Going Out With A Whisper

So yesterday started my last full week of interning here.  It is drawing to a close two very long and hard months of working to get this program from a faint idea I had in my head into a finished product I could hand off to the counselors.  I have to admit that it is kind of bittersweet.  In one way I am moving on to the next stage and readying to graduate.  In another way, it is a program I designed from start to finish and hard to leave it to others to carry on.  I am still going to stop here a few times a week in the evening to upkeep the gardens.  However, after Wednesday, my control of the camp will be officially handed off.

Thankfully, there are lasting images as proof of what I have started here.

It makes me feel good to know that I have at least made some small impact on the leaders of tomorrow.  All told, about 1,800 of the younger campers will go through my smaller program and bring home their own summer squash.  This will give them a small introduction to making small differences in their own lives.  The older kids will have around 30 campers who went through the full program from start to finish.  This number is much smaller, but the targeted audience is one that already wants to make a difference for animals.  This gave me the chance to focus their goals and give them an example of how things can be run better at zoos and animal sanctuaries.  Hopefully they will take their experience here and use it for change.

In the end, I proved that there is a way to communicate the goals of sustainability to a younger generation in a way that is both fun and educational.  I provided them with hands on activities while educating them at the same time.  I was able to shape the message to my target audiences.  I used my citizen scientist approach to gather useful information to prove a hypothesis and complete a Sustainable Return on Investment.  I hope that my program continues next year and beyond.  I would love to see another intern next year grow on what I have started here (pun intended).

I know I didn’t go somewhere as cool as most of the interns.  However, my goal has always been local sustainability.  I want to bring change to an area that I am connected to.  Yes I could go to a small developing country and do these programs.  However, the largest polluters are here in the US.  I want to make a bigger dent in the overall output to the atmosphere.  Hopefully this will be a small trend that gets bigger.

Successful Camp

The first group completed my camp today.  The good news is it went pretty darn good.  The two campers gave me very positive feedback.  I hope this video works as well because I am not too sure how to add a video.

So this post is going to be very heavy on the visual because it has to do with KANGAROOS!!!! So those of you who know me know that I love KANGAROOS!!!!  So let’s begin at…well…the beginning…I think that should work best.  So today we finally got to try out my entire program.  We had two very brave campers who agreed to be the very first in what will hopefully be a great and long running program.

So the campers came out and planted two plants in the experimental browse garden.  We used Florida native soil that we went ahead and dug two deep holes.  We then lined the wholes with our great animal created compost.  We then filled in the wholes and raked the soil around the two plants.  They came out looking great.

We then moved over to the browse garden that is fully developed.  We trimmed from two trees.  The biggest being the willow tree.  We trimmed 17 branches from one and 15 from the other.  We made sure to trim only the bottom branches to assist with growth.  We then counted the amount of branches on the trees so we could calculate the biomass.  Unfortunately a few of our measuring devices had not arrived yet so we could not do more.

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Since we had extra time, we dropped off some of the browse at the sloth and bunny area.  They were unfortunately leaving for another area so we could not feed the sloths.  Instead we went down to the kangaroo section to drop off the rest.  We were lucky because we were able to go behind the scenes and feed the kangaroos the browse.  They were not a fan of having to do the work, so I found that stripping the leaves and hand feeding was their favorite.  We got to spend about 30 minutes with them and found out they love to have their belly scratched.  After we left, I was able to get feedback from the two campers and they spoke very highly of the program I created and said they would love to be a part of it again.

 

Perks of Interning…

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SO…. I have to admit I was starting to get really down at the fact that I have been surrounded by animals and creating a program to feed them better and I had yet to really get any one on one time with any of them.  I mean let’s face it, a large part of me picked up this second internship because I am an avid animal lover.  I have been accused on many occasions of caring about animals more than humans… May or not be the case.

It was very hot out today and I sweat out about 5 gallons while I was working in the browse garden.  The campers are about to arrive tomorrow and I had about 50 things left on my list to complete.  I admit I may have threatened to go on strike yesterday if I didn’t get to see some animals.  It was made worse by the fact that the safari leaders were showing off pictures of the baby hyena and their visit with him.  This was more than I could take.  I mean come on… A BABY HYENA!! Who wouldn’t be jealous of that.  I have been angling for some behind the scenes time with the kangaroos for a while now because I have a slight obsession with them.  I am sure they fear I will attempt to take one home with me.

Well today was the day I finally won them over.  After all the hard work, I was finally able to go see an animal.  This is not just an ordinary animal.  This is a world famous animal ambassador who has met both Jay Leno and David Letterman ( for those of you born after 1995, they were the late night hosts back when comedy was funny).  I had the awesome pleasure of saying hi to him and spending some quality time feeding him and getting to know him.  I must say he is so gentle.  He is also very old for a sloth.  This means he is even slower than a normal sloth.  I call it Super Sloth speed.

So let me tell you a little bit about my new friend.  He enjoys hanging out (in his tree), sleeping, and eating healthy.  I fed him some papaya, carrots, mango, and some green beans.  He and I are alike in that we don’t really feel for green beans very often.  His hair is soft and at one point he held my hand.  He takes a while to eat because he has lost most of his teeth due to old age.  However, he is still awesome.  He likes to stare right into your eyes while you talk to him or feed him.  Pretty much the coolest thing I have done since getting there a month and a half ago.  I was assured when things with camp settle down that I can have some more encounters.  I am mostly done with setting up my program and hope the kids enjoy it.IMG_20160610_163334

Make it Prettier….

So my display farm was fully functional and sustainable.  However, it looked bland and normal.  So I was asked to “make it prettier”.  Now like most guys, this is not my strongest area.  Luckily, when I was younger, I had my own landscape company.  This means it is a nice trip to the store with the BG card.  The pic to the right is 400 lb of stone, rocks, and other necessities.

I made a nice patio type arrangement.  I used the materials to design something that would look right at place in any backyard.  I then used Mr Stackey pots here in green.  I spiraled the herbs up the pots and used wildflower seeds to add some color to it.  Obviously these plants need to grow into their spaces.  I hope to post more pictures as they grow.

Part 2: I Hate Dirt

So rather than drag on and on about the same small garden area, I give you a two part blog.  So the big pile of dirt on the left is…well it is a big pile of dirt obviously.  This is the dirt I have to shovel into each of the 16 of the 4 foot by 4 foot boxes.  Just to remind all of you, it is over 90 degrees out and humidity is around 100%.  It is not very fun to shovel dirt.  The picture on the right is the completed version of 3 of those boxes.  I decided that was enough for the day as I had already planted many other things today.  The important thing is I made progress and I didn’t die of heat stroke.  Next step is to keep working on these boxes until I am done.  I hope to talk someone into assisting me soon.  Well that is all for now. I like keeping these short so that I don’t bore everyone too much talking about dirt and plants.

Behind This Door Lies Magical Wonders

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Today is almost like Xmas because you get two blog posts from me.  I must be honest and say the last few days have been hot and hectic so now is the first time I have to sit down and blog.  This post is for Yesterday, which was Tuesday.

Let me set the mood for you… Yesterday it was about 93 degrees out and the humidity was about 900000%.  That number is very accurate so don’t say I am not a qualified weather person.  I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express a few times, so I am fully qualified per the commercials.  So back to my story.  So yesterday was not a nice weather day.  Here is me after completing the pic you see above.

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Don’t let that smile fool you, it was heat stroke causing me to smile.  I am pretty sure I drank about two gallons of water and sweat our about 4 gallons of water.  The very top pic you see is my awesome 1994 Ford work truck I was allowed to drive after watching safety videos and taking a test.  Yes, that truck was made before most of you were even born.

So I set out to the browse garden and began constructing my 16 planter boxes.  It took about 3 hours baking in the sun with air humid enough to open the lid of your water bottle and spin around 3 times to fill it up.  Thankfully the boxes are assembled.  These boxes will provide the foundation of an interdepartmental program I am fostering between education, conservation, and nutrition. The idea is to have two campers come out each day for 3 days a week for 10 weeks.  These campers will plant one half of a planter box with a series of plants we wish to test.  The kids will also measure height, diameter, BRAX, and biomass of each plant.  The plants will be planted in a mixture of native soil and super animal poo compost from BG.

The goal is to see which of the 10 chosen species of plants grow the fastest, cheapest, and most sustainable.  We will then test them with the various animals to see if they like them.  We hope to show this is a more sustainable and cheaper way to feed the animals if they were to purchase 30 acres to grow their own browse.  This would cut down on the cost of trucking it in from South Florida.  It would also be healthier for the animals and cut down on CO2 emissions of the delivery trucks.  We also hope to impart this knowledge onto the students who will be assisting us.  This will further help my idea of education being directly tied to conservation.  The next step will be adding the soil and preparing the curriculum for the campers.

Just Hanging Out…

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SO….. Friday was the day to add the vertical garden to the small demo backyard sustainable garden.  I have to say this was by far the easiest part so far.  Those of you with a keen eye will realize this is right after Jambo Junction.  I get to hear all the animals as I construct my masterpiece.

The breakdown is as follows.  I got the hanging garden pots at Lowe’s for super cheap.  The dirt is just plain old top soil with some compost dirt mixed in for maximum growth potential.  The plants are reused herbs from the food and wine festival.  I am bringing them back to life as we speak.  I just found out today (Wednesday) that I must create a second way to secure them so they don’t risk falling on the heads of guests at the park.  Makes sense to me.  I also installed a thermometer and rain meter for the kids to monitor.

For those of you wondering how the rain barrel is doing, yesterday’s rain completely filled all 50 gallons of it.  Needless to say I have plenty of water to water my herbs with, and the plants nearby, and anything else I can find so that my area doesn’t become swampy.

I was asked today to make it look prettier, being a guy I obviously had to ask for more guidance on this matter.  My suggestion of garden gnomes was not well received.  So tomorrow I am going to go to the hardware store and see what looks nice to give it the true backyard garden look we are going for (I use “we” to mean those I am building the garden for, I go for functional).  I also have 6 more hanging planters that are on their way to us.  They will be filled with more herbs.  I also plan to ad a trellis to the back of the garden so I can grow some vegetables.  I will keep you all posted on further progress, and feel free to drop by to BG and see it for yourself.

 

The Beginning of a Sustainable Garden

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Today marks the first day of the physical garden being constructed.  Before this, it was just a thought in my head.  This is just the small part.  I will be constructing 16 more of these in the Browse Garden at BG.  Those will be used for a summer camp program I am creating.  This program will serve multiple departments in BG.  For the overnight campers (high school age), the garden will be a major project.  Each day two campers will come down and plant half of a plot.  They will then measure the growth of the previous week’s planters.  We will record this information.  They will each also plant a different species of plants.  This will be used by the nutrition department to try which browse plants the animals prefer.  We will also use the growth rates to test how fast and healthy the plants grow.  We will test the soil and the compost and see what grows best.  The park will then use this data to propose to corporate how they can now large scale grow their own browse.

For me, I get to test out multiple sustainable farming techniques and record the data.  I also get to create a camp program around the benefits of sustainable farming.  I also get to reduce the CO2 output of the park’s animal department.  Hopefully, I will also get to feed a few kangaroos as well….  I will post more pics and information as the week progresses and I have more in the ground.  This pic shows the small one I am creating for the smaller kids at day camp.  It will consist of this 4X8 planter of browse items, three small hanging gardens, and the rainwater catchment system you see in the pic.  It is 75% done as of today

Drawing Inspiration From the Mouse

Every great mind must draw inspiration from somewhere right?  I am not saying I am Einstein working on the Theory of Relativity or Flogging Molly cranking out another awesome song.  I would put myself in the lesser categories.  I love USF PCGS.  Just throwing that in there.

IMG_20160422_101159351_HDROk so I got way off topic there.  Let’s get back to the mouse.  So I have basically completed the creation of my masterpiece.  The camp program is glossy and complete.  I have already given the handbook to KTBB for review.  They love it as of this point.  Only time will tell once it is put to use.  However, I am still working on it behind the scenes to make it even better.  I am also starting a second internship at Busch Gardens to create a sustainable farming program for their summer camp program.

Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms.  This inspiration happens to stem (yes I intended that as a pun and expect at least one of you to laugh at my bad joke) from a trip to the land of the mouse and a kingdom for animals.  I leave their name out because BG is using my services.  On a recent trip to the kingdom, I noticed that their animals were eating fresh food and looked very healthy and mostly content with their own environment.  They are mostly out in the open which is true for BG as well.  I think I can use this to push harder for the sustainable agriculture program to be used to grow food for the animals.  I am hoping this idea comes to fruition.  I think it is a sound idea and hope to push it further.  wish me luck……

The birth of a summer camp program

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Every story has to start somewhere….and mine starts here.  Being a professional with a career, I decided to take the leap and go back to school.  Because of this, I had to stay local for my internship.  I was already interning at Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful when they asked me if I would stay with them and create a series of eco-learning kayak tours to highlight their new Trash Free Waters initiative.  I figured this would be a great fit and be nice because I already knew everyone and it was close to my home.

So here I am… This picture is me standing down by the Hillsborough River trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do.  They were nice enough to give me almost complete freedom to create what I felt would work best.  Freedom is great, until you have brain drain.  So suffice it to say, I stood down by the river for a while and just enjoyed nature.  Nothing is more relaxing than standing and watching time pass by with nowhere to be.

After enjoying the scenery for a while, it finally hit me what I wanted to do.  I wanted to create three tours that each highlighted a different feature and area of the river as well as each tour having a different approach to the citizen scientist model.  When I was about to walk back to our office, I noticed there was an abandoned house on our property.  It struck me as odd for it to just sit there with no purpose.  So I walked back into our office and went to see my supervisor.  I asked her what the deal with the house was.  I was told the City of Tampa owned it.

Here is that moment… The moment you open your mouth and can never turn back.  So I said “that is such a waste of a house, we could do a really cool summer camp out of that house, is there a way to get that house”.  So we can easily say that I spoke my mind before thinking.  The conversation came to a screeching halt.  My supervisor had that light bulb look in her eyes.  “That would be awesome, would you be willing and able to create one based on water conservation and trash reduction” she asked.  Me being me, I said of course… So here we stand down by the river again…..

 

WE GOT THE HOUSE

on MARCH 20, 2016

Ok followers… Sorry there is no pic today, but one will follow soon.  So the main obstacle to my summer camp becoming a reality was getting the City of Tampa to gift us the second house on the property.  This is the house that I wanted to use for my summer camp… Well… We got it.  Now comes the waiting game.  We have to wait for them to survey the property and see what needs to be fixed.  It is still exciting that something I asked about in passing became a reality.  This is exciting.

So that big hurdle is down and on to the next hurdles aka grants.  We have already applied for several grants.  I applied for one for just my research.  Unfortunately, the DOE did not find my research to be fascinating enough apparently.  This is going to be a very short post because I have way too much school work to do and not nearly enough time to do it.