What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Cow

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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 pfesta@accokeek.org.

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

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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 visitorcenter@accokeek.org for more information.

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“A Day On, Not A Day Off”

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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:

 

 

 

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For the Love of Soup

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–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

minestrone_feb2015_soup

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.

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:
  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)

tom_yam_kung_feb2015_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.

Ingredients:

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

Directions:
  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

red-lentil-pumpkin_Feb2015_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.

Ingredients:

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

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

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"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.

 

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Resolve to Have a Happier, Healthier, More Sustainable 2015

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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.

 

Composting.
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.

Volunteer.
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)

 

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

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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

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Inaugural Festival Provides Food for Thought

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king corn contest-SMALL

Board member, Amanda Truett with “King Corn” costume winner, Frank Pipitone.

Whether it was crunching on cricket bars, running a food miles race or learning how to cook healthy on a budget, the inaugural Food for Thought festival offered something for everyone to consider the sustainability of our food system. Held September 20th on the National Colonial Farm, the festival was designed around an essential question of whether we should return to a locally sourced food system like our ancestors had. Over 250 people participated in the event, which featured a panel discussion with leaders in the field of food sustainability, two theater performances on food and farming, cooking demonstrations, food tastings, vendors, games and children’s activities.

Preparations for the event began in February, when Andrea Jones, Director of Programs and Visitor Engagement, conceived the idea for a humanities-focused food event as a way to explore agriculture through a past-to-present lens. Mixing colonial and contemporary activities, the festival encouraged participants to understand the cultural roots of our current agricultural system. As Jones explained, “This festival provides an opportunity for the community to reflect on how we got to the point where we don’t know where our food comes from, and what we can do to change course to a more sustainable model.”

The heart of the festival was a lively panel discussion. James McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong And How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, posited that eating local is not enough, that society must use additional metrics to gauge the sustainability of the food we grow and eat. Joining him in conversation was culinary educator JuJu Harris (author of The Arcadia Mobile Market Cookbook), farmer Forrest Pritchard (author of Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm), and Slow Food DC co-chair Sarah McKinley. Bringing a range of experience and expertise to the conversation, the panelists left the audience with plenty of food for thought.

Food for Thought panelists included authors Forrest Pritchard, JuJu Harris, James McWilliams, and Slow Food DC co-chair, Sarah McKinley.

Food for Thought panelists included authors Forrest Pritchard, JuJu Harris, James McWilliams, and Slow Food DC co-chair, Sarah McKinley.

The Foundation’s Ecosystem Farm manager, Holli Elliott, encouraged people to think outside of the (lunch)box when it comes to sustainable eating by offering samples of unusual foods. People eagerly snacked on weed salad made from the often maligned or overlooked plants commonly found in our backyards, and voted on their favorite flavor of protein bar made with cricket powder. Two companies, Chapul and EXO, kindly donated samples of their cricket bars as a way to promote insects as a more sustainable protein source than livestock.

Farmer Holli and volunteers serve up heirloom tomatoes during Food for Thought festival.

Farmer Holli and volunteers serve up heirloom tomatoes during Food for Thought festival.

Food for Thought was made possible through a generous grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, and additional support from MOM’s Organic Market and Graham Holdings Company. The event was featured on the MHC Humanities Connection radio program, the Marc Steiner Show, and in several regional newspapers. It brought many first-time visitors to the park, introducing a new audience to the role of the Accokeek Foundation in promoting the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and our commitment to stewardship and sustainability.

–written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager

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Modern Homesteading: Simple Steps toward Sustainability

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Did you know that food makes up the largest percentage of waste in US landfills? On average, we toss 40% of our food in the trashcan, where it ends up in oxygen-deprived landfills to sit for years – largely intact – producing large volumes of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Not only is it harming the environment, and burdening our already overflowing landfills, but as a nation we are effectively throwing out $165 billion each year, when one considers the costs to grow, ship and dispose of all that uneaten food.

But there are simple steps that each of us can take to restore the balance and reduce the environmental impacts of food waste.

  1. We can start by buying less, and processing or preserving excess food when we have it, so that it can be enjoyed at a later date. Interested in learning more about food preservation? Join us for our free Modern Homesteading Preserving Workshop, September 14.
  2. If you find yourself with more than you can eat, share your bounty with those in need. With one in seven US households currently food insecure, reducing food waste can be as simple as donating food to the neighborhood pantry or making a home-cooked meal for a friend. While these steps require you to make small changes in your buying and eating habits, shopping and cooking smart can become second nature in no time and help to save you money and protect the planet. If you take these steps, you’ll find that far less food is headed for the garbage.
  3. Some amount of food waste is inevitable though, but that doesn’t mean it has to be destined for the landfill. A simple step anyone can take to further reduce food waste is composting. You can compost whether you own five acres or rent 500 square feet. Not only does composting keep food out of the waste stream, but it also provides you with a nutrient-rich soil additive that you can use in your home or garden, thereby saving you even more money in lawn care costs.

FoodRpng_700pxwComposting – An important final step in keeping food out of the waste stream.

What is composting?

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil component called humus. Aerobic microorganisms do most of the work of breaking down your food and yard waste into healthy soil. While this process would happen naturally over time, composting helps to speed it up.

How to Compost (the basics):

At the most basic level, the only ingredients needed to start composting are organic matter (greens and browns), water, air and microorganisms. The microorganisms will find their own way to your compost pile as long as you provide the right conditions. The State extension office offers plenty of resources on backyard and worm composting to help get you started. Like this or this.

Consider organizing a composting project in your community. It is a great way to improve the local environment, develop skills, empower residents and build a stronger neighborhood. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance just published a report on the value of community-based composting, to give you the inspiration and tools to get started in your own community.

At the Accokeek Foundation, we have deepened our commitment to sustainability and stewardship by vamping up our own composting system to not only provide nutrient rich compost for the farm, but also to educate and inspire a passion for sustainability in others. What ways do you and your family help to reduce food waste in your community?

–Written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager

 

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Support Maryland Farms and Commit to Buying Local This July

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Last weekend we celebrated the many ways that Prince George’s County is rich in both cultural and natural resources. Thank you to everyone who visited during Saturday’s event, and for those many dedicated market customers, we are especially grateful to your commitment to eating local and visiting the farm stand at its special location during the event. This week, we are back at the farm and we will be bringing you the beginnings of summer’s bounty: vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, and more.

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.

 

Summer Fresh Bounty from the farm

As you take the time to stop by the On Farm Market this week, reflect on why you make that commitment to buying local. Is it because you know you’ll get exceptional freshness and taste, you’re enhancing your family’s health and nutrition, or you’re doing your part to protect the environment while supporting a stronger local economy? Today kicks off the annual Maryland Buy Local Challenge where Marylanders accept the challenge of shopping locally between July 19 and 27 (but we encourage you to shop locally year round!) From meat and dairy to fresh vegetable and wine, Maryland offers a variety of ways to shop and support your local farms. Are you ready to take on the challenge? Sign up today and share your commitment to buying local today! You’ll not only be a part of a growing culture of locally based consumerism, but you’ll be the envy of your friends with your amazingly delicious recipes!

Share your Buy Local Challenge success with us on Facebook or Twitter by posting photos of your market finds and recipes. Be sure to include #buylocalchallenge in your post or tweet and enter the Buy Local Photo Contest here!

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