Cumberland County Setting the pace for Farm Inspections in Pennsylvania's Rebooted Clean Water Strategy

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Before photo of a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm. Cumberland County is among 28 conservation districts inspecting farms for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans, as prescribed in Pennsylvania’s rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

Cumberland County is getting positive reaction from farmers, as one of 28 conservation districts conducting farm inspections as prescribed in Pennsylvania's rebooted strategy to reduce pollution from agriculture.

As conservation districts in nine counties opted out of doing farm inspections for fear of straining relations they have with farmers, the process within the Cumberland County Conservation District (CCCD) is going smoothly because of its familiarity with farmers.

"Our two technicians know the county, kinds of crops farmers are growing and the landscape," says CCCD board chairman Wilbur Wolf, Jr. "When they need to talk to farmers about future improvement, they can do it. If somebody from DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) comes to the farm, they are not as familiar with the county and the resources in order to make an informed decision when it comes to the best practices suited for that farm."

"We're acting as an intermediary to help farmers get into compliance," CCCD manager Carl Goshorn adds. Cumberland is the fastest growing county in the Commonwealth with about 500 farmers and 1,400 different tracts of land.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are damaged by pollution and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its Clean Water Blueprint goals. The Blueprint requires that 60 percent of pollution reduction practices be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025. The Commonwealth has acknowledged that it will not meet the 2017 goal.

As part of the Keystone State's strategy to get back on track, the DEP asked conservation districts to inspect ten percent of farms annually for the required manure management, and erosion and sediment plans. There are 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and DEP inspected less than two percent of them in 2014.

Conservation districts conducting inspections receive funding from DEP to support Bay technician staff and will inspect a minimum of 50 farms annually, per full-time person. DEP will inspect farms in counties where conservation districts declined to do it.

With one Bay technician, Brady Seeley, and conservation technician Jared McIntire, Cumberland County has a five-year schedule for inspections and thinks it will conduct more than the 50 required annually.

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After photo showing a heavy use area on a Cumberland County farm after a concrete manure storage pit was installed for liquid dairy manure. Photo by Mike Lubinsky/Cumberland County Chesapeake Bay Engineer.

One landowner with multiple, separate parcels of land could count as multiple inspections, as each agricultural operation is inspected separately.

Eight of first nine inspections in Cumberland County lacked manure management plans and three didn't have erosion and sediment plans. Goshorn said manure management plans have already been written for two of those farms.

In addition to checking that the farms have the required plans, inspectors may observe water quality issues. They may ask permission to walk around a property, but landowners are under no obligation to grant permission.

Cumberland County was one of four counties that helped shape the inspection process by participating in the pilot program. CCCD and DEP staff visited two farms in the county. "We wanted to see how it works," Goshorn says. "We figured it would be a better way of getting in touch with the farmers and maybe getting more practices involved if we were actually doing the inspections."

"We thought, if we aren't part of the process we can't have an impact down the road," board chairman Wolf adds. "As part of the pilot we made it better for other counties going out to do inspections because we have two people who have agriculture backgrounds (Seeley and McIntire) who could go out and relate, get a sense of how to make this work, and then go back to DEP and say, 'tweak it this way and everybody else will be better off'."

Seeley grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Pennsylvania, has a bachelor's degree in environmental resource management, and has been with CCCD for over two years. McIntire majored at Penn State University in agri-business management, manages a commercial turkey operation, and has been with CCCD for almost three years.

"We have a better rapport at the county level with our farming community than DEP does," says county commissioner Jim Hertzler, who also sits on the CCCD board. "In order for it to work and encourage a cooperative effort with respect to compliance, we prefer to work with our farmers as opposed to telling them 'you are going to jail' or 'we're going to give you a big fine if you don't do something.' To actually get these practices implemented is what the goal should be as opposed to handing out penalties or punishment."

Goshorn says conservation districts that passed on doing inspections, "Don't want to wear the black hat and be the bad guys. They said they were formed to provide technical assistance to the farming community. We feel things have changed over the years."

Seeley says the CCCD can do both. "You can go out and tell the farmer he is in violation and then it's not hard in the next sentence to tell the farmer 'let us help you get those plans.' There really is no excuse to not be regulating and technical. You are already there having the conversation."

The district is able to offer some financial help. "The board has set aside money for developing these plans," chairman Wolf adds. "It's unique for a conservation district to do that." Cost share on erosion and sediment plans splits the cost with a cap of $1,000 per farmer, and $30,000 is available overall.

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Jared McIntire and Brady Seeley. Photos courtesy Cumberland County Conservation District.

"The reason we want to try to get ahead is hopefully we will have farmers coming to us volunteering to do these inspections," Seeley says. The CCCD got a dozen calls from its letter introducing the program. Farmers can schedule an appointment to have their plans reviewed.

One Amish farmer called to say he didn't have either plan. "That's really nice," McIntire says. "We get these guys not afraid to call us and say 'I don't have the plan' and then we can start the conversation with them to get the ball rolling. 'Do you need us to come out there?' 'Can you come to one of our workshops?' 'Do we need to turn it over to the private sector because time is tight with you'?" 

The Cumberland County Conservation District believes it can maintain its working relationships with farmers, by having familiar faces like Seeley and McIntire work through the inspection process with them, while advancing Pennsylvania's clean water efforts in challenging times.

"This is happening at a time in this county when ag prices are low, milk prices are low," board chairman Wilbur Wolf says. "We had the drought. Corn prices and yields are down. We're going out and talking to these farmers in a serious financial situation and we're getting positive responses."

Conservation districts participating in the farm inspection program are in Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana (covered in agreement with Cambria), Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, and Wyoming counties.

The nine counties that declined to participate are Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Luzerne, Northumberland, Perry, Tioga, and York counties. 

Cameron, Somerset, and Wayne counties have a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and will be inspected by DEP personnel.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator


More Resources Can Help Clean up Pennsylvania's Waterways

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Streambank fencing is one of the best management practices which not only helps in clean water efforts, it also helps improve herd health.

Farming in Pennsylvania is the backbone of our culture, economy, and communities. Considering there are roughly 33,600 farms in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it's no wonder most of the polluted runoff entering our rivers and streams comes from agriculture.

A large number of farmers are driven by a culture of stewardship and have taken steps to reduce pollution by doing things to keep nitrogen and phosphorus, and soils on the land where they can do good, instead of in the water where they pollute.

Things like planting streamside forests, cover crops, and installing other practices reduce water pollution while increasing farm productivity. Streambank fencing can help improve herd health because livestock aren't standing in streams and drinking fouled water.

Some farmers and landowners can afford to pay for these practices out of their own pockets. About 7,000 farmers responded to a Penn State survey earlier this year and follow-up verification will show the scope of voluntary and independently-funded efforts.

Many other landowners need assistance. Some are fortunate to qualify for limited financial and technical assistance in the form of state and federal cost-share and grant programs. CBF works to connect landowners with available funding. But about two-thirds of farmers who apply for assistance each year don't get it because of a lack of resources.

With assistance, Bob and Maggie Cahalan were able to plant a streamside buffer of 300 native trees and shrubs to trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise flow into Ebaugh and Shaw streams on Many Streams Farm in York County.

Linn Moedinger's Lancaster farm dates back to the early 18th Century. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Moedingers were able to plant 12 acres of trees, plants and shrubs to protect Mill Creek, the Conestoga River, Susquehanna River, and Chesapeake Bay.

The benefits of state and federal assistance extend beyond the farm.

Charles "Chip" Brown is maintaining a maturing 450-tree streamside buffer along Elk Creek on his Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club property east of State College in Centre County.

Reaching Pennsylvania's clean water goals requires wise use of additional funding and technical assistance.

Toward that end, CBF analyzed federal data and found that Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams counties contribute the greatest amount of pollution from agriculture. New investments, focused on people, places, and practices in these priority counties can accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture and jumpstart the Commonwealth's lagging cleanup efforts.

After CBF called for an immediate commitment of new, targeted restoration funds, federal and state partners announced they would collaborate on an infusion of $28.7 million for clean water.

It is important that pollution reduction efforts continue in the Keystone State beyond the priority counties, from the Bennett farm in far northern Susquehanna County, where funding made fencing, forested buffers, and barnyard improvements possible, to the good work the Cahalans are doing in York County.

Meanwhile, the stream of financial and technical assistance must reach high tide, if farmers in Pennsylvania are going to do all they can to clean up our rivers and streams.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director


Targeted Funding to These Important Pennsylvania Counties Is Key to Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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Tim and Frances Sauder want to implement agricultural best management practices (BMPs) on their Lancaster County farm, but are in need of funding. The implementation of BMPs on farms throughout south-central Pennsylvania would make a major difference in cleaning the state's water. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Tim and Frances Sauder are doing their best to make ends meet while raising a young son and operating a small dairy farm in Lancaster County.

They tend to the 15 cows that provide the milk that becomes yogurt from Fiddle Creek Dairy, all the while paying close attention to the land and the water the flows through those hilly 55 acres.

"We made decisions on how we farm, in order to protect the watershed," Tim says. They have owned the farm for just four years.

"We want to farm in a way that's good for all layers of life, the water, the land, the plants, and the human community," Frances adds. "There's no easy answer and we're humbled by that."

The Sauders want to plant seven acres of trees as a 50-foot wide streamside buffer to protect the tributary to Big Beaver Creek that flows through the farm.

They also see the need to add manure storage and a composting facility, install more watering stations for the cows, and do something about the polluted runoff that floods across the road near their house after heavy rains.

Like many farmers in the Susquehanna River watershed, the Sauders understand that pollution flows downstream and want to do what is right to protect the water. But they cannot afford to pay for it all themselves.

Like other farmers too, the Sauders have applied for state and federal assistance. Sadly, there often isn't enough money to go around, so some projects never get onto the ground.

Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has identified the five counties that contribute the most pollution from agriculture and that would return the greatest reductions for new restoration dollars.

Lancaster is by far at the top of the list, followed by York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams.

The foundation is calling on federal partners, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to provide an initial, immediate commitment of $20 million in new restoration funds to those five counties.

This is money already in the USDA budget. In addition, our group is urging state and local governments to provide additional outreach, technical assistance, and funding.

Collectively, Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland, and Adams counties contribute more than 30 million pounds of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay each year.

After analyzing federal data, the foundation determined that focusing additional investments in these counties could reduce nitrogen pollution by 14 million pounds.

That is more than half of the entire state's Clean Water Blueprint 2025 goal for reducing nitrogen pollution.

It's disappointing to hear the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wants to 'police' farmers

But to fully achieve the goal Pennsylvania has set, pollution reduction efforts must continue in all other counties of the Susquehanna watershed.

The Blueprint calls for 60 percent of pollution reduction efforts to be in place by 2017, and 100 percent in place by 2025.

Additional funding for pollution reduction projects will also support and create jobs and improve local economies.

Suppliers that sell the trees for buffers and fencing materials benefit. Excavators and builders who improve drainage to reduce polluted runoff or install manure storage and barnyard improvements get work.

It is also a win for farmers. Funding to reduce polluted runoff leads to better soil health and greater farm productivity. Herd health is protected because livestock aren't standing in streams and drinking the water.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania have been damaged by pollution.

Such efforts as the planting of streamside buffers, that reduce nitrogen pollution, also reduce harmful phosphorus and sediment runoff.

The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, including the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, will meet on Oct. 4 to identify future restoration challenges. 

We expect the Council to take real action to reduce nitrogen pollution in Lancaster and other key Pennsylvania counties, and get the Commonwealth back on track toward its Blueprint commitments.

Investing in places, practices, and people like Tim and Frances Sauder and Fiddle Creek Dairy will give us the greatest pollution reductions and the clean water that Pennsylvanians deserve.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director


This Week in the Watershed

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Agricultural runoff from farms, such as seen here in York County, PA, is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. This week, CBF released a white paper on the top five Pennsylvania counties that should receive additional funding to reduce pollution from agriculture. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

As we discussed last week, one of the most cost-effective ways to rid our waters of pollution is to implement best management practices (BMPs) on farms throughout the watershed.

This week, we dove into where we need to focus these cost-effective efforts. Five Pennsylvania counties top the list of areas that need to reduce agricultural runoff, the largest source of pollution. But while implementing BMPs on farms is very cost-effective, it's still not free. Additional funding for these five south-central counties by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state and local governments would be a wise investment.

The pollution emanating from these counties and throughout the watershed pose serious consequences. Local rivers and streams are degraded. Aquatic life is harmed. And human health and drinking water are put at risk.

But with additional investments in priority areas and the larger implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, these consequences can be avoided. Learn more about what the data reveal as the most strategic, cost-effective opportunities for reducing pollution in Pennsylvania AND downstream.

This Week in the Watershed: Top Five, Cleaning Dirty Water, and SHARKS!

  • A Virginia teenager has earned her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, by working with CBF and other partners in launching an oyster shell recycling project. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • Pennsylvania students are getting an up-close look at the Susquehanna River through CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program. (York Dispatch—PA)
  • The Hampton Roads Sanitation District is fighting both climate change and dirty water by making their wastewater clean enough to drink. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • A shark sighting, which was highlighted on CBF's Facebook page, has caused quite a stir. (WMDT—VA)
  • CBF's Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost writes on the need to dedicate funds to reduce stormwater runoff. (Howard County Times—MD)
  • A Pennsylvania state representative is pushing for a bill that would make it unlawful for farmers to allow their cows access to streams. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal—PA)
  • CBF released a white paper on the top five Pennsylvania counties that need to reduce pollution. Critical to their success is improved federal funding to implement best management practices on farms. (Keystone News Service—PA) Bonus: CBF Press Release
  • A new project in Maryland's Somerset County is working to convert excess chicken manure into energy. (Daily Times—MD)
  • A Baltimore area power plant is releasing chemical discharges and stormwater into a Chesapeake Bay tributary, to the chagrin of environmental activists and public health advocates. (Bay Journal)
  • A chicken farmer on Maryland's Eastern Shore has gone organic. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 16-18

  • Oxon Hill, MD: During this three-day event (September 16-18), we will build concrete reef balls designed to help restore fish habitat in Smoots Bay on the Potomac River. The final destination for the reef balls is the bottom of Smoots Bay, where they will be intermixed with various woody structures to provide an ideal habitat for various fish species, such as our native largemouth bass. Come for one day or all three! Building reef balls is a fun and exciting way to help restore our Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

September 17

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us at Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park to help make the Choptank River cleaner and safer. This is a family friendly event, but all children must be accompanied by an adult. Groups are welcome! Please wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and bring sunscreen and water. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!

September 24

  • Annapolis, MD: Head out on the water for a morning of fishing, learning, and fun! Spend the morning aboard the Marguerite in search of whatever is biting! Our experienced crew will provide all the knowledge and equipment necessary—just bring your enthusiasm! Gear and licenses are provided. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!
  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

September 25

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join us for a fun-filled afternoon with friends, live music, craft-brewed beers, and mouth-watering food created by area chefs using local ingredients at CBF's Burgers and Brews for the Bay. A family friendly event, it features live bluegrass music, hay rides, fish printing, and educational stations. Buy your tickets now!

October 1

  • Westminster, MD: Join CBF to plant shrubs and wetland grasses for a recently constructed wetland at Chestnut Creek Farm. Volunteers will learn from the farmer about Chestnut Creek’s sustainable grass-based farm where sheep, beef cattle, and heritage pigs rotationally graze on pastures. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


This Week in the Watershed

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Planting forested buffers on farms is an agricultural best management practice that tops the list as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Photo by Carmera Thomas/CBF Staff.

Pollution is the enemy of clean water. And if we want to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to take action. But what are the sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams? Pollution sources include but are not limited to agricultural runoff, urban/suburban polluted runoff, and wastewater treatment plants. Of these, agricultural runoff is by far the largest source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution to the Bay.

While we all want clean water, it cannot be denied that fighting pollution is often expensive. From a purely economic perspective, we should implement the pollution reduction practices that give us the best bang for our buck. Fortunately, the least expensive ways to fight pollution also targets the largest source of pollution—agricultural runoff. Look no further than this graphic which was highlighted on page six of our most recent Save the Bay Magazine: Cost of ag reduction-1200The price tags speak volumes. While pollution needs to be cut across the board, it is clear that implementing best management practices (BMPs) on farms throughout the watershed is one of the most cost-effective ways to save the Bay. Moving forward, we need to help farmers through providing funding and technical assistance to implement BMPs, some of which include installing forested buffers, fencing livestock out of streams, and planting cover crops.

Ultimately, if we are to reach our clean water goals set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, addressing agricultural runoff is paramount. Leaving a legacy of clean water to future generations is on the line.

Want to help CBF plant forested buffers in Maryland? Check out our upcoming plantings!

This Week in the Watershed: Meat Pollution, Dirty Water Infrastructure, and Farmers on a Boat

  • A group of farmers joined CBF on a boating trip on the Bay, learning how they can help with clean water efforts. (Suffolk News-Herald—VA)
  • Climate change threatens the Chesapeake Bay in several ways. (Public News Service—VA)
  • Excessive consumption of meat is high on the list of activities that contribute to excess nitrogen in our waterways. (Bay Journal)
  • While forest buffer plantings throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are progressing, the annual target was missed. (Bay Program)
  • Local citizens and environmentalists are still concerned about the public health and environmental impact of the burgeoning poultry industry in Maryland's Wicomico County. (Daily Times—MD)
  • CBF and partners are working to plant the largest oyster garden in Baltimore. (Baltimore Style—MD)
  • Oyster restoration work resumed on Maryland's Tred Avon River sanctuary. There is still fear, however, that restoration work might encounter continued delays in the future. (Bay Journal)
  • Maryland's Anne Arundel County is working to improve water quality through tackling stormwater infrastructure repairs. (Capital Gazette—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

September 10

  • Gambrills, MD: Help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and partner organizations plant shrubs and wetland grasses at the former Naval Academy dairy farm! Sunrise Farm is an 800-acre farm, the largest organic farm in the State of Maryland. Volunteers will plant a newly graded wetland in what was a wet less productive corn & soybean field. Click here to register!

September 13

  • Richmond, VA: The Richmond VoiCeS Course, an eight-week adult education class meeting on Tuesdays, starts September 13! This course will cover the history of the James, urban and rural runoff issues and solutions, practical methods to improve water quality in your backyard, and the critical importance of citizen action to saving the Bay. Plus, there are field trips! Click here to register!

September 16-18

  • Oxon Hill, MD: During this three-day event (September 16-18), we will build concrete reef balls designed to help restore fish habitat in Smoots Bay on the Potomac River. The final destination for the reef balls is the bottom of Smoots Bay, where they will be intermixed with various woody structures to provide an ideal habitat for various fish species, such as our native largemouth bass. Come for one day or all three! Building reef balls is a fun and exciting way to help restore our Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

September 17

  • Trappe, MD: Help CBF take out the trash! Join us at Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park to help make the Choptank River cleaner and safer. This is a family friendly event, but all children must be accompanied by an adult. Groups are welcome! Please wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and bring sunscreen and water. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!

September 24

  • Annapolis, MD: Head out on the water for a morning of fishing, learning, and fun! Spend the morning aboard the Marguerite in search of whatever is biting! Our experienced crew will provide all the knowledge and equipment necessary—just bring your enthusiasm! Gear and licenses are provided. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Join us for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the oyster stocks to save the Bay. Click here to register!
  • Dorchester County, MD: Join CBF for a paddle! We will put in our canoes on Beaverdam Creek, and from there explore the waters surrounding Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This area is a prime example of a healthy tidal Eastern Shore waterway, replete with large expanses of tidal marsh and pine forests. The wildlife is dominated by various species of bird life, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and ducks. The paddle is comfortable and peaceful, offering up-close views of herons fishing in the shallows and ducks nesting in the many trees along the banks. This is a paddle for people of all skill levels.  Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Ditches for Clean Water

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Ditches, such as this one under construction in Talbot County, are an innovative and inexpensive way to reduce polluted runoff. Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The word "ditch" doesn't conjure up good feelings about water quality, wildlife habitat, or aesthetics. But a new kind of ditch is offering serious opportunity for the Eastern Shore's Talbot County to meet its nitrogen reduction goal under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The goal is restoring fish, crab, and waterfowl habitat in waterways like the Choptank and Miles Rivers. 

For a long time, we humans designed "funnels"—stormwater pipes and U-shaped open ditches—to substitute for natural streams in moving rainwater quickly away from inconvenient places like roadways and farm fields. Trouble is, the folks who designed them didn't pay enough attention to the way natural streams "work" with rainfall, so over time, the pipe/ditch systems filled with sediment in some spots, eroded in others, and degraded the quality of the water that moved through them, picking up pollutants from the land and carrying them downstream.

Then some enterprising civil engineers in the Midwest had an idea. Suppose they designed two-stage ditches that mimicked nature by providing a small central channel sized to accommodate average natural (base) flow, with "benches" (floodplains) on either side for overflow. Plant the benches with native wetland grasses and they would allow the ditches to catch water from heavy storms, slow it, and let some of it percolate into the soil, where the grasses' root systems would catch sediment and soak up nitrogen, phosphorus, and even some toxic chemicals.

Sound intriguing? That's what CBF's Eastern Shore Office Director, Alan Girard, thought when Amy Jacobs of The Nature Conservancy's Maryland Chapter told him about the idea over coffee one morning. Jacobs was exploring the use of LIDAR (laser-based LIght Detection And Ranging) deployed from aircraft to plot drainage patterns on farm fields leading to Talbot's system of roadside ditches. Girard realized the system might offer a "two-fer" by catching and treating runoff from both the fields and the roadways. The widened ditches take some extra land from both farms and road rights-of-way, but LIDAR allows designers to focus strategically where the ditches provide the most benefit. In terms of cost per pound of nitrogen removed from county waterways, the two-stage ditches offered an attractive, inexpensive alternative to complex urban stormwater retrofits.

The concept is good, but what counts for restoring waterways is putting these ditches to work in the right places. Thus the effort had to blend technology with local politics and public administration. Siting and building them requires teamwork from two agencies, the Department of Public Works (for roadways) and the Talbot Conservation District (for farmland), plus funding. At this point, Alan Girard brought multiple players together to build that team and raise grants for several pilot projects. The discussions included County Council members, staffers from the two agencies and the two nonprofits, and—very important—farmers cultivating land adjacent to county roadways.

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Photo by Amy Jacobs.

The result of the discussions was a $100,000 capital budget item in the 2015 Talbot County budget, which allowed the pilot programs to begin. This year, the county set aside another $50,000 for more ditches and for monitoring their effectiveness. The major challenges now for the project partners are to refine and standardize the techniques, employ the County's funds as leverage for larger grants, and go to work on other priority ditches across the county. The Talbot Ditch Project is essentially about applying an agricultural Best Management Practice (BMP) to suburban stormwater runoff pollution. If early results continue, the two-stage ditch technique has great application for other counties and towns on the Eastern Shore, and in other rural areas of the region. "It's a cheap, simple, common-sense approach that doesn't take much land away from farms or roadways," concluded Girard.

Thought this story would be about crabs, rockfish, and Chesapeake science? Well, it is. Who knew that Saving the Bay would turn out to be about Midwestern engineering, ditches, lasers, excavators, and local government, all working together for clean water? That's the kind of creative partnership thinking that gets this job done.  

—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist


Farmer Spotlight: Eco-City Farms

File-1Miles from the countryside, surrounded by townhomes and busy city streets in Prince George's County, Maryland, one organization is working to serve as a model for urban farming operations. Deborah Wren and the team at Eco-City Farms are working to prove that farming in urban environments is not only viable but is greatly needed in these areas. Wren, the lead farmer of Eco City Farms, draws on her experiences growing up on a dairy farm and studying anthropology in college as she connects people of various cultures, backgrounds, and classes to fresher food in the city. Wren works to ensure that Eco-City's motto of "growing great food, farms and farmers," spans across the organization's two farms in the county.

The Edmonston Farm, the first property Eco-City worked, was founded six years ago on 1.25 acres. The farm started with hoop houses and a small outdoor growing space in a highly residential area. The second property in Bladensburg is larger at 3.5 acres and is known for its permaculture, garden beds, and edible forest. Both properties are Certified Naturally Grown, which is "a practice managed by a farmer collective where farmers from around the world hold each other to certain standards."

PhotoFarmer Wren credits her passion for farming to her upbringing. As one of seven children she was often working outside, helping her mother in the garden or helping her father with the cows. In her undergraduate studies in anthropology she traveled to a number of developing countries. She began drawing comparisons between urban areas such as those in areas like Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County to those in developing countries. The shocking similarities—lack of resources, environmental issues, and lack of access to essential resources such as food—motivated her to make a change upon returning to the United States. Wren began her career with Eco-City Farms as an apprentice just five years ago and is now the lead farmer in her third growing season.

As one can imagine, farming techniques are different for urban agriculture. For example, tractors do not till the soil and extensive sprayers do not water the crops. A part of changing farming into urban spaces is adapting the growing practices as soil, water, and even temperature are all different in the city. Eco-City Farms works with these changes to provide fresh sustainably grown produce year-round to its local community.

PhotoAdjusting to the land is just one factor as Eco-City Farms also works to appeal to different cultures. Nearly 48 percent of its customers and volunteers are Spanish speaking. The organization has an education and outreach coordinator who is fluent in Spanish as the farms are located in what many locals call "Little Mexico." Addressing the cultural differences and unifying people through food is something they hope to achieve as they look to reach a broader audience.

Eco City Farms offers two-size CSA shares and allow members to apply and pay weekly, providing more flexibility to those in lower income communities. In addition to their CSA share, it sells fresh produce at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market on Thursdays and the Port Towns Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Eco-City Farms not only works to deliver food to those with limited access but also provides resources such as nutrition-based education, training programs such as the Beginner Farmer Rancher Training program, as well as hosting composting workshops, and beginner farmers for apprenticeships. Eco-City Farms is a model for the future of urban farming, led by people who want to reconnect people to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their culture, class, or location.

—Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Deborah Wren

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.

 


The Importance of Clean Water to Herd Health

Nordstrom April 2016On his first week on the job as a veterinarian back in 1993, Scott Nordstrom treated a case that would stick with him the rest of his life. Shockingly, half of a herd of cattle he examined had died. It turned out that they had been struck by Bovine Viral Disease (BVD), a fatal condition transmitted from the intestines of one animal to the mouth of another.

So Nordstrom set about finding out how they got the disease. The next week, he was called to a farm just upstream with another case of BVD. He traced the source of the outbreak to that operation. "The stream carried the pathogens downstream, spreading it from one farm to the next," according to Nordstrom.

Since then, he's found time and again that as long as cattle are allowed into waterways they are at risk of catching diseases from farms upstream. "The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream," says Nordstrom, who is Director of Cattle Technical Services for an animal health company. "If there is a disease outbreak in the herd upstream or even if they are just carriers of infectious organisms and they defecate in the stream, your animals are at risk if they drink from that stream."

Nordstrom travels all over the country to test vaccines for his animal health company. "In the large operations I have been on, they would never, ever, consider having their animals exposed to a stream or any other body of water," he says. "It's just too risky—for both livestock and people."

"Clearly, at least 50 percent of all cattle diseases in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are transmitted through the fecal-oral pathway," stresses Nordstrom. "Several of the big diseases in cattle are carried by water. These include BVD, E.coli, salmonella, leptospirosis, and mastitis." Symptoms of these diseases include fever, lethargy, dehydration, abortion, and death.

Vaccinating animals is a first line of defense against many diseases. But Nordstrom stresses that "the second line of defense is to fence livestock out of potentially infected waters."

There are many programs that include funding and technical assistance to help producers fence waterways and provide alternative sources of water for drinking. Nordstrom participated in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program on his own farm. "We did it for herd health reasons and, besides, I feel good that the water leaving our farm is not going to infect animals downstream," he says.

—Bobby Whitescarver  
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.

 


Farmer Spotlight: Sassafras Creek Farm

Dave and Jen in high tunnel 2015In honor of Military Appreciation Month, our latest Farmer Spotlight story features military couple David and Jennifer Paulk who went from serving our country to now serving our community. The former suburbanites never imagined that their small traveling backyard garden would one day inspire them to begin their own farming operation, Sassafras Creek Farm, in St. Mary's County, Maryland.

After serving in the United States Navy for 26 years, David began considering second careers as a veteran. In 2011, he applied for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Beginner Farmer Training Program where he apprenticed once a week at Calvert's Gift Farm in Baltimore County. Through his apprenticeship, he was able to learn the ins and outs of a small, organic farm.

20141016_104246Paulk explains that his military career allowed him time to get to know himself. By having real life experiences " . . . veterans are well suited to farming as they are used to maintaining structure, a skill required of any successful business owner who needs to develop a business plan and marketing strategies." Financial resources, coupled with that military background, allowed David to purchase an 80-acre property in St. Mary's County.

The property, Sassafras Creek Farm, consists of 46 tillable acres with the remaining 34 acres in forest cover. Forty of the 46 acres are in constant cover crop, which are " . . . key to building what is the essence of an organic farmers' healthy soil." Two seasonal high tunnels allow the Paulks to extend their growing season, and they plan to put up a third one in the next two weeks. The couple installed a 13 kW solar panel that generates more than enough power to run the greenhouse, walk-in coolers, lighting, and more. They grow spinach, lettuce, spring mix, beets, 20160515_160553_resizedkale, turnips, and carrots in the high tunnel, which extends the season and allows them to generate revenue year round.

While David runs the day to day operations on the farm, Jennifer (also certified a Maryland Master Gardener) manages the books, organic certification, and helps on the farm despite having a full-time career as an Environmental Scientist for the Department of the Navy. David explains that growing organic is in line with their beliefs and how they want to produce their own food. The USDA Organic Certification requires a third party inspection, adds certainty to their business model, and reassures their customers that the practices they are using are best for their own health as well as the health of the land and water around them.

David's advice to someone who is considering farming is clear: " . . . don't jump off the deep end into it. I had basic skills and financial resources. Starting a farm takes a small capital something that many fresh out of college do not have." Additionally he encourages all future farmers to go work on a farm or two and see first hand every aspect that goes into farming.

The Paulks show that the dream of having one's own farm is attainable. David recommends that anyone considering an occupation in farming work on a farm whether by volunteering or as a part of an apprenticeship program. Six years after graduating from the Future Harvest CASA program, he now serves as a mentor to new beginner farmers.

The organic produce from Sassafras Creek Farm is sold through a number of venues: California Farmers Market; Chesapeake's Bounty in North Beach; MOMS organic market in Waldorf; a natural food store in Leonardtown; and on the plates of guests at farm-to-table restaurant Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore City.

We are grateful for people like David and Jennifer who not only serve their country, but now serve their community through sustainable, responsible agricultural practices.

—Kellie Rogers

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.


Farm Bureau Can Choose to Be a Sore Loser or Part of the Solution

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Farm_1200
The Bay will not be saved if agricultural pollution is not addressed. Photo by Dave Hartcorn.

The long and expensive fight by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Fertilizer Institute and their allies to derail the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is finally over. The Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal of a lawsuit that they had lost in both the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and in a unanimous decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Now that their legal opposition has finally been turned back, we reached out to the Farm Bureau and its allies to encourage them to work with us, rather than fight us.

But despite the decision by the Supreme Court, the Farm Bureau continues its anti-EPA rhetoric. In a recent press statement, they continue to contend that the "EPA has asserted the power to sit as a federal zoning board, dictating which land can be farmed and where homes, roads, and schools can be built." This argument has been repeatedly rejected by federal courts.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pollution caps are still under attack. Timothy Bishop, a partner with Mayer Brown LLP in Chicago who represents the American Farm Bureau Federation, is quoted as saying the question of the EPA's authority has "just been postponed" until there are nine justices on the court.

There is a real danger in denying agriculture's role in restoring water quality. The very best estuarine science in the world has presented indisputable evidence that agriculture is part of the problem and must be part of the solution.

Beyond the Bay, as well, a recent University of Michigan-led multi-institution study concluded that a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources would be needed to stem the harmful algae blooms and dead zones plaguing Lake Erie.

If that 40 percent reduction sounds familiar, it should. For decades, Bay scientists have known that to restore our local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay, we need to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by 40 percent.

We have made progress, but much of it has been achieved by reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants. While many farmers have implemented best management practices, the full agricultural community must do its fair share.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint provides a road map to recovery, but it must be fully implemented. With the 2017 Midpoint Assessment just around the corner, it appears that the region will miss another mark, by millions of pounds of pollution, largely because of Pennsylvania, and primarily from agriculture.

The commonwealth's officials have acknowledged the problem, and said they are committed to getting the state back on track. Our reaction is to trust, but verify.

An editorial in Lancaster (PA) Farming put it well:

"We should always keep careful watch of what the government is doing, especially with our money and our freedoms.

"But TMDL requirements provide an opportunity to show the rest of the nation that farmers can co-exist with nonfarmers and that the environment doesn't have to suffer as a result.

"Farm Bureau may have lost its battle, but farmers have a chance to win the pollution war."

We in the Chesapeake Bay region have the opportunity to show the nation, and the world, what can be accomplished if businesses, governments, individuals—and even the Farm Bureau—work together to reduce pollution in our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

William C. Baker, CBF President