Bluebird Monitoring in Maryland: Resources for Beginning Monitors

A female eastern bluebird guards her nest. Credit Bonnie Simpers.

A female eastern bluebird guards her nest. Credit Bonnie Simpers.

This week is going to the birds, literally. Sunday marks the beginning of the Accokeek Foundation’s Bluebird Monitoring season as the faithful Bluebird Monitor volunteers return to repair and prepare the trail of 20+ boxes on the Ken Otis Bluebird Trail. After Sunday, these volunteers will be performing weekly nestbox checks until August to ensure Piscataway Park has a thriving native cavity nester population, and to help collect nesting habit data.

In preparation for the kick-off, I’ve been doing some research. A lot of research. And there’s something I’ve discovered in the process. People LOVE bluebirds. People love bluebirds so much, that a lot of people want to write about them and the virtues of monitoring a bluebird box. In looking for some information about best practices of monitoring, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of literature, articles, websites, groups, books, and packets that exist on the subject. You could read about bluebird monitoring until you were blue in the face, and that’s just the first website you looked at.

So I’ve compiled a list. Below are websites and books about monitoring a bluebird nest, and the resources on those sites that are most helpful in-the-field. These resources have excellent information about what to pack in your monitor bag, how to deal with pests and predators, how to identify different nests, how to estimate the age of nestlings, how to collect data, how to build boxes and predator guards, and much, much more. So without further ado…

Virginia Bluebird Society

But we’re monitoring in Maryland? I know, but I can’t help that I love the resources provided by the Virginia Bluebird Society. Their website is easy to use and navigate, and has information or links to just about everything you could possibly need. I found most helpful their “Nestbox Monitor Protocol“–which clearly lays out the expectations of a bluebird monitor, and the links they provided to excellent photos of hatchling development and nest identifications. I was particularly happy to find the latter two after searching countless websites for something concise with clear pictures that I could take out on the trail with me. I also recommend their data collection sheets for keeping track of the number of eggs, hatchlings, fledglings, etc–we’ve been using them for years and prefer them for their simplicity. is another website that has just about everything you could possibly want to know about monitoring a bluebird box. I recommend their article, “How to Monitor a Bluebird Box or Trail,” for a straight-to-the-point and informational guide for beginning monitors. It covers pre-season prep, predators, and other best practices, and has a really comprehensive list of what to pack in your monitor kit or have handy when monitoring a backyard box.

The NABS Fact Sheets

NABS, or the North American Bluebird Society, is a must-visit site for anyone interested in monitoring. Their fact sheets on nest boxes, monitoring, and predator control are clear, accessible, and contain a lot of pictures–something that is super helpful when “out in the field.” I plan to share the fact sheet “Monitoring Bluebird Nestboxes” with the volunteers to help them identify nests and eggs by species–all of the usual tenants of our boxes are covered in it: Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse.


Another all-encompassing bluebird website, Sialis is impressively complete, and kept pretty up-to-date (something I find not all bluebirding groups are good at doing). If you’re having a problem with your bluebird box and you need to troubleshoot, this website most likely has information about it. I recommend their “Predator/Problem Identification and Solutions” page for a chart on how to deal with everything from a wet nest to bears (oh my!).

 Nest Watch

The first bluebird egg of the season, spotted on the Ken Otis Bluebird Trail. is a website run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where you can register the nests you are watching and report your data directly to the ornithologists and scientists that need it most. You have to read the Nest Watch Code of Conduct and take a short quiz before you begin to enter your data, but it’s definitely worth it. Once you have entered the information you’ve collected for your nest site, Nest Watch can generate reports for you based on your data. I also recommend their “Nest Monitoring Manual” if you’re interested in monitoring any type of native birds, not just bluebirds, and their “Features of a Good Birdhouse” infographic for making sure you choose or build the best house for your cavity nesters.

Maryland Bluebird Society

If you want to see events and connect to other bluebird monitors in the state, check out the Maryland Bluebird Society’s Facebook page. They post fairly regularly and provide information about local monitor trainings, box-building workshops, and wildlife rescue organizations.

monitoring bluebirds at piscatway parkYou should be able to find everything you need on these sites, but if you’re interested in doing some further reading, I found “The Bluebird Monitor’s Guide to Bluebirds and Other Small Cavity-Nesters” by Cynthia Berger, Keith Kridler, and Jack Griggs helpful in preparing for this season. They reached out to monitors all over the country to get insider tips from the people who know best.

And if all else fails? Contact us! I’d be happy to connect with local bluebird monitors to share tips and experiences, failures and successes. We’re all in this together, right?

Soul Food Justice: The Bean Pie

This week I made the acquaintance of a food I’d never met before – the bean pie. By name alone, I was anticipating a savory southwestern dish, and was surprised to encounter a dessert not unlike sweet potato pie. Bean pies have been popularized by the Nation of Islam as an alternative to the rich foods commonly associated with African American cuisine, and became a fundraising staple of Black Muslims by the 1960s. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation for over 40 years, outlined strict dietary guidelines for followers in his book How to Eat to Live, and promoted the consumption of whole wheat, and raw fruits and vegetables. He warned followers against fried and processed foods and encouraged them to grow and prepare their own food at home and fast regularly. Muhammad advocated against eating some healthy vegetables like peas, collard greens, turnip greens, sweet potatoes and white potatoes as a way to distance African Americans from what he considered “cheaply raised” slave foods, which is what probably led to the replacement of sweet potatoes with navy beans and the birth of the bean pie.

Testing a new recipe for the Soul Food Justice program, Heather dishes up mini bean pies.

Testing a new recipe for the Soul Food Justice program, Heather dishes up mini bean pies.

The humble navy bean receives high praise from Elijah Muhammad in How to Eat to Live; in fact it was the only legume sanctioned by the Nation of Islam. “No beans did He (God) advise, except the small navy… This bean He valued to be very high in protein, fats and starches, and it is a safe food for prolonging life. As you will find, most of the Muslims like their bean soup… He said that He could take one of our babies and start him off eating the dry small navy bean soup, and make that child live 240 years. He described no other bean.”

And so navy beans found their way into the many a delicious Nation dish, the most famous of which is the bean pie. I decided to try my hand at making one, and followed the recipe found in Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America. The ingredients were basic and the preparation was easy – blend navy beans, butter, evaporated milk, eggs and spices in a blender, add sugar and vanilla and pour into a pie crust. Simple, right? You would think, but somehow I got distracted during the preparation and neglected to add the beans, which unfortunately I didn’t discover until after the pies were baked. Back to the cutting board. (As an aside, the resulting bean-free bean pies were still pretty tasty.) My second attempt was much more successful, and I found that the navy beans added a depth and texture to the pie that I really enjoyed. It would certainly hold its own against any pumpkin or sweet potato rival.

The Accokeek Foundation is gearing up to host Soul Food Justice next weekend, and the bean pie is an important ingredient in the rich, flavorful and complex recipe that is African American cuisine. We encourage you to join us and share your family food stories, weigh in on a panel discussion and partake of a soul food sampler. We’ll even be serving bean pies – beans included.

Bean Pie


Adapted from: Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America

  • 2 cups navy beans, cooked
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 14-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In electric blender, blend together beans, butter, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, and flour for around two minutes on medium speed.
  3. Pour mixture in a large mixing bowl and add sugar and vanilla. Stir well.
  4. Pour into pie shells and bake for around an hour until golden brown.

Yields two 8” pies.

–written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager

10 Notable African Americans Fighting for the Environment

In celebration of February as “Black History Month,” we’d like to honor the remarkable African American thought leaders, innovators, pioneers, and activists fighting for justice for the environment, its people, and their food. While this list is in no way exhaustive, it does illustrate the sheer impressiveness of the work of those making real and lasting change in their communities.

Will Allen


Years after growing up on a small farm in Maryland, Will Allen founded Growing Power Inc. He is recognized as one of the preeminent thinkers on agriculture and food policy and is a leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture. Allen promotes the belief that all people, regardless of their economic circumstances, should have access to fresh, safe, affordable and nutritious foods. Using methods he has developed over a lifetime, Allen specializes in bringing healthy food to underserved communities using a unique growing system he developed himself.

Michael Twitty


Michael “Kosher Soul” Twitty is a local food writer and culinary historian who focuses on African American food culture. He’s made several appearances during cultural events hosted here at the farm, demonstrating what he calls, “culinary justice,” or the art of honoring the food past and providing for the food future. He started his blog, Afroculinara, as a way to chronicle his life’s work and to share the work of many other great “soul foodies.”

Bryant Terry


Bryant Terry is a chef, food justice activist, and author of four books, including one on vegetarian soul food.  He is committed to raising awareness about the negative impact the industrial food system has on health and the environment. Terry’s interest in cooking, farming, and community health can be traced back to his childhood in Memphis, Tennessee, where his grandparents inspired him to grow, prepare, and appreciate good food. Bryant’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Food and Wine, Gourmet, Sunset, O: The Oprah MagazineYoga Journal, and Vegetarian Times, among many other publications. In 2012, Terry was chosen by the U.S. State Department as one of 80 American chefs to be a part of its new American Chef Corps.

John C. Robinson


John C. Robinson is a biologist and birder who has birded in almost every state and led birding trips in Central America and South Africa. He often points out that in another couple of generations, minority populations collectively will be the majority and will hopefully drive conservation efforts. Thus, his mission is to encourage inner city and minority youth and young adults to become more interested in nature through bird watching. He explores the topic in his book, Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.

Audrey and Frank Peterman


The Petermans are among the leading experts on America’s publicly-owned lands system and have been pioneers in the green and conservation movement since 1995. They are tenacious advocates for breaking the color barrier and for integration of our natural treasures as a way for all Americans, including children, youth, adults and seniors – regardless of ethnic heritage – to better appreciate our collective history and achieve a truly democratic society. The captivating story of the Peterman’s journey through the national parks and the environmental world enables Americans to look at our country with new eyes. It shows that around the country, Americans of every race contributed to the protection of our most treasured places.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph


“A masterful storyteller,” Marc Bamuthi is the creative genius behind “red, black & GREEN: a blues(rbGb),” a multimedia performance he created in response to the fact that people of color are underrepresented in the environmental movement. Performed throughout the country, rbGb provided a vibrant opportunity to unite individuals, families and neighbors in asking, “what sustains life in OUR community?” and gave voice to those people often left out of discussions about “living green.”

Dr. Diane Glave


A historian and professor whose specialty is African American Environmentalism. Her love of nature has translated professionally and vocationally and she writes and speaks extensively on the topic. She is currently serving as the associate pastor at Ingomar Church in Pittsburgh, where part of her ministry is advocacy for impoverished and marginalized people affected by environmental disparity including access to recreational spaces and healthcare. She is the author of Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage.

George Washington Carver


An American botanist and inventor born into slavery, George Washington Carver is regarded as one of America’s greatest agricultural researchers and educators. His innovations in the field of crop rotation are considered breakthroughs in resource conservation, by preserving soil and making farms more productive. As we are coming to understand 150 years later, Carver believed that in the natural world everything is a part of the whole. He understood that nothing exists in isolation, that everything is inextricably connected, and ignoring that fact can have disastrous effects.

Dr. Robert Bullard


Often referred to as the “father of the environmental justice movement,” Dr. Robert Bullard has been one of the leading voices on the issue for decades.  In 2008, he was named one of Newsweek’s 13 “Environmental Leaders of the Century”.  In 2013, he was the first African American to be honored with the Sierra Club John Muir Award. He has authored numerous books on the prominence of waste facilities in predominately African-American areas all over the nation, as well as others that address urban land use, industrial facility siting, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and equity. He firmly believes is that if you live on this earth, if you breathe this air then you are an environmentalist.

John Francis


Known as the “planet walker,” Dr. John Francis started walking in protest against the oil industry after a massive oil spill in 1971. For 22 years, he walked across North and South America (17 years of which were in complete silence!). He has shared his story on Ted Talks, “Walk the Earth… My 17 Year Vow of Silence” and in the documentary “I Am”. His book “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence” details his concern for the human loss of connection to nature, a point he stressed in an interview with The Atlantic. “While loss of habitat and species, pollution, and what we typically think of as environmental problems remain important issues for me, after walking across America listening and studying the environment for 17 years, I realize that people are part of the environment.” Today his non-profit,  Planetwalk Foundation, is “saving the planet one step at a time.”


What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Cow

Guest post by Mama Lynn #108.

DSC_0082 Lynn and the ladies SMALL

Mama Lynn and the ladies. photo by: A.Barnes

Good mooooooorning! My name is Lynn – that’s Mama Lynn to you – and as I’m sure you already know, I’m kind of a big deal at the Accokeek Foundation. I’m the boss of the American Milking Devon herd, second-in-command only to Miss Polly, the livestock manager, and I’ve been tasked with talking a bit about what it’s like to be a pregnant cow (or sheep) here at the Foundation. The humans entrusted me with this because I’m a bit of an expert on the subject – this is my sixth year calving, after all, and Miss Polly knows she can always count on me to have a nice, easy birth.

Now, I know you humans think you have it bad when it comes to pregnancy. I’ve seen your “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” blogs – your symptoms, your kicking babies, and your insistence on comparing the size of your babies to fruit and vegetables. Let me tell you a little about cow pregnancy!

American Milking Devons

Including myself, eight of the cows here at the farm were bred. Our gentleman caller for the last three seasons has been Bubba – a polite (as polite as can be expected, anyway!), if slightly goofy, bull known here at the farm for playing fetch with the staff. He visited the ladies in the pasture from June to July, and as we have an average 284 day gestation period (just over 9 months, so not much longer than yours!) that means our calves are due in March and April.

(And goodbye to Bubba, who has moved on greener pastures at a farm in Virginia now that so many of his daughters will be ready to breed next season. We have a new boyfriend now, Rebel, who only recently come to the Foundation. We haven’t had a chance to meet him yet, but we’re told that he hates geese and will chase them from his pen!)

First Trimester

Feeding time with Polly.

Feeding time with Polly. photo by A.Barnes

At the end of a human’s first trimester, the baby is about three inches long, weighs about an ounce, and is approximately the size of a peapod. It has eyes, eyelids, fingers with fingerprints, and toes.

For cows, each trimester is 94 days long. At the end of the first trimester, our fetuses are about 5 inches long and weigh about 4 ounces. We prefer to give our comparisons in animals – so at the end of the first trimester, the calf is about the size of a rat (or a turnip, if you insist on vegetables!). Our calves have all developed all four of their stomachs and their hooves have formed – though the hooves are soft and will (thankfully, for us!) remain that way until after they are born.

Lorelei, one of the pregnant Milking Devon at the National Colonial Farm.

Lorelei, one of the pregnant Milking Devon at the National Colonial Farm. photo by A.Thompson

Second Trimester

After 27 weeks, a human baby has fingernails, fully formed ears, eyelashes, and hair on the top of its head. It is the size of a head of cauliflower. Pretty big, right? Well…

After 190 days, a fetal calf is as about the size of a beagle… around 22 pounds, or the size of a watermelon. Yeah, you read that right. A full-sized watermelon. And we’ve still got a whole trimester to go. By this point, the calf also has eyelashes, hair on its tail, and we cows are getting quite wide!

Third Trimester

The home stretch! At the beginning of the third trimester, staff can start to see and feel our babies moving. This is also when our udders start to really fill up! Most of the growth for both a human and a calf occurs in the last trimester of pregnancy – as much as 70-75%. A human baby is born after 40 weeks and weighs (on average!) 7.5 pounds.

Milking Devon cows weigh between 1000 and 1200 pounds, and our babies here at the Foundation are on average 65 pounds when they are born. (Just between us, I’m a little on the hefty side and the biggest of the cows, and my babies are big and healthy – averaging 80 pounds. 80 pounds! And you think your babies are huge!)  And then baby care starts… but I’ll talk about the babies in my next blog.

Baby Season at the Farm

pregnant sheep

Pregnant ewes on the farm. photo by A.Thompson

Of course we cows aren’t the only ones expecting here at the Foundation. I might sound biased but the sheep in the next field over have it easy. Sheep are only pregnant for 5 months! Since Mick Jagger, the Foundation’s ram, visited the sheep from October to mid-December that means their babies are due between February and April. The sheep are far more likely to have twins than we cows are, in about 50% of their pregnancies. The mama sheep weigh about 100 pounds, and each one has about 12 pounds of baby at the end – that could be two 6 pound lambs or one big 10-12 pounder. That’s a much bigger baby relative to the size of the ewe than we cows have, so maybe in that instance we lucked out. And don’t tell the sheep, but I do think the baby lambs are awfully cute.

Here at the Foundation, births are timed for when the fresh green spring grass is growing, which supports good milk production to help all of us better feed our little ones.

hog island lamb

Hog Island lamb born in 2014. photo by C.Lowe

Our calving and lambing season also is timed for when the site opens up again for school tours and visitors in mid-March, so make sure to visit us and see our youngsters! (And keep an eye on the events page for information on Lattes with Lambs – our special “visit the babies” event coming up on March 21!)

Check out my Waddle Walk!

mama lynn pregnancy moovie clip from Accokeek Foundation on Vimeo.


If you are interested in purchasing an American Milking Devon calf or Hog Island lamb, we are still accepting deposits for the 2015 season. For more information please contact Polly Festa, Livestock Manager, at

Valentine’s Day Great Backyard Bird Count at the Visitor Center

Love truly IS for the Birds this February!

bluebird at piscataway parkFebruary is National Bird Feeding Month, and with the Great Backyard Bird Count taking place February 13 -16, we thought it only fitting that we celebrate our love for the birds this Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re a bird lover, or just a lover in general, we invite you to join the Accokeek Foundation on Saturday, February 14 at the Visitor Center, and help us show our love for these backyard feathered friends.

This free family activity will include bird seed feeder crafts for the kids and chocolate treats for kids of all ages! We will have count sheets available for visitors to help collect data for this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count, all while we listen to the romantic tunes of Sinatra and Crosby.  Saturday, Feb 14, 12 – 2 pm, Museum Gift Shop and Visitor’s Center. 3400 Bryan Point Rd, Accokeek, MD 20607. Call 301-283-2113 or email for more information.

“A Day On, Not A Day Off”

mlkday“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Growing up, service to others was something I rarely thought about. With service learning built into my schooling in such a way that I didn’t even notice I was earning service hours, and a family life that involved two extremely busy working parents, I had no idea what it really meant to volunteer my time to serve my community. And frankly, it never really occurred to me to do so.

Now don’t get me wrong–my parents are wonderful people who always taught me to be compassionate to those around me. My father has one of those magnetic personalities that allows him to connect in this incredible way to people from all walks of life. And my mother is someone who always gives as much as she can to those in need of help, including the various insects that make their way into our house (she’s famous for her “bug box” which she uses to carry spiders, crickets, stink bugs, bees, and other creepy crawlies safely back outdoors).

But despite the example being set for me, I was never actually asked to serve–or even exposed to the types of service opportunities available to me. Now I don’t want to put the blame for my lapse on the shoulders of others, as it was always in my power take initiative. Many people venture out, define problems, and work towards solutions because something inside compels them to do so. I’ve always admired these people, and our communities need them. But there are those of us, like me, who need help breaking out of our individualistic focus to see that service does not take place far away and only in the most dire circumstances. It takes place every day, and all around us. We exist in a state of unawareness that there are so many simple, but meaningful ways we can make a positive change in our world. And it wasn’t until I was asked to consider serving as an AmeriCorps member that I began to see all of the ways I could contribute to a healthier and stronger community.

In the few years since, community service has become an everyday part of my life. As the volunteer coordinator, I spend 40+ hours a week asking people to unselfishly volunteer their time to the foundation’s mission. And to the amazement of many around me, community members respond–and they do so gladly. They continually rise to the occasion with an enthusiasm that sends me home inspired most evenings, and wishing that it hadn’t taken me so long to get involved in the culture of volunteerism.

So in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, I’m asking you the question that Dr. King says is “life’s most persistent and urgent question” and the question that I wish I had been asked from a young age, “What are you doing for others?” How can you serve your community through individual acts of kindness to honor Dr. King and his legacy today and throughout the year? I hope you will consider taking the time to find out.

Need help figuring out where to start? Here’s a Service Toolkit:




For the Love of Soup

–written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager

As the temperature drops, I find myself spending more and more time in the kitchen. Sure a lot of that time is spent eating (my pants can attest to that), but I also enjoy cooking during the winter too. What the season lacks in abundant fresh ingredients, it makes up for in hearty and comforting storage crops – and the chance to crack open the array of colorful jarred veggies that I canned over the summer. I can easily – and quite contentedly –  spend an evening paging through cookbooks and planning menus I wouldn’t have the patience to prepare in the summertime. And one of my favorite winter dishes is soup. Soups are forgiving and flexible, allowing you to work with ingredients that you have on hand, can be accommodatingly simple and store incredibly well. And they hit the spot like no other food can when the polar vortex arrives on our doorsteps. What is not to love about soup? It is no wonder then that soup gets its due this month as we celebrate National Soup Month. While you may be tempted to celebrate by reaching in the pantry for a convenient canned variety, avoid that temptation as they tend to be high in sodium. Instead, take a few more minutes to make your own delicious recipe from scratch. In celebration of soup, I have compiled three recipes that make the most of seasonal and healthy ingredients, without taking hours to prepare.

Minestrone with Collard Greens and White Beans


Recipe: Martha Stewart

This soup packs a healthy punch with the combination of seasonal greens, protein-rich beans and canned tomatoes. Lycopene, a disease-fighting antioxidant found in tomatoes, can be more easily absorbed by the body from canned processed tomatoes (particularly tomato paste, where the lycopene is most concentrated), so make the most of their health benefits this winter by skipping the hard, anemic tomatoes in the produce aisle and picking up their canned cousins. Don’t feel you have to follow this recipe to the T; minestrone is great with whatever vegetables you have on hand, and consider adding beef or sausage if you’d prefer a meaty variety.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound (about 2 bunches) collard greens, stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
2 cans (19 ounces each) white beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)

  1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until onion is coated, about 30 seconds. Add collard greens, thyme, and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until collards start to wilt, 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Place 1/4 of beans in a bowl, and mash them with the back of a spoon (this will help thicken soup). Add all the beans to the pan, as well as tomatoes with juice and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer, until collards are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; serve with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Tom Yam Kung (Hot and Sour Prawn Soup)


Recipe: Thailand: A Journey for Food Lovers

Also spelled tom yum goong, this is one of the more well-known Thai dishes, and is surprisingly easy to make at home. The combination of of hot, sour and spicy flavors is instantly recognizable and pretty hard to resist. If you’re craving a break from heavier winter dishes, tom yum is a tropical vacation for your tastebuds.While it does require a few specialty ingredients, they are inexpensive and commonly found in Asian grocery stores. According to research, tom yum soup may help to fight cancer – the ingredients being particularly effective at inhibiting tumor growth.


12 oz. raw shrimp
1 tablespoon oil
3 lemongrass stalks, white parts only, bruised
3 thin slices of galangal
8 cups of chicken stock, thai culinary stock or water
5-7 bird’s eye chiles, stems removed, bruised
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 oz. straw mushrooms, or quartered button mushrooms
2 spring onions (scallions), sliced
3 tablespoons lime juice
a few cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails intact and reserving the heads and shells. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or wok and add the shrimp heads and shells. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shells turn bright orange.
  2. Add one stalk of lemongrass to the pan with the galangal and stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock and return to the pan. Discard the shells and flavorings.
  3. Finely slice the remaining lemongrass and add it to the liquid with the chilis, lime leaves, fish sauce, mushrooms and spring onions. Cook gently for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the shrimp, and cook for 3 minutes or until the shrimp and firm and pink. Take off the heat and add the lime juice. Taste, then adjust the seasoning with extra lime juice or fish sauce if necessary. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Red Lentil-Pumpkin Soup

Recipe: Cooking Light

What is winter without a creamy pumpkin soup? This one pairs canned pumpkin with quick-cooking dried lentils for a dish that can be made at a moment’s notice. If you happen to have whole pumpkin or winter squash on hand – Long Island Cheese pumpkin and butternut squash are good candidates – then simply steam it before adding it to the soup. Since it might be chunky, opt to puree the soup after you’ve added the cooked pumpkin, rather than before.


2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 1/2 cups organic vegetable broth, divided
1 cup dried small red lentils
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup water
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 4 minutes.
  2. Stir in 3 cups broth, lentils, and next 4 ingredients (through red pepper); bring to a boil.
  3. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  4. Place the lentil mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth.
  5. Return lentil mixture to pan over medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 cup broth, 1 cup water, and pumpkin to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
  6. Stir in ginger and lemon juice.
  7. Ladle 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 2 teaspoons yogurt, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, and 1 tablespoon cilantro.

Birds of a Feather: A Day in the Life of the Birds Out My Window

"Merlin in Piscataway Park" photo shared by MJ Garcia.

“Merlin in Piscataway Park” photo shared by MJ Garcia.

I began writing this post, hours ago, prepared with facts and statistics about the abundant species of birds found in North America, and then also about the specific species identified locally in our area. I wanted to include all of the data I’ve collected about the issues critical to the protection and survival of birds I found in order to share a brilliantly written, thought-provoking piece in honor of National Bird Day, which happens to be today! (Did you know that? There are so many “national” days in honor of something these days it’s really hard to keep up with them isn’t it?)

But in the end, I couldn’t do it. It was all rubbish. (The writing, not the facts.) It wasn’t from the heart, and felt forced.

So I’ve abandoned that plan and have decided instead to share my observations from glancing outside my office window looking out over the barnyard as the sun prepares to set on this day…

The northern cardinal was named for the red plummage of the male (pictured), which was said to look similar to a Catholic cardinal's red vestments.

The northern cardinal was named for the red plummage of the male (pictured), which was said to look similar to a Catholic cardinal’s red vestments.

As I look out onto a peaceful scene painted in the muted colors of early winter–browns, grays, and beiges–with a group of robins scratching gingerly at the ground in search of their evening meal and a swarm of Canada geese plucking at what appears to be the last remnants of green in the barnyard, I am reminded of how often I am inspired by the changing scene this window out into the natural world provides me. Some days I am greeted in the early spring by a chipper and brightly colored bluebird perched on the limb hanging just outside the window. Other times I glance out and catch a pair of cardinals singing sweet nothings to each other (Yes, both male and female cardinals sing.) And occasionally I’ve spotted a red-bellied woodpecker or a flicker pecking away at that same tree.

No matter the season or the day, I seem to always notice our feathered friends of the avian variety. I am continually amazed each and every day at how the sight of them takes my breathe away, often stopping me in my tracks and causing me to look up; watching for what appears to be hours as they flit about, chirp merrily, or just perch above as if they are the ones watching me. In my observations, what I’ve noticed more about the birds outside my window is that each of them have their own personality.

The titmouse is small, yet brave…
The cardinal is stately and serious…
The nuthatch reminds me of a solider on a mission…
The chickadee is curious and flighty…
The bald eagle is majestic and fierce…
The blue heron moves with a graceful elegance…

A simple bird feeder made using a mason jar and a chick feed base is a favorite attraction in my backyard.

A simple bird feeder made using a mason jar and a chick feed base is a favorite attraction in my backyard.

Now that the sun has set and darkness has completely filled my window’s view, I will wrap this post up and leave you with this one final thought for today: What has inspired you today? What will inspire you tomorrow? I hope that you will take a moment to notice not only today, but every day, the birds that fly in and out of your life each day. Because it will be the passionate fire inside of you inspired by witnessing these beautiful creatures that will cause action to protect them. Not my words.

Learn more about the birds in your backyard. Participate in the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, a four-day international bird count open to birders of all ages from around the world. (I’ll warn you, however, bird watching can be wildly addicting!) Hone your bird-watching skills by joining fellow enthusiasts on this upcoming free birding walk at Piscataway Park hosted by the local chapter of the Audubon Society.


Resolve to Have a Happier, Healthier, More Sustainable 2015

The end of an old year and start of a new is traditionally a time for reflections on the past and planning for the future. With that in mind, many of us make resolutions with the intention of improving our own lives and the lives of those around us. There are a lot of classic resolutions that people make year after year – to eat better, to be more earth-friendly and sustainable, to exercise more, to spend more time with our families. The problem is that those very broad, very big resolutions can be difficult to keep. Making a major lifestyle change is overwhelming, and it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some simple steps you can take to help you keep your resolutions this year.

If you want to eat better AND live more sustainably…

Accokeek Foundation member and market supporter shops organic produce at the Ecosystem Farm Market.

Accokeek Foundation member and market supporter shops organic produce at the Ecosystem Farm Market.

Shop at your local farmers market or join a CSA.
There are so many reasons to buy your produce locally – fresh seasonal vegetables taste better and are more nutritious. You can talk to the farmers that grew your food – find out how they grew it, where they grew it, what methods were involved in the production. Your money goes to support a local business, your reducing your carbon footprint, and you might be able to get some great cooking tips, directly from the farmer, as a bonus! Use Local Harvest to find a market or CSA near you. (Don’t forget our On-Farm Market, where we sell produce from our organic, sustainable on-site Ecosystem Farm!)

Young chickens will spend the winter in the greenhouses at the Ecosystem Farm.

Young chickens will spend the winter in the greenhouses at the Ecosystem Farm.

Switch to local, pastured eggs.
Did you know there’s a huge difference in nutrition between pastured eggs and traditional grocery store eggs? And did you know that just because an egg carton says “cage-free,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the hens are even able to go outside?

Luckily, it’s easy to make a change in your egg-buying habits. For those who don’t have the option to or interest in raising their own hens, many local farmers offer eggs from their own chickens at a price is only marginally more than grocery store eggs. Ask about how they raise their hens – ideally, you’re looking for pasture-raised, as then the birds have access to grass and fresh air. Buying from a local farmer means you’re likely getting fresher, healthier eggs; you can see how humanely the chickens are raised; and you’re supporting a local business. Looking for local eggs? Come to the On-Farm Market when it opens back up next season, because we’ve added a flock of chickens to the Ecosystem Farm and will be offering their pastured, certified organic eggs at the market.


At face value, composting might not seem to help you eat better. But if you have even a very small home garden, using compost can reduce your need for pesticides and fertilizers, and boost your garden’s output. (And if you don’t have your own small garden, why not? There’s another small step you can take!) Beyond the benefits to your home garden, the value to the environment is huge. Americans are producing hundreds of millions of tons of waste every year, and 20-30% of what we throw away at home is compostable yard and food waste. When put into a landfill, that waste is turning into methane, which is 23 times more efficient at trapping heat (and contributing to climate change) than carbon dioxide.  Composting your waste at home keeps that out of the landfills and puts it to work. And if you don’t have your own garden where you can use the compost, check with a neighbor.

The EPA has a nice guide on setting up a simple home compost. Or, want to compost but don’t have a lot of space? Want a cool science project for your kids? Consider a worm bin! They are cheap, easy to make, and can be kept in an apartment or on a balcony. If you want to spend more time with your family AND get more exercise…


Volunteers help to remove debris from the Potomac shoreline at Piscataway Park during the annual Potomac River Clean-up.

Volunteers help to remove debris from the Potomac shoreline at Piscataway Park during the annual Potomac River Clean-up.

Why volunteer? You can learn new skills, provide a valuable service to your community, and meet like-minded individuals. Studies show that older Americans who volunteer frequently actually live longer! Bring your kids along with you and let them share in the benefits – kids who are engaged in their communities succeed more in school and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and are more likely to graduate from college.

Need some volunteering ideas? Find a local park and do some clean-up. The great thing about cleaning up a park is you can do it as part of a major event (like the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup) or on your own. Or check the National Park Service’s website for more volunteering opportunities. (Do 250 hours of volunteering for federal agencies and get a National Park volunteer pass, which will help you with the next resolution!)


DSC_0522 family visiting outdoors SMALL

Go outside.
Get your kids away from the screens and encourage them to play outside. Exposing kids to environmental education improves their performance in school and increases their critical thinking skills, but even just unstructured outdoor play has health benefits – including increased levels of vitamin D, boosts to their immune systems, improved vision, and reduced levels of stress hormones. And while your kids are outside? Join them! Make a commitment to getting outside regularly with your kids (or your dog, or your friends, or just by yourself!). Sure, you could join a gym and run on a treadmill, but studies have shown that you get a better work out by running or biking outside, and being outside just makes you feel better mentally.

Need some more help with your New Year’s Resolutions?

We’ve got you covered. Our Modern Homesteading workshops teach skills like food preservation and gardening techniques to help you live more sustainably. Come to a Volunteer Happy Hour at the Ecosystem Farm during the growing season and get some exercise while getting hands-on with the produce we grow. Just enjoy the great outdoors by exploring our nearly-four miles of hiking and walking trails.

Finally, make a resolution to keep an eye on our website – including this blog, our events calendar, and our volunteer page – for more information on these and other ways you can be involved here at the Foundation while living a healthier, happier life.

Happy New Year from all of us at the Accokeek Foundation!

lattes with lamb (robert macgregor)


Colonial History + Environmental Science: A New Visitor Experience at National Colonial Farm

Interior of "Laurel Branch," historic farmhouse on the National Colonial Farm.

Interior of “Laurel Branch,” historic farmhouse on the National Colonial Farm.

“Look at this house. See how lucky we are today?” I overheard a mother saying to her eight year-old daughter at the National Colonial Farm. I understand the impulse to teach children not to take for granted the conveniences we have today – electricity, telephones, indoor plumbing, and so many others. As any colonial historian will tell you, life was brutal and short in those days. We should appreciate the advances that allow us to live longer, healthier lives.

Coal-burning for electric power is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas in the U.S.

Coal-burning for electric power is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas in the U.S.



But there’s another side to the story. For all of those technologies that make our lives easier, there is an environmental cost that we often don’t think about. The unfortunate reality is that we contribute to climate change every time we flip on that convenient light switch. We dump endless supplies of plastic and other non-degradable disposables into landfills and waterways. I began thinking about mother-daughter conversations fifty years from now. . . .  one hundred years from now. Would they say, “See how lucky we are today?” This became one of the inspirations for new kind of weekend visitor experiences on the National Colonial Farm that began in October 2014.

Using colonial history to provide a context for conversation, we want to get people thinking about the environmental choices they make.

November’s Theme: Artificial Light and Energy Conservation

Most Americans go to bed between 10:30pm - 12:00am, using electricity to support this habit.

Most Americans go to bed between 10:30pm – 12:00am, using electricity to support this habit.

Nature’s rhythms undoubtedly governed the lives of colonial people more than they do today. In 2014, we turn on a light when it’s dark. We turn on air conditioning when we are hot. We take every opportunity to “conquer” nature with our technology. But colonials had fewer options. They headed off to bed shortly after sundown. Candle light was available, but too dim to accomplish much work.

With coal burning providing almost half of the energy produced for electricity in this country, maybe it’s time we explored the benefits of letting nature take charge once in a while? This is the question we are exploring this November and December.

Interpreter Ashley Thompson teaches Board member Shirley Harmon and Accokeek Foundation president Lisa Hayes to shape the candles as they add layer of wax.

Interpreter Ashley Thompson teaches Board member Shirley Harmon and Accokeek Foundation president Lisa Hayes to shape the candles as they add layer of wax.

Even in colonial times, the cost of staying up late was an issue that could cause a family squabble. Candles, often purchased rather than made, would have been costly for a struggling tobacco planting family. So to help the Bolton family save a few pence, visitors have had the opportunity to dip candles with costumed interpreters as they invite discussion on the merits of being thrifty with energy.

Interpreter Felix Hernandez demonstrates how to hand-crank electricity to power a set of typical incandescent holiday lights.

Interpreter Felix Hernandez demonstrates how to hand-crank electricity to power a set of typical incandescent holiday lights.


Meanwhile, in the Visitor Center, we’ve offered a connection to present-day conservation with a light bulb comparison activity. If you’re a night owl, which light bulb will help you save the most on energy? Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED)? Visitors can see for themselves by cranking our hand-held generator to power each bulb. But the answer is not clear-cut. There are several environmental impacts related to recycling and producing the bulbs that may affect decision-making. We’re here to start a thought-provoking conversation about an object that everyone uses.

I’m looking forward to seeing if combining colonial history and environmental issues is something that visitors respond to. Are we sparking meaningful conversations? Are people talking about light bulbs and candles on their ride home? This is what we’d like to know. Please write us if you have feedback!


–Written by Andrea Jones, Director of Programs and Visitor Engagement