Episode 110: How The Wild Center’s Climate Solution Exhibit Inspires Taking Action & Making A Difference

What to expect at Climate Solutions Exhibit at The Wild Center

Climate change is happening all around us. Droughts, flooding, shrinking glaciers, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and wildfires are all consequences of climate change. At The Wild Center, the Climate Solutions Exhibit poses an important question, what can we do about climate change? In this episode, discover how different people are committing to being part of the solution and ways you can make a difference by gardening, farming, or composting. After listening to this episode, I hope you’ll consider how you can join the growing community of people working towards addressing climate change by leaning on your skills, talents, and interests.

If you haven’t yet, listen to the previous episode, Episode 109, where we visited The Wild Center, a natural history museum in Tupper Lake, New York, where you can discover the Adirondacks region through various interactive and immersive outdoor and indoor exhibits like nature trails, animal encounters, an elevated trail across the treetops, and more.

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A special thank you to The Wild Center for an incredible introduction to the Adirondacks. All opinions expressed in this episode are my own. Guests featured in this episode include Birch Kinsey, Jen Kretser, and Shannon Surdyk.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Hey, financial savvy travelers. In the previous episode, episode 109, we visited The Wild Center, a natural history museum in Tupper Lake , New York, where you can discover the Adirondacks, the natural habitat and wildlife through outdoor and indoor experiences and exhibits. If you haven't listened to that episode yet, I highly recommend going back and checking it out.

Welcome to The Thought Card, a podcast about travel and money where planning, saving and creativity leads to affording travel, building wealth and paying off debt. We are the financially savvy travelers.

One of the many things I appreciate about traveling is the hands-on interactive learning opportunities that present themselves. Whether you're visiting a museum like The Wild Center or simply speaking to locals, traveling expands your horizon. At times it challenges you to think differently and may inspire you to take action. As you may know, climate change is happening all around us. Droughts, flooding, shrinking glaciers, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and wildfires are all consequences of climate change. The Climate Solutions exhibit at the Wild Center acts asks an important question. What can we do about it? This exhibit highlights the stories of 12 different people who live in the Adirondacks region doing their part. Some of the giant portraits you'll find in this exhibit include Neil Patterson, Jr., Assistant Director of SUNY ESF's Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, who reconnects indigenous communities and youth with their ancestral lands. Or Courtney Grimes-Sutton who practices rotational grazing, a sustainable farming method that shifts animals to different parts of the pasture so the land has a chance to rest and regrow between phrasings. Hearing from talented artists, farmers, youth activists, researchers and photographers. I admired how regular people are getting involved and taking action, which inspired me to think about how I can too, both at home in my local community and when I travel.

Jen Kretser: When visitors walk through the door, the Climate Solutions exhibit, they'll be greeted and immersed in a space that elevates and supports people working on climate change across the northern part of New York state, specifically in the Adirondacks. There's beautiful portraits with stories and video that you can listen to, focused on anything from rebuilding the food system to traditional ecological knowledge and the role of reciprocity in solving climate change to thinking about how climate scientists working like out in the field can be working on climate change to hearing some voices from young people about how they started their own compost business or from someone who installs and developed a new wind turbine and solar arrays to educators and artists that are working on the frontlines of climate change.

Danielle Desir Corbett: What's the inspiration for introducing this exhibit in the museum?

Jen Kretser: The inspiration for this exhibit really came from a long time program here at The Wild Center called the Youth Climate Program. And that program started back in 2009 where we brought together young people high school age from across the region to learn about climate science impacts and solutions through what we call a youth climate summit. That two day event that happened back in 2009 really was a catalyst for a whole new sort of energy and direction for the museum. We've been doing that summit ever since. We saw some incredible opportunities for young people to be engaged and involved in their communities because at the summit, the students work in teams to create a climate action plan. So it wasn't just about all this learning, but it was that taking what they learned, finding their own passion in their own direction and their own place in the climate movement, bringing that back to their schools and communities and taking action in ways that were positive and constructive and help them to really find their own place.

Danielle Desir Corbett: That's Jen Kretser, the director of Climate Initiatives at The Wild Center. One of the unique things about the exhibit is that you can actually pick up the telephones and actually listen to the stories in addition to also reading more about each of the stories as well. So what was the decision like to actually include audio in the exhibit?

Jen Kretser: But we really thought it was important to include people's voices, to tell their own story, to have their work and their lives and their passion to be told in their own voice. Actually, one of the anchors of the exhibit was really to have that work be told in those first person stories and there's such a power in story in dealing with climate change and facing the climate crisis, it builds empathy and compassion. It helps you to hear what other people are going through and hopefully everyone can kind of see themselves in that exhibit and have an opportunity to connect with one or more of those stories and hopefully see that they too have their own skills and their own abilities to kind of find their place.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Speaking of connections, there's one portrait in particular that really resonated with me. Growing up, spending summers in Haiti and helping my grandfather grow corn, coffee, beans, plantains, oranges, cherries, mangoes and more, at the Climate Solutions exhibit, I was drawn to the portrait of Birch, Kinsey Birch, Kinsey is a Buffalo New York, food-based environmental justice activists since 14, Birch has been bringing awareness to how the climate crisis affects us all.

Birch Kinsey: My mom was home schooling me at the time, I was like 13 actually and I read this book called The Backyard Homestead. I'm a big Reader always happened and I was like mama, I'm trying to grow tomatoes and she said okay. And so she found a seed swap on facebook and buffalo is one of those big little town, so you never more than three degrees of separation and a guy knew a guy who worked at a farming slash youth employment training organization. So my town has a mayor's summer youth internship program and so I was a little young for the cut off, but I turned 14 the summer of that. And so I volunteered for a little bit and then I signed the paperwork late and I got employed in a city funded youth program at that farm.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Birch's story stood out to me because Birch advocates for voices often unheard like the youth, Black, Indigenous and People of Color. 90% of private farmland in the United States is owned by white farmers. Historically Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) groups have been systemically excluded from land ownership.

Birch Kinsey: I want to encourage Black, Brown, Indigenous people to connect with the land because through learning the empowering history, you will, it just kind of gives you fire to learn and explore and and do things and also remember that it is unlikely that you are treading any new ground. You go to this conference and you're the first Black teenager to be there and I'm like, oh my God, like I'm kind of doing this new thing turns out this is a well trodden path and I think that just knowing that you're not stepping out into the dark automatically allows you to make the more informed and empowered decisions.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Curious about how to get started? I asked Birch to share some tips for those interested in farming.

Birch Kinsey: Three things I'd say are number one remembering to honor and care for your soil first. So a lot of farming starts with plants or starts with seeds. I would ask that you pay attention to your soil, trying to remember to nurture the microbiome, the fungal biomom and then the nutrient aspect. And so what I mean by that is knowing that there are fungal soil supplements. Micro driesell soil additives that encourage the fungal diversity. That's a part of the life kingdom that creates communication. Your soil allows your root systems to absorb more moisture and nutrients. When I'd say it's really overlooked and I wish I knew it when I started number one number two soil health. And so when I say soil health I mean when you are going to grow a garden, think of it as kind of stewarding a patch of soil. What is the best nutrients you can give to that soil? How can you keep it protected? And in that line I would say I don't start with bare dirt gardening start with a mulch garden. And so what I mean by that is I mean get straw not hay. Hay we'll give you so many weeds straw which is the dead plant matter will add a cover to your soil because if you look in nature, bare patches of soil tend to mean upsetting things. You lose water quick you are more susceptible. The weeds and insects that are gonna aerate your soil and that are going to be beneficial to your garden are able to thrive when they've got that covering. So starting with the fungus if you can get spent mycelium from a local mushroom grower or by a microrisal supplement you will be adding such a boost to your soil. Number two I'd say you want to make sure that you cover your garden. If you have a raised bed or an in ground bed make sure that you cover it so that the soil can retain moisture and nutrients. And so that the bugs can live number three try to purchase from local seed keepers. Something that's really important to me is being able to save seeds for the next year because I'm a climate change person and one of the unfortunate things, temperature and precipitation has been unstable and generationally plants can adapt and when you buy from a regional seed grower you're buying plans that have already started to adapt. They collected those seeds during the drought season, during the flood season, during the high wind season. Maybe these plants are going to have those slight adaptations and continue to adapt to your local climate. And I think that is one of the most important things that I could say to people because when I you know first was considering buying I would maybe get a seed packet from segments that is not from a grower who has seen the snow in Buffalo or seen the microclimate in The Finger Leaks right? Your plants are likely to be more sturdy. If their heirloom seeds, you'll be able to save the seeds then continue to have adapted plants and I think with those three tips you'll kind of get a little bit ahead because the mulching not only helps with soil retention of water attention, but nutrient retention at the end of the season, The bugs that were able to thrive under that mulch are going to eat it and turn it into compost worm poo is top tier compost. Those worms will be able to thrive under your layer of mulch in a way they wouldn't if it was a bare garden.

Danielle Desir Corbett: So for those who want to start to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and eventually have it on their dinner table, what would you recommend to grow first?

Birch Kinsey: So I would say number one, in terms of soil health in your life and just getting used to growing and maintaining something lagoons are a wonderful place to start. There are so many kinds of beans, they are in fact hard to kill. You do need to water them regularly and you can get experience with building a little bit of infrastructure for them because they climb up and they also do something called fixing nitrogen. So if you've got a new plot of land nitrogen is an important nutrient to growing things lagoons actually capture from the air and leave it physically in your soil. So that's literally just a good starting point for bringing nutrients in. So that's number one. Number two, remember what you eat. If you don't eat cucumbers regularly for God's sake, don't make a cucumber plant cause those things are prolific. On the other hand, if you like cucumbers, they're prolific, tomatoes are also a good one time and oregano or two ones that I'd say to start with because they're good, both fresh and dried and then you can get experience with preserving and then also the tomatoes definitely grow an heirloom tomato. You will thank yourself. They taste so good. Like cherries are pretty watery. But if you're growing like a meaty beef steak or a plum tomato, make some tomato sauce, you will feel so cool and then you can preserve it. It's a great thing for your dinner plate. And then finally, if you're interested in growing vertically, potatoes. So if you don't have a lot of space, potatoes actually need a lot more vertical room than horizontal room so you can stack some tires, you can make like a really tall bed, play your potato plant and then you can, you know, dig them out. Those are really, really fun. They're not the hardest to grow in my opinion. You know, and potatoes are also a really good one. If you have kids because there is nothing more cute than watching an 18 month old, just like rifle through the soil and be like, oh my God, I found a potato, oh my God, I've got another potato, their minds were blown.

Danielle Desir Corbett: For those who are interested in farming, what types of fruits, veggies or herbs would you recommend on the farming end?

Birch Kinsey: So with the farming end, I'd say you should always check with your local community or your market first. So in Buffalo, since there is an immigrant community, there's like these african eggplants that we grow that are not like your typical eggplant, but they are culturally specific and popular in that community. There are certain peppers that we grow because there's a large burmese community. So definitely checking with your community is actually, in my opinion, more important than what you grow because if you notice that there's you're in a Southern black community, Okay. Okra might be a good one for you.

Danielle Desir Corbett: As a last piece of advice. Here's what birch had to say.

Birch Kinsey: There are as many ways to steward the food system as there are organisms on the planet. There is not a one size fits all. When I first got involved, I thought I had to grow food. Well, if I have a ground thumb, I can be creating a huge impact by having a bee hotel in my property or if I have a brown thumb, I can grow mushrooms instead of plants. I love growing mushrooms. I love beech mushrooms so much they're expanding, but they're not hard to grow and they're not expensive to grow, right? Something that I do believe and that I think will prove itself is that typically following the things that come easily and naturally to you as well as feel fulfilling to you when you're being an animal in your habitat a lot of times by investing in nurturing yourself as you would a plant. It will allow you to have the energy and the inspiration to create a difference. For me I know that I love reading and talking, right? Just by pursuing those things, I'm able to make a difference. I'm able to learn about micology, I'm able to learn about, you know, agroforestry or stuff like that, right? And not everybody is academic like I am. And I think that a lot of people are like, well, I have no intention of reading this big book and I'm like, well, did you know that if you're more of a builder, you can learn to build different bee hotels, it is so much fun. You know, or say you're more artistically inclined, you can lend that to your community garden that is trying to beautify itself, right? And then the person who was sad to come to like their dreary little garden now has painted has colored the little raised garden vent. I think that engagement in the food system is not a monolith. The world is not a monolith and that with a little creativity and ingenuity, there are a lot of ways that you can make a significant impact on the world and that's by making a significant impact on yourself. When you find that peace of mind that you never experienced outside of gardening. You are doing wonders for the world because you are the world.

Danielle Desir Corbett: The duo Astrid St. Pierre and Ellen Lansing was another portrait that caught my eye. Astrid and Ellen were high school students who started a nonprofit composting operation called Placid Earth. This student run organization turns food scraps into soil. In their first two years, they diverted over 20,000 pounds of food waste from the community of Lake Placid, New York creating soil used to grow more food. Speaking of composting at The Wild Center, don't miss the giant smiling decomposter located in The Wild Center parking lot to learn more, I had a chance to sit down with Shannon Surdyk who coordinates educational projects across The Wild Center campus. What's the inspiration for the compost exhibit? And how is it related to the other exhibits here at the museum?

Shannon Surdyk: Yeah, of course. So we have a really cool community scale com poster on our site. So rather than just have it and kind of hide it away, we wanted to showcase how cool this could be and how, you know, people in communities can take this compost as a model and build one very easily in their own communities. So we wanted to showcase how communities can come together small communities and compost. And the exhibit itself is very eye-catching. So there is a large art piece on the outside of our shipping container which houses our compost drum and it is our compost creature. So we kind of personified the act of composting this large kind of worm like creature taking in all of your discarded food waste. And then within the creature you can see the food kind of swirling around in the drum. And then at the end the creature is almost kind of expelling the compost out the other end of its body. So it's very eye catching from our parking lot and kind of draws people over, which is really nice that way. Our visitors can be attracted over to the compost and then read our signage and learn more about the project.

Danielle Desir Corbett: For those who aren't familiar, can you explain what composting is? What goes into a compost? What goes out? Just a quick brief rundown?

Shannon Surdyk: Yeah, of course. So food waste is a large problem in the United States. You know, we throw away a lot of food every day whether it's imperfect or whether it's rotted or just kind of all of the excess skins and ends of vegetables and other produce. So you can take all of that organic material. And rather than letting it rot in a landfill, you can actually help it break down easier in a compost system. So people can have, you know, backyard calm posters where they just pile all of their waste together and mix in the kind of appropriate materials to aid in the breakdown of material, allow decomposition to happen in a healthy way our system. We put in all of the food waste. And then you do have to kind of got a little recipe mixing greens and browns for the proper mixture. So what's inside the compost drum are millions of little microbes, so tiny, tiny little organisms that you can't see. And they're helping to aid in the process of decomposition. So we're rotating food waste, mixing it with our browns, which we use wood pellets to create a nice healthy habitat for those microbes. And then about a month later you get really nutrient rich soil or compost coming out the other end. So the food waste is breaking down back into like basically healthy soil that you can then use to help re-grow more food.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Now for folks who want to visit The Wild Center, but perhaps they're not able to actually come and travel. What is it like in terms of virtual? Do you have any virtual experiences that folks can tune into on the website?

Shannon Surdyk: We do, yeah. So we have a whole suite of different virtual experiences where people can kind of see what we offer here at The Wild Center. So we have our virtual visit where basically it's almost like you're inside of the wild center from your, the comfort of your own home. So you can take a tour of our museum and all of our exhibits. There's also the virtual visit aspect of wild walk, which is our really popular outdoor exhibit that kind of gives you a new perspective into the Adirondack forest. So you can also kind of scroll around and experience that from home. In addition to the virtual tours. We also have a lot of digital programs like lunchtime live and animal club all archived on our website. So we created a lot of content during the initial years of the pandemic that is all available on our website.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Overall, The Wild Center's Climate Solutions exhibit made this very serious topic approachable, highlighting that we can all take part and creating climate solutions in our lives and communities that have a real impact on the planet. My hope is that after listening to this episode, you'll consider how you can become part of a growing community of people who are working towards addressing climate solutions, leaning on your strengths, talents and interests. Seeing so many faces of climate action, including faces that look like mine and even younger than me was very empowering and encouraging. Since visiting The Wild Center, I started having conversations with my grandpa about how we can start a garden in my backyard. I'm excited to continue learning, figuring out if I'm a green thumb or brown thumb and bond with my grandpa throughout the process. I even started researching composting, which is a lot easier than I thought. If you're interested in turning spoils into soil and don't want to do it at home. Here are some tips. Check with your municipal government agency or county to find a composting program that will take your organic scraps or you can contact your local trash removal service provider to see if they collect organic scraps. Another option is connecting with local farmers markets and stores that take scraps for their compost. Exiting the climate solutions exhibit my mom and I wrote letters of gratitude to the planet. Mines read. Thank you, Earth, for all that you provide past, present and future. We are eternally grateful.

This episode is made possible by The Wild Center. A special thank you to Nick Gunn, Jen Kretser, Shannon Surdyk, and Birch Kinsey for joining me on the podcast. To learn more about the wild center and plan your trip, visit wild center dot org for additional photos and links mentioned in this episode, visit podcast dot thoughtcard dot com. I hope you enjoyed this episode. But don't forget there's way more where that came from. When you become a supporter of the show, you'll get bonus episodes, additional tips on affording travel real time updates as well as strategies for building wealth and creating multiple income streams. Head over thoughtcard.com forward slash join to support. Also be sure to follow me on instagram. I'm @thedanielledesir slide in my DMs and share with me your thoughts about this episode. What did you enjoy what stood out to you? Let me know I'd absolutely love to connect with you outside of the podcast. See you in the next one.

Jen Kretser: Wherever you are, like, you can contribute in some way, in any way that you would like. You have skills already, you have the tools already. You don't need to be a climate scientist, like working in Antarctica to be able to work on climate change, so you can be anyone and you can do it anywhere in your community, in your home, talking with your friends and family. So we wanted to make sure everyone felt invited and that they belonged and they felt included.

Climate Solutions Exhibit At The Wild Center

In this episode, we cover:

  • [2:39] What to expect when visiting the Climate Solutions Exhibition at The Wild Center
  • [6:19] How Birch Kinsey got introduced to farming at the age of 14
  • [7:34] Why Birch Kinsey advocates for youth, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color growers and farmers
  • [8:19] Gardening tips for beginners
  • [12:01] Best vegetables to grow
  • [17:42] About the Compost Exhibit & Demo at The Wild Center
  • [19:24] What is composting?
  • [21:09] Virtual experiences at The Wild Center
  • [23:25] Ways to compost outside of your home
    • How to get started composting

Watch the episode here:

Resources Mentioned

The Backyard Homestead (book): By Carleen Madigan, this book provides all the information you need to grow and preserve a sustainable harvest of grains and vegetables throughout the year regardless of your accessibility to land; raise animals for meat, eggs, and dairy; and keep honey bees.

Learn More About Climate Solutions Exhibit at The Wild Center

The Climate Solutions Exhibit is a 3,000-square feet indoor exhibition at The Wild Center that features the portraits of 12 individuals from the Adirondacks who have created climate change solutions. In addition to the oversized portraits and signage, pick up the telephone and hear their voices as they explain the climate solution they are working on. Also, don’t miss the hands-on tinkering studio and the ADK Map Moss Wall.

Some of the giant portraits in this exhibit include Neil Patterson, Jr., Assistant Director of SUNY ESF’s Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, who reconnects Indigenous communities and youth with their ancestral lands. Or Courtney Grimes-Sutton, who practices rotational grazing, a sustainable farming method that shifts animals to different parts of the pasture, so the land has a chance to rest and regrow between grazings.

These inspiring stories showcase that you don’t need to be a climate scientist to make an impact and can be a farmer, photographer, artist, and more. Anyone can contribute to the climate movement in some way — in your community, home, even talking to friends and family.

Visit The Wild Center

Website: www.wildcenter.org

TikTok: @thewildcenter

Instagram: @wildcenter

Twitter: @wildcenter

The Wild Center Address:

45 Museum Drive
Tupper Lake, NY 12986 

About Birch Kinsey, Farmer and Youth Activist

Portrait by Dustin Angell.

“The local food movement aims to make food accessible by connecting community members to healthy, culturally significant foods using regenerative and non-toxic practices.

“I want to encourage Black, Brown, and Indigenous people to connect with the land, learn our empowering history, and make informed decisions.”

Photo by Dustin Angell.

Birch Kinsey is a Buffalo, New York, food-based environmental justice activist. Since 14 years old, Birch has been bringing awareness to how the climate crisis affects us all. Birch advocates for voices often unheard, like the youth, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Did you know that white farmers own 98% of private farmland in the U.S.? Historically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) groups have been systematically excluded from land ownership. 

Gardening Tips For Beginners

Birch shares some helpful gardening advice.

1) Remember to honor and care for your soil. Nurture the microbiome and fungal biomom.

Know that there are fungal soil supplements, micro driesell soil additives that encourage fungal diversity. Your soil allows your root systems to absorb more moisture and nutrients.

2. Don’t start with bare dirt garden; start with a mulch garden. Hay will give you too many weeds.

If you have a raised bed or an in ground bed, make sure that you cover it so that the soil can retain moisture and nutrients.

3. Purchase seeds from local seed keepers. Your plants are likely to be more sturdy if they are from heirloom seeds.

Best Vegetables For Gardeners

  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Thyme and Oregano (fresh and dried)
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms

Remember to grow what you enjoy eating.

What is composting?

Food waste is a large problem in the United States.

Rather than letting organic scraps like excess skins, ends of vegetables, and other produce rot in a landfill, you can help it break down easier in a compost system. After some time, you’ll get nutrient rich soil or compost coming out the other end.

Why is composting good for the environment?

With composting, food waste breaks down into healthy soil that you can then use to grow more food.

While you can compost at home you can also:

  • Check with your county to find a composting program that will take your organic scraps. 
  • Contact your local trash removal service provider to see if they collect organic scraps.
  • Connect with local farmers markets and stores that take scraps for their compost.

What is climate change?

Climate change is the long-term shift in temperature and weather patterns over time. Typically climate change occurs over thousands of years, but due to global warming, it’s happening a lot faster.

Some of this acceleration is due to burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. A warmer climate can lead to extreme weather changes, heat waves, wildfires, food shortages, and acid in our oceans that affect sea life.

What are some easy climate solutions?

Getting involved creating climate solutions is a lot easier than you might think.

Some easy climate solutions include:

  • Walking more often
  • Using less electricity
  • Turning off the lights when not in use
  • Taking shorter showers
  • Recycling
  • Using reusable products like water bottles and bags
  • Gardening
  • Composting
  • Not littering

Other Episodes You’ll Enjoy

Explore the Adirondacks and Get Closer To Nature At The Wild Center – Episode 110

How To Define Your Travel Style – Episode 102

What To Pack For Road Trips – Episode 101

5 Reasons To Visit Rochester, New York – Episode 86

Hear stories of people creating climate solutions at The Wild Center Climate Solutions Exhibit