Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 24, 2013

THE NATURALIZED MID-AMERICAN: Conference reveals simple solutions to sustainability


— Last week I left home for two days to go to Bloomington for the winter conference of the Indiana Urban Forestry Council. Yes, there really is such a group, and no, you shouldn’t be surprised, because every profession and every industry now has such a group.

The IUFC is big and active enough that we don’t have to meet in the basement boiler room. We actually had a small conference space in the Convention Center — and we filled it up.

We spent most of one afternoon touring Bloomington’s wonderful, fledgling community orchard. It sits on something less than a half acre plot in one of the city parks.

While we looked at the 22 varieties of fruit, nuts and berries — many of them native to Indiana, including paw paw and serviceberry — we listened to Amy Roche describe how the orchard came to be.

Amy, the orchard’s outreach director, said that several years ago some people in the area recognized an economic, community-building and horticultural need that a public orchard could fill by way of making food available, bringing diverse groups of people together, and demonstrating fruit propagation techniques. The long and short of it is, these people got the city on board, wrote themselves a grant, and built themselves a community orchard managed entirely by volunteers.

The next morning, we heard several people, including Bloomington’s city forester, Lee Huss, talk about uses for urban wood, other than mulch or fuel. This is something I’ve puzzled about for quite some time myself.

In the course of these sessions I realized that I had made the possibilities far more complicated than they needed to be.

In Bloomington, they’ve simply found sawyers and woodworkers who are willing to trade services for wood. A sawyer will saw up a log and give half the wood back to the city. A craftsperson will make three display tables and give one to the city. It’s pretty simple. And considering the sustainability, localness, memory attachment, beauty and unusual character of urban wood, there is plenty of demand for it.

These are two great ideas that I know there is support for in Goshen, and which I think need to be further explored.

At our meeting we also talked about preserving and restoring urban woodlots, private and public; how to build and rebuild streets with appropriate space for trees, people, bikes and cars; and how to research the history of our local forests using “witness tree” archives from the original state surveys. And of course there were lots of side conversations with interesting people, like Carol Cavell of Trees Indiana in Fort Wayne, who is helping schools to build outdoor learning labs that integrate state science standards.

My head got packed full of great ideas in two days. I took Ind. 37 from Bloomington, Interstate 465 around Indy, and then headed north on U.S. 31. Around Kokomo it occurred to me that the point of all those ideas — indeed the real point of urban forestry, and any effort to care for the nature of place — is to slow down and notice where you are.

I got off U.S. 31. I headed east, going 25 mph through tiny Bennet’s Switch, where the railroad used to run, and then north again on two-lane Ind. 19. I crept through Amboy, Santa Fe and New Santa Fe across the glacial flatlands. Down into the Wabash River valley, and across the River itself in Peru, and then up again through twisting gullies and ravines. I saw Chili when I crossed the Eel River, then Gilead and its cemetery, Akron and Mentone.

Somewhere around Etna Green the land began to roll a bit more, due to the convergence of three ancient glaciers, as I learned at the conference. Nappanee, and then Ind. 119 for home. I rolled into Goshen just as dark was falling down into the beautiful woods that fill our own Elkhart River valley.

I looked around at the streetlights, at the lights in houses, at the dark trees, at the black water in the river. I thought of all the people here. I thought of all the things we do, all the things we want to do, and all the things we don’t do.

I thought, none of us really knows how lucky we are to come home in Goshen.