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.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Summertime Fishing

Locklear Story 0416 II Sam Loustanua"How will I know when a fish bites?" "Young Sam" asked his grandfather, Sam Locklear. Both Sams and younger brother, Nate, were fishing the Severn River with me last summer. It's always a treat to have enthusiastic ten- and seven-year-old anglers aboard, especially when a trip starts like this one. The words were hardly out in the air before two chunky white perch climbed onto the teasers on Young Sam's line, nearly taking the rod out of his hands. 

We were fishing a 12-14-foot-deep restoration oyster reef near the U.S. Naval Academy. This particular reef, an underwater point jutting out into the channel, is an example of where oysters thrive. The reef is elevated in the water column where currents bring the oysters food, carry away waste, and attract other critters—like worms, barnacles, grass shrimp, and mud crabs—that in turn attract predators like white perch and rockfish. We could see the perch on my skiff's fishfinder. The Severn has more successful restoration reefs like this one—they form the happy side of this story. 

The other side isn't as pretty. With supper on ice, the Sams, Nate, and I went upriver to a 25-foot-deep reef that showed hard bottom but no fish. It's a survey site for an upcoming restoration project, so we got out an electronic temperature/salinity/oxygen meter and lowered its sensor's ten-meter cable to get a profile of the water column. As usual for summer here—and in too many other parts of the Chesapeake system—the dissolved oxygen measured below two milligrams per liter from the bottom up to about 15 feet. That's a lethal level for perch and rockfish and stressful even for crabs. In fact, on the bottom that day, the level was below 0.5 mg/l—low enough to kill worms. No wonder the fishfinder screen was blank below 15 feet. That's what a "dead zone" looks like. This is the ugly side of the story. It illustrates why we concentrate oyster restoration in shallower water. 

As Memorial Day approaches, we've got dead zones on our minds. But why do dead zones form each summer? From human-caused nitrogen pollution. Take a look at this excellent graphic from YSI, Inc. (the maker of my oxygen meter). It concentrates on the Gulf of Mexico, but the global map shows hypoxia ("the environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms") all over the Earth, including the Chesapeake.

What can we do about it? We have a plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, and it's slowly turning the bad stuff around while we celebrate successes like these new oyster reefs. Want to make sure that Young Sam, Nate, and thousands of other youngsters have a healthy Bay to grow up around? Click here to find out how you can help.

John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist

 


Trees, Pollution, and an Arbor Day Planting

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A work detail of CBF PA staff, students, State Senator Rich Alloway, and others, planted 150 Arbor Day Foundation tree and shrub seedlings along Burd Run at Shippensburg Township Park on April 30, Arbor Day. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

On the day dedicated to appreciating the value of planting trees, that is exactly what a work detail of Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) staff, a handful of students, and a state senator did at a park in southcentral Pennsylvania.

The group planted about 150 Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) tree and shrub seedlings along Burd Run at Shippensburg Township Park on April 30, Arbor Day.

The planting was a few trees short of that achieved in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day in 1872. The state Board of Agriculture back then said "set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit," and offered prizes to those who planted the largest number of trees. More than one million were planted that day.

Planting the variety of sycamores, poplars, oaks, and shrubs into the wet Pennsylvania soil, under overcast skies this Arbor Day, was as important as any effort before it.

"One of the cheapest and easiest ways to protect and filter our waters is to plant trees," state Senator Rich Alloway (R-33rd District) said during a break from wielding a sledgehammer. He spent hours driving in stakes that support tube shelters to protect newly-planting seedlings. Senator Alloway's Chief of Staff, Jeremy Shoemaker, and Legislative Director Chad Reichard were also there to help.

Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff into rivers and streams. Trees are an effective solution.

Trees and their roots can filter as much as 60 percent of nitrogen, 40 percent of phosphorus and nearly half of sediment in polluted runoff. A single mature oak tree can absorb over 40,000 gallons of water per year. Trees also provide flood control, cool water for brook trout, wildlife habitat, and even improve the air we breathe.

Senator Alloway represents Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, and York counties, and is a Pennsylvania member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. He has been a strong advocate for clean water and for planting trees to keep rivers and streams clean.

"We are behind in the number of trees we are supposed to be planting," Senator Alloway said. "I've challenged my colleagues in the Senate and my fellow neighbors to go out and plant trees." The Senator has set a goal to plant 10,000 trees in his district this year. "We are on our way," he added. "We've got quite a few in the ground already, but we need more help from you. All citizens can go out and make a difference."

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CBF PA Restoration Specialist Kristen Hoke, explains proper staking technique to PA State Senator Rich Alloway, left, and CBF PA Grassroots Organizer Hannah Ison, during an Arbor Day tree planting. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Seniors from Shippensburg and Big Spring high schools helped with the Arbor Day tree planting, as did Marel King, Pennsylvania director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Shippensburg Township Supervisors Linda Asper, Steve Oldt, and Marc Rideout were there to offer encouragement and appreciation.

The crew worked under the supervision of CBF restoration specialist Kristen Hoke.

The student involvement was also part of CBF's new Mentors in Agricultural Conservation job-shadowing program in Pennsylvania. About 25 students signed up for the mentoring program to do restoration work and learn first-hand about conservation projects on farms.

When they were finished with the planting, Big Spring senior Truman Heberlig wanted to know if he could get groups of students help plant trees at other projects.

With financial support from the Arbor Day Foundation, CBF purchased roughly 14,000 trees through local conservation district tree sales for planting this year. Last year, CBF gave away 12,280 trees to 148 landowners in 14 Pennsylvania counties through the same partnership. The trees are used to plant new buffers, as was done in Shippensburg on Arbor Day, and to repair existing streamside buffers.

The same evening the Arbor Day trees were planted, CBF Watershed Restoration Program Manager Clair Ryan was in Nebraska accepting the national "Good Steward Award" from the Arbor Day Foundation. It was awarded for CBF's efforts in planting trees, adding buffers to streams, and improving water quality in the Commonwealth.

Just weeks before that, CBF Pennsylvania received the prestigious Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence for helping landowners plant thousands of trees, and reducing pollution of rivers and streams in the Commonwealth.

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


Benefits of Soil Health Extend beyond Farm

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Farmland in York County. Photo by John Pavoncello/York Dispatch.

Around the home and down on the farm, it's planting season. Prime time for digging in the dirt.

Gardeners are feeling the earth under foot and between their fingers. For farmers, the crop cycle is taking root with spring plantings.

Healthy soil is key to planting success and clean water.

As soil health improves, productivity increases. As soil health improves, it is better able to absorb rain and cycle nutrients, meaning less harmful runoff and cleaner, healthier water. It is an economic and environmental win-win.

Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania are polluted and the Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments.

Two of the top three sources of that pollution are agricultural and urban/suburban runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. So keeping the soil healthy and in place, are important factors in reducing pollution.

The down and dirty on soil, is that we don't always think of it as having health. But soil can be so much more than a vessel for short-term plant growth dependent solely on the amount of water and fertilizer it can hold. Healthy soil is a living ecosystem and host to organisms of all sizes.

Soil health is influenced by many factors, significant among them is what is planted into it, and the benefits returned to the soil.

Cover crops, including grasses and a mix of broadleaf plantings like clover, are planted on many farm fields after the harvest and allow the soil to absorb, retain, and recycle nutrients, especially nitrates. Cover crops also reduce runoff of phosphorus, as surface water and soil otherwise carry it into local waters.

Increasing organic matter in the soil through cover crops and conservation tillage can increase crop resilience to climate change because it retains water in times of drought, reduces runoff during heavy rains, and moderates soil temperatures in hot weather.

For every one percent increase in organic matter, soil can hold 16,500 gallons of additional water per acre. Cover crops also improve the physical properties of the soil, reducing the degree of surface-sealing and increasing the ability of water to infiltrate the soil, instead of wash over it.

A farmer's quote often repeated in our office is, "We don't have a runoff problem, we have an infiltration problem." It goes to the root of the matter. Improving soil's ability to retain and recycle water greatly reduces the problem of runoff.

No-till planting can reduce erosion by more than 80 percent, compared to deep plowing and crop rotation where crop residue is left in the field.

The benefits of soil health extend beyond the farm.

At home, mulching the lawn pays multiple dividends. Grass clippings provide nutrients and can be an alternative to chemical fertilizers. The cuttings can provide half of the nitrogen the lawn needs in a year.

Before adding any fertilizer to the lawn, homeowners should have their soil tested. Penn State Extension offices in every county sell simple test kits. The results indicate how much, if any, fertilizer or lime might be needed in order to obtain the right balance.

At home or on the farm, maintaining healthy soil that can absorb moisture and cycle nutrients for plant use, that stays anchored in place, plays a key role in reducing pollution that enters our rivers and streams.

That's the dirt on how Pennsylvania can get back on track toward cleaning up its waters.

Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director


This Week in the Watershed

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Sea level rise is a significant threat to many coastal communities, including Annapolis, MD. Photo by Amy McGovern.

Amidst a deluge of rainy days like we are currently experiencing, local flooding often ensues. Swamped roads, public health concerns, and damaged infrastructure, are just a sampling of the issues caused by flooding. While flooding can often be perceived as only a nuisance, sea level rise is exacerbating fears, particularly among coastal communities. This presents many challenges for waterfront properties, especially considering computer models suggest waters are going to rise higher before they recede.

Annapolis is one community wrestling with sea level rise in hopes to preserve its historic downtown. A recent event gathered scientists, city officials, and residents to discuss threats, opportunities, and solutions in preserving Annapolis' waterfront. While the complexity and multifaceted nature of the issue leaves no silver-bullet solution, Annapolis is well ahead of many coastal communities by actively planning for the inevitable future, especially when contrasted with coastal communities who would rather bury their head in the sand.

Clearly, sea level rise, like the larger issue of climate change it originates from, is an issue that must not only be approached from a mindset of mitigation but also adaptation. While rising waters might be an unavoidable reality for the foreseeable future, focusing on science-based solutions while considering the economic, cultural, and social consequences is a great step. This is true not only in combating sea level rise but also in the fight to Save the Bay, championed by the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

This Week in the Watershed: Rising Waters, Keystone Tree Awards, and Prosecuting Polluters

  • We love this editorial drawing the connection between improved air quality in Maryland and a healthier Bay. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • A declining number of prosecutions against polluters has environmentalists concerned in Maryland. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Progress has been made in cleaning up the Bay and its local rivers and streams, but recently released data by the EPA reveal that states will very likely miss the 2017 interim cleanup targets. (Bay Journal)
  • A study released this week found that water quality is deteriorating in Calvert County, MD tidal creeks. (The Calvert Recorder—MD)
  • U.S. Senator Ben Cardin hosted a discussion on water quality, focusing not only on legislative victories but the importance of science in crafting sound policy. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • Oyster restoration efforts in Virginia Beach have not exactly gone according to plan. (The Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • Planting forested buffers is one of the best clean water practices, and CBF's Pennsylvania office was recognized with both the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence and the Arbor Day Foundation's "Good Steward" Award for its tree planting efforts. (Lancaster Farming—PA and CBF Press Release)
  • While oyster farming has thrived in Virginia, it has been held back by bureaucratic red tape in Maryland. Efforts were made this week to change that. (Bay Journal)
  • Population growth throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed is an issue that cannot be ignored. (Bay Journal)
  • Sea level rise presents several obstacles for waterfront communities, including downtown Annapolis, MD. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

May 6

  • Shady Side, MD: Break a sweat and help Save the Bay— join CBF in cleaning the "homes" of the next generation of Chesapeake Bay oysters! Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This "shell shaking" event is a bit of a workout but a fun, hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with bad backs or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. RSVP to Dan Johannes at DJohannes@cbf.org. Click here for more information!

May 7

  • Norfolk, VA: Volunteer with CBF at the 5th annual EcoFest Festival held along the shore of the Lafayette River. Produced by the Lafayette Environmental Outreach, the event combines educational engagement and ecological stewardship. Tanner Council, CBF Grassroots Coordinator, is looking for 5 to 6 volunteers to assist with a variety of activities. Shifts are available from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 1 p.m.-4 p.m., or all day. Please contact Tanner to volunteer and indicate what times work for you at TCouncil@cbf.org or 757-632-3807.

May 12 and 19

  • Annapolis, MD: Join CBF for an upcoming trip aboard the CBF skipjack the 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! (Note: these are the only two dates that have not been sold out!)

May 14

  • Baltimore, MD: For nearly two years, CBF has been working on renovating a vacant lot in West Baltimore into a green space. Join us as we put on the finishing touches and celebrate! The morning will include final planting of perennials followed by an opening ceremony. Everyone is welcome to join the fun and help finish the planting, be inspired by our community leaders, and eat some hotdogs, potato salad, strawberries, and watermelon. Click here to register!

May 15

  • Norfolk, VA: The Blue Planet Forum is an annual, free environmental lecture series held in Hampton Roads. Its mission is to educate and engage the public on important environmental issues affecting Hampton Roads and the nation. In the next installment of this very popular series, the audience will be treated to presentations by an expert panel on the topic: Water, Water Everywhere: exploring how water inspires and influences us. The event is free, but space is limited, so registration is strongly encouraged. Click here to register!

May 16

  • Baltimore, MD: Cruise the Inner Harbor aboard CBF's 46-foot workboat the Snow Goose as we explore the complex and fascinating relationship between the urban environment and the Bay's natural ecosystem. CBF staff will demonstrate the importance of this port as an economic lifeline for the state of Maryland and help participants appreciate the life cycles and needs of the thousands of birds, fish, crabs, oysters, and other organisms which share these waters. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


A Park Manager Looks Back on 27 Clean the Bay Days

59093_1590688095987_7547821_nIn the spring of 1989, 16-year-old Cameron Swain went on an outing with her family in Hampton Roads to pick up trash on a beach. As a teenager, she didn't realize that the small informal cleanup would become the first ever Clean the Bay Day, now going stronger than ever as it enters its 28th year. 

Swain has watched the event grow from its grassroots infancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s to a longtime Virginia tradition that mobilizes thousands across the Commonwealth to beautify their local waterways.

In recent years, Clean the Bay Day has attracted 6,000 to 8,000 volunteers at sites stretching from coastal Virginia to Richmond, Charlottesville, the Shenandoah Valley, and Northern Virginia. In just three hours participants often pick up well over 100,000 pounds of trash.

Just as she has for nearly 20 years, on the first Saturday of June Swain will lead her own Clean the Bay Day site at False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, where she is the assistant park manager. At False Cape, a few dozen people usually come out to clean the six miles of beach, often picking up between 500 and 1,000 pounds of trash in one morning.

"You get the same volunteers year after year. Now they are bringing their children," Swain says, recalling toddlers at the first cleanup who now come out as adults. "You see these people evolve and grow."

11066783_10153821018615943_1759498088508493681_nOver the years, participants have recovered all sorts of trash from the park's beach. "Now that I've been doing it so many years, nothing really surprises me," she says, listing everything from computer screens and light bulbs to tires and bathing suits. "You name it, it's probably washed up on the beach at one time."

When you consider the sheer number of people who participate, it is amazing how one morning's effort transforms hundreds of miles of beaches, parks, rivers, and streams. The massive collaborative effort across Virginia every Clean the Bay Day is "heartwarming," Swain says. "Even if it's the only time they do it this year, that makes a real difference," she says.

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Be a part of the Virginia tradition! Sign up for this year's Clean the Bay Day.

 


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!


Farmer Spotlight: Birds Eye View Farm

Carole Morrison 1Our featured farmer this month manages a unique operation in Worcester County, Maryland. Carole Morison, co-owner of Birds Eye View Farm in Pocomoke City has spent years speaking out against the big chicken companies who dominate the food industry and the landscape. Morison is best known however for her role in Food, Inc. a documentary where she exposed the conditions of the chickens and the poultry industry after welcoming camera crews inside her poultry houses while under contract with Perdue. Although it took her three years of chicken free houses, she decided to get back into the industry in a far less conventional way.

It all started after marrying her husband Frank in 1986. The couple bought two chicken houses and began to grow birds under contract for Perdue. Not long into their production she began to challenge the conventional agriculture system explaining that Perdue dictated everything from equipment upgrades, to feed additives, to flock size.

In 2006, the directors of Food, Inc. approached Morison, and despite knowing she would lose her contract—a great source of fear for any contract grower—she agreed to participate in the film, believing that consumers deserved to know the truth.

Carole Morrison 2The Morisons received the Perdue Grower of the Year award in 2007, having outperformed every other grower. But just three weeks later, Perdue ended the Morisons contract due to failure to comply with full enclosure of their chicken houses, a costly upgrade that the Morisons knew would create financial problems as well as additional health problems for the chickens. Their chicken houses were emptied in 2008 by the time the eye-opening documentary Food, Inc. first aired.

Soon the film took off, and Morison traveled across the country and around the world talking about her work and why she was so vocal against the chicken industry. In her time spent traveling, Morison connected with farmers and people who shared successes of their alternative farming operations. And so she was inspired to join the chicken world once more.

After transitioning away from a traditional contracted poultry farm, Birds Eye View Farm is now home to a 600-hen, free-range, pastured egg operation where the Morisons are able to control every aspect of their process as they deem fit.

The houses that used to hold 54,000 birds now serve as a shelter and laying area for the 600 hens. Even when the full flock is inside at night, the birds have more than six times the space the meat birds had during the previous years. Birds Eye View Farm was the first on the Delmarva Peninsula to be certified as Animal Welfare Approved, the highest third-party certification standards in the country.

Carole Morrison 4One of the greatest difference in her work is that she now enjoys it—the chickens are happier as well! They like to follow her on walks and enjoy special treats, especially watermelons. The flock is made up of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Delawares, all of which are traditional heritage breeds. Each chicken has access to more than 14 acres of pasture and typically lays an egg every other day. The Morisons strive to produce healthier hens and more nutritious eggs. 

"First I would tell people to, know your food, know your farmer," says Morison. "I think you will be much more satisfied. Second, make an effort to keep your money in the community and local region. And third develop the local food system by having choices for farmers and choices for consumers."

Today people visit Birds Eye View Farm to watch happy chickens roam and pick through lush green fields. The locals pick up their eggs from the farm while others in Maryland can pick up a dozen from Whole Foods Markets. The success of Birds Eye View Farm is almost as remarkable as the stretch of Morison's advocacy efforts. "I'm not saying that our model is the only way, but I do know that the market is wide open." Morison says she struggles to meet the demand of consumers who want to buy a product that they know is good for their own health, the environment, and their community.

"I started to retire . . . [but it just didn't] happen, so I guess I'm not ready to give up yet." There are some who tell her to consider slowing down, but a woman with this much passion and a genuine drive to connect people to their food is going to be one tough egg to crack.

—Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Carole Morison

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

 


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