As beautiful as they are, the long days of spring and summer bring a particular awareness of the newly awakened world around us, and too, all that must be done to keep it fresh, nourishing, and beautiful for our kids and the generations to follow. But how? How do we sustain our environment on a daily basis? How do we teach our kids to do the same, beyond recycling that water bottle and turning off the tap when they brush their teeth? Programs offered at The Ecology Center of Orange County are specifically designed to answer that how. The Center offers a fun, hands-on approach to sustainability that families can experience together.
Evan Marks, The Ecology Center’s founder and executive director, is an OC native with a background in permaculture and agroecology. Through his extensive work in California and Hawaii, as well as Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Ghana and Nigeria, Evan discovered firsthand that people have the ability to directly impact the environment. He came back to Orange County to educate, encourage and empower his own neighbors with the conviction and tools needed to make the most of their individual tie to the environment.
Neighboring a 26-acre working organic farm that was once a walnut grove, The Ecology Center is a 1-acre site composed of a headquarters and general store in the historic Congdon Farmhouse, plus surrounding learning landscapes and “Eco Labs.” It’s a place where OC families can learn and practice sustainability. The Ecology Center asks such questions as “How can we make our homes healthier? How do we manage food supply and waste? How do we ensure the future health of our oceans? How do we inspire a community to make change?” Then it does something unique: it welcomes families to see, touch, and create practical and positive solutions for more sustainable homes and communities.
“We’re about championing sustainability at an individual level,” says Jeff Davis, director of public programs at The Ecology Center. “We are not a conservation agency; we don’t get too involved in large activism or government policy. We are simply a community resource and cultural center encouraging people to give back more than they take, and to take action today and every day thereafter.”
To fulfill that mission, The Ecology Center focuses on five core areas of sustainability: food, water, waste, shelter and energy. The Ecology Center Eco-Labs surround the farmhouse, welcoming groups and individuals on-site for field trips, educational tours and private events. The Center recognizes that these core areas are all interconnected, and teach accordingly. Programs include Farm to Fork, where families can attend series of hands-on cooking classes designed to teach the tools necessary to make healthy food choices, and even harvest, prepare and cook a meal. Community Table, a monthly farm-to-table dining experience under the shade of the fruit trees in the Center’s courtyard, celebrates local farmers and educates diners on local food ecosystems. Backyard Skills, a hands-on DIY skills-based workshop series, covers everything from raising chickens (a huge hit with the kids!) to beekeeping and fruit tree grafting. Grow Your Own, an organic school gardening program, empowers local educators and parents to blossom into garden leaders, and affirms the merits of outdoor learning.
The folks at The Ecology Center believe that the world we live in is facing radical change – and their aim is to help find positive futures in the face of it. They are looking to their Orange County neighbors to join in and get their hands dirty – proverbially and literally. After all, the best way to learn something new is to do it, and with educational programs available every weekend there is always something to do that will inspire parents and children alike. M