Friday, October 14, 2011

Fairchild Challenge coming to the Keys via Kona Kai BG

Educating the next generation about the importance of plants and our natural environment to the well-being of humanity is crucial.  Through our interactions with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, FL, we learned of the Fairchild Challenge and its devotion to this type of work (more information on the Challenge can be found here).  Although the program impacts tens of thousands of students in South Florida and throughout the world, it has not yet made successful inroads to schools in the Florida Keys.  When we discovered this, we thought it would be great to find a way to make this happen, so we became a Fairchild Challenge 'satellite partner.'  After some research and discussion, we found a perfect project to start with: the 2011/2012 Plant Champions Olympic Wreath Global Competition, the result of a collaboration between Fairchild and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).  Essentially, teachers work with students to create wreaths inspired by the Olympics made out of plants characteristic of our region (preferably natives).  Students also write an essay explaining their plant choices, including a conservation message applicable to one of the plants.  Pictures are taken of students wearing the finished wreaths; the wreaths and essays are then judged by a panel at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai, with the top 5 winning pictures/essays from Keys schools sent off to London to be displayed at the 2012 Olympic Games - pretty cool!  Instead of going into all the details in this post, you can find more information on BGCI's website.  Here are a couple nice examples BGCI gives of plant wreaths:

After seeing these wreaths, I felt inspired to spend some serious time making one myself.  For inspiration, I delved deep into Olympic wreath history, explored and wrestled with wreath philosophy, schooled myself on the artistic principles and thought of some of the greatest artists in history, and agonized over plant choices for my wreath.  After several sleepless nights and hours of work, I finally finished my masterpiece:

I decided on the native Hamelia patens (firebush) as the sole plant in my wreath, drawing my artistic influence from 16th century abstract minimalism.  Given this, it is understandable that it might be a little tough to recognize and appreciate the sheer beauty and complexity of this masterpiece, but for those who can recognize and appreciate it, before you get all upset, I want to assuage your fears: I will NOT be including my wreath as an entry to take all of the awards in this competition away from everybody else.  As an ethnobotanist and amateur artist/philosopher, I clearly have many unfair advantages, and I know deep down it just wouldn't be right.

Ok ok, for serious now - since class participation in the Competition is up to individual teachers, we collaborated with Bobbi Burson, a teacher at Key Largo Middle School who has a passion for educating her students about the importance of plants and nature in general, to bring together a group of teachers interested in participating.  Several teachers responded with interest, and after our initial organizational meeting in which we discussed details of the Competition and how it can be integrated into various curricula, we are all set to begin.  When teachers are ready to begin work in their classes, I will travel to the middle school to introduce the Competition to each class to get them psyched up and excited about it, which I have heard might be a little challenging, especially when it comes to the guys in each might be analogous to getting girls excited about doing a project about sports cars and weapons (a generalization, but you know what I mean).  Submissions will be made to Kona Kai by participating classes no later than January 20, 2012, so look forward to a post early next year with some great pictures of what the students come up with.

Rick 'Wreath' Hederstrom
Associate Director