A Day at the Zoo

(photography by Raakel Toppila)

A great day today at the Minnesota Zoo.  We spent the morning with Director Lee Ehmke, Horticulture Supervisor Kim Thomas, and Ken Kornack, Director of Capital Projects at the Zoo.  After meeting Lee at the entrance, we explored the newest exhibit, “Russia’s Grizzly Coast.”  The three grizzly bears are part of a new trend in immersive zoo display that seeks to engage the senses and create a seemingly boundless natural space surrounding the animals.  Plant materials mask the surrounding buildings, key sightlines are emphasized, and sound recordings draw visitors into a more intimate experience.  And by visitors, I mean children.  Lots of them.  Everywhere.  The bears are a huge hit.

Kim Thomas’ lean crew of horticulturalists throughout the year has the unique job of creating regional and species appropriate displays.  This is easier said than done, considering the physical demands on the plants.  For example, Kim quickly discovered that grizzly bears do not pick blue berries.  They just eat the entire bush in one bite.  Thankfully, hundreds of acres of surrounding woodlands provide an abundance of animal browsing materials.

In the new Leed Gold meeting space behind the grizzly den, the Fellows had the chance to ask Lee and his team what it’s like to manage a zoo serving over 1 million visitors each year.  The organization is one of two publicly owned zoos in the country, and covers 485 acres just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and equidistant from both.  The zoo is moving towards a denser model of visitor circulation, including a more intense experience over a smaller area.  The older zoo design of “five hundred acres and a monorail” essentially failed.  The wildlife was too far removed from the visitors to create a meaningful experience.

In addition to managing a wide array of species from dolphins to tapirs, the Zoo boasts a 1,500-person amphitheater for musical performances, several green roof projects, and an active outreach program visiting each of the 87 counties in Minnesota.  Over lunch, the staff covered everything from the master plan to their young friends group, and provided rare insight into their much-loved institution in the suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Second Years Travel to the State of 10,000 Lakes

(photographs by Felicia Yu)

North American Experience has begun yet again.  The second year Fellows and Dr. Lyons landed Wednesday in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota with the goal to explore what the region has to offer in the realm of public horticulture. Minneapolis is a fun city.  The neighborhood near the hotel is filled with eclectic places to eat and spend time. Even better, there are “Nice Ride” bicycles for the public to check in and out of locations all over town to help us get around town during time off.

Our first stop was the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were fortunate to be greeted by both Ed Schneider, current Director, and Peter Olin, former Director who served at the Arboretum for 24 years. An hour-long tram tour introduced us to the 1,137 acres of land maintained by the Arboretum, featuring themed collections, gardens, a prairie, ponds and woodlands.  We were especially excited by the Patrick Dougherty exhibition in front of the visitor center, entitled the Uff da Palace.

The Landscape Arboretum faces the challenge of gardening and maintaining collections in USDA plant hardiness zone 4 (average annual minimum temperature -20F to -30F).  However, they do so in stride, boasting impressive collections of crabapple, hosta, lilac, ornamental grasses and roses. Even in the warmth of the summer, the cold temperatures to come are never far from a Minnesotan’s mind. The Arboretum has devoted much of its research to developing cold-hardy commercial fruit varieties such as the Honey Crisp apple, the Frontenac grape and the North Star Cherry. Their ornamental woody plant breeding program resulted in the development of a series of cold hardy azaleas.

Intermingled among the collections of the Arboretum are special places for reflection…

And play….

And discovery…

We enjoyed lunch together with our host, Ed Schneider and Judy Hohmann, Marketing and Communications Manager who gave us insight into the operations of the Arboretum. Three hours of self-guided exploration under the beautiful blue open sky was hardly enough time to return to our favorite spots. Our visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was a great introduction to public horticulture in the Twin Cities.

Forty five years? Check.

After over a decade apart, the LGP alums finally reunited this June 26th in the Italian Water Garden at Longwood.  Alumni from near and far came together to celebrate 45 years of the Graduate Program, reconnect with classmates, and meet new friends in the field of public horticulture.

Kate Baltzel and Raakel Toppila trying on a fresh new style in the photo booth

Even after the busy American Public Gardens Association conference in Philadelphia leading up to the event, nearly 150 people turned out on Saturday evening.  Guests celebrated in style, enjoying delicious food and cocktails, perfect weather, and live jazz in the garden.  Pierre duPont would certainly have been proud.

Fabulous turn out!

The Longwood Graduate Program Alumni Association also made its formal debut during the evening, and all were invited to contribute thoughts on its future direction.  To those who made it to Longwood, thank you for contributing to the great atmosphere and outstanding evening.  We’ll see you all at the next reunion!  Pictures from the event can be found here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lgwweb/LGPReunion?authkey=Gv1sRgCLWTqd-3udOm9gE

In a rare instance all three directors, past and present, welcomed students. Dr. James Swasey, Dr. Richard Lighty, and Dr. Robert Lyons pictured.

Shari Edelson peruses LGP memorabilia

Felicia Yu, Won Soon Park, and Mark Highland enjoying the festivities

 

Note from the Director: Reunion!

I’m into my 7th year directing the Program and really look forward to seeing all the Former Fellows who worked with me starting in 2005. However, my connection to the Program goes back much further when I was on the Horticulture faculty at Virginia Tech from 1981 – 1999.  During that period, I sent 5 of my students into the LGP and I’m very much hoping to see them all at the Reunion!

Lead Fellow for the Reunion has been second year Fellow Dongah Shin, who has done a marvelous job in insuring that everyone will have a great time.

I know that reunions are meant for reminiscing and catching up with old friends, so we are planning lots of time to do exactly that, all within the unsurpassed atmosphere of Longwood. If you are a former Fellow, please join us: this will be an event to be remembered for a long time to come!

Bob Lyons

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!