A Trip to Seville Farms

 

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A couple of weeks ago, over half of the BRIT building was eerily empty for a day as the whole research department set off for a tour of Seville Farms, which one of our board members, Billy Brentlinger, owns and operates with his brother, Bobby Brentlinger.

Seville Farms is a large-scale plant nursery providing annuals, perennials, and ground covers to numerous garden centers across Texas. The farms have five facilities containing nearly five million square feet! On this trip we visited the headquarters in Mansfield, Texas, and Billy and his right-hand-man John gave us an in-depth tour of the operations, start to finish.

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An industrial seeder fills a tray with growing media, mostly composed of peat. The tray then passes under a stamper that pokes small divots into each cell. Testing shows that the seeds germinate best if they’re planted in the exact center of the cell, and curved divots or depressions help center the seeds.

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The seeder uses a revolving drum with tiny holes in it to pick up seeds from the hopper (“breathe ’em in”)…

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… and drop them into the trays (“spit ’em out!”).

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Can you see the little seeds in the divots?

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Billy Brentlinger (above in purple) expertly handled the endless stream of questions one would expect when a group of 15 botanists is surrounded by plants!

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Many thanks to Billy and John for giving us such a wonderful tour! We’ll be inspecting the labels on all our future plant purchases looking for that familiar name.

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Where Are They Now: My Time at Mile High by Miranda Madrid

This is the first in a new “Where Are They Now?”series featuring guest posts from former interns, volunteers, staff, and friends of BRIT. This month’s post is from former BRIT intern and herbarium staff, Miranda Madrid.

Hello! I wanted to share my experience in the Mile High City with all of you back home in the great state of Texas. I am currently participating in a year-long service program in Denver, Colorado, while I discern my path as an up-and-coming environmental scientist.

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My first couple days in Colorado were spent in the mountains. Amazing views!

My service group, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, is a nonprofit organization based in Denver dedicated to inviting young people into a process of transformation through companionship with those who are poor and marginalized.

So what exactly does this mean?

Essentially, the group functions similarly to a domestic Peace Corps, but with a spirituality component. While the program consists of 20 participants, I live with 9 in a home we fondly call COHO. We are quite an interesting bunch—making the best of our small stipends and simple living by going on hikes, having movie days that turn into nights, and sharing community meals. It’s actually a lot of fun navigating a new city and continuing to transition into an “adult” with 9 other friends by your side.

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A few of my housemates and I during our fall retreat in October.

Beyond the community life and spirituality component, all participants work at different nonprofits throughout the city, specifically working with those communities that society has placed on the margins. While some head off to clinics, schools, homeless shelters, etc., I am lucky enough every day to head to The GrowHaus in the Northeast Denver neighborhood of Elyria-Swansea. Not to be mistaken with other types of grow houses in Colorado, The GrowHaus was established in 2009 to be an indoor farm, market, and education center that works to combat food insecurity for the residents of the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods.

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The GrowHaus’ Market provides healthy, affordable food to all people!

The GrowHaus operates on the belief that healthy food is a right, not a privilege. In the 1960s, the neighborhood transitioned to a predominantly Latino community—which it remains today. The community suffers numerous barriers to its development. I-70 separates a large part of the community from Metro Denver and is responsible for air and noise pollution. The area is also heavily industrialized, and in the late 1990s, the EPA declared 80216 to be one of the most polluted zip codes in all of Colorado. Due to the plants and factories, there are higher than normal levels of cadmium, arsenic, and lead in the soil—meaning residents have to import soil to enjoy the food they grow. On top of these environmental concerns, the community exists in a food desert, where healthy, affordable food is hard to access and unhealthy, cheap food is easy to come by. Public health becomes an issue because people suffer from asthma and diet-related chronic diseases more than the Metro Denver population.

So enter The GrowHaus…where we recognize the barriers in our community but focus on the many assets that the residents provide us. The GrowHaus operates holistically: food production (hydroponic and aquaponics farms growing lettuce to be distributed locally); food education (an interactive space to provide experiential education to all who seek knowledge); and food distribution (a Mercado that sells culturally appropriate foods on a sliding scale price system). Our work is focused on providing healthy, organic, local food at an affordable cost combined with empowerment and education for the journey ahead. From Cosechando Salud/Harvesting Health to adult and children MicroFarm classes to the annual Christmas party and toy drive, we work to meet people where they are and thrive in the community feel of our neighborhood. Being a predominantly Latino community, there is a rich tradition around food. We believe in not only providing ingredients that are important to the traditional Latino diet, but approaching our teaching in a culturally sensitive way. After all, we are not here to impose our values on the community but to walk in solidarity with our fellow neighbors.

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The GrowHaus was able to provide gifts to 450 children during our Toy Drive.

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The GrowHaus has a free grocery program and cooking/nutrition class every Monday, Cosechando Salud/Harvesting Health. Food that would otherwise be thrown out is instead distributed to the community.

My title at The GrowHaus is Programs Assistant so I wear many hats with my fellow co-workers. I assist in managing volunteer groups, the internship program, and maintaining our greenhouse space which includes a food forest, rabbits, chickens, and compost. I also assist the Education and Community Outreach teams leading tours, service learnings, after-school kid classes, community events, and more. It is absolutely a steep learning curve and a very busy place to work. One of the best and most challenging parts of my job is the opportunity to practice speaking Spanish. I am thankful that most people are pretty patient, giving me the chance to struggle and learn.

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In our hydroponic farm, where we grow Bibb lettuce and distribute locally.

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One of our chickens by the name of Rosa. We use her eggs in our kid’s cooking class.

How does this work tie to ecological, food, and social justice and everything in between?

My first week at The GrowHaus was nothing short of a reality check. Back in the spring, when I learned that my placement site was The GrowHaus, I was thrilled—to be part of a nonprofit dedicated to the environment as much as I am. However, when I arrived in Denver and learned of the other job placements that my fellow CVVers were embarking on, I felt less-than. They were going to be looking into the eyes of the homeless, hearing the stories of refugee families, and getting a closer look at poverty in the U.S. I was simply going to be providing healthy, affordable food to those in need. I naively thought I understood this complex issue and did not need to be awakened to any additional perspective.

And then came my first week, where sights, sounds, and smells showed me that isolation and poverty come in many different forms. To have a house does not mean that one is much better off. To provide one’s family with dinner does not mean that opportunity awaits. I had to learn that just because I don’t see it, does not mean it does not exist. In my search to understand justice, I had to see that people on the margins do not always fit my ill-conceived, stereotypical image. I am so thankful to have learned this lesson early on.

One of the most amazing things I learned from my director has stuck with me these past few months: The GrowHaus uses food as a lens for viewing many social justice issues. The GrowHaus is not just a space to shop for healthy, local, affordable food; it is a brave space in which hard conversations can be had and laughter and companionship abound. The GrowHaus works to empower its community to make the right health choices for themselves and their family with confidence—how to shop on a budget, how to cook healthily, how to grow a garden, how to become true leaders in their families and communities.

In all of the political mix that has encapsulated my time here, The GrowHaus reminds me what inspired me to be an Environmental Scientist in the first place.

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My favorite in The GrowHaus, our beautiful passionflower.

Any questions, comments, or just to say hello, please email me at mmadrid@alumni.nd.edu.

¡Nos vemos!

 

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Hidden Treasures: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

This article is the first of our year-long “Hidden Treasures” series in which Alyssa B. Young, Special Collections Librarian, features notable works in the BRIT rare book collection.

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One of the treasures of BRIT’s rare book collection is Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, a premier journal for early botanical illustrations and descriptions. The journal has featured over 10,000 color illustrations in its 230 years of publication. Originally titled The Botanical Magazine, it is the longest running illustrated botanical periodical and is still being published today.

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The first volume was published on February 1, 1787, by William Curtis, an English botanist and apothecary who aspired to make information about ornamental and exotic plants affordable and accessible. As stated on the title page, the magazine was “intended for the use of such ladies, gentlemen, and gardeners, as wish to become scientifically acquainted with the plants they cultivate.” It gained popularity due to its approachable mix of beautiful illustrations and practical information, presenting serious botanical science in an easy-to-understand format.

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Curtis instructed his artists to draw the plates “from the living plant, and coloured as near to nature, as the imperfection of colouring will admit.” The first 30 volumes feature copper engravings that were colored by hand, leading to slight (but precious) inconsistencies between each copy. Accompanying each plate is a description of the plant containing the scientific name, common names, plant properties, growth characteristics, and history.

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BRIT’s first six volumes of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine belonged to Charles Cotesworth Pickney (1746-1825), a Revolutionary War veteran, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and a signer of the United States Constitution.

Contact library@brit.org for more information about this magazine or our rare book collection.

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Notes from the Field: Yunnan, China

Dr. Peter Fritsch, BRIT’s VP of Research and Director of the Herbarium, is on a visiting scholarship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, based at the Kunming Institute of Botany in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. Peter went on a brief (8-day) field trip in late October-early November to far northeastern Yunnan Province and the bordering area of Guizhou Province. Below are some photos from his trip.

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The arrow on the map above shows the location of my field work, in Weixi and Yiliang counties.

 

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Typical scenic shot in this region—limestone mountains blanketed with native forests in the least accessible parts.

 

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One of my specialty groups, Symplocos of the Symplocaceae (sweetleaf family). It’s mainly a tropical family—we have one species in Texas, S. tinctoria. This one is S. setchuensis. Flowers resemble that of a small version of Camellia, but are usually white instead of pink.

 

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Hazy but otherwise beautiful day. Overlooking a valley, with corn in the foreground (no rice grown in these parts).

 

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Pass between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Apparently the weather is always like this here. So, unknown to us, it was one of the more brutal and rather dangerous “hikes” (actually climb) that I have done in a while. No real trail, average 70% slope. One false step in some places…

 

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A real treat to see this, the Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata in the dogwood family Cornaceae), one of the only places left where it occurs in the wild. Spectacular when in flower.

 

 

Another rare treat: Rehderodendron macrocarpon, in one of my pet families, the storaxes (Styracaceae). Has one of the oddest fruits you’ll see, football shaped and ca. 2.5 in. long. Inside is a hard bony center surrounding the elongated seeds, with radiating parts to the edge, and in between is a corky material. I can’t imagine what disperses this, and we found all the fruits dropped right under the tree.

 

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Low limestone hills. The beginnings of what farther east will become the bizarre landscape of Guilin. I guess Guilin will have to wait ‘til next time!

 

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Field team, out of the cold—and onto those short stools (you need good knees in Yunnan). From left to right, Ren-Fu Lu, Hong-Hua Liao, our driver Ting-Xun Liu, and Dr. Lu Lu, my colleague from KIB. Ren-Fu Lu is Dr. Lu Lu’s father, and he’s a sharp-eyed plant collector and incredible mountain climber.

 

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Colorful dinner—the plants in the upper left dish are grape ferns (Botrychium). Sorry, tasted terrible. Those in upper right are fungi—much better.

 

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Me at the Kunming Institute of Botany herbarium in Yunnan, China, where I’ve just finished annotating their Styracaceae (storax family) collection. About half the specimens were mis- or unidentified—the family is a challenging one taxonomically, but I’ve been studying these plants for over 20 years and know them well. The annotated specimens extend in front of the image to all the way to the back wall behind me, and total around 800 specimens, including some rare and endangered species. The work took five days and was conducted as part of a visiting scholar fellowship gratefully received from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Youth Range Workshop 2016

by Dan Caudle, BRIT Resident Research Associate

 

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2016 workshop participants

Just imagine trying to keep up with 25 energetic, enthusiastic, inquisitive high school students for a week in the middle of a hot, dry summer in the semi-arid country around Junction, Texas. Well, I accepted that challenge even though it had been 35 years since the last time I did it!

I served as workshop director and instructor for the 62nd Texas Youth Range Workshop this year. Not only did I survive the experience, I enjoyed it so much I’ve volunteered to do it again for many years to come!

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Mr. Caudle sharing his wisdom…

The Youth Range Workshop is held annually at the Texas Tech Center at Junction and is an activity of the Texas Section of the Society for Range Management. As you might expect, it’s evolved through the years as research and technology have advanced and natural resource issues have emerged.

 

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Learning to burn.

As usual, the students in the 2016 workshop group came from across the state – from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande and from the Trans-Pecos to the Gulf Coast. Sponsored by various organizations in their home counties, students arrived on a Sunday as total strangers with limited knowledge about natural resource management and left the following Friday as lifelong friends with the potential to be the leaders of the next generation of Texas land stewards.

The majority of this intensive week of training was conducted in the field and included instruction on native vegetation, soil, water, wildlife habitat, livestock grazing management, prescribed burning, and stewardship of natural resources. Public speaking, personal development, and team building were also an integral part of the program. Hands-on activities included data collection and monitoring techniques, plant identification and plant collection, on-site participation in an actual demonstration prescribed burn on a ranch with an opportunity to become an active member of the fire crew for the day, carrying out demonstrations of water infiltration and runoff, measuring transpiration rates from various types and species of plants, and many other activities.

 

The group visited four ranches where they were able to meet and talk with the landowners and learn about their management objectives and conservation strategies. The group also went to the Kerr Wildlife Management Area where they discussed wildlife habitat management, endangered species, and the interactions of fire, wildlife, and livestock with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.

 

Blue Mountain Peak Ranch

Blue Mountain Peak Ranch

Each student had to make a plant collection of 25 plants from the official lists of plants used for the state 4-H and F.F.A. high school plant contests. They were each given their own plant press. They had to learn to identify the plants, collect the plants during the week while on field trips, press the plants, accurately describe the characteristics of each plant, prepare a label for each specimen, and organize their collection by categories for grading. After grading, the collections and presses were returned to the students for them to take home. They were all encouraged to keep collecting and building their own collections.

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A plethora of plant presses!

 

The final exercise of the week was when the students had to work in teams to develop plans to resolve conflicts between agricultural, environmental, commercial, recreational, and governmental interest groups concerning some fictional land in the Texas Hill Country. The teams each had to present their arguments and defend their positions to a mock regulatory board made up of workshop directors representing each of the different interest groups.

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Hopefully BRIT will become more actively involved with the educational and plant collection aspects of the workshop in the future. It’s a rewarding and exhausting experience for the students as well as the instructors!

 

**Applications are now being accepted for the 2017 workshop. Click here to apply!

 

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