Farmer Spotlight: Gravel Springs Farms

AThe story of Gravel Springs Farms is of a driven young couple—Paul and Emma Sorenson—who wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. 

When Paul and Emma met it was clear that they shared a passion for the outdoors, an appreciation for the land, and a strong desire to help others. With more than a half million acres of farmland in Maryland owned by people over the age of 69, the Sorensons are among a minority of young farmers. But the future of farming is dependent on these younger generations.

In 2013, the Sorensons dove into the agricultural field by purchasing Emma's family's 150-acre farm. Today they own and operate 10 acres of vegetable production while one additional acre flourishes in cut flowers. The couple had never thought of farming as a career option but their desire to connect people to the land led them down the road.

Paul explains that while they "didn't know how to farm, Future Harvest CASA (Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) allowed us to learn from each other, we jumped in head first, attending field days and programs." The programs and field days Paul attended were offered at the Beginning Farmer Training Program, which allows members to maintain a job and/or start their own farm enterprise while completing the program. Participants learn through hands-on field work as well as workshops and conferences about building and growing a successful farm. The program teaches beginner farmers about the basics of crop production, business management, and marketing. As new farmers, the resources offered by Future Harvest CASA were an integral part of the farm's success. 

The Sorensons have an eye towards becoming sustainable, and while they are not 100 percent self-sufficient, they are as sustainable as they can be as a growing operation. They create their own compost and are constantly doing things to mitigate the impact of their farm on the environment. In the fall of 2014, less than a year after purchasing the farm, they connected with CBF's Watershed Restoration Scientist Rob Schnabel to create a 2,026-tree, 10-acre forest buffer on their land. With the help of more than 100 volunteers, the Sorensons were able to plant four acres of trees that fall and an additional six acres the following spring.

In addition to expanding their flower and vegetable operations, the Sorensons hope to one day expand  their operation by converting the conventional crop fields to permanent pasture for 100 percent grass-fed animal production. Paul is a member of the CBF's Maryland Grazers Network, a grazing mentorship program. Although he has only been farming for a few years, he actively encourages others to recognize that there are outlets other than farmers' markets to sell produce. "Not everyone can market," he says explaining that most farmers markets are saturated. Instead he encourages farmers new and old to look into outlets like selling wholesale or to institutions, as well as having aspects of customer interaction such as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). They have done some institutional and restaurant sales and they are in the process of setting up sweet potatoe sales to the local school system. Frederick County Public Schools are looking to source things like sweet potatoes and squash from Gravel Springs which will be available when school is in session. By providing fresh local produce to area schools, Paul hopes to serve as an example to other farmers who can tap into an expanding market while continuing to educate the public of all ages on the benefits of local foods.

"Local sustainably produced food is important. We have found that we and our CSA members have a better experience knowing where their food comes from . . . customers trust what I tell them and so I do what I say I am doing."

Gravel Springs Farms offers small and large produce shares that go for 21 weeks. In addition to produce, one can also purchase grass-based and pasture-raised meats from a partner farm. Once one purchases a meat or produce share, Gravel Springs offers add-ons such as apples, peaches, eggs, and cut flowers. Be sure to sign up today—May 1 is the last day to register!

—Kellie Rogers; Photo courtesy of Paul Sorenson


Going Above and Beyond for Oysters

OFred Millhiser didn't expect to spend retirement hauling oyster shell. However, for the past four years, the former government employee has done just that. A CBF member for many years, upon retirement, Millhiser decided to get more involved. After attending a workshop at CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Center (MORC), he soon began growing juvenile oysters from his home dock.

A few years later, Millhiser became aware of a shortage of oyster shell. Oyster shell is vital to restoration efforts as it provides baby oysters the material needed to settle and begin the maturation process. While making his weekly drive between his home in St. Mary's County and Annapolis, Millhiser noticed Stoney Kingfisher, a popular seafood restaurant. "[They] sell lots of oysters during oyster season, including a Sunday all-you-can-eat oyster menu, so I knew there 20160403_103905were lots of shells," he said.

Millhiser approached the management and soon the restaurant was outfitted with a collection cage and the staff was trained to separate shells for recycling. Millhiser personally offered to pick up the shells from Stoney's and deliver them to MORC. "I have been delivering about 2-3 bushels of shells per week during oyster season since then," he said. 

Thanks to Millhiser, nearly 250 bushels of oyster shell have been diverted from landfills and used in CBF's oyster restoration projects in Maryland and Virginia. "It has been most satisfying to help in a small way with what I think is one of the most important steps to a healthy Chesapeake Bay, namely restoration of native oysters," said Millhiser. 

You never know when a CBF volunteer, such as Fred Millhiser, will be inspired to go above and beyond to make a difference! 

—Melanie McCarty
CBF's Donor Communications Manager

Right now through April 30, The Orvis Company will match any donation made to CBF's oyster restoration dollar for dollar, up to $30,000! Give today and help Save the Bay!


Five Ways to Celebrate Earth Day!

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Photo by Nikki Davis.

"The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity . . . that's all there is. That's the whole economy. That's where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world." —U.S. Senator and Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson

 

While this Friday marks the 46th year since U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said those beautiful words and founded Earth Day, we're firm believers that every day ought to be Earth Day. In that spirit, here are five ways you can celebrate Earth Day in the Chesapeake region—not just this Friday on the actual day, but right now and through the coming weeks:

  1. Shake some shell, plant a tree, pick up trash! Whatever your fancy, there are tons of ways to get out in the field with us this spring and do something great for our rivers and Bay. From our 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day to our tree and oyster plantings to the Earth, Water, Faith Festival, click here to see all the different upcoming volunteer opportunities and events in your area.

  2. Test your knowledge of our favorite bivalve and take the oyster quiz! For every quiz taker, The Orvis Company will donate $1 to our oyster restoration efforts.

  3. Sail the Bay on our 114-year-old skipjack the Stanley Norman, canoe the islands of the Lower Susquehanna at dusk, or explore Baltimore Harbor at the height of spring on our 46-foot workboat the Snow Goose—there's no better way to learn about the Bay and its rivers than being out on the water. So sign up for one of our Bay Discovery Trips!

  4. Celebrate this week's National Environmental Education Week by signing up for a Chesapeake Classrooms Professional Learning Course or another CBF education experience. Not a teacher, administrator, or student? Just take a look at how powerful learning outside can be in our Facebook photo album. Then share it with your friends!

  5. Show us your vision of the Bay and its waters! The undulating glow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the quiet tidal marshes of the Eastern Shore, cool rocky streams in Pennsylvania . . . What places inspire you? Show us by submitting your photos to our Save the Bay Photo Contest! Hurry, contest closes this Friday.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


Millions of Gallons of Sewage-Contaminated Water Overflowing in Baltimore

How Baltimore City's Delayed Consent Decree Threatens Human and Environmental Health

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Photo courtesy of Blue Water Baltimore.

 It's horrifying: During heavy rains, Baltimore's failing sewer system continually overflows, contaminating residents' homes, local waterways, and Baltimore Harbor. In fact, after a recent February storm, 12.6 million gallons of sewage-laden wastewater steadily flowed into Baltimore's rivers, streams, and harbor. As appalling as this was, this wasn't the first time this has happened in Maryland's largest city.

We find this ongoing sewage overflow problem simply unacceptable. Baltimore City and its waters are still suffering from a 19th century problem in the 21st century. The city was supposed to have put an end to this problem by January 2016 yet the city's government, EPA, and MDE have let that deadline pass with little action.

CBF is demanding that a new consent decree be issued immediately with near-term, enforceable deadlines and that meet water quality standards. We have sent a letter to agency heads, city officials, and state legislators detailing what we hope to see in the new agreement. Click here to read it. It is our expectation and hope that current and future elected leaders in Baltimore make this the priority it needs to be.

In order to better understand this issue, we took a look back at how Baltimore got into this appalling situation...

What Is the Baltimore City Consent Decree?

Because Baltimore City's sewage system was allowing pollutants to enter local waterways and Baltimore Harbor, the United States and the State of Maryland sued the city to require that the problem be remedied to bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. To avoid a court trial, the city entered into a Consent Decree (CD) with the United States and the State of Maryland on September 30, 2002. A CD is the settlement of a lawsuit in which a party agrees to take specific actions without admitting fault or guilt for the situation that led to the lawsuit. 

The Baltimore City CD required the city to eliminate all existing sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and combined sanitary overflows (CSOs) to prevent raw sewage from entering the waterways around Baltimore City. Additionally, the city was required to undergo comprehensive sewer evaluation and rehabilitation programs and perform continuous upgrades to their operations and maintenance.

Progress Toward Completing the Consent Decree

The CD provided a 14-year timeline, with all upgrades to be completed by January 1, 2016. The city missed the final deadline under the CD. According to a recent quarterly report, the city is a long way from completing the work required under the CD—it has only completed 31 of the 55 projects with deadlines provided in the CD.

Baltimore's failure to address the unresolved SSO and CSO structures is a significant water quality and human health hazard. Raw sewage from these structures flows into the Inner Harbor and Baltimore waterways and, on numerous occasions, has backed up into city homes. This not only leads to potentially harmful fecal bacterial and viral contamination, but causes financial losses, stress, and health risks to vulnerable residents in the affected areas. 

The sewage backups in homes pose a tremendous human health risk. What's more, those residents in Baltimore's wealthier suburbs do not see the same disregard from local authorities when sewage backs up in their homes. Baltimore City has challenged the majority of claims arising from damage caused by backed-up sewage (approving only nine percent of the damage claims). In the Grove Park, West Arlington, and Glen neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore, residents filed 34 claims—all affected by sewage backups into their homes in the last three years and all of which were denied or unaddressed by the city for more than a year.

The Future of the Consent Decree

EPA and MDE are now working with the city to develop a new deadline to achieve the requirements of the CD. Baltimore has already asked for lengthy extensions in the deadlines for some of the CD's required construction projects, some reaching as late as 2019 and beyond. A short timetable and a new deadline for the CD is imperative to cleaning up the water around Baltimore and alleviating the harm to homeowners and residents of the city. Stretching the deadlines for construction projects many years into the future leaves residents susceptible to financial harm and health risks and puts the Inner Harbor and the waterways around Baltimore in danger of fecal bacterial contamination.

There is no reason to delay further. The current situation constitutes nothing less than a serious crisis for Baltimore City, the harbor, and the Bay. It is time to bring Baltimore into the 21st century with a sewage system that doesn't degrade its waters and the health and well-being of its citizens. 

—Gaby Gilbeau, CBF's Litigation Fellow

Take action right now to tell elected officials and environmental agencies that we must see a legally binding agreement that effectively tackles the sewage in Baltimore's streets.

And we want to hear from you! If you have experienced flooding in your basement, on your property, or on your street as a result of these sewer overflows, please send an e-mail with details to our Baltimore Director Terry Cummings at TCummings@cbf.org. We're working on documenting real stories and incidents related to these overflows, and your story could play a critical role in ensuring the new legal agreement to clean up Baltimore's failing sewage system is strong, timely, and has real consequences for failure.

 


Moving Day for the Osprey

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BGE works to safely move an osprey nest to a new platform away from a live electrical pole. Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

"I just love their sound," says BGE's Principal Environmental Scientist Gregory Kappler on a bluebird kind of day earlier this week. He's talking about ospreys just as one swoops majestically down toward the water in front of us. We're standing on CBF's Merrill Center beach while Kappler's BGE colleagues steadily work nearby to install a new osprey platform.

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BGE's Principal Environmental Scientist supervises from the ground. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

A recently arrived, misguided osprey has chosen the top of a live electrical pole at our headquarters to build his nest. But rather than risk the lives of the osprey and his future young (not to mention a power outage), BGE is building a new pole and platform dedicated solely to the osprey and his future family.  

"[We're working to] proactively prevent outages, protect the birds, and protect the nests," says BGE's Richard Yost. "It's a win-win." As such, just this month BGE launched its new Osprey Watch initiative to encourage customers to report any osprey nests near or on utility equipment. The utility company will then dispatch crews to safely relocate the nests and birds whenever, wherever possible. 

But though this year is a first for the Osprey Watch program, this type of osprey work is hardly new to BGE. "The first nest that we relocated was down in Baltimore County in 1989," says Kappler. "We've been doing this for many years, trying to keep the birds safe."

In less than an hour, BGE had safely and efficiently moved the osprey nest to a new platform away from the live wires. "[There's the] very real concern that a pole-top fire would occur there. Then you'd lose the birds, the eggs, the young, and electrical service . . . and we don't want any of that to happen," says Kappler who's been with BGE for 37 years.

Just 30 minutes after BGE had packed up and left, the osprey that had been living on the electric pole, glided into its new, fancy digs as if it had been there forever. A welcome sight for all, including Kappler: "It's to the birds' benefit, and BGE's benefit if we can get that nest off that cross-arm, make it safe and, at the same time, give the birds a place to raise their young."

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

While here, BGE was kind enough to help us with another osprey platform where we've set up our very first osprey web cam! Take a look now.

If you see an osprey nest on BGE equipment, please contact the Osprey Watch program at ospreywatch@bge.com with photos and the pole number or address if possible.

Click here for more photos of moving day for the osprey.

 

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The osprey (left) in his new digs. Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

What Did You Do on Your Spring Break?

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An unusual group of laborers could be seen bending and lifting in the distance on Paul Quick's farm in Union Bridge, Maryland. They were students from the University of Virginia, doing community service earlier this month as part of an Alternative Spring Break program.

While many of their classmates were still sleeping in, these 10 UVA students were working up a sweat as the sun rose and delivered unseasonably warm temperatures.

Each year at this time an inspired slice of students from many colleges commit to spending their spring break helping in the community in various ways. The UVA students volunteered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where they worked at the organization's Oyster Restoration Center and Clagett Farm for several days, and then one day to help Quick on his farm.

IMG_4651Quick decided several years ago to put his farm in a conservation easement, to honor his father-in-law's wishes that the old dairy farm not be developed. As part of the arrangement, Quick used federal funding to get 20 acres of trees planted along streams on the property. The trees help buffer the stream from possible polluted runoff from the corn and soy crops.

Those trees have now matured. The students' job was to cut off plastic sleeves called "shelters" that had protected the young trees from hungry deer. With about 7,300 trees needing this attention, it was a day of hard labor for students who may be more accustomed to a library or classroom.

The labor was equally strenuous earlier in the week at CBF's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, where the students cleaned debris off old oyster shells before planting them in restoration efforts. Those shells, which will be used to grow oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay, are heavy. The students had to use a simple device to lift a pallet full of shells above their heads and "shake" the pallet. It was hard work.

But the students said this was the way they preferred to spend their vacation: "It's worth it, but boy, it was a lot of work," said Maggie Daly, a Third-Year biochemistry student from Yorktown, Virginia.

IMG_4646"My shoulders will be sore tomorrow," said Sarah Overton, a First-Year student from Herndon, Virginia.

Daly said she considers herself "environmentally conscious" but wanted to put that ethic to work in the field so to speak. Overton said she felt the same, and also saw the program as a way to see another part of the region. She had always wanted to visit Annapolis, for instance.

Another student, Conner Roessler, a Fourth-Year from Midlothian, Virginia, was doing the program for the second year in a row.

For his part, farm owner Quick said he was glad for the help. He said the conservation easement required him to plant some trees to help buffer his farm streams, but he decided to plant far more.

The trees not only will help keep the streams clean, they also will provide habitat for deer and other wildlife which Quick enjoys.

Rob Schnabel, a CBF restoration scientist who worked with the students, said trees not only help prevent pollution and stream erosion, but also help cool the stream so trout and other aquatic life are more apt to survive. Unfortunately, Maryland is far behind in its goal to get the banks of farm streams planted with trees, he said.

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Check out more photos of these inspiring students in the field.


Photo of the Week: Save the Bay Photo Contest Now Open!

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"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter."
—Ansel Adams 

Even if you're not the next Ansel Adams, we want to see your photos! Our 2016 Photo Contest is now open to both amateur and professional photographers. Show us your vision of the Chesapeake watershed—from Pennsylvania to Virginia, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Eastern Shore. All photos must include water from the Chesapeake Bay or a river or stream within the Bay watershed.

Click here to submit your photo and enter to win a prize!

A panel of CBF employees will judge entries on subject matter, composition, focus, lighting, uniqueness, and impact. The public will have the opportunity to vote online for their favorite photo in the Viewers' Choice Gallery. Winners receive cash prizes! (First Prize: $500; Second Prize: $250; Third Prize: $150; Viewers' Choice: $100.)

All winners will also receive a one-year CBF membership and will have their photos displayed in various CBF publications, such as our website, e-newsletters, and magazine. The first-prize photo will be featured in CBF's 2017 calendar. All winners will be notified of the outcome, and their images will be posted on the CBF website by May 31, 2016.

So get outside and get inspired by the Chesapeake waters we all love. Don't forget to bring your camera. And hurry, the submission deadline is April 22.

We look forward to seeing your pictures!

 —Jen Wallace
CBF's Managing Editor

Click here to read the official contest rules.

 


9 Reasons Spring Is Awesome

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As if you needed a reason . . . longer and warmer days, blue blue skies, birds and insects and flowers just waking up to the world. All this makes spring pretty great. Even still, we thought we'd take a moment to celebrate all there is to love about this incredible season. Here are nine reasons:  

1. The return of familiar friends like the osprey! Every spring, these quintessential Chesapeake birds travel thousands of miles to return to the same nests, where they reunite with their mate, breed, and fish for menhaden. Often called the "osprey garden," the Chesapeake Bay has the most concentrated population of osprey in the world! Listen in as CBF's Senior Naturalist John Page Williams discusses these extraordinary birds in our latest podcast.

2. Strawberries! Our sustainable Clagett Farm bursts with life every spring, including the juiciest, sweetest strawberries you've ever tasted. Learn more about our farm and how you can get your hands on some of these life-altering strawberries.

3. Spring Break! Forget Cancun (or dare we say Daytona?), inspiring college students from the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland Alternative Spring Break Programs chose the tropical shores of the Chesapeake to spend their vacations. Here they braved chilly nights on CBF's beach, planted trees across Maryland's farm fields, and cleaned oyster shell at our Oyster Restoration Center. Take a look at these photos to see these dedicated students in action, then watch the video below for a more in-depth view of what inspires these extraordinary students.


 

4. Learning outside! This past Monday, our spring education season launched with full force. Each spring, thousands of students and teachers come out with us to learn about the Bay and its waters and how they can help them. We've still got spots available on some of our programs—click here to sign up.

5. Taking pictures! Spring's early morning light, sweetbay magnolias stretching their newly blooming branches to the sky, a river's still, quiet surface just before twilight—these moments can inspire even the most photographically uninclined individuals. And what better way to showcase these images than by submitting them to our annual Save the Bay Photo Contest launching this coming Monday.

6. Planting trees! Remember your childlike self (and do something amazing for the Bay and its rivers at the same time) by digging in the dirt and planting a tree. Check out some of the plantings we're hosting in Maryland over the next few weeks.

7. Earth Day! Though we like to think every day is Earth Day, this special day (April 22) reminds us how fragile, beautiful, and all-important our planet is. Read on for an oldie but a goodie on the origins of Earth Day.

8. Sailing and boating! Is there anything better than that first day out on the water . . . when the air isn't so numbingly cold and the wind on your face is refreshing rather than irritating? We can't wait for spring days out on the water—join us for one of our Bay Discovery trips!

9. Clean the Bay Day! Though not taking place until June 4, this annual event, 28 years in the making, rallies thousands of Virginians together on one day to clean up the Commonwealth's shorelines. Learn more about this awesome day and sign up here.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media




Video of the Week: Why We Do What We Do

For nearly 50 years, we have fought vigilantly for healthy rivers, clean streams, and a restored Chesapeake Bay. Watch this video, courtesy of Discovery Communications, to see just how far we've come. And learn why saving the Bay and its rivers and streams is so important to the health of our economy, communities, and way of life both here and across the globe.

 

With your help, we can finish the job and show the world that we can restore a national treasure like the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Please help us spread the Save the Bay message to your friends and family on social media. And thank you for joining us in what is perhaps the most important clean water movement of our time. 

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


Help! Looking for Maryland Streams to Conduct Bacteria Testing

Kilgore FallsKnow of any local swimming holes? Or local streams where people wade, fish, or just cool their heels on a hot summer day? We're looking for sites to conduct water tests this coming summer in Frederick, Howard, Harford, and Baltimore Counties (potentially Carroll County, too) as well as Baltimore City. And we'd love to get your ideas for the best sites to sample!

We are focusing on freshwater streams, rivers, and ponds in those areas where people recreate. If you know of a place where there's a tire swing, or where kids regularly look for salamanders or frogs, or just dip their toes, please e-mail CBF's Tom Zolper at tzolper@cbf.org.

We are particularly interested in sites that perhaps only locals know about. These sites aren't public beaches, just treasured local places to enjoy a freshwater stream or river. A site might even be a small stream running through a neighborhood. We want places that people appreciate—if only for their gurgling reminder of nature in the middle of suburbia.

We are testing for the impact of polluted runoff on local streams and ponds. Polluted runoff is rain that becomes contaminated by dog poop, farm manure, weed killer, or other pollution as it runs off the landscape. In our debut testing program last summer we found some sites had bacteria levels as much as 200 times higher that of safety limits set by the federal government. One popular swimming hole had dangerous bacteria levels even two days after a heavy summer downpour—yet people were still swimming!

Testing at Kilgore FallsThis summer we want to dig a little deeper into this problem, to alert the public, and local governments when appropriate. But we need your help finding test sites. The results will mean more to the public if we test water spots used for recreation.

If you are interested in volunteering to help us take water samples, let us know that, too. We want to test within 24 hours of when big rainstorms happen, so your schedule has to be a little flexible. We will provide training and materials.

Again, please e-mail tzolper@cbf.org if you have interest in any of the above. Thanks in advance for your help!

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations