10 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Peach Tea to Chicken BBQ. Zen Buddhism to Hindu Traditions.

A few annual community harvest meals to check out this weekend include the Plainfield Volunteer Fire Department and Shelburne Falls Eagles annual chicken BBQ’s this Sunday.

Fireside Poets to Local Peaches. Zen kōans to Holy Tulsi. Monarch Butterflies to Beavers. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week:

Intergenerational opportunities to gather around the table for a community meal with friends and neighbors are available at nearly every agricultural fair. From blueberry pancake breakfast to BBQ chicken dinner, there’s something for everyone! Visit fair websites to see what’s being served this year and make plans to sit with your neighbors and start up conversations. Let your children learn about local history through stories your elderly neighbors might share, make new friends, and walk away with new community connections. Read more about community harvest meals and festivals in our Late Summer/Early Autumn Season issue of Learning Ahead.


Are you new to Western MA? Well, kudos to you for finding Hilltown Families, your go-to online destination for discovering meaningful ways to engage in the region that support your interests and education with strengthening your sense of place to this engaging region (click here to subscribe)! Every year, Western MA also welcomes high school graduates who migrate to the area to attend one of our many higher education institutes. Here in this video, two Smith College students highlight their favorite town of Northampton to help orient first-year-students arriving from outside the region. Not only a useful introduction to new college students, but also to new families relocating to the Pioneer Valley. In this video, discover independent businesses in Northampton that can support interests in fiber arts, nutritional anthropology, fine art, literature, crafting, science, and more!

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Have you ever walked, biked, or driven through downtown Holyoke and wondered about the history of the city’s numerous old buildings?  Each empty mill, towering church, and brick rowhouse tells a story of the city’s past.  An exploration of Holyoke’s history reveals a vibrant, diverse, and complicated history.  Visitors to Holyoke can now learn about the city’s history themselves – from home or while exploring the city’s streets thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum. The Museum hosts a large online community resource to its repertoire- the Holyoke History Walk, available on the museum’s website, offering a comparative look at the city and many of its streets and buildings as they once were (up to 125 years ago). The program uses Google Maps and provides a map – created by piecing together numerous maps from the museum’s archives – of Holyoke past, layered above a map of Holyoke present.  Scattered across the map are over 100 of the city’s landmarks – churches, civic buildings, prominent businesses, and views across the canal, from hilltops, and down various streets in the busiest parts of town. The old photos are shown next to a current image of the location.  In some cases, the buildings are unrecognizable; in others, entire blocks are boarded up; meanwhile, some others remain relatively unchanged.  Families can use the interactive tour to learn all about local history and can apply what they learn about the city to bring context and more in-depth understanding to American history and changes in industries, technology, and the American way of life.

Saturday, September 1, 10-11:30am
Come to learn all about the fascinating history of Holyoke on a morning canal walk, led by a Holyoke Heritage State Park Interpreter. The walk will stop at numerous points of historical significance. Pairing this walk with the online resource mentioned above, topics to explore include the industrial revolution, immigration to the United States, the Great Depression, and issues of race, class, and gender throughout the last 100 years (students can pursue this topic to varying degrees depending on maturity and background knowledge).  This facilitated walk is suitable for individuals and families with children, ages 8 and older (siblings welcome). 221 Appleton Street, Holyoke, MA (FREE)

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Friday, August 31-Tuesday, September 4
Since 1818, the Three County Fair in Northampton has been showcasing local agriculture. America’s longest-running agricultural fair was originally established as an agricultural society, designed to promote agricultural knowledge and appreciation. Over the years, the fair has stayed true to its original mission and expanded to include live music, delicious food, and lots of fun activities for children and adults. Livestock demonstrations are still a huge part of the fair experience and awards are given for both agricultural and domestic animals. This year, visitors will also be able to learn about kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras and other Australian animals at the Aussie Kingdom Education & Interaction Shows. Don’t miss one of the most beloved local events of the year! Learn more about how agricultural fairs can support an interest in the humanities by downloading our Seasons issue of Learning Ahead for Sept/Oct for our late summer/early fall learning itinerary. For more information and a complete list of events, please visit Three County Fair. Northampton, MA ($)

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In this video by Kylee Reschke, five Fireside Poets from the 19th century are introduced. Discover why they are called the Fireside Poets (also known as the Schoolroom Poets) and why they are relevant today.

Saturday, September 1, 11am-12pm
Did you know that William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century poet (and Schoolhouse Poet like John Greenleaf Whittier) planted over 800 apple trees on his farm property? While the orchard is no longer active, you can still visit the poet’s homestead in the Hilltowns. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead played an enormous role in the life of the poet. Built in 1783 by the poet’s grandfather, Bryant lived in the house until he was 22 and then would later buy it himself in the later years of his life and heavily renovate it. As a young man, Bryant would walk seven miles a day from the house to his job in Plainfield. The house and the surrounding landscape deeply influenced Bryant’s poetry. Travel back in time to 1867, two years after Bryant purchased his childhood home, and experience what daily life was like for the poet and the other members of the household with this special living history tour. While visiting the property, take a look at the scenic Hilltown views of the Westfield River Valley, take a picnic lunch (don’t forget your freshly picked apples!) and read Bryant’s poem “The Planting of an Apple-Tree.” William Cullen Bryant Homestead. Cummington, MA ($)

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Sunday, September 2, 10am
Peaches have been cultivated in China since the Neolithic period, more than ten thousand years ago! Unsurprisingly, the peach has enormous cultural significance in Chinese society to this day. It is said that when ancient Chinese emperors traveled abroad, they were preceded by sorcerers, who wielded peach rods to dispel evil spirits. Peachwood in particular, has continued to be prized for its protective qualities and has been used to build ‘door gods,’ guardian deities and spirits whose likenesses are portrayed on doors to homes. Among traditional medicine practitioners in China, peach wands are still used to perform exorcisms and cleansing rituals. The vivacity of the peach fruit also inspired many European painters to depict it as a symbol of blossoming health, as seen in works by Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Renoir, and Monet, among others. Late summer is the perfect time to indulge in fresh peaches and at Park Hill Orchard, they’ve got you covered! Pick your own peaches daily from 10am to 5pm. Park Hill Orchard. 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton, MA ($)

Learn how to use your peach bounty to make sweet peach tea:

Once you’ve PYO peaches, eat your fill and canned the rest, what to do with all of those peach pits? In addition to sweet peach tea, the pits can be used to make tea too! According to local herbalist, Tony(a) Lemos of Blazing Star Herbal School,  “Peach pit tea is one of my favorite home remedies to strengthen the immune & lymph systems and to help to ward off colds and flu. It is  safe and delicious, great for children too. So start to collect and dry the pits from all those locally grown juicy peaches you eat during the summer months. To prevent them from molding, wash the pit thoroughly in water before drying. — Here’s how you brew it. Pour 1 quart of water over six peach pits. Simmer for half to 1 hour. Strain out the pits & drink this naturally sweet tea. The pits can be reused 2-3 times before returning to the earth.”

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How do we explain the unexplainable? This question has inspired numerous myths, religious practices, and scientific inquiries. But Zen Buddhists practicing throughout China from the 9th to 13th century asked a different question – why do we need an explanation? Puqun Li details the bewildering and ambiguous philosophical thought experiments these Buddhists called Zen kōans.

Check out the full lesson via TED-Ed: Zen kōans: unsolvable enigmas designed to break your brain – Puqun Li

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Much like bees, butterflies play an essential role in our local ecosystem – and also in ecosystems globally. As pollinators, butterflies help to ensure that plants exchange genetic material, something that we depend onto enjoy many of our favorite foods! However, changes in the way that humans live and how we interact with our surroundings have caused butterfly populations to decline (especially the iconic monarch). Learning about butterflies and their role in our ecosystem is essential to understanding and appreciating our surroundings; luckily, opportunities for learning about these beautiful Lepidoptera abound during the next few months!

Sunday, September 2, 2-4pm
Monarch Drawing and Stencil Workshop on Sunday is a great opportunity to work on your drawing skills and be inspired by the lines, shapes, and colors of butterflies! Conway, MA ($)

Monarch butterflies make perhaps the most epic of all migratory journeys! In this post, we feature an amazing video using Google Earth to track their journey and share ways families can protect them as citizen scientists: Monarch Butterflies: Migratory Patterns & Citizen Scientists Opportunities. Want to organize a Monarch Butterfly tagging effort? Monarch Watch has instructions and kits with tags for tracking.

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Tulsi, or ‘Holy Basil,’ is a sacred herb in Hindu traditions, which is believed to be the earthly manifestation of the goddess Lakshmi, the primary consort of Vishnu, the Supreme Being in many Hindu traditions. The leaves of the plant are essential in the ritual worship of Vishnu and his avatar Krishna, and as such, the plant is grown in many households and temples throughout India. Plant and tree worship is common in Hinduism, but even among these, tulsi is considered the holiest, acting as a threshold between heaven and earth. Tulsi is so honored in Hindu society that those who tend and care for tulsi plants are said to receive salvation and divine grace for this act alone. In fact, the centrality of tulsi is such that when the British conducted a census in the nineteenth century, a significant number of households defined themselves as ‘tulsi worshippers,’ rather than Muslims, Sikhs, or Hindus. When cared for improperly, however, tulsi is said to invoke the wrath of Vishnu and there are very strict rules for how it is to be used and cared for. When a tulsi plant dies, for instance, it must be submerged in water, with the same rituals that are given to broken divine relics and artifacts. From an herbal and culinary perspective, tulsi is frequently taken for the suppression of diseases in the form of a tea and is a common culinary herb in Thai cuisine.

Tuesday, September 4, 10am-3pm
Come celebrate this special plant with a day of mediation, tea drinking, and potluck luncheon. Blazing Star Herbal School. Ashfield, MA (SUGGESTED DONATION)

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Did you know that during the 17th century the Roman Catholic Church ruled that for the purposes of dietary laws, beavers should technically be considered as a species of fish? This ruling meant that the ordinary prohibition on meat consumption on Fridays did not extend to beaver meat. Beavers, the second largest rodent in the world, are probably best known for their amazing ability to alter their environment by constructing dams and lodges. These structures serve a number of important functions for beavers, including protection from predators and storing food for the winter.

Wednesday, September 5, 6pm
Spend an evening searching for beavers and learning all about these industrious critters! Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley. 472 West Mountain Road, Lenox, MA ($)

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[Photo credit: (cc) JanetandPhil]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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