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!


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.


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.”


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


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


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.


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

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

Guest post by Mama Lynn #108.

Mooooooorning, everyone – Mama Lynn again. And I’m still pregnant.

I know I told you during my last guest post that here at the Accokeek Foundation we try to time baby season for when the fresh spring grass is growing.

Well, the crocuses are peeking out and WE HAVE BABIES.

Like I said, mine’s not here yet. I’m still waddling around. But there are other babies in the field that I get to visit!

devons and calf - mama lynn

Since the sheep were due first, when the end of February rolled around our livestock manager Miss Polly moooved all of the expecting mamas out of the fields and into the barn. We cows don’t usually calve in the barn, unless it’s very snowy – Miss Polly tells us the lambs are mooore at risk from predators, and so it’s much healthier and safer for the little lambs to spend the first part of their lives inside the barn. (But we all know that really it’s just because sheep are wimps compared to cows.)

Photo by Casey Lowe

Photo by Casey Lowe

When baby season rolls around, Miss Polly and the other staff will start watching us carefully for signs of labor – which might include going off by ourselves, pacing, kicking at our bellies, and generally seeming “restless.” We will continue eating and chewing cud throughout labor, because a girl needs her energy. As the sheep go into labor, they are moooved into special birthing pens. Calves are born right in the field (unless there’s an emergency), and Miss Polly is always there to watch and lend a hand during active labor if we need her – but we rarely do! Active labor lasts around 45 minutes, and if it’s any longer that is when Miss Polly helps.

For the past two years, Luda decided to calve during a snowstorm – just so she could stay in the barn and get some extra grain! This year I had a talk with her, so she waited until the snow was gone. Mercy and Bliss both had their little ones while it was still very cold though, so they got to spend some time in the barn. And Mercy went in the middle of the night, and took Miss Polly on a wild chase through the woods!

Once the calves and lambs are born, staff takes over for a few minutes. If we’re on our own, the first thing we do is lick the babies clean and dry, so staff will rub them dry with a towel, dip their umbilical cords in iodine to stop infection, and then weigh them in a sling. The lambs have their tails docked to prevent flystrike. Every baby gets an ear tag with a number for easy identification (by the humans! We tell our babies apart by scent). The sheep stay with their lambs in the birthing pens for the first 24-48 hours after birth, which encourages bonding and nursing, and allows staff a chance to observe each lamb closely. During the first few days after birth, we mamas produce colostrum instead of regular milk – it is thick and full of antibodies to boost the babies’ immune systems, and so it’s important to make sure that all the babies drink it. Unlike the sheep, we cows stay right out in the field with our babies – and we raise them using a nursery system! We all take turns watching the calves, even those of us who haven’t given birth yet. I’m a very good calfsitter, if I do say so myself.

If you’d like to see the babies, stop by and find us in the field across from the livestock barn. Here’s hoping I’ve had my own little one by the time you get here… I’m tired of carrying this weight around!

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

8 Times AmeriCorps Worked at the Accokeek Foundation

AmeriCorp Week

This week is AmeriCorps Week and to celebrate, I’ve put together a list of the amazing AmeriCorps members who have served as volunteers at the foundation over the last two years. They’ve done everything from mucking barns to building bluebird nest boxes, and we owe the success of several programs to their dedication and support.  I will never fail to get excited when I see an e-mail from an AmeriCorps group in my inbox, and I hope to continue partnering with these special people for years to come.


1 & 2.) Spruce 6, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA CorpsFEMA Corps Spruce 6 Collage

The Spruce 6 FEMA Corps team volunteered twice during the Spring of 2013 and accomplished an incredible amount during those few hours. On their first trip to the site, they attended the Earthfest volunteer event and cleared an entire fence line on the National Colonial Farm of the multiflora rose vines threatening to pull it down. As if that wasn’t enough, they came back again to assist livestock manager, Polly, with repairing the barnyard fence and creating new paths in and out of the barn.


3.) Blue 1, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps

Box 34 Photo 1

Blue 1 joined the Ecosystem Farm crew on July 20, 2013 to help clear invasives off of the farm fence and harvest produce for the CSA. Working on a farm in the middle of July is hard work, but these AmeriCorps members went above and beyond to make sure the work got done.


4.) Summit 2, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps

FEMA Corps Summit 2 Collage

On February 1, 2014, Summit 2 joined other Service Saturday volunteers to clean up the Maintenance Barn and build gravel boxes for the foundation’s recycle bins. Their enthusiasm for the task at hand had all of the volunteers smiling and working together by the end of the project, despite starting the day as strangers.


5.) Tundra 3, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps


Last September, the Tundra 3 team served as event support volunteers during the first annual Food For Thought festival. Working the children’s activity table, they painted faces and assisted kids as they made vegetable stamps and corn husk dolls. It was a huge success and the kids at the event kept coming back for more fun!


6.) Volunteer Maryland, Class 27, AmeriCorps State

Volunteer Maryland Service Project Collage

Class 27 of Volunteer Maryland joined us on October 3, 2014 to complete three separate service projects. Part of the group helped make repairs on the Ecosystem Farm’s greenhouse, part of the group applied a coating of “witches brew” (a mixture of pine tar, linseed oil, and turpentine which helps protect the wood) to the tobacco barn, and part of the group helped gather and sort seed from the heirloom crops grown in the Museum Garden. With so many dedicated hands, we were able to tackle and finish a huge amount of work.


7.) Spruce 5, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps

Chicken Coop Build Collage

Last month, Spruce 5 team member, Joshua Nelson, recruited volunteers from Girl Scout Troop 860 to help us build a frame for a new chicken coop. Josh and the girls worked very hard to finish the entire frame in one morning, and the new chickens on the Ecosystem Farm are now happily adjusting to their new home.


8.) Hickory 3, AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps

BB Box Build Collage

On March 7, Hickory 3 came out to help us build new nest boxes for the Ken Otis Bluebird Trail. Despite a last minute change in plans due to the snow, these AmeriCorps members measure, cut, and assembled 6 new nest boxes in just three hours. As the bluebirds begin building their nest in the next couple of weeks, I know they’ll be grateful for the new boxes to protect their nests from the wet spring weather.

Soul Food: The Food of Love

Soul-Food-headerSoul Food. What is Soul Food?

When I first learned that we were developing a program for Black History Month about the historical and cultural connections to what is commonly classified as soul food, and how it has (or hasn’t) evolved over time, I had some reservations about the topic. Well, not so much the topic, but the term that was associated with it.

For me the typical foods associated with African American cuisine is not soul food, but rather country food. What makes the same food that I grew up eating–fried catfish and Maryland fried chicken, black-eyed pea and ham soup, collards cooked in pork fat (or ‘fat back’), corn pudding, candied yams and sweet potato casserole–soul food? I was perplexed. What’s the difference?

As the programming for Soul Food Justice developed, I did a little research and continued to learn more about this topic of apparent interest. According to Adrian Miller, author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, there really isn’t much of a difference. In an interview with UNC Press, Miller states that, “inside the South, the distinctions between [southern cooking and soul food] are so subtle that it almost seems meaningless.” This answer really didn’t satisfy my curiosity.

Accokeek Foundation president and CEO, Lisa Hayes, says, "Snow will not stop the show!"

Accokeek Foundation president and CEO, Lisa Hayes, says, “Snow will not stop the show!”

On February 21, despite the snowstorm that blasted the D.C. region, four local food experts came together at Joe’s Movement Emporium for an evening that fed both the bodies and the minds of all of us curious souls. Arcadia’s culinary educator, JuJu Harris, moderated the panel which included historian, food scholar and author, Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson; founder of NativSol Kitchen, Tambra Raye Stevenson; and Christopher Bradshaw, founder and director of Dreaming Out Loud.

The evening began with a cooking demonstration led by JuJu. She showed the audience a quick and easy way to make a super delicious kale salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing using a few simple ingredients. It was so good I haven’t been able to stop making and eating this salad at home and sharing it with my family of reluctant vegetable eaters.

Then, once our taste buds were awakened, the audience enjoyed a feast of healthy dishes representing a reinvented interpretation of soul food. On the menu was Smoked Salmon (donated by Mid-Atlantic Seafood), collard greens (donated by Glut Food Coop) with smoked turkey, chicken chili, millet salad, and Nation of Islam bean pies. These dishes were prepared by Accokeek Foundation staff from recipes provided by the panelists as a representation of what soul food is to them today. A tasty feast indeed!

left to right: Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson, Tambra Raye Stevenson, and Christopher Bradshaw engages the audience in a lively discussion.

(left to right) Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson, Tambra Raye Stevenson, and Christopher Bradshaw engages the audience in a lively discussion.

With full bellies, the evening proceeded as we were engaged in a lively discussion about the historic and cultural connections to food, returning to heritage based diets, family, the socioeconomic issues around food access, and the importance of community education.

In the end, I learned that the only difference between soul food and southern (or country) cooking, was a matter of opinion. It’s about who you are as an individual. Like most of the panelists, I certainly don’t still eat like I did growing up. Like Psyche explains, “it will kill” me. But occasionally, when I’m not feeling well or it is cold outside (like today!), I crave food that is comforting; that reminds me of home. Soul Food, as JuJu so eloquently stated, is the food of love. When my grandmother prepared our meals she did so with love. And that is good for the soul.

I left with a deeper understanding of how my own food connections help to define soul food. My craving for knowledge was sated, and my taste buds were teased. I want more!

Tell me: How do you define Soul Food?

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?