Farm Stand!

30 Jul

[This is the third in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

July 7th is a sunny Monday, and also my first farm stand day on campus. Since May, I have cared for the vegetables, herbs and fruits in the Smith Community Garden as they have grown and matured. I have been excitedly waiting to hold the farm stand and share my harvest with other people. Before actually picking the fresh produce at the garden this morning, I used to worry about not having enough for a two-hour farm stand. But then I lowered down my body and crawled under raspberry bushes to collect the reddish and good-looking fruits. I cut off onion leaves and mixed mustard leaves. I bowed down over the soil, and when I looked up to reach the green beans hidden under leaves and vines, I suddenly felt such a strong sense of appreciation deep in my heart. I praised the nature for their generosity and kindness of providing me all the harvests just like someone praising their gods.

I went to the Campus Center and got a big bright yellow paper to use as a poster for the farm stand. The CC staff also kindly provided me a table for displaying the produce. Placing out the labels with the prices that Kathy (from Dining Services) have helped me set, and arranging berries and beans in the lovely blue boxes, I felt like a real farmer-the people we see at Farmer’s Markets who usually collect fresh produce in the early morning, bring all the items to the market place, and are ready for selling by noon time.

To make sure that people get the most satisfactory and worthwhile produce, I carefully cut off all the withered or bug-bitten leaves. I also shook the dirt out of the roots so they are clean- though I left a little bit of the dirt as a sign that it’s organic and fresh.

Farm stand poster                 The poster I made for the first farm stand in the summer of 2014

farm stand         View of the farm stand in front of Chapin House, facing Chapin lawn.

It was a really windy day! My first challenge was to find a way to keep everything from blowing away. After struggling for several minutes, I figured out how to keep everything either on the table or on the ground. As you can see from the picture above, the first farm stand wasn’t perfect, and I worried that its untidy appearance would keep people from stopping as they walked by. Luckily, some of my friends came and supported me by buying my produce, and locals even went home to get money to buy berries. Some volunteers who came to my Friday afternoon working party also dropped by. I even had an interesting conversation with a Museum of Art staff member about the challenges of getting fresh food that people face in his home country of Morocco. Our conclusion? The potential for gardening- on roofs and in small spaces – is very real for anyone who is interested enough. Sure, there are challenges, large and small, but with a little creativity there is no reason more people can’t plant vegetables or herbs on roofs, in pots, or in place of grassy lawns. Join us in the Smith Community Garden and you might just gain the skills and confidence that will help you launch your first home garden when you are ready!

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People really love the raspberries and red currants
– they are a treat to look at AND eat!

onions
Onions with their blossoms.

 bok
Fresh picked Bok Choy.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.

A Trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery

29 Jul

[This is the second in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer.]

06/18/14

All the smith horticulture interns took a trip to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Boston today. This cemetery was the first garden-cemetery established in the United States. I used to have the stereotype that cemeteries should be tombs arranged in rows and columns. In my imaginary cemetery, big trees are scattered and weeds knee high create a gloomy and fearful atmosphere. However, the trip today changed my mind sharply. It’s a brand new idea for me to think that a cemetery can also be a garden itself.

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The reception building of the Mount Auburn Cemetery

Since a cemetery is usually mostly grass, it seems such a wise decision to turn what might be just a weedy landscape into a garden. This way, when people look out across the city, say, from Beacon Hill where the new State House is, the cemetery will not stand out as different or unsightly. A garden cemetery saves ground resources by having the function of a cemetery on a garden landscape, beatifies the urban area and incorporates beauty and function into the city plan.

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The view from the highest point in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

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A public monument.

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A Victorian garden.

The path that curves in front of the church was originally for chariots to change direction. An increasing number of weddings are held at the church- perhaps because of publicity about the beauty of the landscape? Besides wedding ceremonies, it is also common for people to sit on the lawn in front of the church and have picnics under a beech tree planted by the Prince of Wales.

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The purple beech tree, planted on October 19, 1860 by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII).

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The gravestones have been incorporated into the lawn. The lawn is mowed regularly and great care has been taken.

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It is seldom to see such bright colored roses in a cemetery. With the flower petals raining down on the gravestones, the soul lying underneath may even smell the fragrance.

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Willow Lake.

There are some grave markers settled around the lake. People who love water sports, like canoeing, kayaking and swimming might like to sleep permanently here. Green and blue algae used to be a big problem for the lake. However, a newly constructed drainage system now filters algae out, helping to avoid the eventual flooding that unhampered growth would cause.

-Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.

Looking Back- A Visit to the Vernal Pool

25 Jul

Last April, I organized a trip for the second graders of the Smith College Campus School to visit the vernal pools at the MacLeish Field Station as part of a special studies with professor Jesse Bellemare. I am a ‘14 Smith graduate with a degree in biology and plans to go into research. However, I am also very interested in educational outreach that connects young children to nature, which I wish to pursue once I become more established in my career as a biologist. Thus I saw this special studies as the perfect opportunity to gain some experience and utilize what I had learned in both my ecology and education courses.

Vernal pools are very common in western Massachusetts, and MacLeish is home to several. They are depressions in the ground that fill with water either from snowmelt or rainfall in early spring, and dry up completely later on throughout the year. The complete drying out and the absence of an incoming water source prohibit fish from surviving. This lack of predatory fish allows many species of amphibians to mate and breed in the pool. Two types of animals live in vernal pools: obligate and facultative. Obligate animals depend on vernal pools to survive while facultative do not. A vernal pool must have obligate species living in it to be considered a vernal pool. Obligate species include fairy shrimp, the wood frog, the spotted salamander, the blue spotted salamander, and the Jefferson salamander. Facultative species include the spring peeper and the gray treefrog; insects such as the whirligig beetle, caddis fly, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and the diving beetle; and other visitors such as raccoon, blue heron, and turtle and snake species.

vernal pool - MacLeish                                                      A vernal pool at MacLeish.

Several of the second graders were already familiar with vernal pools and all of them were excited to learn about more about them, especially after they read the book The Secret Pool by Kimberly Ridley in class. Their enthusiasm was very infectious and I was quite impressed at the quality and quantity of their questions.

I brought each class of second graders down to MacLeish’s largest vernal pool while the other class went on a nature walk. Each student had their own net, and they explored in groups to search for whatever critters they could find. We then brought all the samples back to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and placed the creatures in Petri dishes for the children to look at under dissecting microscopes. We looked at horsehair worms, mosquito larvae, a toe-biter (giant water bug larvae), fingernail clams, fairy shrimp, salamander and wood frog eggs, and other critters found in the detritus of the vernal pool. The students consulted field guides with me and, when they found an organism of considerable interest, took out their naturalist notebooks and sketched a scientific drawing.

Spotted salamander eggs - MacLeish                                                        Spotted salamander eggs.

The field trip was a great success and the children left wanting more time with the microscopes. The chaperones and teachers were as curious and as eager to learn as the students. I believe everyone left the Field Station with a better understanding of vernal pools and an interest to learn more about the creatures that inhabit them. I left the experience even more excited to continue with educational outreach in the future. We hope for the field trip to be an annual event, with a new Smith student interested in scientific outreach leading it each year.

Sarah Gaffney ’14 graduated this spring with a major in biological sciences and a minor in Spanish. She was a proud member of Morris House during all four of her years at Smith. Sarah now works as a field technician in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, where she performs surveys of the area’s vegetation and assists with research on bears, elk, and deer. In her spare time she enjoys knitting, reading, and watching Netflix.

First Friday Afternoon Working Party

24 Jul

[This is the first in a series of posts by Junzhou Liu, '17 about her experience as garden manager for the student-run Smith Community Garden and intern for the Botanic Garden this summer. Junzhou is a rising sophomore and a potential biochemistry major and economics minor originally from Beijing, China. This academic year Junzhou is moving from Park House, where she spent her first year, to Hopkins House, where she hopes to continue to meet new people and enjoy making and eating food from different cultures with others.]

06/06/14

Today was the first Friday afternoon work party. I was so nervous even after I prepared as best I knew how -with some help I sent an announcement about the work party on edigest, I asked a contact in the School of Social Work to announce it to students during their orientation, and an email reminder went out to students on the [ENVIRO] and SURF lists. I bought snacks and supplies, and  this morning I went to the garden and got the tools out of the storage room. I even found gloves for volunteers to wear. I kept feeling nervous until I welcomed the first student volunteer of my working party, Ann, who is a Smithie and works for a local radio station this summer.

Better than I expected, Joanne, Polly, and Jen all dropped by to help me differentiate between herbs and vegetable seedlings, and Joanne, Ann and Fiona (a SSW student) helped me a lot with weeding. We moved a bench from the raised bed side of the plots to the permaculture side. We weeded the area near the 10 raised beds and the two vegetable pots. We were also able to spread wood chips around each raised beds to help prevent the soil inside from getting washed out by heavy rain. Joanne helped us label plants in the garden and Polly helped us start kale seedlings in Capen greenhouse.

picnic                                  Weeding the raised bed side of the garden plots.

I tried my best to take care of all my volunteers and ask them to get a drink after each 30-40 minutes ( I do really calculate the time by looking at my watch quite frequently). After we finished working for the day, Ann, Fiona and I sat around the picnic table in the shade and shared our stories. I felt satisfied with all we had accomplished, and proud of my work when they each told me how well-organized and interesting the working party was.

Soil Sampling and Nitrogen at MacLeish Field Station

23 Jul

For the past ten weeks, we have been working as summer interns for professor Amy Rhodes. Some of our work has been collecting soil from forest plots at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station as part of the ongoing MacLeish soil project which was established in 2012. This soil collection is unique in that we collect from pairs of distinct types of plots: one deciduous and one hemlock. Selective logging in the history of the field station created these side-by-side plots, perfect for research.

Each of the plots we have been sampling from has been divided into seven subplots, delineated by bright orange garden flags and biodegradable twine. Multiple times a week we have gone out to the plots to use a fancy tool we call a soil corer and a fancy storage container we call a cooler with ice packs and brought back to campus upwards of fourteen soil samples to be analyzed and processed in the lab.

Hannah                                               Hannah takes a core sample.

 Cooler                               The cooler with a day’s harvest of soil core samples.

Our major focus has been looking at nitrogen in the form of nitrate and ammonium. Many of the hemlock trees at MacLeish are dying because of two invasive insects: the Woolly Adelgid and Hemlock Scale. This has resulted in a change of the forest ecology as black birch trees gradually take the place of hemlocks. We are looking to see if there is a significant difference between the nitrogen found in the soil beneath the hemlock trees and that found in the soil beneath black birch trees. We use the IC to analyze the total nitrate and ammonium in each of the plots.

Taylor                                     Taylor after a day of coring.

Taylor is in the process of crunching our data with R-Studio. She is deftly tackling the difficulties of working with Excel and is contrasting our time in the field with equal time on the computer. Luckily, the fragrance of the delicious forest air lingers in our nostrils and our recent memories of being outdoors sustain us as we settle down to forge ahead on the inside-on-the-computer portion of our work.

We both agree that ten weeks has slipped by quicker than soil passes through our 2mm sieves. Our time in the field, and in the lab, has been rewarding both in our understanding of data collection and analysis, and in the way a lab setting creates interactions between incredible minds. Soil has appeared to have permanently wedged itself under our fingernails, and while vigorous hand washing may eventually remediate that situation, we will lament its loss, and look forward to another opportunity to get our hands dirty

-Hannah Francis ’16 is an environmental geosciences major and is typically cooking or baking when she is not swimming as a member of the Smith swimming and diving team.
-Taylor Jones ’17 is a biological sciences major, and loves backpacking, being outside and playing with her puppy whenever she can.

Hannah and Taylor’s internships were supported by the Smith’s SUmmer Research Fellowship (SURF) program and CEEDS.

Learning to understand a food forest

1 Jul

The outdoor realm of the world has always held more fascination for me than that of the built environment, mostly, I think, because of the variety of smells. At home, those smells were pine needles and green peas, strawberries and mulch. In Ecuador, where I’m completing a two-month tropical food production internship on a biosphere reserve, the smells are vastly different but still provide fascination for me; the smells of maracullá and papaya, donkeys and thatched roofs mingle with motor oil and moist air for an intoxicating mixture of jungle community. When I first arrived in the 350-person community of Camarones four weeks ago, I made the three-kilometer trek up to the Jama-Coaque Biosphere Reserve. I unpacked in the bamboo tree house and became acquainted with the moist evergreen forest surrounding me. I looked out on the tree-covered mountains and immediately took stock of what was lacking from my normal view—power lines, roofs, and road cuts, to name a few. What was present was thereby made more special—I saw powerful hummingbirds hovering over passion flowers, countless bizarre insects, as well as a mish-mash of fruit trees and shrubs that would soon become my fascination. About an acre of the Jama-Coaque Reserve is a permaculture food forest, and this site is where I’m spending most of my time.

I’m learning more and more that a permaculture system looks akin to a half-forgotten forest. And even more, I’m learning this laissez-faire appearance is intentional—strived for even. This is hard for me to comprehend; I come from a suburban New England town where lawns were the norm and any stray dandelion was blasphemous and immediately attacked with any number of chemicals, from RAID to Windex. In school, I was praised for having all my papers in numerical order and at home I was rewarded for keeping the table clean. These subtle influences made me want to control everything in my reach. This tendency mostly manifests itself in a clean room, doing most of the driving on road trips, and taking on the mother role in many friend groups.

This controlling trait of mine has also applied to most of the gardening I’ve done in my life. Gardening brings me joy and peace because I have a hand in producing the food that I consume. Neat rows, not a single maple seedling in sight, and beautifully trellised tomatoes are my favorite TV shows and I could watch them for hours. Of course, there have been mishaps, including a slapdash pea trellis, and a bunch of tomatoes whose growth was stunted when I mistook their terminal buds for suckers (suckers are sometimes removed from tomatoes so that energy is sent to a few tomatoes to make them bigger—in this case, the tomato plants had to send lots of energy into a sucker stem to create a new terminal bud).

Nothing compares, though, to the chaos and beauty of permaculture. To my control-focused brain, a permaculture system is difficult to comprehend, but I’m coming to understand the purpose. Along with the general food production my internship entails, I will also be getting a Permaculture Design Certification. This certification will verify that I am capable of designing a system that might look like an overgrown forest but that is so productive the fruits of my labor will literally be falling on my head (this is not an exaggeration—I’ve had maracullá, or passion fruit, fall off its vine into my lap while reading in a hammock).

The food production side of the reserve is still young, but some of my favorite permaculture techniques that the reserve employs include a water filtration system that uses beneficial bacteria that inhabit sand and eat harmful microorganisms, making the river water potable; planting ginger rhizomes to outcompete weeds; and utilizing the cleansing properties of banana and yucca plants to filter our grey water. I am also learning the concepts of design, which really just define common sense principles of using a problem to create a solution, among other things. The crux of permaculture is to design sustainable human settlements, something we all need to put all of our time and energy into.

Life on the reserve is similar to a permaculture system—while most of our food still does not come from the backyard, bananas, oranges, limes, passion fruit, yucca, oreganon, spicy ají peppers and a spinach-like green called verdulaga come in from the food forest and supplement our diet. Our days are relaxed and full of learning. The day starts at eight, maybe clearing the understory with machetes or harvesting oranges and cacao in the forest, followed by an extended lunch, and then permaculture class. The day ends at four and a good two or three hours of my afternoon are consumed by reading (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert are my latest obsessions). Since there is no electricity, dinners are shared by candlelight and then after a game of cards it’s to bed at 8:30.

One of the things I’ll miss the most when I return to the States is having an infinite supply of fresh local bananas at my doorstep. The coast of Ecuador is prime banana country—“banana heaven” is what my intern coordinator called it—and each week it’s someone’s chore to harvest a whole stalk. Bananas are actually overgrown herbaceous plants, not trees, and their vascular system is amazing. To harvest the fruit, one must cut down the plant, which then exudes copious amounts of sap. Each xylem tube of the plant is visible to the naked eye, making the cut stump look something like a beehive, but with rectangular holes instead of hexagonal. A banana stalk contains anywhere between 25-35 bananas and terminates in a long stem holding its purple flower bud. Since all bananas that are cultivated today are clones, bananas do not reproduce sexually, so this flower never gets to complete its natural cycle. Bananas produce pups at their base, which grow into subsequent plants in about nine month. I pretty much swore off of bananas a while ago for the well-known politico-social reasons, but while in Ecuador I’m planning to consume as many as my body can stand and appreciate this bizarre fruit’s sweetness while I can.

The most recent adventure in tropical food production surrounded a pile of light-brown fermented seedpods. These seeds had been harvested from age-old trees and their orange outer-pods sat fermenting in a bag for about three days and then spent the past two weeks drying in the sun. Yesterday, we toasted them over a low flame and then cracked open the casings to reveal a midnight black oval with a delicious fragrance. Once ground, this end result was turned into xocolatl—“bitter liquid” in the Aztec language Nahuatl. In other words, hot chocolate. From the tree to the cup, chocolate takes on many forms, and in the process I experienced we didn’t even make a classic chocolate bar. Yet I have to say my favorite part of this whole cacao process was not sipping of the panela-sweetened drink but sucking on the freshly harvested outer pods, which are coated with a sweet and slightly tangy goo that is absolute heaven. My fellow food production interns and I sat for about an hour shelling the pods and intermittently sticking one into our mouths to enjoy that sweet flavor. Cacao is actually native to Ecuador, yet most modern cacao does not come from here. However, the majority of the highest quality cacao is grown in coastal Ecuador, right near the reserve. So while I’m eating locally now, I will sadly never be able to taste the fine flavor of Ecuadorian cacao in a Hershey’s bar…but who needs those anyway? I’ll have my chaotic, fruit-falling permaculture garden design to keep me happy when I return.

P.S. I apologize for the lack of pictures—we operate with limited technology up here! If you’d like some photos of this project, visit the reserve’s website at http://www.tmalliance.org, their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.780585085294384.1073741834.154975601188672&type=1 or check out my fellow intern’s blog at http://sarahkbarney.wordpress.com/.

-Julia Graham, ’16

Invasive Plants at MacLeish Field Station

14 Jun

We recently built a connector trail from the Bechtel Living Building to the Fire Pavilion. Through the creation of this trail we encountered three prominent invasive species in the woods.

Photo showing the effects of bittersweet by Reid Bertone-Johnson.

Photo showing the effects of bittersweet by Reid Bertone-Johnson.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is a vine that is attacking the forest at MacLeish Field Station. Bittersweet was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant from Asia in the 1860s. People loved bittersweet for its bright red berries that serve as a great winter decoration. The high numbers of berries contribute to both the vine’s success and destructive power. Animals spread the seeds, which have a very high germination rate, causing the vine to spread easily and grow quickly. In doing so, it shades out plants and occasionally uproots trees with its weight. Bittersweet is taking over entire sections of the forest at MacLeish and we are left wondering what the future will look like with this vine in the picture.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

In 1866 multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) was introduced as a rootstock for ornamental rose grafts. In the 1930s the cultivation of multiflora rose was encouraged as a means of erosion control and a natural animal barrier for livestock. Since the land that makes up the Field Station was once farmland, it is not surprising to find large amounts of multiflora rose in forested areas that were previously cleared. Landowners were encouraged by state conservation departments to use it as a food source for songbirds as well as wildlife cover. This contributed to the plant’s broad dispersal. Due to its ability to produce numerous hardy seeds that are viable for up to twenty years and the difficulty of the plant’s removal, many states have classified multiflora rose as an invasive species.

Another invasive species we encountered was barberry (Berberis thunbergii), which is native to Japan and was introduced as an ornamental plant in 1875. In 1896, the plant was used as hedgerows and as a source for dyes and jams. This shrub ranges from 2 to 8 feet in height and is avoided by deer in preference of the native variety of barberry, which gives the Japanese variety an advantage for survival. Barberry was once considered an attractive and easy to grow addition to a garden but due to its propensity for reseeding and replacing native species on forest floors, it is a plant that should be removed from existing gardens and not included in new ones.

Our next blog will bring you up to date on our progress on the fruit orchard. We’ll be sure to include some pictures. Keep checking in!

Jen Rioux ’15 and Jo Harvey ‘AC

Celebrating World Oceans Day in the Coral Triangle

9 Jun

In honor of World Oceans Day, I begin with what is intended to be a series of blogs about my experience researching marine resource use and conservation in Indonesia through the Fulbright Scholarship.  My adventures thus far in Indonesia have led me to explore some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs, interview small-scale fishermen in a foreign language, climb volcanoes, commit to a diet of rice, live in a present day kingdom, learn to drive a motorbike in terrifying traffic, and become an even greater steward of our planet’s lungs- the ocean. With barely 1% of the ocean protected and the dark reality of ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and collapsing fish populations, I invite readers on a journey to acknowledge the beauty, significance, and promise of marine ecosystems.

On Friday morning, May 17, I waited among crowds of eager government officials, scientists and students, NGO and international aid representatives, and the press, for the Vice-President of Indonesia to give an opening speech for the World Conference on Coral Reefs. The arrival of the Vice-President to the conference marked Indonesia’s commitment to the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF)- a multilateral six-country partnership between Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. The goal of the conference was to ensure sustainable marine and coastal management in the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem. Discussed during the conference was how to preserve the 600 different coral species and 2,500 reef fish among other unique creatures, while providing food and economic benefits to the 363 million people reside that in the Coral Triangle.

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The 4-day conference consisted of a series of events and meetings focused on writing the Coral Triangle Initiative legislation, coral reef and marine protected area policy, development of aquaculture and seaweed industries, coastal and marine tourism, and Blue Carbon. The promise and power of the ocean to provide wealth and regulate our biosphere was appropriately celebrated. For example, Blue Carbon was advertised as a new program that could be used to reduce our atmospheric CO2 by conserving seagrass, mangrove, and salt marsh ecosystems. These systems are actually far more efficient (maybe up to 100 times faster) at sequestering carbon than terrestrial forests, but one of the most threatened by rapid development and tourism (1). And if I was not delighted enough by the exchange of thought, there was even the launching of the CTI-CFF Women’s Forum that honors the role of six women pioneers in sustaining coral reefs, and ensures that the rights and role of women in marine industries and conservation will be acknowledged. I applaud the leadership of these six countries to create a regional alliance and hope that this type of momentum and cooperation can be found elsewhere in global climate change arenas in the future.

CT Boundaries Map 2011 Nov 9_Final

In my work researching the sustainability of grouper in small-scale fisheries of Indonesia, I cannot overemphasize the necessity and urgency of increasing marine sustainability. For the past 4 months, I have been working with small-scale fishermen and fishmongers to collect samples of grouper fish. My goal is to compile data on current grouper stock structure and help create a database at the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center so that these populations can be analyzed using genetic tools. Secondly, I plan to discuss previous and future conservation of grouper and grouper reproductive behavior (spawning aggregates) with stakeholders (i.e. fishermen, NGOs, management officials, scientists). By interviewing various stakeholders, I will collect information about fishing practices, prices, target species, and areas of highest production.

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Although my work is focused locally on a few islands in Indonesia, it has some surprisingly strong international ties.  Grouper is a high-value species (a 1 billion USD market) that has been a main component of the growing Asian live-reef fish and luxury seafood trade. Indonesia is one of the top grouper fish producers in the world, yet most local citizens are denied the enjoyment of this high quality seafood. My study has led me to understand that small-scale fisheries are tightly networked with export industries through fish collectors. By travelling to small villages throughout the archipelago of Indonesia and sending the fish overnight to Bali (the center of export to Taiwan and Hong Kong), the access of these export businesses appear geographically unlimited. More shocking to me, are the economic gaps between small-scale fishermen and international exporters and the lack of ability to negotiate price. With roughly a quarter of all grouper species at risk of becoming extinct, the recent increase in the export of grouper is a great concern for the sustainability of small-scale fisheries.

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I’ve been dreaming of turtles, nudibranchs, crabs, sharks, seahorses, and every other bizarre creature that inhabits coral reefs since I was a child. When I applied for a Fulbright, it was my goal to work with and further understand the communities that rely on directly marine resources for food and economic gain. Yet a reality that has presented itself to me through the course of this research is that my once pristine imagery of coral reefs now includes humans. Fortunately, as stewards of the sea we can choose to have positive rather than negative impacts on these impeccably beautiful ecosystems. While the balance between preservation and resource use is still a mind-blogging puzzle, it is my perception that education, open communication, and community-based effort are the most likely solutions. So, in respect to the theme of this year’s World Oceans Day, I reiterate that whether you are an Indonesian fishermen, a mathematician, an artist, a home-maker, a politician, or a firecracker of a Smith student or alumna (I know there are few of those) “Together, we have the power to protect the oceans”.

Happy World Oceans Day!

Sarah Tucker, ’13

Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center
Fulbright Student 2013-2014

 

References :

http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/

http://bluecarbonportal.org/

http://www.coraltriangleinitiative.org/events/world-coral-reef-conference

http://www.eco-internships.com/2012/05/21/one-quarter-grouper-species-fished-extinction/

Meet this summer’s CEEDS Interns

6 Jun

My name is Jen Rioux and I am a rising senior at Smith College majoring in Environmental Science and Policy and minoring in Landscape Studies. I am one of the two CEEDS interns working with Reid Bertone-Johnson at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station this summer through Smith’s Summer Research Fellows program (SURF). SURF facilitates formal summer research opportunities with Smith College faculty. I am excited to explore the field station and learn more about its history and envision ways it will be used in the future. I am especially interested in the effects of oriental bittersweet, an invasive, non-native vine that is taking over parts of the forest. I hope to create some sort of management plan for keeping the vine from spreading further. I will keep you updated.

And…

I’m Jo Harvey and I just completed my first year here at Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar after transferring from Southern Maine Community College in Portland. I hope to apply my science background from previous biotechnology studies toward my current major of Environmental Science and Policy. Since my job immediately prior to coming to Smith required sitting at a desk in front of a computer, I’m thrilled that this internship at MacLeish will allow me to be outside for the summer. I expect to learn a lot from this experience, and now that we’re midway through our second week working at the field station, I’m excited to help find ways to increase the use of the property by Smith students, faculty, and staff.

Jen_Jo
Jen and Jo (l. to r.) at MacLeish.

During the first two weeks of our internship we’ve been working on maintenance projects that have allowed us to become more familiar with the property. We have wrapped up many school-year projects, repaired an all-terrain wheelchair as well as the solar panel for an electric fence, done general trail maintenance, begun taking steps to sheet mulch the Fruit Orchard (established with a generous gift from former College President Carol Christ), and we have completed a large portion of a new connector trail from the building to the fire pavilion. Through this work we have come in contact with a variety of invasive species. Check back next week for a post about invasive species at the MacLeish Field Station.

-Jen Rioux (‘15) and Jo Harvey (‘AC)

If a Rain Drop Falls in the Forest, does it Affect Northampton?

14 May

Over the last few weeks of this semester, students in our Ecohydrology class at Smith College have taken on challenging hydrologic questions that are relevant to our community. In this post, Sophie D’Arcy, Natalie Forrest Gill, and Lauren Weston address the question: What is the effect of logging and forest regrowth on the amount of water available in Northampton’s reservoirs during the month of August?

 R_WWdam
Ryan and West Whately dam

In the winter of 2013, the City of Northampton implemented its Forest Management Plans by selectively logging the Ryan, West Whately, and Mountain Street watersheds(1) – the area of land that drains water to Northampton’s reservoirs. This action sparked a debate about the impacts of logging a public resource and its effect on the quality of the environment.

Forests play an important hydrologic role by influencing the way in which water flows over the landscape and through the soil, impacting both water quality and quantity. Maintaining the health and diversity of the forest promotes high water quality by reducing processes such as erosion and sedimentation(2). The forest management plans were developed with the intention of maintaining water quality, with little impact on quantity(3). One such practice involves the selective cutting of unhealthy or disease-vulnerable species.

The forest management plans outline silvicultural practices to be used in the forested watersheds of the town’s three reservoirs over the coming years(1). Adhering to responsible forest management practices developed for the northeastern United States, the city has determined that 26.8% of the Ryan and West Whately and 4% of the Mountain Street watersheds are suitable for cutting(1). Some of these practices include refraining from cutting near vulnerable water systems, on steep land, and in areas where growth of invasive species are likely to occur(1).

Although Northampton is primarily focused on maintaining water quality, an analysis of the quantity of available water is relevant because residents of Northampton are often subjected to water usage restrictions in the month of August. Several studies have determined that reduction in forest cover results in an increase in water yield(2); in the case of Northampton, this would correspond to an increase in the city’s water supply. This is due to the interception and transpiration of water by trees, reducing the amount of water flowing into the reservoirs.

According to the forest management plans, 341.5 acres are intended to be cut between 2012 and 2017(1). At most, the city will cut 25% of each sub-watershed over a ten year period(1).Studies performed in experimental watersheds in other parts of the Northeast suggest that increases in water yield cannot be detected from reductions in forest cover of less than 20%(4). Therefore, it is not likely that any change to the amount of water available to Northampton will be noticeable.

Even if a change in the quantity of water in the reservoirs does occur, water usage restrictions would not be directly affected. This is because water restrictions are based on the average daily stream flow at a stream gauge on the Mill River, which is not directly connected to the reservoirs(5).

Perhaps the best way to move forward is to monitor the amount of water available in these reservoirs to determine if, in fact, the management practices have caused changes. If the water yield increases, the city may then reconsider its methods of water restriction determination. Continuous direct measurement of the water depth in the reservoirs of the forested watersheds would allow for a clearer rationale behind usage restrictions for the community.

The debate over logging in Northampton is not over; conversations regarding the stakeholders and decision makers involved in these plans and the true effects on the watershed will surely continue.

Works Cited

[1] City of Northampton, Massachusetts. Department of Public Works. Combined Forest Stewardship Overview: “Ryan Reservoir & West-Whately Reservoir Watersheds” and the “Mountain Street Reservoir” Watershed , Land of the City of Northampton, Department of Public Works, Hatfield, Conway, Whately and Williamsburg, MA. By Michael Mauri. Northampton MA: n.p., 2012.Watershed Protection and Management. City of Northampton, Massachusetts, 21 June 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
[2] Hewlett, John. Principles of Forest Hydrology . 1969. Reprint. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1982. Print.
[3] Correspondences with Nicole Sandford. Senior Environmental Scientist. City of Northampton,Department of Public Works.
[4] Brown, Alice E., Lu Zhang, Thomas A. McMahon, Andrew W. Western, and Robert A. Vertessy. “A Review of Paired Catchment Studies for Determining Changes in Water Yield Resulting from Alterations in Vegetation.” Journal of Hydrology 310 (2005): 28-61. ScienceDirect. Elsevier. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
[5] City of Northampton, Massachusetts. Department of Public Works, Water Division. Water Restriction Policy. Ed. Edward S. Huntley. City of Northampton, Massachusetts, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
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