Growing Healthy Foods Using Nature’s Principles

Carrot art

By Jayne Henderson, Environmental Educator

What do you like best about gardens? Is it all the delicious fresh vegetables or spending time outside working with soil?  The 8-11 year old kids who attended the week-long Garden Wonders: Green Thumbs and Dirty Knees Camp at Riveredge this summer enjoyed these things and so much more.  They loved the seeing the changing colors, meeting the turkeys at Woodland Harvest, making soil, and discovering the joy of bartering with rutabagas! This Riveredge summer camp was supported by a grant from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), whose goal is to educate youth about sustainable agriculture. The generous support from SARE allowed us to enhance our curriculum and teach kids about sustainable, community-based agriculture through a variety of hands-on activities.

Over the course of the week, campers had a wonderful time learning all about gardening and how nature’s principles apply to growing food. They learned how to care for and harvest vegetables in Riveredge’s organic garden and Woodland Harvest permaculture site.  They ate fruits, vegetables and nuts while learning about the benefits of permaculture during an interactive quest at Woodland Harvest. Campers discovered that permaculture, or permanent agriculture, is about the interconnected relationships between soils, plants, animals and people.  The goal is to create systems that follow nature’s designs and are ecologically sound, economically viable, and sustainable in the long term.  It utilizes the patterns and features from natural ecosystems such as the planting of woody plants and perennials instead of annuals; polycultures (a diversity of plants) versus monocultures; companion planting of trees with plants beneath to create vertical structures as seen in forests; and managing the land, soil and water to sustain plants, animals, people, and the Earth .

The kids also learned about the connection between healthy soil, healthy plants, nutritious vegetables, and our health. They examined and compared forest soils to garden soils, and created their own soil to plant a companion planting to take home. They learned about watersheds and how water affects agriculture and how agricultural practices impact water quality. At the end of the week, the campers had a wonderful time setting up and running their own farmers market. They learned how to harvest, clean, and present the vegetables they helped to grow and care for.

Another highlight of the week was a field trip to meet local organic farmers and hear why they chose organic farming as a career. Campers visited Wellspring CSA, a certified organic farm whose mission is to inspire people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food, and Tim Dobberphul’s Organic Dairy Farm in the town of Farmington. At each stop, campers learned what farmers do on their farm over the course of the year. Overall, it was an amazing week full of tasty fresh food and fun, all while learning important lessons about how to grow the foods we eat in a sustainable way.

A National ‘Natural Leader’ In Training

Riveredge Nature Center is thrilled to announce that we have a national ‘Natural Leader’ heading off to training camp at the end of June. Cassie Bauer, our new Family & Community Programs Manager, was one of only 50 diverse young leaders chosen to participate in this transformative program.

Of the program and her involvement, Cassie says: “I am thrilled to share that in the last month I have applied for and been chosen to attend a community leadership training through the Children & Nature Network initiative known as Natural Leaders. In just 30 days I will pack my bags and head to a US Fish & Wildlife National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The Natural Leaders Network is helping to build the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and environmental stewards by fueling a grassroots network to reconnect children, families, and communities to the outdoors. Diverse young leaders are selected through a competitive application process to participate in the Natural Leaders Legacy Camp, where they are trained to create change within their communities to promote outdoor nature-based experiences. The training curriculum focuses on four key skill areas that prepare young leaders to return to their communities and create lasting change.”

Cassie will be instrumental in helping Riveredge use our resources, expertise, and passion to bring the great outdoors to families, schools, and neighborhoods in the coming year.  She’ll help launch local Family Nature Clubs, Riveredge’s part of the national Every Kid in the Part program, and starting a Children & Nature Alliance of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Cassie expands, “I look forward to absorbing knowledge from the 49 other attendees, fully participating in all this camp has to offer, and sharing my experiences with Riveredge and our community upon my return. Happy Trails!”

Good luck and best wishes Cassie as embark on this exciting path toward becoming a national Natural Leader!

Joining the Movement

There’s something about knowing you are not alone in your passion about the need to get outside.  Not that we ever thought we were, but, sometimes, in the field of environmental education you start to wonder if others, outside of your field, understand this need.  We have the luxury of seeing, first hand, the transformation in a child when they climb a tree, run through the prairie, or hold a frog in their hand.  We’ve observed the power of nature.

This past week, four members of the Riveredge staff had the privilege of becoming deeply connected with an international movement to intertwine the lives of children with that of nature – in every aspect of society.  The three-day Children & Nature Network Conference brought together leaders from the conservation, health, education, technology and built environment communities to explore ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids off the couch and into nature.

Jessica Jens (Executive Director), Sunny Knutson (Director of Education), Mandie Zopp (Director of Research & Conservation), and Carrie Hiestand (Inquiry-Based Learning Specialist) attended all three days of this conference.  The first day was dedicated to discussions related to the role of technology in the outdoors.  As Riveredge has committed to addressing the need to develop best practices of appropriate integration of mobile technology in nature, we were very intrigued by this day’s content.  We came away inspired to continue efforts to find the appropriate intersection of time unplugged and the use of technology as an engagement tool in the outdoors.  We were inspired by Melina Gerosa Bellows, the Chief Education Officer of the National Geographic Society, when she said “If they (children) grow up to explore the world, then surely the world will be a better place,” and Richard Louv who asked, “Where is the lobby for balance? (as opposed to an all or nothing approach to embracing technology)”  We are in agreement that this balance can be identified and shared with parents, schools, and others in the field of nature.   We will achieve that in the months and years to come at Riveredge.

The final two days of the conference were focused on the movement to reconnect society with nature. As Louv explained, the vision for this movement is to “create a nature-rich future that is good for all.”  We couldn’t agree more.  Beginning this very moment, Riveredge is developing strategies to progress this movement in southeastern Wisconsin and the entire state. We are working to develop not only partnerships, but collaborations filled with charismatic ideas and made up of partners throughout all areas of society. Dr. Scott Sampson, author, personality, and VP of Research & Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, challenged, “We better collaborate and think big.  Big ideas win.”  We, at Riveredge, are up for that challenge.  In the coming year we’ll be:

  • Implementing the pilot program of our Riveredge School Naturalist/Scientist in Residence program with a local school district and speaking to all area school districts about expanding this program to their students and teachers.
  • Joining the National Parks effort to get  “Every Kid in a Park” by providing all the incoming 4th grade students in Sheboygan, Washington, and Ozaukee counties with trail pass memberships to Riveredge for their entire family from September 2015-August 2016.  As the National Parks Director, Jonathan B. Jarvis, explained at the conference, “Notice that the name of this initiative is not ‘Every Kid in a National Park,’ it’s ‘Every Kid in a Park.'” Riveredge is dedicated to making this happen for our local communities.
  • Leading efforts to create “Family Nature Clubsin our local communities.  As Louv asks, “What if more and more parents, grandparents and kids around the country band together to create outdoor adventure clubs, family nature networks, family outdoor clubs, or green gyms? What if this approach becomes the norm in every community?”  At Riveredge, we believe that bringing these efforts to our communities will help hundreds of families build memories and gain the benefits of time outdoors (increased health, decreased stress, increased creativity….and lots more)!

The take away – Riveredge is committed to improving the lives of our communities through time in nature.  We will bring our expertise, experience, and resources into our communities. We will bring together leaders in the areas of health, architecture, government, and education to help us build the movement.  We will do our part to make this world an even better place for this and future generations of kids who can grow up outdoors. Kids we like to call “Riveredge Kids.”

Why all the Orange?


Riveredge Nature Center, in partnership with UW-Stevens Point and Treehaven Research Institute, is in the process of conducting a forest management study.   The orange markings on the trees, seen throughout the Riveredge sanctuary, indicate trees that are unhealthy or are negatively impacting the general health of our forests. 

Over the course of the next year, Riveredge will be actively managing portions of our forested landscape and determining how the forest responds to these management activities.  Future efforts will include removing dead ash (infested by the emerald ash borer), as well as trees that are diseased and/or impeding the health of the forest.

In addition to the active management activities, student interns will conduct research on changes of the flora within the forest due to these management activities.

Management Zones :


Oak/Hickory Forest: The oak/hickory forest is a distinct and major cover type in southern Wisconsin.  Now what was once vast oak savanna, prairie, and oak/hickory forest has been lost to development and agriculture. Management in this area will be mainly removing unhealthy and dying trees, while removing some species to help restore the stand and allow the remaining trees to thrive.

Oak Forest: This area will be managed to promote a healthy oak forest that will provide excellent wildlife habitat for years to come.  The lasting effects will be healthier trees that will provide more food and cover for wildlife.

Mixed Hardwoods: This area will be managed to promote and increase the diversity of the stand.  The closed canopy condition has prevented understory diversity and has limited the regrowth of other species.  By removing some of the dying White (Paper) Birch, sunlight will be allowed to reach the ground and allow for a variety of ground species to flourish.  The removal of other unhealthy and diseased trees will allow healthy trees to grow uninhibited and will allow light in to let seedlings and saplings grow into mature trees.  The large openings in and around the aspen are to allow for aspen regeneration to ensure aspen stay as a component of this stand for generations to come, while no conifers will be harvested, the increase in sunlight to the ground will allow for better regeneration of the conifers to increase the overall diversity.

Lowland Oaks:  In this area, the only trees that will be removed are the dying green ash, which are dying because they are infested with emerald ash borer. Emerald ash borer (EAB) is a beetle that bores into and eventually kills the ash trees it infests.  By removing these diseased and dying trees, we are opening up sunlight for other species like bur oak and white oak.  This will help  promote the oaks; creating an area that will be highly attractive to many wildlife species.

Sugar Bush: Riveredge Nature Center is known for its extensive sugar bushing operation.  In the areas where maple sap collection occurs, the management that is being implemented will allow the healthy maples to increase their crown diameter to help increase sap production.  Diversity will be maintained, but maples will be favored for the sugar bush operation.   Small canopy gaps will be placed to allow for the maple regeneration to grow and become the next generation of maples to be tapped.

For questions regarding RNC’s forest management plan, contact Mandie Zopp at or call 262-375-2715.

What’s Blooming This Week?

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

New England Aster (photo by M.Zopp)
New England Aster (photo by M.Zopp)

New England aster is native to almost every area in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, but excluding the some of the southern United States. The plant grows up to 120 cm (47 inches) with a stout, hairy stem and lance-shaped leaves with entire margins. The flower heads are showy with yellow centers and flower petals that range from a deep purple or rose to rarely white. This species inhabits a wide variety of habitats and soil types, preferring full or partial sun over shade, and moist to average conditions. This plant can become stressed out by hot dry weather, often dropping its lower leaves in response, while the remaining leaves may turn yellow or brown

Indian Pipe(Monotropa uniflora)

Indian Pipe (photo by M.Zopp)
Indian Pipe (photo by M.Zopp)

 Indian pipe, also known as Corpse Plant or Ghost Plant, is one of the easiest plants to recognize. Unlike most plants, Indian Pipe doesn’t

have chlorophyll, the stuff that makes plants green. Indian pipe is waxy, whitish color turning black as it ages and only grows 4-10 inches tall.  This plant can typically be found from June to September growing in shady woods in areas near dead tree stumps and decaying plant matter. Due to the lack of chlorophyll, this plant parasitizes fungus growing on decaying material (or trees) to acquire its energy.

Beechdrops (Epifagus americana)

Beech Drops (photo by M.Zopp)
Beechdrops (photo by M.Zopp)

Beechdrops are parasitic plants on beech trees. Due to the lack of chlorophyll in this plant, it finds it’s nutrients not from photosynthesis but from the roots of beech trees. The plant grows 6-20 inches and produces very small reddish brown flowers.  Bloom time for beech drops is from August to October. Beechdrops look like the dying stems of some small forest herb and are easily overlooked – especially since they only appear aboveground to flower for a few weeks in the fall.

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

Indian Grass (photo by M.Zopp)
Indian Grass            (photo by M.Zopp)

Indian grass is one of the beautiful, and often dominant, autumn grasses often seen prairie ecosystems.   This native perennial grass grows 3-7 ft. tall and displays a reddish-golden brown color.  The blooming period occurs during late summer to early fall.  Several species of grasshoppers feed on the foliage of Indian grass; these grasshoppers are an important source of food to many songbirds and upland game birds.

Youth Tree Climbing Club @ Riveredge

Youth Tree Climbing Club

Our club is FULL for 2014!  Please check out our calendar of events to find an upcoming open tree climb.  We’d love to have you in the trees with us this season!

We are so excited about our brand new tree climbing programs that we’ve even decided to start a youth tree climbing club!  This is a pretty special experience – one where the members will climb together from June – October, form a tight knit community, and have all kinds of one-of-a-kind fun outdoors while developing a new skill, improving their fitness, and building relationships with our natural world.  Discover trees all over Riveredge, pick your own special “tree name,” and play fun games in the tree during each club meeting.  Learn more about tree climbing at Riveredge on our webpage. Youth age 7 years and above are welcome to join.

Club Membership Includes: 5 climbing days (parents and family members can climb too during the kick off meeting in June and the closing party in October), use of all equipment, tree climbing club membership card, recognition on the tree climbing club “trunk of fame” which will be permanently installed at the end of the climbing season at Riveredge.

Special Inaugural Year Perks: This year, the club members will determine the official club name and design the special tree climbing t-shirts!

Meeting Dates & Times:

  • Sunday, June 8th: 11:30 – 2:00 pm (includes a chance for family members to climb and a potluck picnic for all!)
  • Sunday, July 13th: 3:00 – 5:30 pm
  • Sunday, August 10th: 3:00 – 5:30 pm
  • Sunday, September 14th: 3:00 – 5:30 pm
  • Sunday, October 12th: 2:00 – 5:00 pm (end of year celebration: family members may climb and another potluck picnic for all!)

Price: $100 per youth member (Must be a Riveredge member to join, not a member?  Your whole family can join for as little as $40)

Can’t make a meeting or one gets rained out?  Club members who miss a meeting can sign up for an open climb as a “make-up” for the meeting missed (maximum of 2 times per season)

To enroll, contact the club leader, Jessica Jens (also the Executive Director of Riveredge) at

Winter is a Great Time to Explore Riveredge

Winter has come to Wisconsin in a glorious way.  There are many ways to have fun at Riveredge in the winter:

  • Snowshoeing is an easy way to have fun outside.  Riveredge has snowshoes for use during our regular building hours.  All Access members have free, unlimited use throughout the winter.  Trail pass members may rent them for $5 per hour and non-members are invited to rent them for $10 per hour.
  • Youth & Family outdoor program don’t slow down in winter!  Every Saturday at 10 am come explore the winter environment with our naturalists!
  • Special events take on a special type of fun in winter.  Come play with us during our Celebrate Winter family event on Saturday, January 25th from 12:30 – 3:30 pm or join us in our inaugural “Sugar Dragon Snowshoe 5K” event in partnership with the Feith Family YMCA on Sunday, February 9th.

Before you know it, winter will be gone and Maple Sugarin’ season will be here.  Enjoy the snow before its gone!

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