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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Quince Dubbed “Poster Child of Slowness”

quince by 4028mdk09

Folks in various Slow Food circles are suddenly rallying around the quince, which I featured on my site just a week ago.

Possibly with us since Biblical times, the quince was traded at middle eastern crossroads before making its way around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Thomas Jefferson’s garden, only to become relatively neglected in more recent eras.

That seems to have changed, as the somewhat homely fruit has recently become the improbable star of cookbooks, restaurants, and home cooks.

Ben Watson, an author and food activist with Slow Food USA, proclaimed, “The quince is the poster child of Slowness. It’s lovely and fragrant but pretty much inedible unless transformed by peeling, coring and cooking. I think it is poised for a comeback.”

Watson has been involved with Slow Food’s Ark of Taste project, which is an extremely exciting effort to catalog and promote all kinds of delicious foods that are in danger of extinction as we move toward mass production of fewer varieties of foods. I urge you to visit the Ark of Taste web site to see tantalizing photos and learn about wonderful heirloom fruits and other foods, and where to find them.

More on quince’s comeback, history and harvesting can be found in this delightful Los Angeles Times piece.

Also just in, courtesy of Food News Journal: “French foodie Stevie Parle turns to Provence for a perfect quince crumble.” This from the Guardian. (His crumble actually looks and sounds to me like a crisp, which coincidentally is my favorite dessert. I’ll have to try to make some!)

Quinces Ag Research

Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest

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The peak of the harvest, at once miraculous and commonplace, calls for nothing less than an ode by one of America’s most enthusiastic and passionate chroniclers of the everyday, Walt Whitman. Whitman lived through most of the 19th century, in eastern and midwestern America, and his walks and observations survive through a series of moving and life-affirming poems.

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As I turned to the Japanese haiku masters to help honor the turning of summer to fall, I turn now to Walt Whitman to give voice to the harvest and those who work tirelessly, often against time and weather, to glean it.

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This Whitman poem is called The Return of the Heroes — fittingly, I think, as those who work the soil and care for animals to provide food for themselves and others are often humble heroes. The poem is accompanied by photos I took over the last couple of weeks in the vineyards of Napa Valley, CA, as the wineries prepare for their harvest, or crush.

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The Return of the Heroes

(also known as A Carol of Harvest)

For the lands and for these passionate days and for myself,
Now I awhile retire to thee O soil of Autumn fields,
Reclining on thy breast, giving myself to thee,
Answering the pulses of thy sane and equable heart,
Tuning a verse for thee.

O earth that hast no voice, confide to me a voice,
O harvest of my lands — O boundless summer growths,
O lavish brown parturient earth — O infinite teeming womb,
A song to narrate thee.

All gather and all harvest ..

Harvest the wheat of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, every barbed spear under thee,
Harvest the maize of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, each ear in its light-green sheath,
Gather the hay to myriad mows in the odorous tranquil barns,
Oats to their bins, the white potato, the buckwheat of Michigan, to theirs;
Gather the cotton in Mississippi or Alabama, dig and hoard
The golden sweet potato of Georgia and the Carolinas,
Clip the wool of California or Pennsylvania,
Cut the flax in the Middle States, or hemp or tobacco in the Borders,
Pick the pea and the bean, or pull apples from the trees or bunches of grapes from the vines,
Or aught that ripens in all these States or North or South,
Under the beaming sun and under thee.

— Walt Whitman

From Leaves of Grass

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Heed the Call of the Pumpkin: Great Bay Area Pumpkin Farms

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Few people can resist the delights offered by a pumpkin farm. They’re wonderful places for urban and suburban families to slow down just enough to feel the turning of the year and maybe try some harvest or other activities from times past. And, of course, there are the pumpkins themselves — jolly orbs that lay in profusion among pastures until you, the visitor, pick the most perfect among them to take home.

With Halloween almost upon us, most pumpkin farms have gone into high gear, with lots of activities over longer hours, and a host of pumpkins still available for the picking. Included in this listing are working farms and special pumpkin patches in the North, East and South Bays.

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North Bay

Peterson’s Pumpkins and Dried Flowers, Petaluma

This working farm opens to the public for Halloween. Families may visit on weekends or after 2 on weekdays. In addition to two large, natural pumpkin fields, Peterson’s has lots of animals to feed and pet, including chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, ponies, rabbits, pigs, calves, and a very big but gentle bull known as Wooly Monster. There are also fresh vegetables, flowers, free-range eggs, and an observational bee hive, all in a very intimate farm setting.

See the Peterson’s web site for directions and more information.

Peter Pumpkin Patch, Petaluma

This large, beautifully situated pumpkin farm in the Chileno Valley is also the home of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Visitors can milk a cow or dig for potatoes in a potato field, in addition to buying some of the best homemade ice cream around (pumpkin and vanilla) and specialty  farmstead cheeses.

See the Peter Pumpkin Patch web site for directions and more information.

Adobe Pumpkin and Flower Farm

This 30-acre farm has thousands of pumpkins and gourds for the picking, along with U-cut zinnias and sunflowers, and vegetables. Adobe also has a great corn maze, a hay ride, a haunted barn, a jump house, animals, crafts, and food and live entertainment on weekends.

See the Adobe Farms web site for directions and more information.

Nicasio Valley Farms, Nicasio

Along with a large, picturesque pumpkin field, Nicasio Valley Farms offers U-pick strawberries, lots of gourds, and a farmstand featuring a complete array of fresh organic vegetables, as well as eggs, breads and cheeses. There is a hay ride, a hay maze and a jump house.

Call Nicasio Valley Farms at (415) 662-9100 for directions and more information.

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East Bay

Smith Family Farm, Brentwood

Smith Family Farm has been in the same family for three generations and offers lots of great old-time activities on its large farm. There’s a leisurely tractor-pulled hay ride out to the pumpkin field, a corn maze, a hay maze, displays of antique farm equipment, live entertainment in a barn, a host of animals, and lots of fresh U-pick produce. The farm offers lots of places to picnic and play in a large, varied ranch setting.

See the Smith Valley Farm web site for directions and more information.

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, Clayton

Clayton Valley Pumpkin Farm, at the base of Mount Diablo, features a large variety of pumpkins and squash in all shapes and even colors. This working farm offers lots of fun activities for all ages, including a trackless train, a playland featuring old-fashioned games, and plenty of farm animals. The farm represents a part of the area’s rural past that is largely disappearing.

See the Clayton Valley Farm web site for directions and more information.

Joan’s Farm and Pumpkin Patch, Livermore

This large, pretty working farm offers a taste of the Old West: There’s an Old West town, gold panning, antique farm equipment, a museum, and more. There’s also a large corn maze, hay rides, farm animals, and a farmstand with fresh produce for sale.

See the Joan’s Farm web site for directions and more information.

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South Bay

Half Moon Bay bills itself as the “Pumpkin Capitol of the World” for good reason. Many people know about its yearly Art and Pumpkin Festival, which occurs each year in mid-October. Less well-known is the bounty of area farms, many of which have been in families for generations, along Highways 1 and 92.

Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

This delightful pumpkin patch offers an extremely large variety of pumpkins, all grown on-site. This working farm also features a hay pyramid, scarecrows, play areas, a Native American tipi, cornrows, U-pick sunflowers, and an antique John Deere tractor. The farm is wheelchair-accessible.

See the Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm web site for directions and more information.

Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Open since 1932, Arata’s is one of the oldest working pumpkin farms in the Bay Area. In addition to pumpkins, enjoy pony rides, animals, a hay ride, and a huge hay maze — clearly a labor of love — constructed out of 10,000 bales of hay.

See the Arata’s Pumpkin Farm web site for directions and more information.

Little Creek Ranch Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Just up the road from Arata’s, Little Creek is a delightful family farm and pumpkin patch suitable for very young children. Pumpkins lay far apart on flat ground, so there are no vines to trip over. The entire pumpkin area is surrounded by low hay bales. There is a play structure and pony rides, along with other animals.

Call Little Creek Ranch at  (650) 726-2765 for directions and more information.

Pastorino Farms, Half Moon Bay

Pastorino Farms dates from the 30s and is known today for its huge assortment of pumpkins, along with its big orange-and-black decorated barn. Pastorino offers train rides around a small track, a jump house, pony rides, and a petting zoo. Hand-made signs that identify the many different types of pumpkins, some of them quite unusual. Also nice is the farm’s large selection of Halloween decorations and kitchen wares.

See the Pastorino Farms web site for directions and more information.

Lemos Farm, Half Moon Bay

A working farm since 1942, this popular, charming spot offers lots of activities for all ages, especially young children. In addition to a good selection of pumpkins, Lemos Farm features pony rides, hay rides, a hay maze, a train for small children, a toddler-oriented play zone, haunted houses for older and younger children, and animals you can feed and pet. Lemos Farm retains a great deal of charm from the South Bay’s rural past.

See the Lemos Farm web site for directions and more information.

Have fun!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

They Dined on Quince ..

quince by 4028mdk09

In Edward Lear’s playful love poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, the title characters “went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat”. On their wedding night, “they dined on mince and slices of quince” and, yes, ate them with a runcible spoon.

While I don’t know what Lear’s mince was (if anything), the ancient-appearing, squat-pear-shaped, crunchy and little-used quince may be one of the oldest fruits in existence. Early traders traveled from the Tigris Valley to Isfahan, in what is now Iran, for quinces, honey, saffron, apples and salt. Those foods were combined with grapes, pomegranates, cinnamon, rhubarb and figs back at the trading crossroads of Bagdad.

Of these foods, quinces are thought to be one of the most ancient — it’s possible that Eve was tempted not by an apple but by a quince. (And wouldn’t this knowledge have raised the quince’s profile?)

Quince by David W

The evocative fruit made its way to the Mediterranean and to New World, appearing in the garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. I’ve been only somewhat aware of quince, having had quince sorbet and quince jam (which was wonderful, something like a sweet-tart apple-pear) , but not much else. I’d noticed the beautiful, sensuous fruit stitched into Medieval tapestries in museums.

So when the folks at Food News Journal found themselves with a bounty of fresh quinces on their hands, and asked their readers for a quince recipe, I had limited experience with the fruit, but was as curious as they about what to do with it. (I was also charmed by the idea of calling for recipes rather than wasting fruit.)

Quinces Ag Research

I found quince compotes and, of course, jam, which I’d like to try, but my curiosity was especially piqued by this Quince Tarte Tatin from Epicurious, precisely because I like apple desserts so much and substituting the somewhat exotic quinces for the recipe’s traditional apples seemed interesting.

My recipe was chosen, and Shelly Peppel of Food News Journal reports that the resulting tart smelled delicious. “It had a bubbling brown crust, and the caramel was bubbling around the edges in a buttery broth that sent me straight to heaven,” she wrote.

So now I’ll have to try it. Who knows? If enough of us start cooking with quinces, we can re-popularize this historical, romantic fruit.

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Photos: Wikimedia 4028mdk09/Public Domain, David W./Public Domain, Ag Research/Public Domain, Brian Leatart/Bon Appétit

No Impact Week Starts Today

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The Huffington Post and Colin Beavan, No Impact Man, have announced a No Impact Week, starting today. A lot of folks are taking a pledge to go on a week-long “carbon cleanse” in order to reduce our individual impacts on the planet, both for its sake and for ours. According to the HuffPo:

The week is not about strict rules or precisely replicating No Impact Man (unless you want to!) it’s about thinking about your environmental impact in a new way and picking the goals that are right for you.

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You can download a terrific guide to No Impact Week, or any week. It’s packed with simple suggestions that will really get you thinking about small changes you can make immediately to lower your impact on our planet’s store of natural resources and help your own budget and health in the process.

Ideas include: Making your own cleaning products to cut down on toxins and packaging waste, kicking bottled water and getting involved with the Take Back the Tap campaign, driving less and also differently with the Hypermilers to reduce fuel consumption, and following specific ideas to help you shop less and eat sustainably and locally, including ways to make the food you do buy last longer.

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To that last point, the processing and transporting of food around the globe uses tremendous amounts of water, energy and chemicals. By eating organically and locally, when we can, we each can shrink our own carbon footprint in this area, and probably eat more healthfully (and support local farmers) in the process.

The National Resources Defense Council has created a terrific and fun-to-use site that lets you plug in your state and one of 24 times of the year to find out what you can eat that’s relatively local. Some cold-weather states offer a surprising amount of food choices for year-round eating. In other cases, there’s not as much grown locally, but there are fresh offerings in neighboring states.

This Planet Green site on 50 Ways to Reduce Food Waste is another practical site that will not only get you thinking, but offers ways to change your habits today.

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I signed up for the No Impact Project. I didn’t sign a big, intense pledge. I just volunteered to give it a go and receive updates about the project. I committed to myself that I would follow the guide for the week, which will take me through gradually making some changes — perhaps strengthening or deepening practices I already have. If you’re inclined, join me, and we’ll talk about how it’s going.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman: Pedal-powered smoothies at the Mill Valley Eat In for healthy school lunches, Rainwater harvesting at Fairfax EcoFest and Parade, salad at M.V. Eat In, sign at San Francisco Ferry Building, composting and plastic waste display at Fairfax EcoFest and Parade, produce at City Market in Portland.

Fall Foliage is at its Peak

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It’s that time! Leaf peepers, chilly-weather walkers, outdoor enthusiasts, harvest hunters, Halloween haunters, fall cooks, and others wait all year for right now, mid-October, when nature is often at its most dramatic and crisp.

There are some great resources out there to help you enjoy the show where you are, or by taking a fun leaf-seeking trip.

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The Huffington Post has a lovely slide show of blazing Autumn foliage, in special spots around the U.S., from the Great Smoky Mountains to Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

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This New York Times list offers some more off-the-beaten-path places for finding dramatic color, without all the crowds, sometimes because fall’s show is a little more hidden, a little less expected. These include Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, and the Lost Maples Natural Area in Texas.

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Indiana Leaf Cam is a super-fun interactive site that lets you peep at the fall color in real time, at different spots around the state, and provides plenty of practical visitor information for each. Thanks to reader Tracy Denny for alerting me to this fun project and the beauty of Indiana’s fall.

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Baldwin City, in eastern Kansas, hosts the annual Maple Leaf Festival, a 50-plus year tradition with craft exhibits, entertainment and a parade which is held the 3rd weekend in October, when the glorious Kansas maples are at their peak. I thank Alison Kerr at Loving Nature’s Garden for alerting me to the beauty of the Kansas maples.

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Seeking a festival in the southeast U.S.? The Georgia Mountain Fall Festival in Hiawasee, in northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, offers days of concerts and activities while the leaves are at their peak.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Huffington Post’s First Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

Ariana Huffington, publisher of the impressive Huffington Post online news source, has announced the first book for her new book club: Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.

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I initially wrote about this very important book when I was creating my blog. Written in 2004, it has taken an even speedier world and a new level of introspection — perhaps spurred by the soured economy, the dwindling of natural resources — for some of us to catch on to Honore’s terrific disease-and-prescription work. I wrote about my own experiences reading the book and beginning to seek a balanced family and community life, and about the rise of the entire Slow Movement, from Slow Food to Slow Cities. My growing resource page reflects the many people and groups attempting to slow life down to a moderate and meaningful speed.

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I recommend taking a look at Carl Honore’s own writing about In Praise of Slowness. You also won’t want to miss this terrific newer piece from Honore about the Slow Movement today and his response to having his book chosen for the HuffPo Book Club.

Ariana Huffington nails why In Praise of Slowness is so vital. She writes:

One of the things I especially love about In Praise of Slowness is Honore’s tone throughout. Far from a lifestyle guru who’s preaching his enlightenment from on high, Honore himself is a pilgrim, trying to learn how to slow down and enjoy the journey.

She also notes that Honore is no extremist Luddite. He, in fact, seeks a middle ground, writing:

I love speed. Going fast can be fun, liberating and productive. The problem is that our hunger for speed, for cramming more and more into less and less time, has gone too far.

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Huffington writes movingly about her own conversion to relative slowness and mindfulness. She also gets macro, and I love the parallels she draws between the cults of capitalism and of speed — what is lost in the process when greed overtakes peoples desires to behave humanely, and what can be gained in our economy, as well as our culture, from a general slowing. To that point Honore wrote (in 2004!):

Modern capitalism generates extraordinary wealth, but at the cost of devouring natural resources faster than Mother Nature can replace them. Capitalism is getting too fast even for its own good, as the pressure to finish first leaves too little time for quality control.

Honore calls this phenomenon “turbo capitalism,” in which people exist “to serve the economy, rather than the other way around.”

I think the choice of book for the HuffPo Book Club will bring these thoughts into greater prominence. I hope a lot of you will participate in the ongoing Slow dialog — here and elsewhere — and that some of the book’s ideas will enrich your own fulfilling lives.

Slow News Day: Front Yard Gardening in Benicia and Beyond

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While wandering around the town of Benicia, CA, one late summer day, I encountered this exuberant example of front yard gardening. This person is really making the most of every square inch. It was a treat to see, especially after posting about the trend of front yard gardening earlier this summer.

I’ve been following some fun and inspiring blogs about front yard and even balcony gardening. (As a longtime deck gardener, in the deer-populated (read: lettuce munching) woods as well as in Manhattan, I’ve always been interested in doing the most with the smallest plot of dirt. Good small-space gardening and urban homesteading blogs include Beyond the Lawn, Leda’s Urban Homestead, Balcony Gardener, Life on the Balcony, Free Range Living, and Path to Freedom.

The last is an especially exciting farmsteading site that I just learned about this weekend when I saw an independent movie called HomeGrown. HomeGrown features a family of four living by the freeway in Pasadena, CA, raising all their own food and completely sustaining themselves and others on a small residential plot of land. The family is very winning and passionate, and they really make a go of urban homesteading, practicing extreme simplicity, conservation, community and resourcefulness — They use a hand washer, make their own biofuel, sell their produce to some of the area’s high-end (and appreciative) restaurants, and often do without. Learn more about them at Path to Freedom.

Still curious about Benicia? In addition to having great sun and soil, I learned that the bayside town was California’s first capitol, predating Sacramento and California’s gold rush. After going inside the old building (now part of a CA state park)  and pretending to legislate, we got to lock the old capitol’s giant door for the weekend with an outsized, cartoon-like key. Benicia also has a charming main street for shopping, antiquing, and taking a self-guided historic walking tour featuring old homes and businesses. I will post a travelogue soon.

In the meantime, like me, you can enjoy looking at this special, bountiful yard and wondering if its owners are still harvesting yummy corn into the fall.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Calling all Plush Fans and Crafters: Plush Show at Schmancy in Seattle

A few years ago, my family and I found ourselves in Seattle and at a wonderful, whimsical store called Schmancy, in the Belltown district, that specializes in all things plush, most of which are hand-made. Shelves were lined with plush cupcakes, benign monsters, felt woodland mushrooms, large-eyed sandwiches, and storybook elves, many of which took their fun sensibility from Japanese art and design.

My daughter has always loved to sew and to make whimsical plush objects (in addition to her own eco-friendly totebags.) She struck up a conversation with Schmancy owner and artist, Kristen Rask, and she ended up having this abstract applique- designed piece in the store’s annual Plush Show.

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The Plush Show is happening again, with receptions and activities  this weekend and displays throughout the month. In addition, the Northwest Film Forum will be screening Faythe Levine’s film, Handmade Nation. This documentary about the D.I.Y. craft movement will be appearing in other cities; check the film’s website for details.

If you’re crafting at home, there’s plenty of inspiration and instruction available. Kristen Rask’s own book is called Plush You! Loveable Misfit Toys to Sew and Stuff. Another book my daughter Anna has really enjoyed is Softies: Simple Instructions for 25 Plush Pals by Therese Laskey. A bonus of plush-toy crafting is that it can often be done with felt. Felt is so tactile and pleasing to work with. Handmade felt is great but, for children and others wishing to experiment, bright squares and pieces of felt are relatively inexpensive, as well as easy to use.

Another cute fabric-crafting book I recently came across is Betz White’s Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made with Repurposed & Organic Materials. Not strictly oriented to plush, this book has lots of cute ideas for easy, green D.I.Y. sewing projects like sweet pillowcase dresses, mans-shirt aprons, screen printing, a fall-leaf felt scarf, and more.

Be warned: a visit to Schmancy or a poke into one of these books will make you want to start crafting every cute thing inside.

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Top Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

October is International Walk to School Month

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October 7 is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit.

The International Walk to School-USA site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s  Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking.

My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together.

The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Enjoy International Walk to School Month!

(This link will get you to Marin Safe Routes to Schools.)

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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