Environmental education organizations can be found all over the world, in the U.S., and locally in Arizona.

How do you make sure our national parks are welcoming to everybody?

Today’s interview is with Elise Dillingham, Wildlife Ecologist and DRLC Program Coordinator for the Sonoran Desert Network and Desert Research Learning Center. Elise was interviewed by Sehdia Mansaray.

 

How do you make sure our national parks are welcoming to everybody?

At Tucson’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC), the National Park Service is working to ensure that environmental education is accessible to everyone.

Cienega High School students made adobe bricks and are building a mini horno oven.

There are more than 61 million people with disabilities living in the US. For many of them, national parks can be difficult to experience. Some parks offer few opportunities for people in wheelchairs to explore areas beyond the frontcountry. At others, it’s difficult for people with disabilities to find information about what kinds of opportunities are available to them once they get there. For people to care about national parks, they need to feel like they belong in them. Through educational programs and citizen-science opportunities, Elise Dillingham and the DRLC staff are helping to make that happen.

Elise Dillingham helping students weave agave fibers to make bracelets.

Located adjacent to Saguaro National Park, the Desert Research Learning Center is an ideal space for connecting people, resources, and science. The center provides space and support for visiting researchers and interns, hosts hands-on experiential learning for local student groups, and displays examples of sustainable practices and native horticulture. Its mission is to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks.

The DRLC has ongoing partnerships with several local schools. When the center’s coordinator, Elise Dillingham, learned from teachers at Cienega High School that students in special education programs often have limited field-trip opportunities, she wanted to make sure the DRLC was one of them.

This challenged Elise and her staff to see their programming through a different lens. They made changes to many of their standard activities, so people with a variety of differing abilities could participate. Field projects were brought closer to the DRLC. A lingering plan to build wheelchair ramps to an artificial stream was completed. Classroom activities were modified to make them more tactile and accessible to students with different learning styles.

Cienega High School students learning how to harvest fibers by pounding agave leaves.

With no formal training on how to work with people with disabilities, the DRLC staff also learned to adapt to the various ways students engaged—or didn’t engage—with the activities. Sometimes, students needed to leave in the middle of a program, had outbursts, or participated with headphones on. With the help of the students’ regular teachers, Elise and her staff came to understand these as new behaviors to learn to work with—not signs of disrespect.

Their efforts have paid off. A group of students from Cienega High School now visits the DRLC for a variety of programs several times each semester. Students are becoming more engaged and getting the opportunity to learn about and visit national parks, just as their peers without disabilities do. For a few students, their first trip to DRLC was their first time on a field trip.

Elise shares the story of one young man who started in the program as a freshman and initially sat through DRLC programs with his headphones on and was not interested in volunteering to help with activities. Over time, he became more comfortable with the programs and eventually was the first to volunteer to complete tasks, such as setting up remote wildlife cameras. By the time he was a senior, he said he was sad to graduate because he wouldn’t be able to participate in the DRLC’s programs anymore.

Cienega High School student picked rainbow Swiss chard from the DRLC’s heritage food garden.

The improved programming at the DRLC is just one example of the National Park Service’s recent efforts to make parks in Arizona more inclusive. In collaboration with Special Olympics Arizona, several parks have created the Unified Hiking program, which provides opportunities for Southern Arizona athletes and supporters to maintain healthy, active lifestyles. The kickoff hike was in Flagstaff, but more hikes are being planned in Tucson and Phoenix. Finding wheelchair accessible trails has been a challenge for these events, but they plan to keep up their efforts. The park service has also published a plan for improving accessibility across the system. And US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can apply for a National Park Service Access Pass, which provides free admittance to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies—for life.

For its part, the DRLC plans to continue to improve programming and expand opportunities for students with disabilities. Elise would also like to get formal training that would help her and her staff to better serve these students. She encourages anyone looking to engage with diverse student groups to talk with local teachers to learn about their community’s needs and ways to assist.

 

Turning Waste into Purpose

Today’s conversation is with Barbara Eiswerth PhD,  Executive Director of Iskashitaa Refugee Network (IRN). 

Barbara was interviewed by Kathe Sudano, May 8, 2020.

It is shocking to think that the largest single source of waste is in the United States is food!  Unbelievable that this is the item that takes up the most room in landfills.  People in the United States are obsessed with how food looks but are less concerned or unaware about nutritional value. Fruit is also so cheap that most individuals do not give a second thought to waste. Additionally, most backyard fruit trees are a pretty addition to homeowner’s space but are hardly utilized to their full potential. Starting to see the picture?

Barbara Eiswerth, executive director, with Iskashitaa volunteers at the UArizona Community Garden

Dr. Barbara Eiswerth, disturbed by the “colossal food waste she witnessed in America and how people, made poor, survive”, decided something needed to be done about this issue back in 2003.  Thus, Iskashitaa Refugee Network (IRN) was born to help reduce food waste in Tucson while integrating United Nations refugees into the community. Out of the nearly 20 million refugees in the world, fewer than one percent are considered for resettlement worldwide. And resettlement has its own challenges, from being dropped into a country with a new culture and language, to acquiring healthy, fresh foods. Iskashitaa seeks to remedy both challenges: help integrate refugees into their new home and provide the community with fresh produce.

Iskashitaa translates to ‘working cooperatively together’ in a language of the Somali Bantu ethnic group.  Eiswerth’s created the organization based on efforts to introduce youth and United Nation refugees to volunteering and sharing their foodways,  She built on thousands of hours working alongside the community to assist  Southern Arizona hunger relief organizations.  To begin with, Eiswerth recruited refugee students to participate in a project identifying and mapping locations where edible trees were growing and where much of the produce was going to waste in Tucson.  The process was one of trial and error and according to Barbara, “mistakes were made – including cultural and religious ones”.  But mistakes became learning opportunities. Over the years, the IRN team put in long hours and herculean efforts and located, harvested, and redistributed locally grown fruits and vegetables which would otherwise go to waste.

An Iskashitaa volunteer harvesting grapefruit in 2019

The programs have evolved from harvesting a few thousand pounds of fruit to an annual harvest of over 50 tons of fruits, nuts and vegetables from backyards, local farms, and orchards.  Dr. Eiswerth emphasizes that IRN would not be able to harvest over 150,000 pounds of local produce annually without the dedication of many volunteers, interns, and AmeriCorps members that have built the network to what it is today.

According to a NY Times article Meet the Gleaners, IRN was one of many organizations that was “perfectly positioned to leverage one problem- a bounty of unsellable crops- to help solve another: rampant hunger”. IRN operates the only year-round gleaning program in Southern Arizona.  They educate their volunteers on the multiple uses of traditional and non-traditional, native, and non-native fruits, nuts, pods, seeds and even flowers.  Most IRN families have limited incomes and few opportunities for social interaction and this practice of “gleaning”, or gathering produce after the harvest, presents a solution to both issues. IRN events provide access to fresh, health produce and allow refugees to build their community networks.

IRN quickly recognized the need to identify community refugee leaders as “ambassadors” and engage them in the work of their organization.  By recruiting refugee volunteers, the organization increased its visibility within different cultural groups while also helping new residents become familiar with their new city and its outdoor spaces. IRN builds bridges in the community that increase cultural competency and diversity awareness. IRN programs have been addressing issues related to social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion since its inception.  Refugees face language barriers that permeate almost every aspect of their lives, such as their ability to use public transportation. Through Iskashitaa’s harvesting division, volunteers have the opportunity to visit gardens, farms, green houses, and residential neighborhoods.

A traditional Eritrean meal of njera with various meat and vegetarian entrees

In turn, refugees offer up their skills and knowledge in various forms, including cooking classes and cultural luncheons that are a part of the new culinary division.  IRN currently partners with over forty different local hunger relief organizations to make their programs happen.

These activities provide a two-way cultural exchange. Refugees learn more about culture in the US as well as the English language. At the same time, local community members learn about the culture and languages of the refugees. IRN has worked to educate community volunteers about the cultures they serve and the food that grows in the Southwest.  This way, Iskashitaa helps refugees and asylum seekers integrate into the community. Programs and tools that achieve these goals include the Tucson Botanical Garden Edible Tree tours program, language cheat sheets, and picture dictionaries with commons foods found in markets in Arizona.

IRN helps restore the lives of UN refugees by creating partnerships between refugees, volunteers, and local organizations. Their local food-focused programs cultivate community connections, networking, education, entrepreneurship, leadership and applied English language practice. IRN’s intent is to empower others to develop the skills necessary to grow not only towards self-sufficiency, but towards community integration.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to leave your home, your city, your country.  Imagine needing to be relocated but knowing little about your new home, the local food, or the language.  How would you go about feeding yourself and your family?  What assistance do you imagine you would require?

If you would like to help, IRN has many opportunities for you to volunteer! We are always recruiting, especially those interested in diverse cultural experiences, translation, and local agriculture. Every citrus season we need fruit trees to harvest. Become a fruit spy and help IRN identify possible harvesting sites within your community!  Got citrus trees or other in-season fruits? Fill out our Fruit Donor Form to let us know you’d like us to come harvest. Our harvesting coordinator will get back to you as soon as possible!

Oranges harvested by Iskashitaa, 2018

Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace

Today’s conversation is with Kendall Kroesen,  Community Outreach Coordinator at Mission Garden.  Kendall was interviewed by Lorianne Barnett, May 14, 2020.  This blog was compiled by Jan Schwartz.

Do you ever wonder how people lived in this difficult desert environment long ago? What kinds of food did they grow and how did they grow it as the landscape changed?

Mission Garden is a re-creation of a Spanish Colonial walled garden, developed by the non-profit organization that manages it: Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace. Located in Tucson, AZ, it is a living agricultural museum that interprets over 4,000 years of Tucson’s history through heritage fruit-trees, traditional local heirloom crops, and edible native plants. This beautiful, lush garden sits at the base of Sentinel Peak, AKA “A Mountain.” Because of the dark, volcanic rock on the hill, the Native American village that once sat at the base of this hill was known as S-cuk Son (Base of Black). This is the origin of today’s name, Tucson.  Many Tohono O’odham still refer to the city as S-cuk Son.

60-day corn with “the hill” in the background

By growing and harvesting these heritage crops and sharing this historical knowledge with the public, Mission Garden helped Tucson become the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in December 2015. It is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network which has several fields, including Gastronomy. According to the UNESCO website, “Located in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson has the longest agricultural history of any city in the United States of America. It has a 300-year tradition of vineyards, orchards, and livestock ranching that have forged the wide array of the local heritage foods, a source of identity and vitality for the local population of 1 million inhabitants. The distinctive cuisine of Tucson developed from a culturally layered history, a variety of heritage food ingredients, and a continuity of traditional food preparation techniques.” https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/tucson

The Mission Garden website includes a short timeline of the garden since its inception. Following the initial planting of the Spanish Colonial Heritage Fruit Tree Orchard in February and March 2012, Mission Garden expanded to interpret the timeline of our remarkable agricultural story.  Specific gardens illustrate that timeline starting with the Early Agricultural period and continuing with Hohokam, Pre-contact and Post-contact O’odham, Spanish, Mexican, Territorial and Statehood Chinese, Yaqui, Anglo and African American farming, and ending with Tomorrow’s Garden.  Tomorrow’s Garden combines ancient knowledge with modern experimental solutions for today’s challenges.

Garden harvest

Mission Garden continuously works to increase the involvement of the Indigenous communities within Pima County. The Garden tells the long and complex history of the area going back to the Indigenous peoples of more than 4,000 years.  The two annual Native American Arts Fairs have been successful in attracting participation from several tribes.  The artists work in a variety of media from baskets to jewelry to painting.

Kendall Kroesen, Community Outreach Coordinator, emphasizes the importance of building relationships.  Kroesen reaches out to Indigenous people to create more diversity in volunteers, board members, and visitors.  Unfortunately, the global pandemic has made it difficult to find the space to continue to cultivate those relationships. Fortunately, Mission Garden now has a University of Arizona graduate student intern from The Coverdell Fellows Program to help move the work forward. The garden is also recruiting an AmeriCorps employee.  In addition, Mission Garden looks to the community and to other organizations to help build the relationships needed to be a fully inclusive organization. To date, FOTB has partnered with over 50 other community organizations.

San Ysidro Festival 2020

Mission Garden has a number of festivals throughout the year which bring in multicultural audiences.   The Agave Festival celebrates agave as a food, a fiber and, of course, tequila.  This festival is a part of the larger city celebration of the agave plant and involves native communities.  Additional festivals such as the Membrillo (quince) Festival and the Festival of San Ysidro, the largest festival, occur yearly.  Garden board members with connections and relationships within their communities make these and other festivals possible.  The Garden also has a strong relationship with the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, which is reflected in the Chinese heritage garden.

If we could experience history through taste and smell, how might we look differently at our local food sources? Would we be more likely to try unfamiliar foods?

For more information on the edible gardens of the Mission Garden please visit their website at https://www.missiongarden.org/

and visit the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage at https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/preserving-historical-edible-landscapes-arizona

 

Whose story do we tell?

Today’s conversation is with Melanie Rawlins from Interpretive Services at Tumacacori National Historical Park. She was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 8, 2020.

What are the ways the world is changing regarding environmental and natural history?  Why are we hearing so much about diversity and inclusion?  Why is that conversation necessary in the history of a century old mission in an area that sheltered and supported the Southwest’s Native people such as O’odham, Apache and Yaqui/Yoeme?

Tumacacori National Historical Park has a multitude of cultural influences that span centuries covering the colonial period of American history. The park is in the Santa Cruz River Valley in the region of what is now southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico.  Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino (a Jesuit missionary from Italy) arrived in 1691 to set up a system of missions and smaller communities.

When interviewed for a survey as part of an AZ Master Naturalist /Arizona Association for Environmental Education research project to better understand underrepresented audiences in natural and cultural history programs earlier this year, Melanie Rawlins, NPS Park Interpreter, stated that the park’s most meaningful success in improving their diversity and inclusivity efforts came out of a very informal network that was in the works for several years.  Several agencies were asked to fulfill the commitment to send home Native remains and artifacts discovered accidentally in the building of a Tucson roadway.

 

Rawlins and other NPS team members developed respectful and even affectionate relationships with tribal leaders through the process.

A bond was formed born of respect and the joint effort to honor the deceased.  “If you make friends, they will show up,”  Rawlins stated. The park nurtured and fed the relationship and, as any decent interpreter would, asked how are we doing telling the story? What was missing?  

The NPS park staff had over two hundred webpages with about one third devoted to individual priests.  It felt a bit ‘lopsided’ per Rawlins as there were clearly stories not being told.  Using a searchable database containing individual, handwritten mission records and diaries that are still being translated called Mission 2000, more of the contributions to the community from underrepresented individuals are being revealed.   People who might not have been educated or able to write themselves are still part of the story thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers that link families and events together using baptismal, burial or marriage ceremony records. Efforts are still underway to recruit volunteer translators to comb through the collection.  

The park website also has activities to encourage students to think in a critical way about how the early residents may have been portrayed.  The relationship between the Native Americans of the area and the Spanish, Christianized natives, and mestizos was a relatively peaceful one. Native Americans were encouraged to learn a trade, worship in the church, and become baptized.  The balance of power had shifted and per the Tumacacori records, discontent among some of the native people led to a well-organized revolt in 1751. 

Tumacacori has been working to make all aspects of their interpretation more inclusive of the indigenous story. They created an event to celebrate the O’odham culture, and one to celebrate the Yaqui/Yoeme culture.  There is a recently completed park video, in which the O’odham are the base of the story, rather than the Spanish. The park has revised the self-guided tour, working to keep the O’odham residents in view at all times. Piece by piece, Tumacacori NPS is trying to place the indigenous residents in the forefront.

Lesson plans available on the Tumacacori website for teachers ask students,  “how can a word choice influence perspective?  How do the reports and letters of the Pima Uprising of 1751 use connotative and denotative meanings to portray the events?”  By “providing various answers to questions, students have an opportunity to investigate some of the possible causes of the rebellion.”

Are you interested in journeying into the past?  Tumacacori National Historical Park is always interested in volunteers that help to connect the pieces of each person’s history.  In this way, the park is striving to tell everyone’s story.   

 

  

 

 

Who Let the Kids Out?

Today’s conversation is with Blue Baldwin, Ecology Program Coordinator for Manzo Elementary School. Blue was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 11, 2020. 

Manzo Elementary in Barrio Hollywood has a reputation.  First, they not only increased the amount of time students spend outside (which in 2015 was listed as* thirty minutes) but the staff started a small garden in 2003 that turned into the title of one of the ‘greenest schools in America’ by the Center for Green Schools in 2012.  What initially started as a counseling tool, the Reconciliation Ecology Program to transform ‘lives and communities through the promotion of stewardship, healthy choices and innovation in learning and educational facilities,’ has morphed into the curriculum of every classroom.  Students and teachers collaborate with scientists and UofA students to care for research gardens, a Sonoran Desert Biome, desert tortoise habitat, vegetable gardens, a small heritage fruit tree orchard, school wide composting program, aquaponics system, and active and passive rainwater harvesting systems.  It’s all part of daily life for Manzo students, and it grew organically, little by little, with the help of parents, volunteers and partners from the community, like the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program (UACSGP) which has worked with Manzo Elementary since the fall of 2010.

Folks think verdant places like Vermont rank high as green centers but that is inaccurate.  They set a poor environmental example as the population is spread thinly but there is little mass transit.  That makes Vermont one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country.  Urban areas that are more compact may be greener, though denser.  Cities tend to consolidate and preserve landscapes and resources.  So, Manzo students may be ahead of the curve on the environmental learning spectrum.  

https://e360.yale.edu/features/greenest_place_in_the_us_its_not_where_you_think

Manzo students, kindergarten through fifth grade, have daily “farm chores” that–among other things–contribute to a harvest of over one hundred pounds of produce every year.  As Manzo is situated in what could be considered a food desert, (where healthy and affordable foods are not easy to come by) one of the goals is to introduce students to a variety of crops at a young age as well as provide the community with fresh produce.  The skills learned here influence the kind of adults they will become while getting them interested in the natural world.  That can have a lasting effect.  You remember the first time you grew a plant from an avocado pit or a potato?

“Subsequently the whole school has good vibes,” Baldwin said. “You really get the sense that the kids here are happy, and they love coming to school. I really believe that, in large part, is because the natural environment is so beautiful and stimulating, and they are involved with all of it. Nothing is off limits to them. They plant the gardens, they harvest, they weed, they water, they hangout in the greenhouse with the fish and aquaponics.”

Students help with planting seeds, watering crops, feeding fish and desert tortoises all while maintaining a butterfly garden.  That teaches responsibility; living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.  “It’s a modeling thing,” says Andy Lenartz, a children’s health advocate and psychology professor at Gateway Community College in Phoenix. “I spend a lot of time in nature with my children, and other parents always tell me, ‘I wish my kids liked going outside and doing things.’ Well, it starts with us, the parents. If we want our kids to behave differently, we need to put our own phones down and be role models.”

Exposing elementary students to college and graduate students can enhance the “can-do” attitude that younger students absorb from their older role models.   Many of these elementary students become interested in ecology or cultivating plants and the school garden program makes math exciting (planning out crops and rows) and science plausible (how does that chicken lay an egg?).  In exchange, UofA interns develop gardening and permaculture skills, work hands-on with K-12 students and cultivate relationships in a community only a stone’s throw but sometimes a world away from the UofA. 

Manzo has consistent support from a wide variety of partners and is always looking at increasing opportunities for learning.  Keeping all the wheels turning is a challenge and consistent support for programs such as Nature’s Notebook, which tracks observable changes in plants for students to record, is a great way for volunteer naturalists or gardeners to get involved.

What can other environmental and youth centered programs learn from this?  That it takes a village, even if your task is to clean the chicken coop, it matters.  If you cannot be there, someone else must- so toss in a healthy dose of responsibility.  

Imagine your child in the grocery store asking you to purchase the kohlrabi he tasted  this week in his  school garden?  What part of the garden program do you think would have the most lasting impact on children?   Do you think there is anything we can learn from the students in their commitment to work?    

What does it mean for kids to be able to take ownership/leadership roles to work in the garden?  What else might the kids/neighborhood be getting from the garden?  

( *A study completed by market researcher Childwise in 2015 and later promoted by the National Wildlife Foundation shows that a modern child spends less than 30 minutes per day outside.)

 

The University of Arizona Garden Kitchen

Today’s conversation is with Jennifer Parlin, Assistant in Extension, for The Garden Kitchen. The Garden Kitchen, located in South Tucson, is a University of Arizona Cooperative Extension program established in partnership with the City of South Tucson, Pima County, and the University of Arizona. The Garden Kitchen’s mission is to empower Pima County residents to build community wellness and make healthier choices through food, fitness, and gardening education.

According to Making Action Possible in Southern Arizona, in 2017, 137,450 individuals in Tucson had limited access to food.

Broader food security on the other hand, proved an issue for nearly one million people in Arizona. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization defines food security as a circumstance that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity, and particularly the inability to access food, can be heightened by many factors, including household composition, race/ethnicity, income-to-poverty ratio, area of residence and even census region. With stay-at-home orders, overwhelmed pantries, school closings, and unemployment rates rising due to COVID-19, vulnerable households are being impacted even more by food insecurity and access.

Many organizations within Tucson work with communities to increase access to affordable and nutritious foods in areas where they are needed. One such organization is The Garden Kitchen, which itself is located in the middle of a food desert. A food desert refers to a geographic area with where people have low access to food. These areas are often the result of food apartheid, a term coined by food justice activist Karen Washington that roots the disparities of food access and systems in discrimination, racism, and other systemic issues. Indeed, food insecurity and the lack of nutritious resources affect many families in the 1.2 square mile city of South Tucson, with many minority groups such as Hispanic and Native American communities, single mothers, grandparents, the indigent, and LGTBQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness being disproportionately affected. As an organization, The Garden Kitchen aims to increase food security and the availability of healthy foods for everyone, including these underrepresented communities. They partner with organizations in Pima County to change policies, systems, and environments to address health issues by making healthy lifestyle choices equitably accessible to all community members.

The Garden Kitchen is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program, an evidence-based program that teaches qualified individuals how to shop for and cook healthy meals, and stretch their food dollars. By nature of their partnerships, they reach out to a variety of audiences, including those who access SNAP benefits and those who are involved with community gardens and classes through other community organizations.  Building trust is a top priority when working with communities within Tucson — not just with state and university partners, but also with local and grassroots communities. Trust is a component that can be difficult to establish, particularly when dominant systems and actors have participated in marginalization, but it is essential to the evolution of work and exchange of knowledge in the Tucson community.

Tackling food access is not just about education or having geographic proximity to food. The Garden Kitchen is also involved in suggesting changes at the policy level in many communities within Pima County, such as initiatives to serve healthy food options at events, change vending machine choices, and empower families to select healthier foods. Policies around food make some food items harder to get based on location, price, quality and availability. This can include organic, cultural, and non-fast food choices. The fewer resources (e.g. time, money, transportation) someone has, the more likely they are to be in a position where they consume the food they can access. By partnering with different community organizations at the policy level, The Garden Kitchen is able to have longer lasting effects with their efforts. The Garden Kitchen advocates for policies that make nutritious foods convenient, affordable and appealing, as these factors contribute to people changing their consumer habits.

While providing their own support to the Tucson community is an important part of The Garden Kitchen’s mission, so too is empowerment. The Garden Kitchen works with community members to be in charge of their own health. Before COVID-19 changes, The Garden Kitchen would hold free weekly and monthly events, such as “First Fit Saturdays,” which welcomes all community members monthly to get involved with gardening, cooking, and physical activity. They would also host a “Gardening Hour” each week to provide a space for locals to learn about home gardening and to allow them to harvest produce.

Although they aren’t currently hosting any in person events, they have provided online resources regarding food security, employment, sanitation, wellness and community gardens. More than ever, the conversation around food security, access and the systems which shape them must be addressed. How is health and wellness being advocated for in your community?

#HowWeNature is a series of posts dedicated to conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in Tucson’s natural history programming. This post was written by AAEE intern, Phoebe Warren. Phoebe is a student at Appalachian State University who is majoring in communication studies with a minor in sociology.

Questions to ponder: How can you advocate for the health and wellness of everyone in your community? Are you reaching out to and welcoming underserved communities to your spaces? Are you including accurate cultural history in your teachings?

The Garden Kitchen is always in need of volunteers who are knowledgeable about gardens, food sources, and culture. Check out their ‘Get Involved’ page at https://thegardenkitchen.org/get-involved/ to learn more.

Arizon-Wha?!

ARIZON-WHA?! 

We’re starting a new column! Stay tuned for funky new mystery species with every newsletter.

Can you identify this ferocious-looking critter? 

Clue: They are found underground around Arizona in early September. 

Take a guess, then scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for the answer! (or however you want to do it)

Photo by Jessie Rack

Answer to this issue’s ARIZON-WHA?! Photo challenge:

If you guessed beetle grub, congratulations! Since it’s a white grub, we can identify this big chunk as belonging to the scarab beetle family, Scarabaeidae. Due to its size and the location where it was found, it’s pretty likely that this one is a baby Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. Larvae of this species can spend 2-3 years as a crazy-looking underground monster like our friend up above, but once they’ve developed into adults they only live for 2-4 months. As grubs, they eat decaying plant material (that makes them decomposers, y’all!) but as adults they feed on tree sap by making a small wound in the tree (this doesn’t hurt the tree). I’ll give you a dollar if you eat it. 

Have you seen weird nature stuff around Arizona? Submit your photos to membership@arizonaee.org for the chance to have them published in a future edition of ARIZON-WHA?!

 

Jessie Rack is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.