By JULIA GOODHART and CORY FRONING
Sunflower blossoms, the first fall frost, and Landscape & Livelihood students have finally arrived! It’s hard to believe that we have already waved goodbye to 8 CSA shares and a bountiful huckleberry season, but sunny temperate days and chilly nights are making for a seamless transition into an autumn full of learning. Before we give you the lowdown on the students’ arrival to the Homestead, we’ll briefly update you on Beck Creek Gardens’ last few months:
Somehow, this Thursday will be our NINTH of ten CSA shares! “What is a CSA share?” you may ask. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a small-scale farm model that is widely used and praised by organic farmers. In this model, customers or “shareholders” pay their farmer a set fee at the beginning of the season. This upfront payment gets the shareholders a weekly box of seasonal produce at a wholesale price. In return, the farmer is relieved of the huge stress that comes with uncertainty of a consumer base and crop production. If a few crops fail, the farmer has the flexibility to make the shares smaller and compensate with more food in future weeks.
Because of this beautiful farmer/consumer relationship, our shareholders trusted us when we suffered from flea beetles and ground squirrels in June/July and were only able to provide them with rhubarb, pesto, and radishes. Their trust bought us time to frantically plant more greens and roots and now they are happily swimming in beets and turnips and kale that spill out of their too-heavy farm/grocery bags. This community is what allows our sustainable organic farm to flourish! If you are interested in Beck Creek Gardens and meeting the wonderful people involved, please email Cory (firstname.lastname@example.org) and join us for our CSA community dinner on Sunday, September 11th. Our L&L students will be harvesting and cooking a huge garden meal to share with you in order to celebrate our place, our people, and the bounty they provide together.
Speaking of our L&L students, they are incredibly interesting, capable people and we cannot wait to explore the Swan Valley with them. In the last 3 days they have gotten to learn about native trees, go animal tracking with Adam, hike around Lion Creek, cure garlic, harvest various crops, and figure out how to cook for 12 people every evening.
Aspen enthralled with discussion of how to minimize bear attractants by responsibly disposing of food waste as a group.
Heaps of garlic that the students helped process
Living communally, gracefully, is certainly no small feat and is factored into their final participation grades. The students helped create and maintain a chore-chart system upon their arrival, where groups of two rotate chores every three days. Chores include things like helping in the garden (which students eat from), cleaning the kitchen after every meal, maintaining tidiness of communal areas, composting, and cooking while taking into account everyone’s specific dietary needs.
After getting adjusted in their cozy rooms and settling into their valley home, the students dove head first into what we’re all here for - rich, experiential, hands-on learning!!
Though the smoke in the valley obscured our view, L&L students were introduced to this special place through an intensive map exercise. We considered both natural and human neighbors, including the nearby mountain ranges, Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, major roadways, and the Blackfeet and Flathead Indian Reservations.
Students began to think about the array of land ownership in the Swan Valley and how the management mandates vary between national forests, national parks, and wilderness areas.
Next, we explored some introductory plant biology and the identifying characteristics of trees and shrubs around the Lion Creek trailhead. We considered the mosaic of forest types, and began to understand how to use habitat clues to aid in tree identification; cedar trees thrive in the wet river bottom, and Ponderosa Pines flourish on the open, sun-rich slopes.
Touch, taste, smell and visual cues all help us to differentiate our trees. We used this new knowledge to create a delicious wild tea back at the barn - full of rich rose hips, Cedar leaves, and the grapefruit sweet needles of Grand Fir!
Students gather plant specimens based on certain characteristics, paying special attention to leaf branching, venation, and a leaf’s serrated or smooth margins.
The veins of the leaves oriented in three common patterns: parallel, palmate, and pinnate!
Looking into the canyon from the Lion Creek trail. We certainly weren’t moving very fast with the abundant plant diversity to discuss!
Adam showing some of the students their first ever Grizzly Bear tracks, found on Lion Creek’s muddy streamside, just before we finished our hike.
We began to explore animal tracks in earnest in our own front yard by the Swan River. Despite the rain, it was exhilarating to follow a large male grizzly’s path along the river, or glimpse the wolf tracks hardened in the mud.
Students discuss the tracks outlined in sticks in the mud - here, we were looking at the direct register walk of a white-tailed deer. Direct register is a type of gait pattern, specifically where an animal places its hind foot exactly where the front foot fell. This leads to a messy-looking track atop another track.
Some of the grizzly tracks we were fortunate to see! The front right paw is the most defined, with the nearly rectangular heel pad and five round toes above it. The popsicle stick marks the bottom of the right hind paw - you can see claw marks in the mud if you look closely! The bear is in an ‘overstep’ walk - leading to the front-hind positioning we see here.
After an exciting few introductory days, we bid goodbye to our beautiful homestead! We are headed up into the Swan mountains and Bob Marshall Wilderness for five days to explore alpine ecology and some of this valley’s unique geology. More updates to come!