Monthly Archives: July 2016

Is Farmers Market Produce Organic?

FMBimage001You stroll through your local Fairfax County Park Authority Farmers Market, selecting fresh berries, inhaling the wonderful smells of baked goods, and learning about the farmers’ growing methods. You are looking over some zucchini when you wonder: is this organic?

This can be a complex question. It is one that you may ask yourself because you want to protect yourself and your family from pesticides, or because you do not want to eat GMOs. In general, most of the produce at our farmers markets is not organic. This means that most of the farmers who sell produce at our farmers markets are not USDA Certified Organic. However, the organic label is not the only important thing to look for on your produce, and farmers who grow and sell their food locally have many practices that are important to consider and are good for the farms and for you.

FMBimage003You have a unique learning opportunity at our farmers markets that you will not get at your regular grocery store, including the ability to ask the farmers themselves questions about their practices. You can learn about whether or not they use pesticides and their growing process. Through this transparency of where your food comes from and how it is treated, you can learn more about your food than you could at the store. All of the products at our farmers markets are producer-only, which means that the farmers themselves grow or make everything that they sell. You have access to the source of the food that you eat, which is a really useful and comforting ability.

Organic certification is in part meant to ensure sustainable practices, but having organically certified produce is not the only way in which food can be sustainable. Since many of our vendors are small local farms, they usually have a variety of plants, which make it easier to deal with pests and weeds. With a farm that only grows one kind of plant, they need to spray the plants with pesticides in order to ensure that they don’t lose their entire farm. Some of our farmers spray pesticides, but many of them use alternative pest management systems like Integrated Pest Management. This technique combines different ways of managing pests, by selecting hardy plants and controlling pests in the best ways possible. For example, some farmers may plant marigolds with produce to keep insects away.

FMBimage005Local farmers are more sustainable than their long-distance counterparts through transport, because they only move their produce within 125 miles to get to one of our farmers markets. This uses less fuel than shipping produce across the country, and lessens the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted through the production of the food.

You may still want that USDA Certified Organic stamp of approval on your veggies. If so, our certified vendors are listed here, along with their locations.

  • Jerry’s Organic Berries            Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • The Byrd Farm                        Wakefield, Weds 2pm-6pm
  • The Farm at Sunnyside           Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • Toigo Farm (tomatoes only)    Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • Radical Roots Farm                Burke, Sat 8am-12pm

We also have two Certified Naturally Grown Vendors, listed below. This certification is similar to growing food organically in that they do not use GMOs or synthetic pesticides, but is a different certification.

  • Terembry Farm                        Lorton, Sun 9am-1pm
  • Honey Brooke Farm               Burke, Sat 8am-12pm & McCutcheon/Mount Vernon, Weds 8am-12pm

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As you leave one of our 11 farmers markets, you can rest assured that the herbs, raspberries, and hot house tomatoes in your tote bag are local and grown in the way that you want. You have spent the morning talking to the farmers themselves about their sustainable practices. If the food you chose is not USDA Certified Organic, you know that it was grown on a small farm by the person who you shook hands with when you bought it.

 

 

 

Author Lauren Rhodes is a student at Oberlin College and a summer intern for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Volunteers are the Park Authority’s Superheroes

Volunteers-superheros

They can’t fly through the air faster than a speeding bullet.

They spend time building bat houses, rather than hiding out in a bat cave.

Their only “spider-sense” is the sense to calm others with a fear of eight-legged critters.

But the Fairfax County Park Authority’s (FCPA) volunteers are superheroes in their own way, bringing the wonders of nature, the healing power of recreation and exercise, and the lessons of history to park visitors year-round. In conjunction with National Park and Recreation month, everyone at the FCPA wants their superheroes to know how much they are valued and appreciated in their local parks.

In fiscal year 2015, volunteers contributed 180,642 hours to the Park Authority. Those hours translate into more than $4.5 million in cost savings for county taxpayers and more than $6.4 million in cost savings and benefits based on nationally-used formulas.

The numbers certainly help to explain the critical role of park volunteers, but it’s hard to quantify the lasting impact volunteers have on those who visit FCPA sites.

How do you put a value on the awe a child feels the first time a volunteer lets them feed a turtle or hold a snake? What currency can measure the insight into our history that can be gained by an archeological volunteer’s discovery? Who will ever know the power a volunteer’s friendly face or welcoming smile has to encourage people to keep returning to a RECenter for their workouts?

This month, #Superjuly, the National Recreation and Park Association has been using the fictional superheroes Captain Community, the Green Guardian and the Fit Twins to guide park visitors on adventures across the nation. In the Fairfax County Park Authority, our real-life superheroes will be honored in November when the Elly Doyle Park Service and Outstanding Volunteer Recognition awards are handed out.

Volunteers from teen to retirement age have been honored in recent years for a wide range of contributions. They have been honored for helping to care for nature center animals, assisting in RECenter fitness centers, working the front desk at park and rec sites, bringing history to life through interpretive programs, helping in the archeology lab, pulling invasive plants, maintaining landscaping, offering gardening advice, managing farmers markets, and even for coordinating other volunteers.

No special cape is required to be a park superhero. Just bring your talents and expertise and indulge your passions by joining the Park and Rec Brigade at your local park.

 

Author Carol Ochs is a Management Analyst for the Public Information Office of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Pokémon Go in the Parks

searching4pokemonThe creatures wandering through the parks with their heads down and their vision locked on their cell phones are not zombies. They’re searching for creatures you can’t see.

For the past week, hundreds of people have been seen wandering the trails of Fairfax County parks in a kind of mass trance, and then they’ll suddenly and randomly stop and start waving their cell phones about.

If you don’t know what’s going on, remain calm. They are sane. In fact, they’re having a blast.

A Nintendo game called Pokémon Go has gone viral, and casual players are joining rabid players in chasing the characters of this game in augmented reality. Millions of people have downloaded the game in its first week on the market. Simply put, the app causes virtual characters from the game Pokémon to appear on a virtual map of wherever you are standing, and from there the fun begins as you chase them, capture them and advance to further challenges through several levels of play. The characters can pop up anywhere. (I downloaded the game and immediately found three in my yard.) If you play the game, you’ll also want to use it to seek out Pokéstops, which are public places where you can download Pokéballs to throw at the Pokémon. Trust me, if you’re not familiar with the game, that does make sense.

Huntley Meadows Park intern Megan Massa points out that parks and other public areas are designated “Pokéstops,” places where people can gather to catch Pokémon. Some places are designated “Pokémon Gyms,” where trainers from three competing factions meet and battle each other. For example, the overlook on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows is a Gym, and there is at least one Pokéstop in the park.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Laura Weimer of Springfield was playing the game this week at Hidden Pond Nature Center. “It’s kind of the dream that all Pokémon fans have been doing since the games originally came out,” said Weimer. “Everyone’s always wondered, well, what if Pokémon were in real life, and now they are.”

The Fairfax County Park Authority is happy to welcome players to the parks. In fact, we’re thrilled that so many folks are coming. While you’re there, take time to learn a little something about the natural and cultural resources surrounding you. Need some information about trails in the parks? Maps and more are on our web page.

So come play the game in parks. Please, a couple of precautions, though. Playing the game requires you to frequently look at your phone, so:

  • Be sure to keep looking around to see where you are. We don’t want you walking into a tree or a yellow jackets nest or bumping into other people.
  • Frequently check your surroundings because, in other parts of the country, some folks have been lured into situations where they were robbed.
  • Be sure to put safety first and look around if you’re on a street or in a parking lot.
  • Parks close at dusk. (Staff will chase out the Pokemon, then, too.)
  • Don’t let the game lure you into trespassing.
  • Please stay on the park trails even if the Pokémon don’t.

One final note – all of this is happening while we are running a selfie contest. Great timing. So while you’re in the park with your phone out, snap a few selfies and enter the contest.

 

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

 

 

 

Discover Parks through Discovery Trail: Presidential Edition

What are you doing this summer? You could visit eight Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) parks, learn about United States presidents, and win big!maptitle16

Visit our sites, learn about the presidents, and receive a prize package along with the chance to win one of three bikes, courtesy of the Fairfax County Park Foundation and Spokes etc.

So, how do you do all of these fun activities? You take part in Discovery Trail. Get a map at a staffed FCPA location or print one online at http://go.usa.gov/x3cnj. Before September 5, 2016 visit eight of the 12 selected sites in the program, and collect a sticker at each one to put on your map. Turn in your completed map to get the prize package that includes admission tickets for mini-golf, a carousel ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a pedal boat outing, camping, a wagon ride, a RECenter pass, AND a boat rental! Enter to win a bike, too!

Participating sites are Sully Historic Site, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Colvin Run Mill, Frying Pan Farm Park, Riverbend Park, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, and Lake Fairfax Park. After visiting eight parks, redeem your map at Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, or Lake Fairfax Park. Directions to each of the parks can be found on the Park Authority website.

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Each site in the program has a connection to a former United States president. Did you know that President Lyndon B. Johnson played golf at Burke Lake Park? The first president of the United States, George Washington, used to own the Colvin Run Mill property. Learn what the turkeys at Frying Pan, the vegetable gardens at Green Spring, and the railroad remnants at Lake Accotink have to do with former U.S. Presidents. Discover what Presidents Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Madison did while in Fairfax County.

Discovery Trail is a great way for students to keep the knowledge flowing during summer months and to learn how history shapes the present in Fairfax County. Get into the parks, learn, and win!

 

Author Lauren Rhodes is a student at Oberlin College and a summer intern for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Super is as Super does: Creating Nature Super Heroes

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A #SuperJuly blog to celebrate Park and Recreation Month in #FairfaxParks 

Being a super hero is typically a harrowing experience. If you’re not being exposed to some toxic chemical, you’re being traumatized by bad guys or flung out of your own galaxy to deal with backward Earthlings. Your superpowers may be helpful destroying aliens, outracing locomotives or challenging the newest mutant national nemesis, but truly, how often have you had to personally deal with these issues? Leaping a tall building would be fun until the Federal Aviation Administration curtails your leaps with new regulations passed faster than a speeding bullet.

A useful superpower would be beneficial on a daily basis, not just when a rogue asteroid is zooming towards Fairfax County. Better still, a superpower would enhance your ability to deal with mundane, certain life challenges such as bumping your head, losing a wallet, failing a test, or missing a two-foot putt. Given a choice, you might wish for a superpower that lifts your spirit, such as robust health, less stress, or success in academics, work, and two-foot putts. Maybe you would long for something as simple as having more friends and fun.

Imagine, if you could obtain those powers, not through a science experiment gone awry but by doing something easy at no cost — how great would that be? Well, the great thing is, you can do that. The superpowers of resilience, robust health, razor focus and bonhomie are there for the taking, just outside your front door – literally.

Most children and adults are disconnected from nature, particularly unstructured outdoor play experiences. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Federation cite University of Michigan studies that say children average four to seven minutes a week in unstructured outdoor play activities and seven hours a day plugged into electronic media.

Outdoors is Super

The Children & Nature Network compiles research studies, many with assistance from the American Association of Pediatrics, that indicate myriad benefits from spending time in nature. Pediatrician and founder of the Whole Child Center Dr. Laurence Rosen, writing for The New Nature Movement, says seven reasons to get your kids outside are to:

  • Encourage exercise
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance focus
  • Improve intelligence
  • Bolster a sense of community
  • Deepen family connections
  • Increase interest in environmental stewardship.

The Natural Teachers Network adds improved creativity, collaboration and communication abilities to that list. If you compare this list with the five skills that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) deems necessary for success in the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate, you’ll discover something. The lists match!

Students are not the only ones who benefit from being outdoors. Any one at any age gains from being outdoors. Nature provides a tapestry of sensory stimulators from fresh air, to vitamin D from the sun, to the decrease in tension. A connection to nature does a body good. Medical News Today cites an article in the journal Neuroscience as showing the benefits of getting dirty or inhaling natural serotonins in soil challenge the logic of germophobes always reaching for hand sanitizer. Feeling low? Make a mud pie!

From preschoolers to seniors and in-between, outside is the best side for physical, social and mental health. A super power that boosts anyone at any age to live a longer, healthier, more successful life is priceless. And this power is free. Just go outside. Nature is waiting to play.

 

Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.