Enrichment days enrich me too

Saturday was a busy day. First, we volunteered at Crafty Mart, and then we went to the zoo. Saturday was an Enrichment Day at the Akron Zoo, so we had to go enjoy the nice weather and get some more practice with the camera. Enrichment days are when the zookeepers put new and interesting toys into the animals’ habitats to add some variety to their life. Usually, it’s something they can explore or destroy, or a big toy with food hidden inside.  It’s meant to stimulate the animal’s natural instincts and it sure is fun to watch.

Zoo June Two

red panda

We got there in time to see the red panda’s enrichment time and it was well worth it. The red panda is so bossy and stompy and adorable. He reminds us of our Lemon. (I know… red pandas are not pets!) On Saturday, the red panda’s enrichment included a paper mache dinosaur and some extra bamboo. He also had some training time, which allows the keeper to look him over to make sure he’s healthy and to give him any medication he needs.

Zoo June Two

Did you know that red pandas aren’t pandas at all? They are so unique that they are now in their own family.

Zoo June Two

We love the Akron Zoo. Many vegans or animal activists question the ethics of zoos, but I think they are necessary because I think most people need to see something in order to care about it. Zoos also allow us to conserve animals who are nearing extinction due to human practices like logging, cattle ranching (that destroys 1,000’s of acres of forest every year), and sprawl. The Akron Zoo is great because you can see everything in about 3 hours, and they focus a lot of their education programs on conservation efforts. A few years ago, the Akron Zoo was included on the Ohio Solar Tour because of their green buildings.

Zoo June Two

komodo dragon

Zoo June Two

seahorse and starfish in the new aquarium


Foxfire books

Have you ever heard of the Foxfire books? I got to see some this weekend, as we were looking for home remedies for a sunburn (my pale skin is no match for 5 hours of sunshine, despite multiple coats of sunscreen). The Foxfire books are a collection of stories compiled in 1966 by an English class in a Southern Appalacian community. Students interviewed elders of the community and recorded their stories, crafts, and words of advice into a journal.

The students’ portrayal of the previously-dismissed culture of Southern Appalachia as a proud, self-sufficient people with simple beliefs, pure joy in living, and rock-solid faith shattered most of the world-at-large’s misconceptions about these ‘hillbillies’.

The project has continued for 45 years, and has expanded from a journal to a museum and even a method of teaching that gives students the opportunity to determine how they learn the material. (They will learn, but they get to choose how.) This was the beginning of the project – an English teacher was challenged with making learning interesting to his students. The students chose to produce a magazine, which taught them interviewing, writing, and communication skills. Ultimately, they ended up preserving this unique bit of American culture whose knowledge will be preserved for generations. One student writes

For two years I was a part of the magazine class; as a result, I have experienced all the emotions that go along with it – the tears of angst that come with lost or crashed disks, the frustrations of a computer that just won’t cooperate, the nerves before the first interview, the thrill of a good interview, and the incredible pride after seeing your name in print for the first time.

The Foxfire books contain information about anything from identifying wildflowers to salting pork to traditional ghost stories.  If you get your hands on one of these books, just know that you’re holding something special.


Vegan Iron Chef

Vegan Iron Chef at Who's Your MamaThree student teams from The University of Akron (I’m so proud!) competed in the Vegan Iron Chef at Kent State University today. There were plenty of fresh and spicy scents and samples to go around.

Turnout was pretty good. And everyone enjoyed the rice salad, featuring Forbidden Rice, and cellophane noodles with sesame seeds and red onions. Tasty samples!

There was a good discussion about the importance of eating local food and supporting CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and farmer’s markets. All the chefs used local or organic ingredients, many of which came from the Rootstown farm.

Ramps and morels

At the professional competition, Don King showed off his recently collected ramps and morels (right). Check out his blog, Don the Mushroom Hunter.

We didn’t stick around for the professional competition, but the excitement and positive energy inspired me to look into entering the competition next year.

Vegan Iron Chef

First place among the student competition went to team 1, who made an Indian dish with rice, lentils, and butternut squash with a pea, carrot-ginger, tomato raw cocktail. (right, below)

Vegan Iron Chef at Who's Your Mama

UA’s Garde Manger Club will post all the recipes from the student competition on their Facebook page. I can’t wait to try some of these recipes.

Team 3 took 2nd place with their vegan gyro made with cauliflower, chickpea patties, homemade pitas, and an avocado tzatziki. Yum!

Vegan Iron Chef

It was a hot competition, and team 2 took 3rd place with a smoky Asian tempeh, eggplant, and rice dish.

Sadly, none of the student chefs were vegan, and only a few of the professional chefs were vegan, though there were some vegetarians in the chef group. But, we were happy to see such a lively, positive, and encouraging crowd for this event. We found the dishes a little over-spiced, but the students probably knew they were appealing to a crowd of meat eaters. They knew their audience.

The presentations were all interesting and fun. The student teams had to use

  • local or organic ingredients
  • the mystery ingredient, which was green garlic
  • a raw dish

Each team prepared their dishes for five judges, and at least 30 samples for the crowd (my favorite part!). Two lucky judges were chosen from the crowd, and they judged each dish based on

  • flavor
  • presentation
  • use of local or organic produce
  • originality
  • use of raw ingredients

It was fun to see them calmly and expertly preparing their dishes, and then rushing to “plate” them for the judges. We were so impressed by the student teams. I hope they will continue cooking vegan dishes for themselves and others.

“Who’s Your Mama?” kicks off with Vegan Iron Chef

Kent State University, home of the “Who’s Your Mama?” week-long Earth Day and Environmental Film festival, will host its 4th Vegan Iron Chef competition this Sunday, April 22, from noon to 5pm in the KSU Student Center, 2nd floor dining center. Witness professional teams and student teams compete for the Vegan Iron Chef, and enjoy vegan samples. What else?

  • Garde Mange fruit and vegetable carving display by students from The University of Akron
  • Ice carving by Kent State University’s John Goehler
  • Music by Zach

Full details here, including profiles of the competing chefs. It’s open to the public. (Yay!)

The “Who’s Your Mama?” Earth Day party just keeps getting better every year. The festival officially opens with the Vegan Iron Chef on Sunday, followed by films and food demos throughout the week, and ends with the block party on Saturday, April 28, featuring cool bands, cultural events, animals, exhibits, and more.

Have you ever seen a cooler name for an Earth Day festival?

How bats hibernate

Flying Fox at the Columbus Zoo

While this extra warm spring is making humans happy, plants and animals are feeling the effects in a different way. We will likely get a big freeze before summer really starts, and that could affect fruit and vegetable crops that have started to grow ahead of schedule.  Another essential animal I was a little worried about is the bat. Bats eat bugs and fertilize crops. They’re so cool! I’m usually thrilled to see a bat, but when I saw several last night (because it was 77 degrees on March 19!), I got a little worried and decided to do some research. Questions:

  • Do bats hibernate?
  • What happens when they come out of hibernation?
  • Will the bats freeze when the weather cools again?
  • Will the bats starve when the weather cools and the bugs die?
  • Can the bats go back into hibernation when the weather cools again?
  • What effect does the hibernation > not hibernation > hibernation > not hibernation process have on them?

The Organization for Bat Conservation had some answers. It turns out, I needn’t worry about my little buddies. When it gets cold outside, bats slow their bodily functions and go into torpor, or hibernation. Their resting heart rate can go from 300-400 bpm when it’s warm outside to 10 bpm when it’s cold.

This occurs on a daily basis during spring, summer, and autumn for a few hours, depending on the weather conditions.

Whew! This process is normal for them. They go in and out of hibernation throughout the year, without us noticing.

The amazing thing about hibernators that sets them apart from other animals is that they are capable of rewarming their bodies from very low temperatures all by using internally created heat. Ectotherms, such as reptiles, have body temperatures that can reach low levels but they are incapable of rewarming themselves without external heat sources. –Bat Conservation.org

So, I will take comfort in knowing that the bats enjoyed a satisfying spring meal, got rid of some pesky bugs, and will safely return to hibernation when they need to.

Nature is pretty awesome.

Upcoming Events

Do not miss these fantastic upcoming events in NE Ohio.

Farmers Markets

… are in full swing in August! Choose from Lock 3, Stan Hywet, Mustard Seed, and so many more.

Great Lakes Burning River Fest

Besides having a really cool name, this is seriously the best festival ever. You’ll find great food, education, activities for the kids, music, and fun!

Saturday, August 9 from noon to 11 p.m.
Nautica Entertainment Complex, Cleveland
$8 online preorder, kids Free

Green Energy Expo

by Green Energy Ohio. Meet local green energy companies, learn more about what you can do to reduce your impact, maybe even find a green collar job!

Saturday, August 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
John S. Knight Center, Akron

Home Depot will recycle your CFLs

Home Depot announced that all of their stores will have a collection point for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This is great news for those of us who have made the switch to CFLs to cut down on our carbon output, and our electric bills!

CFLs contain a small bit of mercury, which poses a problem when the bulbs are improperly disposed of.

Home Depot will accept any maker’s bulbs, no matter where you bought them. There are plans in place for other recycling systems for CFLs, but this convenient option offers a consistent drop off point and removes the burden from the consumer to find another solution. (75% of the nation’s homes are within 10 miles of a Home Depot – yikes!)

So, take your used CFLs to Home Depot when they burn out (in about 7 years) so they can be recycled.

European Sustainability

I just got back from a trip to Europe, and have a few notes I found interesting. Itinerary: we flew from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Amsterdam, and then Prague.

There’s no recycling in Cleveland – to be sure, I even asked an employee where I could recycle my drink bottle and he said “oh, just throw it in the trash.” Philadelphia Airport had thorough recycling – with separate containers. Amsterdam gets its own paragraph. Needless to say, recycling is available in Amsterdam (except in the “travel-to-America” section). Upon return, we landed at the Akron-Canton Airport, which does recycle. What’s up, Cleveland?


We had a few hours in Philadelphia, so I look my husband to see the town. We both appreciate history, and especially the freedoms our founding fathers had in mind when they created this country. After our experience in the Cleveland Airport, I bought a pocket Constitution to comfort me for the remainder of the trip. Philadelphia is a beautiful city, where public transportation is used by anyone who isn’t already riding their bike. The streets are 2 lanes, so cars are bothersome. I wish we had more time there.


As we flew into Amsterdam, we saw fields of windmills generating power for this coastal city. The air was crisp and clean, and the city was just beautiful. We saw many more windmills in the city, and a fantastic irrigation system for the fields. I’m sure the food there was deliciously fresh!


IMG_0856Our final destination was the free country of the Czech Republic. Prague was just as beautiful as anything we imagined. And talk about public transportation! … We rode the tram, train, or bus throughout the city and found public transportation to be clean, safe, stress-free and overall enjoyable, even in a foreign language.

Recycling is available everywhere. Trash cans (and trucks) are noticeably smaller than recycling containers.

I especially loved the local markets that were specialized. Instead of going to a one-size-fits-all shop for your culinary desires, you can go to the fruit and vegetable market for the freshest produce, the bread store for delectable pastries and loaves, and the cheese store for dairy treats. There were locally-owned, specialty shops for everything you need. For convenience, all-in-one shops are also plentiful. It’s nice to have choices. How could I forget the tea shops? They were delightful!

The cuisine was largely meat-based, but we were able to find great vegetarian options everywhere we went. Our best discovery (our friend took us there) was an Afghan restaurant. Delicious!

Dresden and LeipzigDresden

We took a train to Dresden and Leipzig for a day trip. These beautiful German cities demonstrated reduce and reuse, and everyone rode bikes. It was fantastic. After the US firebombed Dresden in WWII, the city decided to rebuild itself using the same bricks that were used in the original buildings. They had to incorporate some new bricks, and the result is a city full of charred-black and new-white speckled churches and city buildings.

The train stations were nearly the highlight of this trip. They were so clean and efficient. The Leipzig train station doubles as a 2-story shopping mall. The food here was also good, but heavy, with lots of cheese and everything fried. Good thing we took public transportation so we were forced to walk off our calories.


Because of “security” rules, we weren’t as environmentally responsible as we would like. Therefore, we drank a lot of bottled water, and even had to use styrofoam. We refilled our bottles whenever we could, but were forced to go through so many security checks – despite never leaving an airport – that we consumed and disposed of many bottles. One time we bought bottled water, but it was warm and tasted like plastic, so I dumped it out and filled it with drinking fountain water. Ha! It was unfortunate that we aren’t allowed to stick to our ideals. In the future, we will bring our empty bottles and have them filled inside the airport (if we’re lucky), and bring our mugs for coffee and tea. Do you think I’m allowed to bring my bpa-free metal bottle? I’ll try it.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. We learned a lot about history, experienced the joy of public transportation, and saw some good friends. I can’t wait to get back!

LEED Metro Building Open for Tours

The Metro Parks, Serving Summit County building is having an open house June 21-22 from 1-4 p.m. each day. This building was recently renovated, and includes these wonderful, sustainable features:

  • geothermal heating
  • waterless toilets
  • solar panels
  • a green roof
  • lumber from downed trees
  • recycled carpet, furniture and cabinetry
  • porous pavement to let rainwater through
  • a rain garden
  • rain barrels
  • and native landscaping.

If you want to tour the Metro building, you can pick up a shuttle at the Metro RTA Park-and-Ride lot at 530 Ghent Road, or you can park along the path and walk. The building is located on the corner of Sand Run and Revere Road.

The cost of the environmentally sustainable features cost an extra 15%, but that will be recouped by energy savings throughout the year, as the building won’t have to pay for their energy use. Most of that extra cost is also paid for through grants and donations. It really makes a lot of sense for public buildings (including college and university) to become more environmentally sustainable.

Akron Beacon Journal