we, this community of 50+ people, attempt to tread lightly while serving nearly 5,000 clients at 1200 feet.

Thirty years ago, Saul Weisberg and friends crafted an idea while hiking and climbing the silent, ancient peaks in the North Cascades National Park. The idea was for an educational institution which eventually led to the serendipitous construction of the Environmental Learning Center 11 years ago. The arduous details aren’t as important as the intention behind them. Change through education.



The Environmental Learning Center is LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council based on our level of sustainability! LEED certification is awarded to buildings that are efficient, use less energy and water and create less impact on the environment both in the construction process and during operation. Our foundation is one of recycled structures upon which we expanded.

  • We respect our environment! Most of our buildings are built upon preexisting foundations for minimal impact to native vegetation and landscape, which still thrives today. Our campus is built into the landscape, working with naturally occurring barriers, slopes, and light.
  • We support local economies! Local and regional materials were used in construction of our facility.
  • We recycle! Salvaged wood was used to craft the front gate, the maple flooring in one of the classrooms and the heart pine flooring in staff housing.
  • We care about you! The woodwork inside of the buildings at the Learning Center does not contain composite wood like particle board or plywood that can contain formaldehyde in glues.
  • We used the natural landscape to our advantage in the construction of the buildings on campus. Windows are south and west facing when possible to absorb as much light as possible.

» Continue reading LEED by Example


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. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
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!

Classroom in Bloom Learning Circle

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

panorama at desolation lookout

Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

I met them on August 1st. Twenty bright new faces arrived on buses and vans at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. As they walked quietly out of the vehicles, sleepy from early morning pick-ups at high schools from Bellingham to south of Seattle, I could tell right away that they were older than the rest of our Youth Leadership Adventures participants this summer—mostly because 90% of them were taller than me…

These 16-18 year olds from western Washington and Oregon had been selected for our Science and Sustainability program. They were about to spend 15 days in the North Cascades—11 days backpacking and canoeing on Ross Lake, followed by four days of staying at the Learning Center and camping in Marblemount, all the while studying science, sustainability, leadership, and community.

backpackingBackpacking down Ross Lake. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students
practicing canoeingThe students practicing their paddling strokes before loading the canoes. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students

» Continue reading Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!

ice cream

Learning to teach through the “what if…?s”

July 20th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

On my first teaching day of fall Mountain School I was terrified. I was completely smitten with the amazing North Cascades ecosystem I’d just spent all summer learning about. However, at that moment, there was nothing more terrifying than a group of wiggly 5th graders. “What if…?s” buzzed around me and wouldn’t let go. The teaching part of it seemed scary, even if I thought it was critically important to saving the environment. I seriously doubted if I would be any good at teaching.

Almost five years later there’s a lot less fear in my life. While the “What if…?s” aren’t gone, they are much quieter now and easier to ignore. So much of what I’m doing now with my life is thanks to the confidence that I gained through my Master of Environmental Education classes and my wonderful residency experience at the Learning Center. The coursework and teaching experience gave me an amazing toolbox that I still draw on today; for both teaching in the classroom and for launching my own ice cream business. I am very grateful for the confidence I developed while I was in graduate school.

After  graduating I moved back down to Seattle and sought out environmental education jobs. I ended up at the amazing Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center as a teacher for their school programs and summer camps. My canoeing experience from living on Diablo Lake was invaluable. I loved expanding my nature knowledge from the Cascades down to lowland wetlands. I even capitalized on the activities and facts that I learned during my natural history project on the nocturnal world by leading Night Walks at the Slough in the fall and spring.

» Continue reading Learning to teach through the “what if…?s”