EI Spring Field Trip: Organic Mechanics Soil

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Dongah Shin)

The Organic Mechanics Soil processing facility, complete with industrial found-object landscaping.

On a not-so-unlucky Friday the 13th, Laura Vogel, Rebecca Pineo, Dongah Shin, Ashby Leavell, Raakel Toppila, and I went on our last EI spring field trip for the year, this time to Organic Mechanics Soil in Modena, PA. We met with company founder and president (and former LGP Fellow) Mark Highland, who took us on a tour of the site and shared the story of the company’s beginnings and growth, as well as his own experiences pre- and post-LGP.

Mark Highland explaining the ins and outs of making organic potting soil to the Fellows.

Organic Mechanics Soil, for the uninitiated, is an organic potting soil manufacturer, distributing throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The company has been growing in its reach and success since its foundation in 2006, carrying out Mark’s vision of making the most environmentally sustainable potting soil on the market.

Checking out the soil mixer.

Their soils rely on compost made locally in Chester County to supply water retention, nutrients, and biological activity, rather than on peat, which is nonrenewable and takes a heavy environmental toll for its extraction. Mark also pointed out each of the other ingredients and explained their benefits and how they’ve been sourced as locally and/or responsibly as possible: worm castings, rice hulls from Arkansas and Louisiana (to substitute for perlite when possible), aged pine bark from Delaware, and coconut fiber from India. India, you say? Mark explained that they were careful to choose a supplier with a high quality product, low in salts and chlorides from being washed in rainwater rather than seawater, and which is itself the just leftover dust after the coconuts have been processed for meat, shells, juice, oil, and husks. Shipping the dried, compressed coconut dust by boat is less fuel-intensive than trucking.

An experiment with biochar in the works; behind us are stacks of compressed coconut fiber.

The same intentional approach to sustainability permeates the whole operation, from the worm bin in the office and the employee CSA garden with aquaculture tanks outside, to the close working relationship Organic Mechanics has with Waste Oil Recyclers, the company from whom they lease the site and with whom they share biodiesel for vehicles and equipment.

The employee vegetable garden, with a fish tank to the left. Yum.

As we’ve seen before, being sustainable definitely does not conflict with running a successful business. In its fifth year, the company is already planning its next expansion into a larger processing space, and with recent recognition by Organic Gardening Magazine with its first “Seal of Approval” for organic products, the future looks very bright for Organic Mechanics Soil.

A finished bag ready to go, complete with Organic Gardening’s Seal of Approval.

 

LGP Reunion – a little sneak preview

The LGP Reunion Programming Committee has been hard at work planning displays, music, and a fun evening for all our alumni. Here’s a few glimpses of what we’ve been working on:


An exhibit of photos of each class since the beginning of the program.


Displays of materials from seminars, symposia, projects, and trips. Yeah, remember those posters and booklets and brochures?


Maps to show the national and global reach of LGP alumni. Where have you been? Where are you now?

In addition, we’ll have a “photo-booth” set up for alumni to take fun pictures with the beautiful backdrops of the lake and the Italian Water Garden. Live music provided by a professional trio will complete the atmosphere. But the main event of the evening, of course, will be the meeting of friends and colleagues, old and new, and the reliving of LGP memories. We hope to see as many of our alumni there as possible!

Alumni can register here on the LGP website. You know you can’t wait to get back to Longwood Gardens for a fun evening with friends!

This LGP Reunion update brought to you by: the Programming Committee, led by Kate Baltzell (Class of 2011) and including Laura Vogel (Class of 2011), Ashby Leavell (Class of 2012), and Felicia Yu (Class of 2012).

Electronics Recycling Day – perfect spring weather edition

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Raakel Toppila)

Tis the season…for getting rid of trunk-loads of old electronics!

Some junk items just have more character than others.

Our fifth Electronics Recycling Day for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) was held outdoors in front of Townsend Hall, which turned out to be an extremely convenient place for staff, faculty, and students to pull up their cars and unload their unwanted electronics. As in past ERD’s, we collected all manner of outdated computers and broken printers, ancient radios and dusty landline telephones, and batteries—lots and lots of batteries! We were also able to give away a handful of working items to new owners, and another box of cell phones was set aside to donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

The EI team sitting pretty on our junk pile. “Hey, are you at ERD? Oh yeah? Me too!”

Ashby Leavell, Rebecca Pineo, and Kate Baltzell loading up the van.

We plan to make ERD an annual spring event from now on, so if you missed this one, save your electronic junk until next time! Unless the pace of technology slows waaay down, we will continue to need a responsible way to dispose of electronics as they get outdated or broken, and the Environmental Impact team is happy to make it easier for people to do so.

We nearly filled up the back of the UDairy Creamery van. At the drop-off at UD General Services, we loaded up five pallets about 3-4 feet high. Good work, CANR!

Notes from the past – a message from Jim Swasey

Sue and I are really looking forward to the 45th Longwood Graduate Program Reunion and reuniting with a large percentage of the 100+ Former Fellows (1978-1979)(1984-2005) that we loved. Yes, we loved each and everyone of them! We encourage as many as possible to attend so that we can have bragging rights to a larger percentage of Former Fellows reuniting that either Dick Lighty or Bob Lyons receives!! Does that sound like a little competition?

(Swasey with some of his former students at the APGA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, 1998)

It will be exciting to hear all about your professional and personal lives since leaving The Program. Although we do stay in contact with many of you, there are a some that have slipped through the cracks and are not a visible. June 25th is also the 45th anniversary of our marriage that was held in Durham, NH, the home of UNH where we met. So, we will be doubly celebrating! Looking forward to seeing all of you and getting some photos.

Jim & Sue Swasey

EI Spring Field Trip Part 2: UD Chrysler site

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Ashby Leavell)

In the afternoon following our EI field trip to the Dansko headquarters, Raakel Toppila, Ashby Leavell, Hagley Fellow Chris Chenier, and I paid a visit to the Chrysler site, just across the road from Townsend Hall. We met with Dave Levandoski, director of 1743 Holdings, a UD subsidiary which is overseeing the demolition of the plant in preparation for UD’s new Science and Technology Campus.

Vintage Chrysler office decor

From the safety of his office in the weirdly under-occupied administration building, Dave presented us with a thorough overview of the site and how one goes about recycling a deconstructed car assembly plant. 85% of the material from the demolition is being recycled, with enough revenue generated from the sale of valuable materials such as stainless steel and copper to cover their costs, so that the entire demolition will cost UD nothing. Dave showed us example after example of recyclable materials from the site, from the obvious (steel, aluminum, batteries) to the not-so-obvious (still-working equipment to be reused; fluorescent lighting tubes with their components; solvents and oils from the factory lines, to be sent out for re-refining or to be mixed and used as clean-burning fuels). He also pointed out some materials that cannot be recycled, at least not at this time – the sludge from waste water treatment, and acres and acres of roofing material, sometimes two or three layers deep.

Witnessing the art of demolition…from a completely safe vantage point, of course

At the end of our visit, we were allowed to don hard hats and head down the back side of the admin building, where we were fortunate to get a look at real-time demolition just behind the building. We all agreed that the operators of the clawing tractors, pulling down whole chunks of building into piles of twisted metal and debris, had the best jobs in the world.

Felicia, Chris Chenier, and Raakel rocking the hard hats

Ashby and Felicia with Lynn McDowell of 1743 Holdings

The future of the Chrysler site remains a fascinating vision—while the area has been designated as the Science and Technology Campus, many elements remain to be fleshed out. Will they daylight the brook now running beneath the concrete? How much of the 235 acres now under impervious surfaces (out of 272 total) will be opened up? Will they preserve, and interpret, the old track on which they used to test M-48 tanks built for the Korean War? Well, we’ll have to wait to return as alumni to witness the answers to these questions.

“They should totally film a Transformers movie here.”

Another view from the fence

Thanks to Dave and Lynn for meeting with us and giving us a first-hand look at the incredible process of decommissioning and recycling a whole automobile assembly plant.

EI Spring Field Trip: Dansko Headquarters

(written by Felicia Yu; photos by Ashby Leavell)

Part of the purpose of the Environmental Impact team is to equip the Fellows with a sustainability-focused mindset and the knowledge of how sustainability can be practiced in all kinds of settings, from our normal sphere of public gardens to places of business unrelated to horticulture (or only just barely).

Newly renovated living wall in the Dansko lobby

For our first spring EI field trip on April 18, Ashby Leavell, Raakel Toppila, Kate Baltzell, and I made the short drive to Jennersville, PA, to see the Dansko shoe company headquarters, where environmental sustainability is just a part of an overall philosophy of doing things the right way whenever possible.

Rain chains adorn the exterior of the company store

Our enthusiastic tour guide and director of facilities at Dansko, Daria Payne, led us around their LEED Gold-certified facility and pointed out all the features that contributed not only to a smaller eco-footprint but also to the well-being of the employees. Wherever there was an opportunity to increase the energy efficiency of the building, the multi-use capacity of its rooms, or the quality of the indoor environment, Dansko took it and ran with it. Office furniture and cubicle walls were made to be portable and reconfigurable. “Smart” lighting adjusts automatically to the amount of daylight coming in through the many, many double-paned argon-filled windows. The outdoor landscaping, from three different living roofs to the rain gardens in and around the parking lot, incorporates thoughtful storm water management practices along with capturing and reusing rainwater for irrigation and the building’s toilets.

Daria explaining the features of the new product development space

One of three living roofs; this one includes a patio and shade structure for employee gatherings

Amid all the environmentally friendly features of the campus, the human aspect of the environment is never neglected. Art works from local artists and often made from found materials decorate even the least public areas of the building. A living wall in the lobby and indoor plants everywhere improve the air quality and create a more homelike atmosphere. Enclosed offices and meeting rooms toward the outside of the building have glass walls in order to share the natural light with workspaces in the interior. The company also encourages philanthropy in all its employees by allowing them up to sixteen hours of paid volunteering time with organizations of their own choosing, and the value of their contribution is matched by the company. (Is anyone else starting to feel tempted to put in a job application?)

What was destined for a storage room became a comfortable library for employees at the insistence of Dansko co-founder Mandy Cabot

Our entertaining and enlightening visit ended with—what else—shopping!

How could we not?

Many thanks to Daria and Dansko for a fantastic morning and many lessons learned about running a business profitably AND sustainably.

The group with Daria in the company store. And no, we didn’t arrange ourselves in that order on purpose!

The Power of the Internet; Museums and the Web 2011

(written by Aubree Pack)

This month I had the opportunity to attend a conference I’ve had my eye on since last year. Although my first love will always be horticulture, my interests have grown to include understanding how public horticulture institutions can utilize the different opportunities that technology can provide. Exploring how we can use technology in innovative, sustainable, and problem solving ways is a passion of mine.

Museums and the Web, hosted by the Archives and Museum Informatics organization, is designed by and for museum professionals, features the best work from around the world, and highlights the use of new technologies in the museum context. Imagine my excitement when it was being held at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia this year! Over 25 countries were represented and over 600 individuals attended.

(A selected slide from the Plenary Session)

The opening plenary session was a fun start – it was presented by Kristen Purcell of the Pew Internet Research group. She provided an overview of the data they had found for currently trending topics. The overall focus was on how the internet is currently shaping our country. Some of the subtopics included cell phone use across all demographics, teens use of texting and social media (it may surprise you, but teens are using social media less and less – primarily because it’s no longer ‘their’ space. Parents have invaded!), mobile, the changes in how society finds information, etc.

(Another selected slide from the Plenary Session)

A new experience for me was the ‘un-conference’. After my confusion as to what it meant subsided, I was really excited about it.  (thank you Wikipedia! Yes, I use Wikipedia; I openly admit that I’m not afraid of user generated content :)) Okay, so if you don’t know what an un-conference session is, it’s a participant driven session where anyone can suggest a topic and groups are formed around those topics. (I attended Crowdsourcing Plus Tools for Mobile User Generated Content)

(Here is part of the list of topics that came up in the un-conference – it was really hard to choose!)

Other sessions I attended were Social Media and Organization Change, Online Presence and the Act of ‘Just Not Being There‘, Mobile and Geolocation Issues (Getting on, not under, the mobile 2.0 bus), Web Crit Room (existing webpages were evaluated by a panel of professionals), How to Evaluate Online Success, Professional Forum on Re-Thinking Evaluation Metrics, Mini Workshop on Grid Based Web Design, Mobile Crit Room (existing mobile initiatives were evaluated by a panel of professionals), and a few other in conference opportunities. A few of these sessions were direct connections with my thesis research, so it was great to speak with professionals about their similar work. Here’s a teaser about my thesis, should you be interested…

(From the Mobile Crit Room – they put a camera over a smartphone so we could all see the multiple apps)

I would love to talk to anyone about these sessions that is interested; I’m not going to put details abut them here lest this blog post become WAY too long. But I’ve learned so much from this conference; I’m hoping to continue to attend them in the future.

Questions? Comments? Would love to hear them! E-mail me at aubreecherie (at) gmail (dot) com

Spring in Colonial Williamsburg

Last weekend Raakel Toppila, first year Longwood Graduate Fellow and John Moore, second year Professional Gardener Student attended Colonial Williamsburg’s 65th Annual Garden Symposium in Williamsburg, Virginia. John and Raakel were the recipients of the Williamsburg Garden Symposium Student Scholarships generously supported by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and a number of conference attendees.

(Duke of Gloucester Street in the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg)

Laura Viancour, Manager of Garden Programs at Colonial Williamsburg, made John and Raakel feel welcome by introducing them to some of the speakers and ensuring that they gained the most from the symposium.


(Lambs – less than a week old!)

The charm and the weather of Williamsburg did not disappoint. The flowering cherries, red bud, dogwood, paw paw, and oaks seemed especially lovely in the 80-degree weather.


(Asimina triloba (paw paw) in bloom)

John and Raakel spent a delightful two-days learning from the “who’s-who” in horticulture including host of Growing a Greener World, Joe Lamp’l, the “perennial diva” Stephanie Cohen, garden author Suzy Bales and director of the Morris Aboretum, Paul Meyer, to name a few. Following morning sessions with the featured speakers, the students were able to spend afternoons with staff of Colonial Williamsburg learning about the plants of 18th century town and how they were used. Highlights from the conference included hearing from the University of Delaware’s Doug Tallamy about Bringing Nature Home through the use of native plants in the home garden to attract insects, birds and other animals. A behind the scenes look at the nursery offered a whirlwind introduction to saving vegetable seeds, the use of plants for dying textiles, the importance of honeybees for pollination, and a rare breeds program for livestock which seeks to preserve genetic diversity in animals.

The symposium offered an outstanding opportunity for John and Raakel to visit the colonial town while learning about the topic they love most.

(Dusk in the Colonial Garden)

 



Are you ready? We are!

Since the save-the-date email was sent out, lots of things for the LGP Reunion has been planned. LGP Reunion 2011: Celebrating 45 Years will be at the Italian Water Garden of Longwood Gardens, which rarely opens to special events. We all are excited!

(The Save-the-Date email)

As the event leader, I appreciate what the Marketing, Guest Relations, and Program Committees have been planning. The Reunion webpage is live, the invitation will go out soon, the menu looks scrumptious, and the day-of activities sound delightful.

There’s one more committee that I would like to thank and that is the Honorary Alumni Committee (HAC):

Eric Tschanz, ‘77, President and Executive Director, Powell Gardens

Nancy Bechtol, ‘84, Director, Office of Facilities Management at Smithsonian Institution

Patrick Larkin, ‘95, Executive Director, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Mark Richardson, ‘04, Adult Programs Manager, Brookside Gardens

Eric Tschanz

Nancy Bechtol

Patrick Larkin

Mark Richardson

These four enthusiastic former Fellows have given us great feedback throughout the planning process. It has been especially helpful to discuss the formation of the LGP Alumni Association with people who are quite supportive of the idea. (Maybe some of them could even be the first officers – no pressure!). You will hear more about the Alumni Association soon, so stay tuned.

Lastly, I would like to recognize the UD Alumni Association for their generous financial support offered through the Satellite Assistance Program.

Close Encounters of the Cacti Kind: APGA Design and Planning Symposium

Last week, Second Year Fellow, Zoe Panchen attended APGA’s Design and Planning Symposium at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. With the symposium entitled “Collections and Design: Power to the Plants”, plants played centre stage in all the presentations and discussions.

The eye-catching entrance area of Desert Botanical Garden

The pre-conference tour visited Frank Lloyd-Wright’s intriguing winter camp, Taliesin West, where attendees learned about Lloyd Wright’s architectural philosophy, the Arizonan desert plant palate and how these plants influenced his designs: bio-mimicry is not new!

Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) at Taliesin West - the Arizona desert life inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Architectural design

Public garden staff had teamed up with landscape architects to deliver an inspiring set of presentations on how to “wow” the public in a garden. The first day focused on design principles and the second on using plant designs to educate and raise awareness of topical issues such as conservation and climate change.

The Desert Botanical Garden had stunning displays to inspire desert style gardening. Foreground: Golden Barrel Cacti (Echinocactus grusonii); Background Giant Sagauro (Carnegiea gigantea)

There was also plenty of time during and after the symposium to explore the Desert Botanical Garden’s stunning designed cacti gardens, natural areas and informative ethnobotany trail. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm and the cacti were just starting to bloom. Photo ops abounded!

Mammallaria sp. in flower at Desert Botanical Garden

Post conference, Zoe took the opportunity to visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum established by mining magnet and philanthropist William Boyce Thompson and now run as a state park. The arboretum has stunning cactus gardens, beautiful natural areas and an impressive succulent and cacti collection.


Stunning cacti garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

The high trail through Boyce Thompson Arboretum's natural area takes the visitor across the Queen Creek on a suspension bridge and along a precipitous trail clinging to the canyon cliff