Teens Spend Summer Learning Ecology by Farming

photo by Andrea Jones, Accokeek Foundation

ACC teen program interns showcase what they learned during an end of season celebration for families, friends, and school administrators. (photo by Andrea Jones, Accokeek Foundation)

According to Shakespeare, parting is such sweet sorrow. This was certainly the case as we said farewell to the first class of the newly launched Agriculture Conservation Corps (ACC) program this August. In collaboration with Prince George’s County’s William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center, the Accokeek Foundation developed a 7-week program to introduce area youth to different aspects of agriculture, from animal husbandry to production farming, all while providing a local historical context.

Tyler Reid, 15, shares her experiences on the farm. (photo by Anjela Barnes, Accokeek Foundation)

Tyler Reid, 15, shares her experiences on the farm. (photo by Anjela Barnes, Accokeek Foundation)

Nine teens, from Gwynn Park High School and Oxon Hill High School, spent their summer vacation learning more than just farming. They learned where their food comes from and how to prepare nutritious meals using harvested ingredients, about soil nutrient management and ecology, how to be caretakers of the land, and most importantly about community. “It’s a good program for people who want to get into the science field,” tells Isaiah Nance, a student from Gwynn Park considering a major in marine biology. “I learned about different plants and how to identify the plants.” Tyler Reid, another Gwynn Park student, shares how learning to build wattle fencing and trellises helped her to think more creatively in order to shape the branches and limbs to support the growing beans and squash vines. These experiences provided an interdisciplinary perspective on agriculture and sustainability.

The ACC program will be evaluated and expanded for the 2016 season, with spring and summer sessions available for students. The Accokeek Foundation is a nonprofit education organization that stewards 200 acres of Piscataway Park in Accokeek, Maryland. Its mission is to cultivate a passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. The ACC is one of its many educational programs that integrates environmental sustainability with history for better understanding of human’s impact on the land.

 

8 Reasons Why Growing Up On the Chesapeake is the Best Way to Grow Up

Everyone here at the foundation has a piece of our mission that particularly resonates with them. It’s the reason they come to work in the morning, and the reason they feel good about their job even after a hard day. For some it’s food justice and providing fresh food to the community, for some it’s the culture and history of this place, and for others it’s educating local students and the public. But for me, it’s the park. It’s this beautiful, peaceful piece of shoreline. And it’s the river.

Recently, staff members were asked to think about how we would define sustainability. What does it mean to us? Why do we think it’s important? And in my mind those answers are put into the context of the river, because the Chesapeake and its waterways run through every part of my life. To me, sustainability is about protection–protecting resources, protecting people, protecting systems–so that they can stand the test of time. It’s about protecting the Chesapeake as a resource, and ensuring that those who come after me will also be able to view it as such. It’s about making sure the people and animals who have made a life here can continue to make a life here. It’s about protecting the health of the water so that we can continue to take nourishment from it.

So in honor of protecting a resource as valuable as the Chesapeake or the Potomac, I’ve put together a list of “8 Reasons Why Growing Up On the Chesapeake is the Best Way to Grow Up,” featuring photos from my very own childhood. Enjoy!

 

1. You learned to tie a boat knot before you could tie your shoes

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Who even wore shoes in the summer anyways? You weren’t a real boat kid if you didn’t get dock splinters on the bottom of your feet on a regular basis.

 

2. Fresh seafood is just a pole or net away

blog-fishing pic

Who wants to eat chicken, when you can use that chicken to catch crabs off the dock? Never mind that the catch of the day for my brother and I was usually jellyfish tangled in a net.

 

3. You can’t have a massive float out in a pool

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Don’t have a float? Macgyver one out of noodles and life jackets! The dogs want to come too? Sure, no problem!

 

4. Life jacket fashion is a way of life

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Is that a zebra life jacket with a yarn fringe mane? Why yes, yes it is.

 

5. If you can’t find an island to hang out at, you can just make your own

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Nothing beats a raft out with good friends.

 

6. You can’t beat the commute

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A “traffic jam” on the water beats a traffic jam in the city any day.

 

7. The landscape is always changing

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With the ebb and flow of the tide, you never have the same view twice. And sometimes low tide means new sandbars to explore.

 

8. There’s always something new to explore

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To sort of quote Samuel Johnson, when a man (or woman, or child) is tired of the river, he is tired of life.

Take the AF Water Footprint Challenge and Discover the Hidden Cost of the Food We Eat

50 one-gallon buckets represent HALF of the average American's daily water use.

50 one-gallon buckets represent HALF of the average American’s daily water use.

Did you know?

  • Water scarcity affects 2.7 billion people at least once a month, each year? Or that, according a recent government report, within the next 10 years 40 out of 50 states in the U.S. will experience water shortages in some portions of their states? In fact, by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population may be facing water shortages.
  • A water footprint is the measurement of how much water is used for the products and services we use. In the U.S., household water usage accounts for only 8% of available water. Agriculture, and thus the food we eat, accounts for a whopping 70% of that water!

This is why, this June, through our Time Travel Adventure weekend interpretive program at the National Colonial Farm, we’re asking visitors, “What’s Your Water Footprint?” All month, visitors will explore how American water usage has changed since the 1770s, and learn about the hidden costs of our favorite foods as they discover exactly how much water is on their plates.

This video about the Best & Worst Foods for California’s Drought explains the relationship between food and water usage a bit more.

To take the message a little further, Accokeek Foundation staff has made a commitment to take the AF Water Footprint Challenge. Together, for one month, we are giving up some of our favorite foods — chocolate, coffee, almond milk, cheese, beef, nuts, and olive oil — as an experiment to test both our individual and collective water footprint based on the daily food choices we make.

For instance, I’ve chosen to give up coffee for one month. Gasp! Right, I know. But it really wasn’t that hard of a decision for me. Coffee is a joyous part of my morning routine. I enjoy waking up, steeping and pressing a fresh carafe, and sipping that first cup slowly while I read the day’s news and emails. Giving up this daily wake-up ritual was the hard part and not the coffee itself. Either way, by giving up coffee I estimate that I will conserve approximately 1,056 gallons of water per gallon of brewed coffee according to this article. This is pretty impressive considering that the average American uses 2,000 gallons of water each day!

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By taking the challenge as a staff, collectively we estimate that we will save 9,371 gallons of water by the end of the month — just by changing one daily food habit. Seems to be a small sacrifice for the greater common good, don’t you think?

Will you join us in taking the AF Water Footprint Challenge? If so, tell us which food choice you’ve chosen to sacrifice and why. We’ll share our successes (and obstacles) throughout the month, and would love to hear from you as well!

Sustainability for the Next Generation

kids hands

“[My visit] made me more mindful of the products I am using
and where I use it or dispose of it.”

Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for sustainability:

  1. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
  2. involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
  3. able to last or continue for a long time

At the Foundation, we spend a lot of time talking – with our visitors, at events, on the blog, just in the office over lunch – about definitions 1 and 2. We talk about the products we use and our farming methods, and how those products and methods are sustainable, how they help us fulfill our mission of stewardship and sustainability of this place that we love. We teach people how to lead more sustainable lives through their actions.

To me, though, the key to sustainability – and Merriam-Webster’s definition 3 – is capturing the hearts and minds of the children who visit us. The only way to truly make change sustainable is to carry it over into the next generation.

“I started recycling more and turning off more lights.”

underspaceThe quotes in this post came from high school students when asked if they changed any of their personal habits after visiting us on a field trip. Their class had explored the environmental cost of different modern objects – plastics, pesticides, batteries, for example – compared to their colonial alternatives, and then discussed changes they could make in their own lives to be more eco-friendly.

My position as museum interpreter means I get to spend a lot of my time on the ground, talking to people. I spend my weekends on the Colonial Farm interacting with visitors of all ages, and my weekdays leading students on school tours, and in both I get to teach a combination of history and environmental science (you can read more about our unique style of weekend interpretation here, and our school tours here).

 

“We stopped using styrofoam cups.”

Working so closely with children means I get to planting rice
watch their green evolution. Most kids come to us with an idea about how to save the earth – they know about recycling, and picking up litter, and maybe a little bit about pesticides or saving water. But I find that kids often think about these issues in the big picture and less about how their own individual actions contribute to the problem. They know in theory that disposable styrofoam cups are terrible for the environment, but then they think “well, I’m only using one, so that’s not a big deal” (just like adults, huh?). By the end of their time with me, I want them to realize that each decision they make has an impact.

“It’s hard to convince your parents to change their habits
when they have been doing the same thing for years.”

rotational grazing

 

Humans are creatures of habit, and as the saying go, old habits die hard. It’s difficult to start recycling, for example, if you’ve never done it before in your life. Teaching children from the very beginning about the impact of their actions, and creating a lifetime habit of making positive choices, is what sustainability is all about.

 

“I became more aware of how something may seem harmless but it can have really bad consequences.”

eco-explorers and cate I don’t expect my students to go home and immediately throw out all of the items they have that are not environmentally friendly. I don’t want them to start policing their parents’ and friends’ behavior. Most importantly, I don’t want to instill in them a sense of guilt over decisions they’ve made in the past. What I want all children to walk away with is an understanding of the importance of environmentally-friendly choices, an ability to think critically about the choices they make, and a starting point for future conversations with the people in their lives.

“I talked to my family about how important recycling is,
and how it will help preserve land for future generations.”

All it takes is one moment to instill a lifelong passion for the planet in the mind of a child – whether that moment comes from convincing historical characters to make eco-friendly choices on a field trip, or playing a game about rotational grazing at an event to learn about sustainable farming practices, or planting seeds on the eco-farm, or just having a face-to-face and heart-to-heart interaction with a farm animal. For me, holding a child’s hand to walk him or her through those moments as they happen is one of the best parts of working here at the Foundation.

sheep and kids

The day the National Park Service was born.

PresRooseveltJohnMuir250Two men stood atop a mountain ridge, amongst snow-kissed passes, sharing their vision of a national system of parks that would offer the country “places for rest, inspiration, and prayers.” The year was 1903, and those two fellas were President Theodore Roosevelt and Sierra Club co-founder, John Muir. Thirteen years later their vision was realized.

Muir, born on this date in 1838, was one of America’s most celebrated naturalists. He had a vision making him known as the “Father of the National Park Service.”

Had it not been for visionaries like Roosevelt and Muir, and the countless others that followed in their footsteps, the places we treasure like Yosemite and the Everglades–or lesser known, yet equally treasured places like Piscataway Park–may have been lost to development or “progress.” Because of their passion, millions of visitors to the more than 400 national park lands not only enjoy the peace and serenity that these special places provide, but also have a space to get outside and be active.

muir quoteAs President Obama stated in his Presidential Proclamation in honor of National Park Week yesterday, “these places reflect our heritage and help tell the stories about giants of our history and extraordinary chapters of our past…. they offer something for everyone, and chances are, there is a National Park closer to you than you think.” Discovering these special places is what the NPS wants you to do. This is the purpose behind the new #FindYourPark campaign, launched a few weeks ago to kick-off a year of celebration in advance of its big 100 year anniversary next August.

This year, as you plan your family vacations or weekend day trips, think National Parks. Take in these natural wonders, learn something new about our heritage and history. You don’t even have to go very far. Whether its the vivid autumnal tints of Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, kayaking over the Potomac’s Great Falls, or staring in awe at the wild beauty of the Assateague Island ponies, a National Park is only a short drive away.

Be inspired by John Muir: Grab a buddy. Get out there. Find your park. And discover something wild!

Volunteer Spotlight: Terrie-Lea Blueitt

Terrie-Lea poses with Hog Island lamb, Nigel.

Terrie-Lea poses with Hog Island lamb, Nigel.

It’s National Volunteer Week and to celebrate, we’re kicking off a monthly Volunteer Spotlight blog series highlighting the most dedicated of the Accokeek Foundation’s Volunteer Team.

This month’s Spotlight is Terrie-Lea Blueitt, a Livestock Farmhand and Bluebird Monitor. She joined the volunteer team in 2012, and since then has dedicated an impressive 270 hours. Rain or shine, we can count on Terrie-Lea’s enthusiasm in the barnyard, and she always lends a helping hand during special events and educational programs such as Celebrating the Potomac and Lattes with Lambs. She has also become a leader in the Farmhands group as she helps Livestock Manager, Polly Festa, train and orient new volunteers, in addition to taking on feeding duties when Polly is out of town.

We interviewed both Terrie-Lea and Polly about their experiences working together. Check out what they had to say below!

Terrie-Lea:  

1.) How long have you been a volunteer at the Accokeek Foundation? What made you decide to become a volunteer?

I’ve been volunteering at Accokeek Foundation for three years now. I told someone the other day it was four years and when I checked, I was surprised it was only three…..I guess I just feel at home here at the farm.

2.) What is your favorite part about volunteering at the Accokeek Foundation?

I continue to be here really because of Polly. The animals are the reason I decided to volunteer, but Polly’s knowledge and her fun personality is why I stay. People can make or break any situation, but Polly gets me. She challenges me often, but she lets me be me and she trusts me, which means the world to me.

3.) What do you know now about Heritage Livestock that you didn’t know when you first started volunteering?

Polly taught me everything I know with my work here at the farm and has helped me to work smarter, not harder. She’s also very passionate about her Heritage Livestock and her mission at the farm. She’s a tough little gal and I greatly appreciate everything she does and all of the knowledge I’ve gained from this experience. But I especially appreciate her friendship.

4.) How has volunteering impacted your life?

I knew nothing about Heritage Livestock prior to coming to the farm, but what a cool deal to be responsible for increasing a population of livestock that would otherwise disappear, without organizations like Accokeek Foundation. What a cool mission.

5.) Can you tell us about a memorable experience you had while volunteering at the foundation?

Every Saturday brings new experiences and the birth of the baby cows and the baby sheep are by far the most exciting part. It was so cool to see Mama Bliss lead us to the barn to have her little one and then Mama Lynn (I think) wouldn’t have anything to do with going to the barn and had her baby in the woods. It’s just a very cool place and I feel so blessed to have found this wonderful place.

Polly:

1.) How long have you been working with Terrie-Lea?

I think 3 years now, but you would have to check on that.

2.) How has working with Terrie-Lea affected the Livestock Program?

Having a regular, dependable set of extra hands on Saturday means I can get done all of the projects I have that require more than one person. She’s very dedicated to the program and brings enthusiasm for it every weekend.

3.) Can you tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had while working with Terrie-Lea?

I’m not sure if I should tell this one or not, but one time Terrie-Lea and I were up at maintenance taking a load to the dumpster. Terrie was on the ground and I was in the back of the truck unloading when the truck started to slide down the hill. I started yelling and Terrie jumped into the cab and slammed on the emergency brake just in time. It’s always an adventure on the farm!

4.) Do you have anything else to add?

Terrie’s like the Captain of the Farmhands, and we’ve become really good friends over the years. I really enjoy her company and we often catch up and hang out after work.

On behalf of the entire Accokeek Team, THANK YOU TERRIE-LEA! We really appreciate all that you’ve done and continue to do for the Accokeek Foundation and the community!

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Cow…. Part Three

Photo by Casey Lowe

Photo by Casey Lowe

Good moooooorning, my faithful readers. Mama Lynn here again.

I am pleased to announce that just a few days after my last blog I gave birth to a happy and healthy 90 pound baby boy, “Laird” (our young men are being named with an Irish theme this year, and each baby is given a name that starts with the same letter as the mother!). Each of us has now had her baby, and we have eight beautiful calves frolicking in the pasture, four boys and four girls.

In the barn, we have eight little lambs who are getting so big, and still a few more on the way! Three of the sheep are still expecting, so we continue to hope for safe deliveries and healthy babies. As all the lambs are born and the weather warms up, they will soon be moooved to outdoor pastures. If you missed the chance to see them during our Lattes with Lambs event, they’ll be outside before too long!

Visitors often ask what happens to all the babies we have here on the farm. Some of this year’s little ones will stay here, either for future breeding programs or as demonstration animals at the Colonial Farm site. But there just isn’t enough space for all of the babies we have, so many of them will go on to other homes. This happens after they wean – the lambs usually naturally wean themselves by June. Our calves take a bit longer to wean, and so we will be separated from them by a fence in October. This is called “fence-line weaning” and allows us to see our babies (and our babies to see us!) so it is less stressful for everyone.

Heritage Breed Animals

You might be wondering why we would have so many babies every year if we are just going to sell them. Why does the farm think it’s so important to continue to breed? I wondered that myself, so I stole Miss Polly’s iPhone and did some research on heritage breed livestock.

We cows and the sheep are heritage breeds, and you
can find lamb and sheepus listed as “critical” on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. That means that, as breeds, the American Milking Devon cattle and Hog Island sheep are in danger of going extinct – to be defined as critical means there are less than 200 new registered animals every year in the US and less than 2000 estimated in the world. We Milking Devons were even the inspiration for the creation of the Livestock Conservancy! (You can learn more about the history of the Milking Devon cow and the Hog Island sheep at the Conservancy’s website!)

But why is it so important to preserve these heritage breeds? Well, we are often uniquely adapted to survive in the environment where we were originally bred. We often are better at foraging compared to commercial breeds, as opposed to eating commercial feed, so we have less of a negative environmental footprint. Speaking of footprints, we also tend to be smaller than commercial breeds, so our feet cause less soil compaction!

From the Farmer’s Mouth

I took advantage of Miss Polly’s iPhone and used it to contact a few of the farmers who have purchased our lambs or calves. I was curious about why they are choosing heritage breeds instead of commercial breeds, and they were happy to tell me!

David Hansen from the Peninsula Pork Company (all the way out in Wisconsin!) is purchasing his first Devon calves this year, and said he chooses heritage breeds because:

“Many heritage animals offer a quality level not normally found in general production animals. They may not produce the quantities of meat or milk that contemporary breeds can but they make up for it in flavor, hardiness and by being thrifty on feed.”

Richard Larson from Old Gjerpen Farm in Virginia had this to say about heritage breeds:

“For conservation of rare breeds to be successful, breeders must be able to sell their “product” at a price that generates a profit.”

And his reason for choosing Milking Devons specifically:

“We primarily raise the Milking Devon to sell breeding stock (heifers).  It has been a strong market.  While we do not milk our cows, most of our buyers are families that want to have a “family milking cow.”  We sell our steers, whole or half, again to families that want high quality grass-fed beef.  A strong market for us in large part because the Milking Devon has very favorable tasting meat, thus generating repeat sales.”

cowThey both bring up a wonderful point about flavor, food, and biodiversity – while at first it might seem counter-intuitive to eat animals that we are trying to preserve, one of the best ways to save a breed is by creating a market for it. If people realize that Milking Devon beef tastes better than beef from a traditional commercial breed (like an Angus), they will want to purchase Devon beef, and farmers will have an incentive to breed more Milking Devons. For more about flavors, food, and biodiversity, read about the Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste project – they are compiling a list of unique food breeds of animals and plants that are at risk of going extinct, and they’ve recognized the American Milking Devon as an endangered breed that has a higher distinctive “taste quality.”

Though my interest obviously lies with the cattle, for my readers’ sakes I also reached out to people who have purchased our Hog Island sheep, or products from them.

Joel Davis, managing editor at the Maryland Independent (), purchased a trio of Hog Island lambs from us last year and has been documenting his journey through a series of articles at the newspaper (be sure to read his latest article, about his adventures in bottle-feeding). His sheep were purchased to be used for fiber and meat, and when asked about his reasons for choosing heritage breeds over commercial he said:

“My wife and I share concerns about the sustainability of factory farming, including genetic bottlenecks and susceptibility to disease from using a limited number of animal breeds. Preserving heritage bloodlines ensures options are available in the event of a catastrophe.”

And finally, Alison Pacuska, owner of The Spinning Loft, sells fleece from our Hog Island sheep at her online fiber and spinning supply store.

She gave me some insight into the characteristics of the Hog Island wool (as you can imagine, as a cow I am very far from a wool expert!):

“It’s believed to have come from Hampshire, a down breed, and merino, a fine wool, before it went feral.  We don’t know for sure of course but for a down breed it’s remarkable soft, and exhibits lovely crimp. It’s also got that down characteristic of felt resistance.  It’s not impossible, but it is hard to felt it!  It’s really warm, has a great warm cream color and has some nice colors.”

spinning

Alison also mentioned the importance of preserving heritage breeds:

“I have worked with a lot of different wools and each one deserves to be used and promoted. While that may be said for the mass market breeds as well, it’s never a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket.  Genetic diversity is critical to preserving ecosystems and protecting the earth and humanity.”

As you can see, the purchasers of our calves and lambs support and believe in the same mission as the Accokeek Foundation: one of promoting and preserving these heritage breeds for their history and sustainability. We animals are proud to do our part!

I’ve very much enjoyed teaching you, dear readers, about the animals here at the Foundation. Do come to visit me (and the rest of the herd!) and watch the little ones grow through the spring and summer.

lambFor a chance to talk to Livestock Manager Miss Polly and get a behind-the-scenes look at life in the barnyard, visit us for Open Barn on most Saturdays from 2-4!

 

This year’s calves have all been sold, but if you are interested in purchasing a Hog Island lamb we are still accepting deposits for the 2015 season. For more information please contact Polly Festa, Livestock Manager, at pfesta@accokeek.org.

 

Chesapeake Conservation Corps: Tomorrow’s Conservation Leaders

CCCorps_logo-tag_rgbThe Accokeek Foundation has been selected as one of many potential host sites for the 2015-16 Chesapeake Conservation Corps service year. The Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program, administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, provides service-learning opportunities and green job training for young people through environmental and energy conservation projects. The Trust matches young adults 18-25 with Maryland nonprofits and government agencies to work fulltime in the environmental field gaining hands-on environmental, leadership, and technical training opportunities for a one-year term of service.

If successfully matched with the Accokeek Foundation, the Corps Volunteer will be involved in all aspects of expanding the Agriculture Conservation Corps (ACC) program at the Accokeek Foundation. With the Agriculture Education Manager, the Corps Volunteer will administer and implement this farm-based internship program for area youth. The program will feature applied learning at the Foundation’s National Colonial Farm and certified organic Ecosystem Farm to introduce high school students to careers in sustainable agriculture. This position is ideal for a candidate interested in pursuing a career in farming, agriculture education and/or Colonial history.

Primary responsibilities will include:

  • Develop an implementation and evaluation toolkit for the ACC program;
  • Plan and facilitate experiential programming on sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship;
  • Build positive working relationships with students and staff;
  • Participate in and lead agricultural tasks including seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and animal husbandry;
  • Conduct outreach throughout the year at area high schools and career fairs to promote the ACC program;
  • Educate the public about organic/sustainable agriculture; and
  • Document and evaluate programming.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust anticipates placing around 25-30 Corps Volunteers, young adults 18-25, with nonprofit organizations and government agencies throughout Maryland for a paid year of service ($16,000) beginning on August 25, 2015.

To apply, fill out an application to be a Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer and return to the Chesapeake Bay Trust by April 17, 2015. For any questions about becoming a volunteer or about the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, contact Program Officer Tara Baker, 410-974-2941, ext. 102.

A Farm, a View, and an Amazing Woman

frances-payne-bolton-header

A Maryland farm was for sale. To protect it from development, she bought it. A simple act, but one that marked the beginning of a series of events that led to the founding of the non-profit Accokeek Foundation, designation of the first national park created to protect historic vistas, and using the landscape of that historic vista to engage generations of visitors in the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park. As soon as Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton bought this farm, she set out for Africa on a six-week journey to explore the development of health care programs. The year was 1955. Frances Payne Bolton was 70 years old.

FrancesPayneBolton_smallBolton’s list of accomplishments was already long: first woman to be elected to Congress from Ohio, first woman member of Congress to represent the United States in the U. N. General Assembly, first woman member of Congress to visit a war theatre (Europe in 1944), and first woman to head a Congressional delegation abroad (visiting the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Poland in 1947).  And thanks to the Bolton Act of 1943, she was instrumental in seeing that over 124,000 nurses were trained during World War II, including several thousand African American women.

Frances Bolton first came to Washington D.C. with her family during World War I when husband Chester served on the War Industries Board. During the war, she inherited a trust fund from her uncle, one of the founders of Standard Oil, making her one of the richest women in the world and giving her personal resources that she would use throughout her life to support initiatives that were important to her.

After returning to Ohio, Chester served in the state legislature until his 1928 election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Frances once again moved the family to Washington, D.C. In 1938 she was elected to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association as the Vice Regent from Ohio, an event that plays a key role in the Maryland farm story. This remarkable women’s group, begun in the 1850s when Ann Pamela Cunningham led the effort to preserve George’ Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, still maintains and preserves the home of America’s first president. Frances had barely begun this volunteer service when her husband died in 1939, just after being elected to a 5th term in congress. Frances decided to run for his seat. She won and took office in 1940, beginning a long and distinguished career in Congress that lasted until 1968.

But on this, the 130th birthday of Frances Payne Bingham Bolton, I want to celebrate the lasting impact of her purchase of that Maryland farm 60 years ago. Located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River directly across from Mount Vernon, the farm had been in agricultural production for hundreds of years. The last family to own and work the farm had fallen victim to economic hard times even before the stock market crash in 1929. The property was held by a series of absentee owners until its purchase in the 1950s by a development company began to generate concern about the future of this landscape.

THUMBNAIL-MV-Viewshed-Flicker1ChrisMiller-CROPPED

Today, the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon is enjoyed by 1.6 million visitors annually.

Alice and Henry Ferguson had purchased nearby Hard Bargain Farm in the 1920s as a weekend retreat. They then began encouraging friends and like-minded people to move to the area, giving rise to the Moyaone Reserve. This vibrant group of artists and intellectuals cared deeply about preserving the rural character of their community and worried about what would happen to the farm at Bryan Point.

Cecil Wall, resident director of Mount Vernon, was also concerned about the impact that development could have on the treasured view from Mount Vernon and began talking to the National Park Service. The area in question had first come to the notice of the park service through Alice Ferguson’s work as an amateur archaeologist on the landscape and her documentation of its significant American Indian archaeological resources that date back thousands of years. Then in 1954 the Superintendent of the National Capital Region, Edward Kelly, became engaged in discussions about creating a park to protect the view from Mount Vernon, writing “the park site offers spectacular views of the river and the surrounding countryside.  Mount Vernon, the most important historic home in the United States, lies directly across the river, and the proposed park would permanently preserve this important vista from this hallowed spot.” But the wheels of the National Park Service and the Federal Government turn very slowly. When efforts to garner support in a timely fashion failed, Frances Bolton purchased the farm with her own money.

Over the course of the next year and half, a group of Moyaone residents began meeting with Bolton about the creation of a non-profit organization that could acquire and hold land, and coordinate the effort to permanently protect an approximately six mile stretch of land on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River across from Mount Vernon.  The Accokeek Foundation was incorporated in 1957. Frances Bolton donated the farm to this new organization and served as its president for twenty years. Through an impressive campaign waged on the national level by Bolton and other members of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and on the state and local level by the Accokeek Foundation, the Alice Ferguson Foundation, and the Moyaone Association, legislation creating Piscataway Park was signed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.

The 1968 dedication of Piscataway Park. From left to right, Frances Bolton, Turkey Tayac, Belva Jensen, Robert Ware Straus, Rosamond Bierne, Gladys Spellman, and Hervey Machen.

The 1968 dedication of Piscataway Park. From left to right, Frances Bolton, Turkey Tayac, Belva Jensen, Robert Ware Straus, Rosamond Bierne, Gladys Spellman, and Hervey Machen.

The next several years saw the passage of new tax laws permitting income tax deductions for scenic easements, and the donation of land and scenic easements from local organizations and individuals. The Accokeek Foundation donated all of its land for creation of the park and signed a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service to steward 200 acres of the park Additional properties were purchased and Piscataway Park was dedicated on President’s Day in 1968.

From inception, the Accokeek Foundation has approached its stewardship of this significant landscape in a spirit of innovation focused on engaging the public in the importance of working landscapes. The National Colonial Farm, begun in 1958 primarily as an agricultural program to back breed colonial-era crops such as Virginia Gourd Seed corn, evolved into one of the first living history farm museums in the country, as well as an important heritage breed livestock program. In 1992 came the dedication of the Ecosystem Farm, an 8-acre organic vegetable farm in the park that played an important role in the regional conversation on sustainable farming before it was the “hot new thing.” And today the Foundation continues to connect people to this remarkable landscape, preserved because of its value as Martha and George Washington’s view, but of equal significance as the traditional homeland of the Piscataway people, as an outdoor classroom for educating children and visitors in environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture, and as a beautiful setting to enjoy nature’s abundance.

And it all began with buying a farm. Happy birthday Frances Payne Bolton!

–by Lisa Hayes, President of the Accokeek Foundation

Consider making a gift in honor of Frances Payne Bolton’s legacy and in celebration of the anniversary of her birth. Make a gift today!

Digging Into Soil Health

LOGO_IYS_en_Print year of soilSpring has finally sprung, and before our eyes the snow has melted to reveal snowdrops and crocuses in full bloom. On the farm, the lambs and calves are frolicking in the fields, and thanks to the lengthening days, the chickens are nearly in full egg-laying mode. All this is nature trying to tell you that it is time to get your garden started for the season. After a long winter of perusing garden catalogs and forcing pots of seedlings, the moment has finally arrived for you to plant those little babies and nurture a new crop of botanical beauties to maturity. But before you poke that first seedling into the ground, make sure you aren’t overlooking the most important part of your garden – the soil. The FAO has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, recognizing that healthy soils are the basis for healthy food production. According to the FAO, sustainable soil management could produce up to 58% more food, nearly meeting the need to increase global food production by 60% by 2050. So we don’t need more land to feed a projected population of 9 billion, we need healthier land. In celebration of soil, here are a few ideas on how you can make yours healthier and get your garden off on the right foot (or root):

  1. Start a compost pile – An easy way to return vital nutrients to the soil is through a compost pile. It is simple to maintain and will still produce rich humus from your organic waste no matter how much you neglect it. Plenty of household waste that you may not think of as compost can be added to the pile – like cotton swabs, pet hair and  leather to name a few – greatly reducing the amount that sees the dumpster. Contact your state extension office for resources on starting your own backyard or worm bin.
  2. Go organic – By maintaining your soil health through organic practices, you steer clear of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that can rob the soil of nutrients and harm humans over the long term.
  3. Don’t till – Make your life easier and help your soil in the process by not tilling your garden when you plant. Tilling disturbs beneficial soil organisms like worms and fungi, and creates air pockets that make it difficult for plants to find water and nutrients. Instead plant cover crops, use mulches and cover areas to be planted with cardboard and straw to build up, instead of break down, soil habitats.
  4. Lose the lawn – Incorporating permaculture principles, like perennial cropping, use of native species and planting in guilds, into your garden design will help to build up healthy soils over time while creating a productive edible landscape that is far better than grass for you and the environment.
  5. Visit the Accokeek FoundationPublic programming in March and April is all about the unexplored world of soil. Starting March 28th, the Visitor Center will feature a walk-in soil exhibit complete with recorded subterranean sounds! This will be in conjunction with an interactive experience on the National Colonial Farm where visitors share their newly acquired soil wisdom with the Boltons to encourage them to take up more sustainable farming practices. Additionally, the Modern Homesteading workshop on April 19th teaches participants how to make their own biochar at home to increase the amount of carbon in their soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

–post written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager