Posts Tagged: environmental education

Announcing the New Zero Waste Awards!

Household food waste in New York

Household food waste in New York (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)


In the United States, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, which averages to more than 20 pounds of food waste per person per month.[i]


Ninety-seven percent of our food waste goes to landfills.  This means that 33 million tons of food goes into landfills each year.[ii]


Help win a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Plate for your school!

Help win a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Plate for your school!



There are things that we can do!  If you have already been to Pathfinder, you know all about Garbology and how you can do Garbology at home.  If you are new to Pathfinder, check out this blog from March 6th to find out all about how Garbology works.  Then, you can practice at home and at school before you come up to Pathfinder.  Practice will be important because we are starting an awards program for schools that achieve zero waste at meals.  In addition to the pride of knowing they are awesome and have zero waste meals, schools can now earn awards for zero waste meals! Schools that have zero waste for three or more meals are awarded the Gold Plate.  Schools that have two meals of zero waste are awarded the Silver Plate, and schools that have one meal of zero waste are awarded the Bronze Plate.  So start practicing, and get ready to earn your school the Gold Plate award!

[i] United Nations Environment Programme. (2015, January 1). Food Waste: The Facts. Retrieved January 22, 2015, from

[ii]  USDA and US EPA. Waste Not, Want Not. Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery. EPA 530­R­99­040

Educator Conference

As always, things have been busy here at Pathfinder Ranch.

Recently, Pathfinder Ranch hosted a semi-annual conference for the California Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education ( or We had educators coming from all over the southern half of the state. We spent time in the professional development workshops as well as learned some new campfire skits and songs. Several of our own staff presented some of these workshops.

Our Outdoor Education Director, Ryan, facilitated a discussion with other directors to talk about issues we face, and how to improve each of our programs.

Luna and Willow brought out the horses to show how we use them in our classes, and gave participants a taste of our ExCEEd (Equine Centered Experiential Education…team-building with horses) class. Imagine our team challenge programs with a horse as your teammate! There are pictures on our Facebook page of this class in action.

Canyon gave a tour of our nature center including meeting our animals, and discussed how we can make nature center experiences more engaging and meaningful for our students. Look forward to a few more displays and activities when you visit later in the school year!

We went to a workshop on solar energy where we built a solar powered wheelie robot similar to what you can build in our energy class. We also learned some things about solar energy that we will be sharing in our classes.

There was a good workshop on using poetry as a kinesthetic learning tool with some great tips on helping students be very creative while working within the limits of outdoor education.

We also had a great workshop on sustainability, parts of which will go nicely into our permaculture class involving farm animals, garden plants, and energy cycles. It was taught by the Green Camps Initiative (GCI- The GCI Director shared a lot of fun and thought provoking activities that you will be seeing soon in some of our classes. Visit the website to see some great activities that you can implement back at school and at home. We learned that it takes 5,200 gallons of water to process the ingredients and produce one chocolate bar. Staggering!

We also went to workshops about inclusion, Common Core standards, astronomy, Ant-O-Lympics, citizen science projects, and team-building. We are excited to start using the new things we learned in our classes, and we hope you are excited to see them, too!

See you down the trail!

Let’s Talk Trash!

During the week of October 3rd through October 10th, 2014, Pathfinder Ranch conducted a waste audit.  We collected, sorted, and weighed all of the waste that we produced during that week.  We counted all of the waste going to the landfill as well as waste that was being diverted (i.e. sent to other places).  The diverted waste included food that went to our compost pile and materials that we took to a recycling center.

We did this audit to look at how well we are practicing the three “R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  In 2002, Pathfinder did our first waste audit, and found that only 27.6% of the total waste was being diverted to compost or recycling.  Since then, we have been doing more and more to reduce how much waste we produce and increase the percent that we divert from landfills.  This year, our waste audit showed that we have increased the percent of our waste diverted to 46.6%!  This is a fantastic change and we owe a big “Thank You!” to all of our visitors for helping us get to this level.

However, we’re always looking for ways to improve.  We want to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills even more.  Here’s how you can help us:

  • We would love to hear your suggestions of how we can reduce our waste by commenting below, messaging us on Facebook, or filling out an evaluation during your trip.
  • Ask a staff member to help you sort your waste into the appropriate places during your trip.
  • Try to reduce the amount of packaging in your sack lunches for your arrival day by purchasing/making foods and drinks with as little packaging as possible.

So why did we do this?

We wanted to know how big our ecological footprint is.  An ecological footprint is how much of an impact we have on our earth’s ecosystems based on the things we do every day.  For example, how long of showers you take, the types of food that you eat, how you get to school, how often you buy new things, and how much waste you create, all affect the ecosystems around us.   You can take a quiz from Islandwood Outdoor Learning Center, to find out your ecological footprint using this link .  You can also complete your own waste audit at school or in your home to see how much waste is being produced and how you can reduce it.  Look at Willow’s blog from October 2, 2013 to find out how to complete your own waste audit.

See you down the Trail!

End of the School Year

As our outdoor education season here at Pathfinder Ranch has drawn to a close, it’s hard not to reflect back on what we’ve done over the past year. How does one sum everything up and give thanks to all of the many people and other animals who made it all possible? We can try numbers:

4697 Amazing Students                                      17 Crazy Naturalists

643 Awesome Adult Chaperones                         16 Hard-working horses

232 Dedicated Teachers                                      37 Fun-filled Weeks

63 Fabulous Schools                                          1 Perfect Mountain Home

But that doesn’t really seem to capture what happens here at Pathfinder. Maybe if we think on some of the more memorable things we overheard students saying.…

“The nature takes care of us; that’s why we have to care.”

“Nature peeing is the best peeing.”

“At Pathfinder, I realized that nature is amusing, and interacting with it can be fun.”

“We should go back to riding horses everywhere instead of driving cars. It’s better for the environment…and more fun.”

“Wait…you guys live here?! This is a job?!”

“I think we could fix the whole world if everyone came here.”

“I thought that learning about plants would be kinda lame, but it’s actually really cool!”

“Nature can be peaceful.”

Closer, but still not quite the whole picture….

Students exploring our archaeological dig site on a beautiful day!

Students exploring our archaeological dig site on a beautiful day at Pathfinder Ranch!

There. Perhaps a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Have a great summer everyone! Summer camp has taken over the ranch, but the outdoor education staff will return in the fall!

Spring Has Sprung

Spring is just around the corner, and like the plants that are being reborn all around Pathfinder, the garden is getting revitalized, too! Spring cleaning has begun and the garden is getting a fresh make-over.

New garden look!

New garden look!


All hands are on deck as Pathfinder gets ready for the warm weather and 50th year celebration in April. Maintenance began a project in the front lobby to try and get some plants growing even earlier than the cold would allow; and it worked! Live in a cold place, or have soil with little to no nutrients? Check out our experimental hydroponics system. Hydroponics doesn’t require soil. Instead, the plants are placed in plastic containers (drill holes through the sides and bottom) that are filled with shredded coconut medium, which absorbs water and nutrients from the water basin that it’s submerged in. We used an old plastic bin, recycled yogurt containers, an aquarium pump, and 6 gallons of purified water. Instead of daily watering, with hydroponics you can simply add 1 gallon of water every two weeks!

Insides of our hydroponics system.

Insides of our hydroponics system.

Experimental hydroponics in our office lobby.

Experimental hydroponics in our office lobby.







Not only can plants grow year round when protected from the elements outside, but you can also save both space and water! In our experiment, the basil is flourishing but our spinach is not. Try it at home and post the results of your own hydroponics system on our Facebook page. We’d sure love to know!

Another project a few Naturalists have been working on is our compost. As the weather gets warmer, and we want to grow many more things than will fit in our hydroponics system, we need soil for our plants to thrive in. As old plant matter breaks down, it creates fertile soil which you can use for planting. This decomposition harnesses the power of the circle of life. Why buy something you normally just throw away each day? Use those food scraps and start your own compost. Your garden will love you for it!

Covered compost pile.

Covered compost pile.

Chickens rummaging through our compost.

Chickens rummaging through our compost.







Have you ever composted before? If not, here are a few tips from our resident garden expert, Rain:

1. Dig your compost pile down at least a few inches. This makes the pile easier to turn and keeps heat in. Keeping the pile warmer will produce soil sooner.

2. Cover your compost. Again, this keeps it nice and warm which breaks down material faster. This also helps to keep unwanted critters away.

3. Turn your compost. There are plenty of fun ways to do this, including rolling it around in an old trash can! The reason is simple..all those microbes and other organisms like earthworms that help the food turn to soil need the help of oxygen.

4. Add nearly everything! Add any food waste that comes from plants: bread, veggies, fruit cores and peels, pasta, french fries, coffee grinds, tomato sauce, leaves and twigs, and even old paper, napkins, and tea bags! (Did you know it takes less energy for the paper to break down in the compost than to be recycled into new paper? Plus this added carbon helps the compost to be more nutritious and less smelly!)

Revitalized garden beds.

Revitalized garden beds.

New projects are springing forward to make this year’s garden the most beautiful and bountiful yet! We’ve had some amazing 4th-6th grade gardeners already come and help plant many new crops. How about you? This spring you too could revitalize that little plot of green space or an empty windowsill into a lean, mean food producing machine!


Thanks for reading,

Your Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists and Staff

Betsy’s Farm & New Faces

Betsy’s Farm

Oh, the stories we hear working at the Ranch.  Stewart, our Facilities Director (a.k.a. Do-Everything-Extraordinaire), told me about the story of Betsy’s Farm.

Welcome to Betsy's Farm at Pathfinder Ranch!

Welcome to Betsy’s Farm at Pathfinder Ranch!


One of our wonderful donors, Deana Brix has a mother-in-law, Betsy, who is very prim and proper and doesn’t like to get dirty.  Betsy’s Farm at Pathfinder Ranch is actually named after her.  Their family joke was to name a place where kids can get their hands dirty after a family member who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.  And boy, do the kids like to get their hands dirty at the farm.


The last two weeks we have had students explore and learn about the farm and our animals. I think their favorite thing was to chase the chickens around.  Usually our farm classes get to help feed and interact with the animals, particularly the pigs and goats. What a better way to learn more about where our food comes from than to give it a little scratch behind the ears!



Our new goats are getting acquainted to their new home.

Our new goats are getting acquainted to their new home.

New Farm Faces

A gracious member of our local Garner Valley community recently donated some new goats to Pathfinder Ranch.  We’re always excited to add new faces to our farm, but these goats are a pretty unique addition.  Both of our new goats are smaller in stature than what you’d imagine for a goat.  We have a new pygmy goat and a Nigerian Dwarf goat, Miss Daisy Mae and Blue Jasmine.



Daisy Mae is curious about our photographer, and all of her recent visitors!

Daisy Mae is curious about our photographer, and all of her recent visitors!


Miss Daisy Mae is a Pygmy goat.  Pygmy goats originated in the Cameroon Valley of West Africa. They were imported into the United States from European zoos in the 1950s for use in zoos as well as research animals. They were eventually acquired by private breeders and quickly gained popularity as pets and exhibition animals due to their good-natured personalities, friendliness and hardy constitution. (from



Blue Jasmine is curious about this cottonwood tree in the middle of her new home.

Blue Jasmine is inspecting this cottonwood tree in the middle of her new home.

Blue Jasmine is a Nigerian Dwarf goat. The Nigerian Dwarf goat is a miniature dairy goat breed of West African ancestry. Originally brought to the United States on ships as food for large cats such as lions, the survivors originally lived in zoos. Nigerian Dwarf goats are popular as hobby goats due to their easy maintenance and small stature. (from





Both of our new goats are female adults about 5 years old, and at full size.  They are dairy goats, but we don’t plan on milking them, plus they no longer produce milk anyway.  They have already taken a liking to the students that have had the chance to visit with them.

Tune in for our next blog update where we’ll tell you about some of the exciting things going on at our garden and new hydroponics plant bed!


For our schools that have already attended, we know that you love and miss garbology (the study of food waste).  For our schools yet to come, we hope you’re getting excited, but why should we keep this important program all to ourselves?! Why not bring Garbology and conservation back to your schools, homes, and local communities?!  To help get you started, you should check out this fun website that talks about garbology:

We graph our food waste for the week on our Garbology chart.

We graph our food waste for the week on our Garbology chart.

The compost pile on the left is still being added to, while the pile on the left is almost ready for our spring planting!

The compost pile on the left is still being added to, while the pile on the right is ready for spring planting!







Talk to your family about studying what you throw away each week.  Then, you can see if you can reduce the amount of waste going to a landfill by looking at what can be REUSED, COMPOSTED, or RECYCLED.  You can find a list of things that can be recycled by looking at your city’s waste and recycling website.

You can bring garbology to your school by encouraging your classmates to look at what they are throwing away at lunch and in the classrooms.  Just like at Pathfinder, the waste from your lunches can be sorted into recycling, compost, and trash.  If you do not have recycling or composting at your school, you can ask your teachers and your principal to help you start these programs.  You can also talk to your school about signing up for a cool program called TerraCycle.  TerraCycle is a company that accepts a variety of used school and office items like empty juice pouches, empty Lunchable containers, and even pens so that they can be made into new products.  You can sign up for this at

Luna is showing us some of the items we TerraCycle.

Luna is showing us some of the items we TerraCycle.

Good luck and see you down the trail!

-Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists

Valentine’s Day

Even though Valentine’s Day just past love is still in the air! Everyone at the ranch is showing their appreciation for the things they love. We love the moon for lighting up the sky during our night hikes, and the horses for taking students on rides through the beautiful meadow. We show our appreciation for the moon by telling students interesting facts such as the line between the dark and light side of the moon is called “The Terminator.”  We show our appreciation for the horses by feeding them their favorite treat, chaffhaye.

We love and appreciate our facilities staff! Thanks Stewart, Ramon, Sal & Julio!

We love and appreciate our facilities staff! Thanks Stewart, Ramon, Sal, and Julio!

We appreciate the teachers and parent chaperones who help make these outdoor education trips possible!

We appreciate the teachers and parent chaperones who help make these outdoor education trips possible!







What do you love? How can you show your appreciation for the things and people that you love? How about telling your friends and family how much you love them, or writing them a note, or doing something nice for them! We can show our love for nature in a bunch of different ways like picking up trash we find, recycling, stopping to smell the wild flowers, and doing our best to take care of our planet! Hopefully your love and care will be contagious and spread to others around you!

“All those who love Nature she loves in return, and will richly reward, not perhaps with the good things, as they are commonly called, but with the best things of this world-not with money and titles, horses and carriages, but with bright and happy thoughts, contentment and peace of mind.” -John Lubbock

Don’t forget to show your appreciation for the people and things that you love!

With all our love,

The Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists

Season of Thanks

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.” -Tecumseh

Here's the view from one of our local trails in the San Bernardino National Forest. Tough to beat!

Here’s the view from one of our local trails in the San Bernardino National Forest. Tough to beat!

Here at Pathfinder ranch everyone is embracing the season of being thankful! The Naturalists are extremely grateful to work with amazing students in such a beautiful place. The Jeffrey pines are smelling as sweet as ever, the the weather has been perfect for our hikes, and the night sky is lit up with constellations like Orion! The Naturalists aren’t the only lucky ones up here on the mountain. Gwar, our ball python is thankful for his heat lamp that keeps him warm during those chilly nights. Our chickens, turkeys, and garden plants are thankful for our compost. The poultry love pecking at the fruits, and the remaining compost turns into nutrient rich soil for our garden!

There are so many things to be thankful for like our families, our friends, and our schools. Many of our students are grateful for nature and what it provides for us. It’s great to be aware and thankful for what we have and it’s even better to give back and take care of the things we are thankful for!

“We need to take care of nature because nature takes care of us!”- Pathfinder Student

We are so thankful to have pieces of history right in our backyard, like this abandoned gold mine!

We are so thankful to have pieces of history right in our backyard, like this abandoned gold mine!

How have you shown your appreciation for the things you are thankful for? How will you show your thanks in the future? If you’re thankful for the food you have, try volunteering at your local soup kitchen with a parent, or plant a garden in your backyard. If you’re thankful for your planet, try picking up the trash you see (like Dash 4 Trash) or recycle your old soda cans. If you’re thankful for your friends and family, try doing something nice for them or writing them a kind note!

The Pathfinder Naturalists challenge you to create a change and show your appreciation for the things you have so that others may have a reason to be thankful, too!

Be grateful for what you have and spread thanks wherever you go!

-The very thankful Pathfinder Naturalists

May Events in Southern California

Thanks to Mike for this great list of opportunities in Southern California to keep the fun going.

If you loved coming to Pathfinder Ranch, there are more chances to have fun learning experiences in your own community.  These are just a sample of the many fun and exciting events going on throughout southern California in May.

Saturday, May 4th, 2013
Wetlands Tours
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Hemet, CA

Join us and share the opportunity to view hundreds of ibises, egrets, and blackbirds and many other migratory and resident birds in their natural habitat.

Located on the grounds of the San Jacinto Valley Regional Water Reclamation Facility, this multi-purpose constructed wetlands “polishes” recycled water before it is distributed to nearby farms, dairies and the San Jacinto Wildlife Area for irrigation and additional environmental uses.

More info at:

Nora’s Children’s Art Classes
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
San Diego, CA

Nora’s Art Classes for children ages 4-14 are being offered by artist Nora Kearney-Johnson on most Saturdays through December. Classes are from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. at the Mission Trails Visitor Center. Each class is a different topic and children may take home their art project each week. All art supplies are included.

More info at:

Sunday, May 5th, 2013
First Sundays - 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Riverside, CA

First Sundays is a seasonal series of free family programs featuring different activities for children and teens at six different location in downtown: Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Mission Inn Museum, Riverside Art Museum, Riverside Public Library, UCR ArtsBlock, and Riverside Fox Theater Foundation. Sponsored by the Riverside Arts Council.

More info at:

Saturday, May 18th, 2013
Jr. Trail Guides Explorer Program: Cahuilla Indian Culture and other Important Historical Influences
9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Palm Desert, CA

Travel back in time as we learn about some of the early people and events that happened right here in the National Monument. Be prepared to get your hands dirty as we dig into the past and earn the “Keeping History Alive” badge.

More info at:

Sunday, May 26, 2013
Family Discovery Walk
3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
San Diego, CA

Join MTRP Trail Guides, Jennifer Douglas and Marcia Stoner, on a guided walk every other month to the Kumeyaay grinding rocks site. Along the way, discover the many seasonal changes that occur here in the park throughout the year. These 90-minute walks provide an essential opportunity for parents and their children to get outdoors and spend some quality time together in nature.