Dogwood Lane

The Quarterly Journal of the Wakefield Estate

Volume Two, Issue 2 - Winter 2020
Drawing Inspiration from Earth Day's 50th Anniversary
In this edition of our quarterly journal, we look at the significance of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day and how it inspires and compels us to do everything we can in our daily work to restore and strengthen the natural ecosystem within which we exist. The annual event is a poignant reminder of our place within the interdependent web of life - that our welfare and survival is mutually connected to the welfare and survival of every member of our ecosystem; that is, if one member is weakened or removed, we are all impacted. We aspire to incorporate the imperative of Earth Day into our daily habits and routines in order that Earth Day is every day of the year.
The environmental context of the first Earth Day in 1970 is similar to the environmental context of today, with one important difference: global warming. The ecosystems within which we live and function now face an external threat caused by the use of fossil fuels: increasing heat. The oceans are warming, the icecaps are melting, entire ecosystems are threatened and all of nature - and humankind - is feeling the consequences.
(read more here 1 )
Earth Day 2020 is a global call for action at all levels - the personal, communal, and national. It is the ever-present reminder that there is no Planet B; it underscores the ever-important message that we all have a role to play to preserve and secure a healthy planet for future generations. It is an urgent call that each of us become active in the stewardship of the earth’s resources.
Embodying Earth Day at the Wakefield Estate & Arboretum
Earth Day’s 50th anniversary compels us to look anew at the ways we carry out our
commitment to being responsible stewards of the earth’s resources here at the estate on a day-to-day basis. It inspires us to re-examine our practices and operations, from simple things like turning off lights when not in use to eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides that can end up in the watershed. 2

When we think of responding to the call of Earth Day and developing our own climate action plan, we think of the variety of ways we use energy and water, power equipment, vehicles, durable and non-durable containers, packaging and waste, materials we use at our events, and so forth.
As we think about ways to change our practices to conserve resources and eliminate waste, we also think of the numerous ways we can promote biodiversity and the health of our ecosystem. The more biodiverse the ecosystem is, the healthier it is.
In promoting biodiversity locally, we are consciously thinking of “our” ecosystem here at the estate and the many ways it is part of - and connects to - the larger ecosystem around it. We know that the stream that runs off Big Blue Hill and through our woods connects us to the ecosystem of the Fowl Meadow just below us, full of birds and plants. Beyond that, the stream links us to the Atlantic Ocean and the wild biodiversity within it. We are more and more conscious that what we do here on the slopes of Big Blue Hill in this corner of Milton, Massachusetts - how we take care of this landscape - has global repercussions.

Our Climate Action Plan is a work in progress, for our knowledge of our ecosystem and how best to care for it is constantly evolving. But we’ve taken the first step: to make a commitment to create our plan - which is something everyone can do. There are so many resources available to help you do this, with many creative ideas for individuals, organizations, and municipalities.

Please join in this vitally important endeavor - click here for ideas how you can get involved and let us know your progress.
Are we headed for the next mass extinction?
According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Biodiversity — the diversity within species, between species in an ecosystem — is declining faster than at any time in human history. Read the full story here .
Greening the Wakefield Estate's Landscape
In 2012, a landscape management plan was put into place at the Wakefield Estate & Arboretum. Key elements of the plan included managing the landscape with little or no chemicals. As an organization that focuses on environmental education it is important to lead by example and avoid using harmful products in maintenance. Without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, land management strategies depend on vigilance and patience; to date we have made great progress in improving biodiversity in the landscape without using pesticides.
Impacts of Chemicals & Pesticides
The use of chemicals in landscaping has become common practice. More than 3 million tons of inorganic fertilizer are applied to American lawns each year. Much of it — nitrates, phosphorous and potassium — is produced by mining or synthesized from oil products. While nitrogen is necessary for plant growth (as are phosphorous, potassium, sulfur and other minerals), the nitrogen used in synthetic fertilizers is commonly processed from ammonia. Often, to facilitate slow-release lawn fertilizers, ammonia is mixed with urea and formaldehyde, or it is encased in sulfur or a synthesized polymer, some of them suspected endocrine disruptors. Nitrogen buildup in rivers and waterways has become a serious problem for the environment. 3
Pesticides are also commonly used by homeowners and professionals alike. Scientific evidence has concluded definitively that these chemicals are harmful to people, animals and the environment. Therefore, in order to be a model and environmentally responsible, we choose to manage weeds, invasive species and turf issues using natural means. 4
Invasive species management
We are most conscious of controlling or removing invasive species that compete with native species and have a tendency to colonize, destabilizing the ecosystem and creating a monoculture.

Bittersweet (shown at right), garlic mustard, black swallow-wort and mile-a-minute are just a few invasive plants common at the Wakefield Estate & Arboretum. Our first management strategy is to cut or remove invasive species before they reach their fruiting cycle. Each black swallow-wort pod yields up to 1000 seeds! If we can remove the fruit, the invasive plant is less likely to multiply as rapidly. The second most effective control of weeds and invasive species is carbohydrate starvation. The production of carbohydrates via photosynthesis is the most fundamental activity in plant life.
By cutting these plants to the ground as often as possible they cannot photosynthesize and ultimately die. We have created a simple map of the property with areas that certain invasive species are prominent. As part of our weekly maintenance schedule, we pass through these areas with a mower or string trimmer to cut the plants down. We are careful to avoid cutting native plants in this process, often “spot trimming” to protect native plants like Jack in the pulpit, blood root (the ground cover pictured above) and trillium. After a few years of this maintenance plan we began to see progress, noticing large stands of blood root where there used to be nothing but thick bittersweet vines.For more information about invasive plants in Massachusetts, click here 5, or to explore the recommended methods of management, click here 6 .
Leaf Composting
In 2014, the Wakefield Estate & Arboretum received the best piece of equipment it owns as a donation. A tractor with a bucket (circa 1970) was donated and has been a huge benefit to our composting efforts. This small tractor has been used for countless big jobs but its most important work has to do with our large pile of leaves collected every fall. We are conscious that leaving some leaves on the ground and in the garden beds is good for the environment, however we have to remove some of the leaves because we have so many huge trees in our formal gardens.
These leaves go into in one of two compost piles that are turned over with our trusty tractor every month. We add green material and animal hair, both are important sources of nitrogen that aid in the decomposition of leaves, ultimately making some fantastic loam that goes back into the garden beds. Click here to learn more about the benefits of composting . 7
Tick Management
One of the biggest public health issues facing New England today is the infestation of ticks carrying Lyme and other diseases. Many homeowners and landscapers are now spraying for ticks using pyrethrins. The pyrethrins are a class of organic compounds normally derived from Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium that have potent insecticidal activity by targeting the nervous systems of insects. Although pyrethrins are quickly metabolized by bids and most
mammals, fish and aquatic invertebrates lack the ability to metabolize these compounds.
Because the Wakefield Estate & Arboretum has several bodies of water with aquatic species and is on a slope leading to the Neponset River watershed and the Atlantic ocean beyond, using pyrethrins to manage ticks may have serious repercussions for fish and aquatic invertebrates, vital elements in the food web. As a result, we have developed a management strategy that is recommended by environmental organizations including the EPA to manage ticks in an environmentally responsible way. Ticks need moisture to survive, so by keeping grassy areas very short ticks are discouraged. Deer are carriers of ticks. Many of our gardens are fenced off from deer, lessening the movement of ticks in the gardens. The Wakefield Estate & Arboretum encourages native animals that prey on ticks and mice including birds of prey, fox and possums. Most important in the fight to prevent Lyme disease is education. Each visitor is briefed about the danger of ticks and taught about how to perform a careful tick check after a visit to any natural area.
To learn more about being tick smart and safe, click here . 8
Beginning the Conversation about Climate Change with our Kids
With climate concerns in the news almost daily, and catastrophic weather occurrences disrupting family lives both in America and globally, the challenges of the warming world are on everyone's minds - even our children's. Among the spectrum of iss ues we face relating to climate change, one of the "hottest" topics is how to talk about it. The discussion has evolved significantly out of necessity -- a response to continued misinformation and confusion about the concepts, terminology, and ideas that explain the global climate crisis, increased scientific discoveries, addressing the continued doubts of naysayers, genuine fear of the new intensity and frequency of previously rare climatic catastrophes and flooding, and the impact on youth of "doomsday" outlooks for the future.

Often the discussion of climate concerns are met with disinterest or glazed stares, or avoided completely. It's likely that there are several reasons for that, but it is understood that certain accepted terminology evokes confusion, fear, or doubt - or all of the above. The expressions "global warming" and "climate change" are used
frequently describing to two different physical phenomena but the term "global warming," - the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases- is a term increasingly avoided as it evokes fear and often requires a deeper scientific understanding. A national survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reveals the general public is more comfortable with the term "climate change" - defined as long-term change in the earth’s climate, or of a region on earth. While the Yale Climate Opinion map  shows over 65% of Americans believe global warming will affect future generations, only 42% of adults think global warming will harm them personally, and a closer examination of the mapped results suggests for land-locked states, this percentage is considerably lower, in the 30-35% range. 9
Research suggests that the percentages are even lower when revealing public's understanding (or lack of understanding) of how the carbon cycle relates to rising levels of greenhouse gases and climate change. A study of incoming freshman and Michigan State University revealed a poor understanding of the carbon cycle and more alarmingly suggested that most people do not see the urgency of the problem, because they believe that any reduction in the use of fossil fuels will lead to a reduction in CO 2 levels rather than merely slowing the increase. The Yale Program's 2010 report on Climate Change Knowledge revealed relatively few Americans (11 to 14%) say they are “very well informed” about how the climate system works or the different causes, consequences, or potential solutions to global warming, while 51 to 52 percent say they are “fairly well informed.” Yet outlooks are beginning to shift rapidly. Just this month, a new report revealed "nearly six in ten (58%) Americans are now either 'Alarmed' or 'Concerned' about global warming. From 2014 to 2019, the proportion of 'Alarmed' nearly tripled."  10
If all of this seems discouraging, it's understandable. What is encouraging is that curriculum is being developed to engage the "next generation" of students about climate change. Climate change falls under the "core ideas" for middle and high school students in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) introduced in 2013 and adopted for use by Boston Public Schools in 2016. 

At the high school level, standards introduce the constructs of evidence for climate change, climate modeling, and geoengineering.

Standards explicitly addressing climate change are present at the middle and high school levels. For middle schoolers, the standards use the terms “global temperatures,” “changes in climate,” or “climate change” and the core ideas include: "human activities affect global warming;" and "decisions to reduce the impacts of global warming depend on understanding climate science, engineering capabilities, and social dynamics."
At the high school level, the standards introduce the ideas of climate modeling and require that the students consider what impact they themselves might have: "Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts." While climate change concepts are not a required standard until middle school, the NGSS for K-5 introduce ideas and vocabulary that prepare students for later exploration. 11
Working with hundreds of elementary-aged students each year, the Wakefield Estate has an opportunity to help contribute to this understanding of climate change through lessons and activities that relate to various ecosystems, animal and plant studies, soil, weather, pollination, decomposers, matter, and recycling. During their field trips, elementary science standards can be explored and brought into focus. For younger students, their outdoor experience affords the perfect opportunity to explain the difference between weather and climate, and explore the different needs of plants and animals to survive and grow. While enjoying an exploration of the worm composter or pond life, they can observe the warming effect of sunlight on the earth’s surface. 

As one educator commenting on the NAAEE (North American Association of Environmental Education) website noted, "Kids in lower elementary are pretty concrete thinkers, and climate change is too abstract and overwhelming for them. I follow the principle of 'no tragedy before 4th grade,' so we focus on things like understanding butterfly life cycles, how plants grow, how sea turtles migrate, etc. and encouraging a love of, interest in, and sense of responsibility for nature. Understanding life cycles, habitats or interdependence will go a long way to bringing home the significance of climate change and human impacts when they are introduced in, say, 5th grade." 12
The NGSS requires that fifth graders begin to explore issues relating to the carbon cycle as it relates to how matter cycles through ecosystems. Their activities here enable them to explore plants, animals, decomposers and their role in the carbon cycle and how the energy in all food was once energy from the sun held by the earth in the form of carbon.

The Wakefield Estate is developing programs, lesson plans and activities that tie these climate and carbon cycle-related standards and concepts to the resources of the estate such as our "decomposer trail," animals, woodlands and our "zero trash" lunch clean-up. Because there is genuine fear that students will become depressed or discouraged about the "future of the planet" there has been a great effort to develop educational resources, activities and lesson plans that present the issues relating to climate change and the carbon cycle in intriguing and even fun ways. 
This spring, the estate will be coordinating with our elementary education partners to suggest videos, activities, and lessons provided by NASA Climate Kids and Mass DEP 's (Department of Environmental Protection) Green Team in preparation for their visits. This pre-trip preparation will enable the students, teachers, and Wakefield Estate staff to maximize the educational value of their day-long field trip later in the year.
Using Phenology to Address Climate Change with Young Adults
An important issue we face with respect to climate change is how we talk about it in a way that is positive and empowering but still conveys the immediacy of the issue. Using phenology, the study of the life cycle relationships between plants and animals, has been extremely effective in addressing this conundrum. Students begin to see that the life cycles of plants and animals have been thrown out of synchronicity: as the climate warms and plants bloom earlier, the animals that depend on those plants may not have returned from migration or may not have hatched. Making these real life connections puts the changing climate in the forefront of conversations and often times provokes action.
To learn more or become an "observer," visit Nature's Notebook.
Setting a Goal of Zero Trash
Over the past decade, the Wakefield Estate has been host to hundreds of field trips and thousands of elementary-aged students who come prepared to enjoy their school lunch on the lawn near the estate's pond. When students first came out for visits, the school lunch packaging was considerable and voluminous. Students had little knowledge of  recycling  other than to separate paper and plastic. Restrictions around what plastics were "recyclable" exacerbated the difficult task of coaching the large groups. Plastic bottles and clean trays were recyclable but not plastic bags or soiled "lunchables." The task of sorting
through the trash was a daily slog, but important in order to ensure recyclables, at a minimum, made it into the recycle bin. Developing a trash/ recycling  system became a high priority but proved a challenging task as different schools often came with completely different lunches, making it impossible to create universal signage to guide the students how to sort their refuse.

As the years passed, we witnessed great changes in lunch packaging and in the students' awareness of how to recycle. The school systems seemed to make deliberate efforts to minimize packaging, eventually moving away from lunches comprised of multiple wrapped items in plastic or Styrofoam trays to minimally wrapped lunch items on strong paper trays covered by plastic film in paper bags. The students also brought greater knowledge and interest of how to sort their items into our bins, separating left-overs the chickens they had just visited might enjoy (like apple cores or sandwich crusts) from recycling and pitching the rest into the trash. That progression alone greatly reduced the amount of trash the school trips were producing on a weekly basis.

Nonetheless at this point it was still discouraging to see our trash barrel fill up with non-recyclable items such as paper towels, paper napkins, plastic bags. and the plastic wrapping film which had a tendency to blow away and litter the property. With news articles hitting the airways about how America's recyclables were no longer being accepted for processing by China and other countries, and the "Pacific Garbage Patch" 13 reportedly having grown to twice the size of Texas, we determined we, as an organization, could do better.

The goal of creating a "zero trash system" was inspired by two things - a conversation with a Thacher Montessori faculty member about their "TREX" bin as a receptacle for plastic bags and film, and some google searching about what we could do with those pesky napkins and paper towels.

We'd never heard of TREX but soon learned it provided the solution to one of our great frustrations - what to do with all that plastic wrapping! Thacher participated in Trex's annual Plastic Film Recycling Challenge which encourages K-12 students to compete against one another to see who can collect and recycle the most polyethylene plastic film which is then transformed into TREX' earth-friend composite products such as decking, railing, and benches.

Armed with a TREX bin, our recycle bin, and our b ucket for chicken left-overs, we were suddenly well on our way to reducing our total trash output substantially. Suddenly, the idea emerged that we could engage students to help us strive to succeed in creating ZERO trash. It could become almost a game or competition, and one with great outcome for us, the students, and the environment. But first we still had to address the predicament that surprisingly, napkins and paper towels could not go into the recycle bin, and would be too messy if added to our compost pile.
For this, another popular component of their visit would provide the solution: worms and vermicomposting ! During their field trips, often classes will have a chance to do an activity exploring worms or decomposers, investigating what's living in a scoop from the "worm compost bin." While the worms in a healthy, sustainable worm bin cannot be fed meat or left-over sandwiches like the chickens, they can and will eat and decompose paper products along with a mix of other green and brown natural refuse like grass and leaves.

So the whole spectrum of recycling, reuse, or compost had been covered and it was time to create a system of signs and bins the facilitate the process. With help from Thacher Montessori adolescents, great and informative signs were made and used during school visits along with a progressive system of for each component: TREX bin for plastic film, Food for Chickens, Food for Worms (non-meat and paper), Dirty Recycling (needing to be soaked and cleaned), Clean Recycling, and last a tiny bin for garbage. At present, the only items that have to still go into the trash are straws and juice boxes which remain unacceptable for recycling. 
The moral of the story? The volume of trash going into our dumpster is a tiny fraction of what it once was and we've continued to look for ways to further reduce waste during all our programs. We have invested in reusable glassware, dishes, silverware and use washable cloths in lieu of paper towels for staff and organizational use.

Can you attain a goal of low or no trash? Consider taking the challenge. There is a great wealth of ideas and suggestions online and if you have any suggestions for us we would love to hear them. If you want to have chickens or worms to help dispense with some of your compostable waste, contact us and we will make sure you know about our Backyard Homesteading programs to help you get started.
For a printable copy of the footnotes and links included in this issue of Dogwood Lane, click here.