Here is something that the Aquaponics Seminar didn’t know before last Friday: Deer Creek, which runs through the Towson High School campus, is a lovely, shaded stream! That is where, thanks to a permit obtained through our collaboration with iMET, we released last Friday our first batch of native yellow perch, Perca flavescens. These fish had been growing in our 2nd aquaponics system this spring. We built this second system because we wanted to construct a deep water culture system where plants float on the water, and that incorporated a fish tank big enough to host native species of fish. (The first aquaponics system we built in the greenhouse grows plants in a hydroshale bed and has a fish tank only big enough to grow small goldfish.) Many thanks to the South Carroll High school for giving us one of their old fish tanks, to iMET for giving us an old biofilter tank, and to Manchester Valley High School for giving us a small young population of yellow perch to raise once we finished constructing our new system.
Another thing we learned this year is that yellow perch grow fast! Our field trip on Friday began with a fishing expedition in our tank to catch these now much larger and faster yellow perch. Then we loaded them up for transport with a portable bubbler and drove to Towson High School. We found the deepest part of the stream, released our fish, and then got to sit on the banks and enjoy seeing our greenhouse guests explore their new home as they nosed around mossy rocks in a quiet pool of the stream. It was a lot of fun and we hope to raise more yellow perch next year to release in local streams. Next year, we know we definitely need some larger nets to catch these active native fish. Come on by the greenhouse next fall to see our fish and plants growing together! If you are interested in reading more about aquaponics at Friends, check out this article published recently in Green Teacher magazine.
Dr. Erle Ellis, UMBC prof, author of a new book on the Anthropocene, and lots of nationally published editorials, co-author of the Ecomodernism manifesto, and a Friends School parent, came to a combined session of Ms. Romney’s Sculpture class and Mr. Ratner’s Utopias and Dystopias in Literature class. We talked about technophilic and technophobic approaches to environmentalism and what it means to be a pessimist or an optimist in “the age of humans.”
The literature students had just finished Chinese Science Fiction author Liu Cixin’s book The Three-Body Problem, which contrasts pessimistic environmentalists and optimistic technologists in Cultural Revolution era and contemporary China. It’s a wild read! Then we read some praise and critique of dystopian environmentalism and one strand of that critique is ecomodernism. Students had plenty of questions for Ellis, who has also studied agricultural practices in China and helped us think about the book, about environmentalism in general, and about the uses, risks, and opportunities of utopian, dystopian, and other kinds of futuristic thinking.
So, now that we’ve solved climate change, alleviated global poverty and addressed environmental damage (ok, not really–but we’re being optimistic so let’s say….not YET), students can move on to creating their own utopias. Then they’ll work in groups with Ms. Romney’s sculpture students leading the way on how to use the Maker Space to create utopian artifacts (things like the “I have seen the future” pins Ms. Romney made our students). Working collaboratively, drafting some manifestos of their own, prototyping in the makerspace–all parts of imagining better futures.
Upper School Science Teacher Katherine Jenkins is teaching a new science class for 10th graders, “Exploration in Life and Physical Sciences” and an early unit looks at stormwater management and biodiversity on campus by using the Native Plant Teaching Gardens at Friends. Students identify and classify plants in the gardens, conduct field analysis with a plot sample, and practice drawing sketches in the gardens and back in the lab. They also connect with Blue Water Baltimore to see how what we do on campus connects to Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.
We were lucky and delighted to have Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin speak with Upper School students on Friday as part of our “Exploring Quaker Life & Testimonies” series. Cardin spoke about healing, spirituality, stewardship, and what we value. She is currently working on a Healthy Green Maryland Amendment (MDEHN pdf link) and she asked Upper School students to think about what values Maryland’s Constitution currently honors; freedom of assembly, free speech–these are parts of the Constitution that give Maryland residents rights and freedoms and protections. What it’s missing, however, is a right to a healthy and healthful environment, and that’s why Cardin and a growing coalition of organizations and legislators are working on the Healthy Green Maryland Amendment, HB 472.
Students also watched a video of Quaker activist and fourteen-year old Kallan Benson; if Upper School students are interested, we may try to collaborate with Kallan Benson and Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin to meet legislators in Annapolis during this legislative session. Cardin explained that legislators are eager to hear from young people about how to care for the future of Maryland’s environment; this amendment is one place to start.
Here a few of the Upper School students who worked in the community garden during Quaker Community Day. Not pictured:
Ten bags of tomato plants ready for composting, a dozen more tired students, the peck of [ok, unpickled] peppers picked for CARES (the local food pantry where all the produce generated by this garden is donated) and the garlic they planted. And now, with November’s warm spell, you can see the garlic shoots getting in some end-of-season growth. See you in the fall (or check out the community garden table at Holly Fest on Sat. Nov 21)
Scott Harrington, Middle School Principal, writes in to tell us about the group of MS students busy at Boone Street Farm last Friday:
It was quite a surprise to be worrying about sunburns while gardening on April 17, the Friends School version of Earth Day. It was supposed to be cold and rainy. But a group of 12 Friends Middle School students spent the day weeding, preparing beds, mulching, and planting seedlings at Boone Street Farm an urban garden that’s part of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City, and many of us turned a shade of red from the hot sun.
We not only helped four of the Boone Street Farm staff prepare the beds for the summer crop, but also gave the place a bit of a shine for their own Earth Day celebration on April 22. One special treat of the day was our partnering, unexpectedly, with some neighborhood children who have taken interest in the farm, and decided to help out and join us for lunch. If you are interested in supporting Boone Street Farm, you can purchase their produce at the Waverly Farmers Market (under the Farm Alliance of Baltimore’s tent), or you can contact them to join their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
McKay Jenkins speaking with “Literature and the Land” students
McKay Jenkins, Author, Journalist, Professor of English, Journalism, and Environmental Humanities at University of Delaware and Friends School Parent, talked with Mr. Ratner’s US English “Literature and the Land” class. The course considers nineteenth century Romantic notions about the role wilderness plays in shaping civilization and twentieth century texts regarding naturalism, environmental activism, and the choices we all make concerning land use and climate change. As part of the class, we read McKay Jenkins’ book Bloody Falls of the Coppermine and then McKay came to talk to us about this book and other more recent work he has done on pesticides and the EPA. It was a great visit and a real highlight of the course for the students.
The aquaponics project at Cylburn is the result of a research grant initiated by Hopkins’ Center for Livable Future, which is housed in their School of Public Health. This spring Ms. Jenkins’ and Ms. Kinder’s 9th grade science classes spent some time discussing the nitrogen cycle in the agriculture unit. The aquaponics system at Cylburn harnesses different aspects of the nitrogen cycle in its closed loop system in order to grow fish sustainably in the big tanks. The leafy greens then thrive on the nutrients produced by fish waste. Neat stuff!