In March of 2007, a soft-spoken, gutsy South Carolinian with a big heart and big vision, moved to Annapolis, Maryland, to join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). As the Clagett Farm Education Program Manager, Melissa Simmons shows more than 1,500 students and teachers each year the value of different land uses and their effects on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay.
The thing that really drew me to CBF was the passion that everybody here had for what they do. It’s not as if they just talk about saving the Bay…everybody here that I’ve had interactions with, they don’t just talk it, they walk it. And I think if we really are going to make a positive impact on the environment you have to do just that.
What’s it like in the field versus the days of being in the office?
The cool thing about being in the field for me is really getting to know your environment that you’re in…feeling, literally feeling, the seasonal change, not as you’re walking in and out of a building, but being out in it. And when you’ve worked on the program for more than two or three seasons, you start anticipating things: When are the peepers gonna come out; when is this flower gonna bloom; when are you gonna feel that cool breeze when you’ve just had enough of summer. For me, it awakens something inside of me that I didn’t realize was dormant, so being out and noticing it and then sharing it with other people is extraordinary… By being observant of what’s going on in the season and being in the moment, you can be a better educator and better ambassador to the natural world.
What sets the Clagett Farm Program apart from other CBF education programs?
What I think is really unique about the farm is that it’s a farm. It’s a land-based program, but we’re really drawing that connection between how you treat the land and what runs off into the Bay… I love the fact that on the farm we can take that conversation and talk about what you’re using to fuel your body, what kind of choices are you making in your diet that actually impacts the Bay…there’s crazy statistics out there that your food is traveling on average 1,500 miles to get to your plate. If you eat food on the local level and in season, not only are you doing your environment a favor, but man, you’re doing your body a favor…you’re serving it greater nutrients…and it’s a big difference in taste. And getting that awareness out there is so important because a lot of kids and adults think, “well, my food just comes from the grocery store, and that’s all I need to know.” But how did that food make it to that shelf, and what happened to it along the way?
Where does your food come from?
I would say a good 50 percent of it comes from the farm. I participate in the [Clagett Farm] CSA which goes till almost Thanksgiving, so man it’s dark times in the winter…come January I’m fiending a fresh squash something terrible.
Why the Chesapeake Bay? What is it about this region that inspires you?
My grandparents live on the Rappahannock River. I grew up in South Carolina, but many of my summers were spent on the River…So [I have] very strong memories of pulling crab pots up off their dock with my cousin…and when I first started looking around and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life after college, I met some people [at CBF] that really impressed me…and from the word of mouth of people working in the environmental community, [CBF] is the best, and I wanted to be a part of the best.
Do you think we can do it, do you think we can Save the Bay?
We have to believe that we can Save the Bay…why would we get out of bed and come to work every morning. Is it going to happen in the next 10 years? No. But, could it happen within our lifetimes? I hope so. I think with the opportunity to enforce the TMDL [or “pollution diet”] and the more we can get the awareness out there and get people fired up about it…yeah, it can be done.
Editor’s Note: Maryland recently became the first state to require its high school seniors to be environmentally literate in order to graduate. This historic action validates and reaffirms CBF’s many outdoor, environmental education programs such as Clagett Farm. For more information about Clagett Farm please visit: http://www.cbf.org/page.aspx?pid=339 or http://cbf.typepad.com/clagett_farm.