Community Connections and Forest Fungi: May / June 2020

Missouri Environmental Education News
May/June 2020

Dear MEEA Members,

I hope this edition of the MEEA newsletter finds you healthy. I also hope you enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, and that it included some time reveling in the life-giving wonders of the natural world. During these uncertain times, MEEA remains committed to being a connector and providing high quality environmental education resources throughout the state. If you have the capacity right now to assist in realizing that vision, please let us know. We can always use your help! If you’d like to let us know how you’re doing right now and how we might best serve your needs, please take this member survey by May 17.

A big thank you this month goes to MEEA Board Member, Hannah Hemmelgarn, for contributing the EE lesson on fungi (with its wealth of resources!) and co-writing the article with me. Last spring, right after attending a mushroom cultivation workshop led by Hannah, my family had to unexpectedly remove a sugar maple from our yard. Although the timber presented to me wasn’t exactly healthy and not ideal for mushroom cultivation, I decided to try it anyway. Fast forward one year and, as suspected, several mushroom species are competing with the shitake that we introduced. However, this actually is only increasing the joy and wonder I experience as I check on the life emerging from and honoring my old friend Sugar Maple. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at mushroom farming–whatever happens, you will be learning something interesting!

Thank you for reading, and thank you for the love of Nature and respect for education that you bring to your work.

Lesli Moylan, Executive Director

Connecting to Co-Create a “New Normal”

by Hannah Hemmelgarn and Lesli Moylan

“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth “you owe me”. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky” –Rumi

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” –Lilla Watson, Indigenous Murri artist and activist


There’s a lot of talk right now about what things will be like ‘when this is all over’. A teacher friend asked his students to consider what they think will happen ‘after’, and what they want to happen. He then asked how they might start to lay the groundwork now for what they want to happen when some semblance of normal returns. A lot of us are thinking about that very thing–what do we want the new normal to be and how can we cultivate that reality?

The pandemic’s toll in the U.S. certainly sheds light on the inequities in our culture that so many of us want to change–the long history of disparity based on race and poverty are revealed in the digital education divide, access to safe work spaces and child care, and ultimately who contracts and dies from COVID-19.

As environmental educators, visioning the post-COVID future likely involves ecological healing, and as an interconnected piece of that ecological puzzle, we as humans have an opportunity to grow our impact together. In the midst of uncertainty, we have an opportunity to consider our work (both inner and outer) in terms of reciprocity and inclusion. We can learn from and stand with those communities who are most at-risk in these trying times. It takes a good deal of time and effort to create the connections that allow us to learn from people we don’t bump into in daily life, just as it takes time and effort to listen to and learn from Nature. But the potential benefit for all of us is great.

We’ve been taught for so long that nature is driven by competition for resources and survival of the fittest, that the dichotomy of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is inevitable. But new research shows us (begs us to see?) that pervasive cooperation is actually the norm. Suzanne Simard, leader of The Mother Tree Project at the University of British Columbia, has confirmed that in contrast to the dominant competition narrative in post-colonial forestry studies, trees, by way of mycorrhizal networks, actually support one another as a living whole community being.

As we each face unique challenges in this uncertain time of tenuous collective health, may the resilience of the forest remind us of our power to connect. Like those mother trees who store and share the greatest wealth of resources, those of us who rest comfortably in our privilege have the capacity and the responsibility to open our minds and hearts, to learn from and be led by those whose needs are not met in the rocky soil of disparity. The path of healing may be long and arduous, but this unusual time opens a door to that mycelium-like reconnection for mutual support (even the smallest fungal threads contribute to the connective whole). Thank you for your work as an educator, as a lifelong learner, as one who listens and considers what our shared Mother (Nature) can teach us.

For more about The Mother Tree Project:

Finding Forest Fungi: A Lesson in Careful Observation

contributed by Hannah Hemmelgarn

Photo by David Stonner, from

Springtime in Missouri is a particularly abundant season for fungal fruits, whose life cycle is facilitated by rain and warming temperatures. Morels (Morchella spp.) are among the most widely known and loved by those who “hunt” mushrooms this time of year, with their notable appearance, smell, and cooked flavor. But foraging for mushrooms of all kinds (I prefer to think of the mushrooms finding me, rather than the other way around) is also an opportunity to slow down, notice your surroundings, and enjoy the beauty of the forest. During these times of social distancing, getting off the trail to look for mushrooms is also a great way to maintain safe space. Missouri state parks and many city trails remain open, with recommendations to respect fellow trail users. Whether or not you intend to harvest, cook and eat wild mushrooms, now is a great time to learn more about the diversity of fungal life in the forest, their important role, unique structures, shapes, and habits.

This lesson plan is intended for a classroom setting, but for now, consider the forest your classroom. Once you’re familiar with the mushroom-producing fungi life cycle (from spore to hyphae to mycelium to mushroom), apply your new knowledge with observation. Bring along a camera or notebook to record who you find in the forest, and make use of those resources that might be available to you (MOMS network, MDC field guides and books on fungi). If you harvest a mushroom, consider making a spore print and sharing your observations with other mycologists. The Center for Agroforestry also has educational resources for growing your own mushrooms.

If mushrooms have piqued your interest, The Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS, another incidental nod to Mother’s Day!) offers workshops throughout the year on edible and poisonous mushrooms. Their members also maintain an active facebook page where you can post a photo of your finds for feedback about a positive identification. Remember, never consume a mushroom without a 100% positive ID; wild mushrooms must be cooked to enjoy them safely; and always practice honorable harvest. Slowing down to notice your surroundings, including those wonderful mushrooms, spring ephemeral plants, budding and flowering trees, insects and birds, the musical sounds and sweet smells of the forest, you may also find yourself more attentive to some of the best plant and animal teachers I know: poison ivy and ticks! They remind us to avoid trampling mindlessly, and to return from the woods with an avid care for our continued health (i.e. tick check!). Be well, fellow foragers!


Things to Look for (or Look Out for) in May and June!




What to Look for Right Now – MDC’s dynamic list of What’s Out There Now!


Kudos to all the teachers who are providing EE opportunities for their students from afar. Traci Jansen, 1st grade teacher in St. Louis, incorporates outdoor observations into her students’ daily A-Z end-of-year countdown activities. And Sarah Holmes, 7th grade science teacher in Kansas City, welcomes all students at her school to join her virtually when she suits up to take care of the Barstow School bees. What a gift teachers like these are to their students!

Kudos to MU Extension for creating the Missouri Food Finder. This online tool helps Missourians access local food in their region and find out delivery models used by each business during social distancing. Missouri farmers, ranchers, and local suppliers can register at the site as well.

Kudos to the St. Louis County Health Department for granting funds to the City of Kirkwood to develop the new “Kirkwood Recycles” mobile app. Users can search items and learn how to recycle them properly, and play a game to test their recycling knowledge.

Kudos to earthday365 for including MEEA’s Climate Communication webinar in their Earth Day Virtual Event. You can view the webinar at:

Kudos to the James River Basin Partnership for the video they created for the Springfield area 50th Earth Day Celebration. They demo how to do macroinvertebrate inventory of a stream using a kick net, and it is clear that this type of citizen science would be fun and enlightening for students of all ages! You can see the video here, and the kick net demo starts around minute 11.

Congratulations to the Summit School in Springfield for being 1 of 9 schools across the country selected for a Seeds for Education grant from Wild Ones for native plants on school campuses. And kudos to Wild Ones for providing these school grants to support kids and wildlife!

Kudos to Parkway School District for the launch of their new webpage all about sustainability. What a great model that other school districts could follow!

Missouri Foundation for Health, which supports the Missouri Green Schools expansion project as a funder and thought partner, has committed $15 million to a public health response to COVID-19. Kudos to this amazing organization with such diverse and strong partnerships throughout the state! We applaud all that MFH does to bring about a healthier Missouri.

Kudos to Operation Food Search and St. Louis County Libraries for teaming up to provide free drive-thru meal pickups at 9 library branches since the end of March. This week, books were added to the resources provided at these drive-thrus. Kudos to St. Louis County Library Foundation, The Opportunity Trust, Gateway Regional YMCA, Literacy Initiative, Missouri Humanities and Ready Readers for donating books to make this happen.

Kudos to the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post Dispatch for running John Flesher’s Associated Press article about US river communities and some new responses to repeated flooding. Flesher shares how some river towns, like Arnold, MO, are starting to convert frequently flooded land into wetlands rather than continuing to rebuild for commercial and residential use. It’s great to see a shift in thinking about floodplain management and to see it highlighted in the news!

Kudos to MU Extension and the Missouri Star Quilt Company, and hundreds of volunteers in NW Missouri for partnering to create 15,000 masks to help keep nurses and other healthcare workers safe and healthy on the job. One group provided group provided the materials, one provided the communication and outreach, and the other provided their time and skill. There are so many stories of people stepping up like this, kudos!


  • People Team
    • Memberships – We changed to a calendar-year membership from the previous rolling annual membership. You can always receive our newsletter for free, but with your yearly dues comes access to EE certification, eligibility for mini-grants, and the satisfaction of helping inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. Get your 2020 Professional, Institutional, or School membership today at!
    • MELAB – MELAB meetings will continue to focus on the development of a Missouri Green Schools Partner Network in 2020. The next statewide meeting will take place via Zoom on June 11, 9:00am to 11:30am–organizations engaged in environmental and sustainability education, health and wellness, or educational equity encouraged to attend. RSVP at and we’ll send you a zoom link. We need registrations in order to assign people to breakout rooms by region.
    • Outreach
      • We were just awarded $5000 from NAAEE’s ee360 grant program to hire a part-time staff member to do outreach for the MGS Partner Network. Stay tuned for details, and thank you NAAEE for supporting the growth of EE in Missouri!
      • The Website Committee continues to make progress. A test site is currently being developed, which means we will soon be able to shift gears and start building out the new site! If you have leads for folks we could hire to help with content migration from the current to the new site, email Lesli Moylan.
      • We need a volunteer(s) to help us manage our list of potential outreach events (tabling & presentations) for MEEA. If interested, please email Lesli Moylan. This could be as small or as big a job as you’d like; plenty of facets of the project to pick from!
    • Partnerships – The Kansas Assn for Conservation and Environmental Education secured funding from a Pisces grant to develop a multi-state partnership of NAAEE state affiliates to build regional capacity for EE in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Stay tuned for more information on how the Plains Environmental Education Partnership (PEEPs) takes shape to support one another’s work!
  • Purpose
    • Conferences – The 2020 Sustainability Institute for Educators in St. Louis has been postponed until June 2021 in St. Louis; theme is “Equity and Justice in A Changing Climate”. Check the SIE website (above) to see theme-related resources between now and June 2021. The 2020 MEEA Conference will also be changing this year to a virtual format. Details pending, stay tuned.
    • Missouri Green Schools –
      • US Dept of Ed Green Ribbon Winners announced! Congratulations to Parkway School District, Mary Institute Country Day School and Sunrise R-IX School for becoming the Missouri ED-GRS 2020 Honorees! You can read about their green school journey at To achieve achieve the ED-GRS award, schools must be nominated by Missouri Green Schools, which is administered by MEEA, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter, and DESE, with the support of other partners like the Missouri Foundation for Health.
      • MEEA’s application to sponsor four VISTAs to build the capacity of MGS to support under-resourced Missouri Schools was accepted! Work is underway to prepare for recruiting and onboarding VISTAs this fall. Stay tuned for details, we’d love your help finding and recruiting the VISTAs!
      • The Missouri Green Schools committee has been hard at work for several months developing the achievement criteria and benefits of the MGS program. The draft is almost complete and ready to share!
      • Our MGS Consultants (GMMB, Blackrock Consulting, and Institute for the Built Environment) are hard at work helping us develop foundational messaging and training elements to support MGS program expansion.
      • As for most other ed-related programs, many aspects of MGS slated for 2020 are up in the air. Outreach and onboarding of schools is likely to be quite delayed, but we are beginning to reach out to start relationships with schools that are elgibile for the 1:1 support for achieving their green goals. If you have connections with schools that have 60% or greater Free and Reduced Lunch Program eligibility that you’d like to see benefit from being part of MGS, we’d love an introduction. Hoping to get summer time phone calls set up. Email Lesli Moylan to discuss!
    • MEEA Mini-Grants – No updates right now.
  • Resources
    • Accounting – MEEA is contracting the services of a Certified Professional Accountant for 2020.
    • Fund Development 
      • MEEA was awarded $2000 to support fundraising training for MEEA leadership between now and the end of 2020. This is something we definitely need, and we are looking forward to learning a lot!
      • GivingTuesdayNow — Thank you to Bill Ruppert and Laura Seger for participating in our global day of giving campaign to raise funds for the Missouri Green Schools grant fund for high needs schools. We are $170 toward our goal of $2000 to add to this fund in 2020 (seeded by Missouri Foundation for Health as part of the MGS expansion grant).
  • Governance Team
    • Board of Directors – We have an amazing group of 11 leaders on our current board. They have stepped up to help advise me (Lesli) during this uncertain time with extra zoom meetings in addition to the quarterly meeting and weekly written feedback on all that’s happening. They’re a thoughtful, committed bunch!
    • Advisory Board – At the March board meeting, the Board of Directors voted to adopt bylaws to create an Advisory Board. This board will exist to help ensure that MEEA devotes plenty of energy to long-term strategy, since the members of the Board of Directors all sit on at least one committee and spend a considerable amount of time “in the weeds”. Meredith Spiekerman-Byers is heading up the formation of the Advisory, with plans to hold the inaugural meeting Q3 of 2020. You can view the bylaws here. They were written to provide flexibility of focus for the Advisory Board, depending on MEEA’s fluctuating needs. To start, the Advisory Board will focus on guidance related to fund development.
    • Administration – We have created regional segments for our membership list. If you’d like to receive updates specific to your region as they arise, please update your county information at[UNIQID]

Coming Up in the Next Two Months

  • Conferences and Meetings details here
    • June 11, 9:00am to 11:30am–Missouri Green Schools Partner Network Meeting, statewide Zoom meeting of organizations engaged in environmental and sustainability education, health and wellness, or educational equity. Open to all who want to be part of the growing network of partners who think that every Missouri child deserves a green education. RSVP at and we’ll send you a zoom link. We need RSVPs to assign people to breakout rooms by region.
    • July 29-July 31 – Natural Start Alliance’s Nature-Based Early Learning Conference- ONLINE –
    • October 13-14, Research Symposium; October 14-17 Conference – NAAEE 2020 in Tucson, Arizona –
    • Missouri Coordinated School Health Conference – Healthy Partnerships for Healthy Students – December 3-5, Columbia, MO –

  • Workshops, Events, and Online Resources
    • See the MEEA Workshop page at for many new online opportunities. From NAAEE’s weekly webinars to Grow Native’s prairie webinars to a webinar on the basics of composting, you are sure to find something you want to dive into!
    • You can also find MEEA’s evolving list of useful resources during the pandemic.
    • If you’d like for your organization’s calendar to be referenced for our monthly updates, please contact Lesli Moylan.

(These count for Environmental Educator Certification categories 1, 2 or 3. Visit the EE Certification page here)

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