“The pure excitement of the kids as they discover and engage with the nature around them is truly contagious and I always come away having learned many new things from the community that comes out for this event,” said Michelle Fearon, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, who volunteered at BioBlitz.
The BioBlitz, a rapid sampling of organisms inhabiting D-Town Farm in Detroit, was held on Saturday, May 13, 2017 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The activity combined taxonomic inventory, intergenerational cooperation and science education for some 60 schoolchildren and 30 volunteers. The goals of the event are to engage citizen science, strengthen community bonds, and discover biological diversity in the city. D-Town Farm is located in Rouge Park.
The children hailed from the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s Food Warriors program and other community schools. U-M students, professors and specialists who study a variety of organisms teamed up with community members to promote the exploration of nature and document the abundance of life at one of Detroit’s organically managed farms. BioBlitz is an opportunity for youth to engage in an out-of- the-classroom, hands-on learning opportunity as they interact with the natural world and build relationships with people who strive to better understand and protect the world we live in. They spent time together expanding their understanding of biodiversity in a unique urban landscape. Children and adults from different backgrounds divided into groups to identify multitudes of plants, fungi, insects, birds, mammals and reptiles within the seven-acre farm.
“I brought my binoculars with me to the event in hopes of spotting a few interesting birds in the trees and being able to show them to the children,” Fearon said. “However, it turned out that my binoculars were extremely popular and every kid in my group wanted to try them out again and again. My favorite moment was when the youngest boy in our group wanted me to teach him how to use them. The binoculars were truly huge for him, but his determination and excitement to get to use them was fantastic!”
“The BioBlitz is a great opportunity to expose children and their parents to nature, ecology and agriculture,” said Naim Edwards, outreach and garden director for Voices for Earth Justice and an alumnus (U-M M.S. EEB 2014). “Kids address fears of snakes, spiders, snails and other living things they fear from lack of familiarity. Many youth are enthusiastic, and usually by the end of the event, everyone is more grateful for nature and diversity. The BioBlitz is great for forming new relationships, and promoting collaboration between organizations.” Edwards coordinated this event for the third year in a row.
“I get involved because I know the value and the need for humans to reconnect with nature,” he said. “We cannot expect people to love and appreciate themselves and the planet more, when current trends and social pressures are clustering us in more sterile and concrete or technological environments. Children and adults need to be outside and see, touch, hold, smell and taste things. This activity is invaluable.”
“I help organize the BioBlitz because I love to help provide opportunities for kids to spend time outside exploring and learning about the cool plants and animals that live around us,” said Fearon. “I spent most of my childhood trying to catch almost any animal that I could spot, and learn as much as I could about them, which ultimately led me to become a scientist.”
Some highlights of the day included kids eating lemon ants and edible plants, a vegan lunch of chili and chips, people holding snakes for the first time, and children expressing their love for animals.
The event was made possible with help and support from the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network; Voices for Earth Justice; the University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS, formerly SNRE); Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) and the Detroit Zoological Society.
EEB, SEAS and Program in Biology volunteers included:
Graduate students: Bolivar Aponte (SEAS); Anat Belasen, Sasha Bishop, Molly Choi, Michelle Fearon, Paul Glaum, Austin Martin (SEAS); Nicholas Medina, Jonno Morris (SEAS); Pamela Murillo; Beatriz Otero, Jessica Robinson (SEAS); Kristel Sanchez; Chatura Vaidya. Undergraduate student: Ben Iuliano. Alumni: Clarisse Betancourt, Naim Edwards, Theresa Ong. Faculty: Professors John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto (SEAS). Staff: Tiffany Carey. (If your name is missing from this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org).