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Bioblitz Connections

by Jessie Crow Mermel and Randy Mermel, AOLC On-Farm Educators

 

Angelic Organics shareholders, families, local community members, volunteer naturalists, birders, photographers and water scientists teamed up with Farmer John Peterson, some farm crew members and the Angelic Organics Learning Center team on a beautiful September afternoon. We celebrated our participation in human and non-human community with a Bioblitz on the new 70 acres in Caledonia, IL.  The purpose of a Bioblitz is for scientists, naturalists, and volunteers to spend a day intensively cataloging all plant and animal species found on a given area.  We spent the day from 9 to 3 actively discovering species on the 70 acres.  

Experts led the visitors on hikes to learn about the natural history and biodiversity of the area.  Farmer John led a tour of more than 30 people on the land with stories of his own family’s history with the woods and the creek.  Farm educators helped visitors draw connections between the wildlands and the health of the whole farm organism.  Water scientists taught families how to catch macroinvertebrates in Kinnickinnick Creek.  Everyone felt like wonder-filled children with their rain boots and D-nets in the stream, lifting up rocks and looking for life!  We found several species that were good indicators of stream health.  There were also hikes for nature photographers and artists.  Participants could go on haywagon rides for a tour of the farm and pick out pumpkins from the fields.  Children and adults were able to make masks of a creature they encountered in the woods that day to share later in the closing circle. 

Our community that day even included some goats and chickens from the Learning Center to entertain families.  The goats played an additionally important role - they helped clear invasive species out of the woods.  Their pen was placed in an area so dense with multiflora rose and buckthorn that it would have taken humans with clippers hours to clear it.  The goats happily munched on the invasive species - even relishing the thorny multiflora rose bush!  The goats proved themselves to be immensely helpful with their grazing and browsing talents to help restore balance to the forest.  

Volunteer Naturalists Greg Rajski and Judy Speer found a massive Red Oak tree in the forest.  Measuring the tree at breast height, it was 58.28 inches, beating the McHenry County record by a half an inch for this species.  This grandmother tree is likely over 350 years old.  Despite losing a large branch to a lightning hit, the tree is beautiful and healthy - a true survivor.  

At 3pm, the Native American flute playing of Jim Roberts of Four Winds Center For Spiritual Ecology brought us all together under the tent for the closing ceremonies.  The members of Four Winds led us all in song from the reverent, “This Ground is Holy” to the playful, “Dirt Made My Lunch.”  The ceremony took guests through the past, present and future of the 70 acres - beginning with Randy Mermel’s honoring of the indigenous ancestors who called this land home for centuries prior to European arrival.  Farmer John Peterson helped us connect to the last one hundred years of this land.  Angelic Organics Learning Center director Tom Spaulding continued that history and then honored the generous contributors to the Save the 70 Campaign.  He also took us on a journey into the hopes and dreams for restoration, nature programs, the workshop to build a small walking bridge over the creek with architect Roald Gunderson and the plans to build a sustainable building to help further the mission of Angelic Organics Learning Center.  Katie Townsend and Jessie Crow Mermel honored the non-human beings that we had all encountered and catalogued that day.  They began with a reminder from Thomas Berry: “The Universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”  They named off the number of bird, plant, mammal, amphibian, reptile, and creek species that were found on that day and invited anyone from the audience to share a species they had encountered.  With a shake of a rattle, each species was honored.  We closed the species roll call with a poem from Gary Snyder: 

Ah Power that swirls us together

Grant us Bliss

Grant us the great release

And to all Beings

Vanishing, wounded

In trouble on earth

We pass on this love

May their numbers increase

In ceremonious ending to the immensely successful Bioblitz, Tom Spaulding and his son Adam, armed with their guitars, led us all in their song, “This Farm is Your Farm,” creatively adapted from “This Land Is Your Land.”   This song captured the enduring spirit of community on the farm.  It was the perfect way to end a day that celebrated the connection to our greater community: to soil and stream, to bacteria and birds, to plants and people, and to food and farms.  

 

Species found on Kinnikinnick Fields during the September 15 BioBlitz

 

Reptiles - 4 species

Amphibians - 4 species

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates - 20 species

Crayfish - 3 species

Fish - 16 species

Birds - 48 species

Mushrooms - 29 species

Plants - 100+ species 

A young BioBlitz participant shares the creature he found in the creekParticipants of all ages take part in stream sampling and analysis