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World Wide Jam

Written by Tim Vargo
    Wednesday, 01 May 2013
World Wide Jam

What do the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, polar explorer Eric Larsen, South African conservationist Louis Liebenberg, poet Wendell Berry, Carl Leopold (late son of Aldo) and the Urban Ecology Center’s Beth Heller all have in common? They have all donated their time and talents as speakers at the Urban Ecology Center. However, there is another common bond, a rather tasty one, that emerges if we dig a little into the Urban Ecology Center’s past.

About 15 years ago, Edie and Gil Walter, neighbors and supporters of the Riverside Urban Environmental Center (which was about to be re-named the Urban Ecology Center) attended a program in the trailer. At the end of the lecture, the recently hired Executive Director, Ken Leinbach, was candid with the audience and the speaker. “Well, we don’t really have any money,” said Leinbach, “but some friends of mine back in Michigan make some really good homemade jelly with which we can pay you for your talk.”

A few minutes later Edie approached Ken and said “You know Ken, I also make some pretty good homemade jams and jellies from fruit in our backyard and local parks. Let me know if you’d like a supply for future speakers.” And thus a tradition was born.

It’s hard to say exactly how many jars of Edie and Gil’s jellies have been given to visiting speakers over the years, but an educated estimate puts the number at well over 150. They’ve been packed in luggage by visiting speakers and taken to 16 states and at least 3 countries.

What kind of tastiness are we giving these speakers? Edie makes jams, jellies and syrups with Sure Jell (powder and liquid) using a method she learned from her mother growing up in the Wisconsin countryside. She picks elderberries, currants, rhubarb and chokecherries from her backyard and also heads to local parks to find wild grapes, chokeberries and other fruits. The entire process takes only a couple of days but the taste is out of this world.

I started at the Center a few years after this tradition began but I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to carry it on as coordinator of the lecture series. The list of people who have received Edie and Gil’s jellies is a veritable Who’s Who of important names in research and conservation, including all of the celebrities mentioned in the opening paragraph, as well as Bill McKibben, Richard Crossley, George Archibald, and dozens of other local and national names.

I always look forward to listening to the fascinating speakers who generously donate their time to the Center, but my favorite part is the end when I get to present this prized local delicacy. I tell each of these guests, the jellies are not available in stores; the only way to get one is to speak at the Center! So I think all in all, they get a pretty good deal.

The Urban Ecology Center is currently planning the 2013-14 lecture series. If you know of people locally, or nationally, who would give a compelling program, please contact Tim Vargo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Who knows? They might share their jelly with you!


Photo credit: Vmenkov (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tim Vargo

Tim Vargo

Tim’s vast experience in applied biological research with an emphasis on conservation biology, tropical biology and ornithology has allowed him to carry out research around the world, including places Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Panama, and throughout the United States. Tim received an undergraduate degree in biology from Macalester College in 1995 and a Masters Degree in Biology from Purdue University in 2001. Tim is the Manager of Research and Citizen Science at the Center and in his spare time, Tim enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee and Disc Golf, relaxing at home with a good book, and fossil-fuel free (green) birding.

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