- Author: Linda Forbes
University of California Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program in Santa Clara County partnered with multiple community organizations to hold a 4-H Nature Explorers Day Camp at Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy in East San Jose from July 17 to July 21.
Organizers wanted to reach more participants this year than they had in the inaugural 2022 camp, so they structured the program for different K-8 grade levels to attend on different days. 79 campers participated, which was a 130% increase over the number of campers last year.
“Everything we did during the week was focused on environmental science,” said Susan Weaver, 4-H Regional Program Coordinator. “We partnered with Project Learning Tree, UC Environmental Stewards, UC Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC– as well as community agencies related to the natural environment.”
Numerous activities engaged the youths such as field trips; demonstrations; and sessions themed around trees as habitats, birds and bugs, and being “leaf detectives.” 4-H Adult Volunteer, Laura Tiscareno, took charge of the hands-on Project Learning Tree sessions. Craft time included making nature-themed wind chimes and spinning paper snakes.
Bilingual teen camp counselors guided small groups of students for the duration of the day camp. In situations where the adult facilitator did not speak Spanish, teens translated information into Spanish for students with less English confidence.
“These kids call me ‘teacher' and it's awesome,” said Rodrigo, one of the counselors. “The camp benefits me a lot because I connect with children and in the future, I can even be a teacher if I wanted to.”
Another counselor, Andrea, learned about communication. “It's a bit different with kids at different age levels,” she said. “Since we had kindergarten through eighth grade, we had to switch our tactics from grade to grade so that they would understand us and we'd be able to understand them. Also learning how to bond with them so that they would pay more attention.
One highlight of the week was a field trip for third through eighth graders to the Master Gardeners location at Martial Cottle Park, where students learned about vermicomposting and made their own individual countertop worm habitat and composter.
Campers especially enjoyed the interactive demonstrations. “My favorite part is going on all the field trips because we went to a garden, and we've been catching worms and doing stuff about worms,” said one student. “It's really fun going on trips.”
Another camper said, “Something I would like to change about camp is having more time here.”
The program culminated in a Nature Camp Festival at Escuela Popular in partnership with community agencies. Youth enjoyed games, meeting reptiles, outdoor science activities, arborist crafts, a “Rethink Your Drink” table to make a fresh fruit drink, tamales, a nacho bar and more.
Representatives from the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center discussed animals that live in local neighborhoods and how the Center supports people to keep the animals safe. Victor Mortari of Vexotic Me talked about and showed snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other creatures, making the kids squeal while learning about them. As a fun added bonus, 4-H Community Educator Zubia Mahmood arranged to have a local team come to teach soccer skills as a healthy living activity.
The event increased the youth's interest in environmental education and involved Latino youth and adults who are new to 4-H – representing a community that has not historically benefited from the 4-H program. The teen teachers also increased their leadership and career readiness skills; post-camp surveys showed that all the teen counselors see 4-H as a place where they can be a leader and help make group decisions. Some campers noted in the survey that they wanted the camp to be every day, all summer!
National 4-H funded the camp in 2022 and 2023, allowing organizers to provide meals, T-shirts, water bottles and other items to foster belonging and promote healthy living. Community partners, crucial to the program's success, included the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley, Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy, Silicon Valley Water and Silicon Valley Wildlife Center.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Climate change, extreme drought, intense wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic can all be linked to humanity's troubled relationship with the natural world.
For more than a decade, healing and deepening connections between people and the environment have been pillars of the UC California Naturalist Program. Partnering with over 80 organizations across the state, the program – a part of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – has trained over 6,500 participants and certified more than 5,350 volunteers who engage fellow community members in advancing environmental stewardship and climate resilience.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the program is convening a statewide conference Oct. 7–9 along the north shore of Lake Tahoe, under the theme of “Celebrating Community, Nature and Resilience for a Just Future.” Keynote speakers are José González, founder of Latino Outdoors; Rhiana Jones, director of the Washoe Environmental Protection Department; and Obi Kaufmann, artist and eco-philosopher. Members of the public are invited to register for the conference.
UC Naturalists and Climate Stewards (the latter program was established in 2020), as well as instructors for both certification courses, will gather with community members to reflect on their work, share best practices and chart a path toward a more sustainable and equitable future.
“We're striving to create a welcoming and safe space where we can challenge our own long-standing assumptions and perspectives and hear from a wide range of voices on crucial topics, including the latest on climate change and resilience; participatory science; and equity, diversity and inclusion in the conservation space,” said Gregory Ira, director of the UC California Naturalist Program.
Ira also highlighted the conference's equity-based registration fee structure, aimed at minimizing cost as a barrier to participation.
“We encourage anyone with an interest in learning more about California's unique ecosystems – and becoming a better steward of the environment – to join us for the weekend,” he said. “We truly value the perspectives and experiences you can bring to our conference.”
The conference agenda will feature engaging presentations, hands-on workshops and field trips to the area's natural wonders. Presenters include:
- Herman Fillmore, culture/language resources director, Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California
- Don Hankins, Professor, Geography and Planning, Chico State University
- Patricia Maloney, Forest and Conservation Biologist, Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UC Davis
- Adina Merenlender, co-founder of the California Naturalist Program and UC Cooperative Extension professor in conservation science
- Jennifer Norris, deputy secretary for biodiversity and habitat, California Natural Resources Agency
- Ken-ichi Ueda, co-founder and co-director of iNaturalist, UC Berkeley School of Information
For more information and to register, visit the conference website at https://ucanr.edu/sites/2022CalNatCon/.
- Author: Janet Hartin
“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” Mohandas K. Gandhi, World leader, political ethicist, lawyer
"May our heart's garden of awakening bloom with hundreds of flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh, global spiritual leader and activist “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher
"The importance of encouraging our children in outdoor work with living plants is now recognized. It benefits the health, broadens the education, and gives a valuable training in industry and thrift. The great garden movement is sweeping over all America, and our present problem is to direct it and make it most profitable to the children in our schools and homes. — Van Evrie Kilpatrick, 1918, in “The Child's Food Garden”
As the above quotes so beautifully proclaim, interacting with nature, whether passively (viewing plants) or actively (gardening, etc.) offers many positive benefits. In fact, the link between horticulture and health and well-being has been scientifically documented for centuries. In 1812, psychiatrist, professor, and Declaration of Independence signer Dr. Benjamin Rush reported that patients participating in gardening activities had better mental health outcomes than non-gardening counterparts.
Many additional papers were published throughout the 1800's documenting benefits of active participation in gardening. More recently, positive links between simply viewing plants through a window or even on a television, movie, or exercise apparatus screen have been reported in peer-review journals. A groundbreaking study in this area was published in 1984 by environmental psychologist Robert Ulrich (Ulrich, 1984) who compared post-operative patients recovering from gall bladder surgery who had views of landscape plants to recovering patients who had the same surgery in the same facility with views of a brick wall. Patients with landscape views had fewer surgical complications, shorter hospital stays, required fewer analgesics, had better moods, and even fewer derogatory remarks by medical staff in their daily records.
Since 1984, dozens of other studies have documented similar positive outcomes resulting from both passive and active engagement with nature and plants. These include improved physical, mental and emotional health; environmental benefits; and community and societal benefits. Recent literature reviews that summarize these findings include:
- An overview of 77 peer-reviewed journal articles (Howarth, et. al., 2020) identified 35 positive outcomes linking physical and mental health and well-being to active and passive horticultural interactions. doi: https://10.1136/bmjopen-2020-036923
-A meta-analysis (Soga, 2016) of 22 studies identified several positive mental health outcomes related to gardening including mood, group cohesiveness, cooperation, pride, well-being, and more. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007 -
An overview of 45 peer-review studies (Shepley, et. al., 2019) identified links between properly designed and maintained urban green spaces and crime, gun violence, and the overall safety and cohesiveness of low-wealth urban neighborhoods. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16245119
- A review of 120 papers (Crus-Piedrahita, et. al., 2020) reported public health benefits from urban horticulture activities in the global North. Thirty-two papers had a specific focus on social cohesion and/or social capital. https://doi:10.1016/j.glt.2020.10.001
-Alizadeh (2019) synthesized research regarding the environmental benefits of urban plants, highlighting their vital roles in combating climate change, cooling urban heat islands, providing habitat, removing air and water pollutants, enhancing soil health, and more. https://www.researchgate.net/deref/https%3A%2F%2Fdoi.org%2F10.1108%2FIJCCSM-10-2017-0179
Enjoy your garden! Enjoy a day in nature.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Many Californians' well-being has suffered after months of sheltering at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. An antidote for the boredom, loneliness and uncertainty is spending some time outdoors, according to UC Cooperative Extension experts. It's a practice that renews the spirit and can easily be done while following social distance and face covering requirements.
A few 4-H youth camp programs have gone virtual, but for most 4-H members the annual trek to summer camp has been cancelled. 4-H Youth Development advisor Marianne Bird is encouraging 4-H members and families to get outside on their own.
“Being outdoors is something healthy to do,” Bird said. “Public parks are being used more and in safe ways. I see groups of people social distancing and eating lunch in the shade, bringing a lawn chair and sitting outside. Two weeks ago, I saw someone playing violin next to the American River bike trail.”
This month, Bird is teaming up with two colleagues for socially distanced camping for a few nights in the Sierra. They'll drive separately and sleep in separate tents, while they hike trails, swim in a lake and enjoy the night sky at least 6 feet apart. But even in her hometown of East Sacramento, Bird said she finds nature that promotes her well-being.
“I ride my bike on the American River trail. I see wild turkeys, jackrabbits and coveys of quail,” Bird said. “Walking in my neighborhood, I found a woodpecker home in a tree. Nature is everywhere, even in our urban environment.
UC Cooperative Extension assistant vice provost Katherine Soule conducts research on the benefits of outdoor activities. She and colleagues surveyed visitors at the Leaning Pine Arboretum in San Luis Obispo. Respondents said the garden visits wove together opportunities for learning, stress relief and relaxation, which enhanced the visitors' enjoyment of life, their self-awareness and their sense of belonging.
One participant mused, visiting a botanical garden “feels open, not cramped. In my mind, that's part of being outdoors. Outside you want to be free, open. I enjoy it.”
UC Cooperative Extension's California Naturalist program is including research-based information on the health benefits of nature exposure in its soon-to-be launched UC Climate Stewards program, according to Sarah-Mae Nelson, UC Climate Stewards Initiative academic coordinator. The pilot training program that begins Aug. 24 teaches volunteers to educate the community on climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency,
Trainees will learn about research conducted around the world that has documented the restorative capacity of nature, Nelson said. For example, a 2010 research project in Japan found that spending time in forests lowered blood pressure, cut levels of cortisol – commonly known as the “stress hormone” – and reduced pulse rate, among other beneficial health impacts.
Benefits were derived from visiting zoos and aquariums, according to a 2010 study in Japan and a 2015 study in England. Just working in the presence of potted plants reduced stress and increased productivity, found scientists in Australia. Researchers in the Netherlands discovered that simply gazing at photos with trees and parks can prevent and relieve stress.
“What's really encouraging to me as an educator and communicator is the evidence for zoos, aquariums and images as proxies,” Nelson said. “Right now, with the situation with COVID-19, people can't access nature as readily. And, looking at the diversity, equity and inclusion aspect, some people don't have the financial or social capability to enter into natural spaces.”
Another study that is shaping the UC Climate Stewards curriculum, conducted in England and published last year, indicated that spending at least 120 minutes in nature provides a significant positive impact on mental and physical wellness.
“After 120 minutes, the participants felt less depressed and had an increased ability to deal with stressful situations,” Nelson said.
For that reason, the 120-minute threshold number for nature exposure will be part of the UC Climate Stewards' approach to reduce the effects of traumatic stressful experiences, like those brought on by climate change concerns.