Baltimore by the Numbers

111,000 oysters! 3,000 perennials! 250 paddlers! Read on for all that we've accomplished in Baltimore just in the last month . . . 

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Planting 111,000 water-filtering oysters in Baltimore Harbor sure does get us excited! Photo courtesy of Terry Cummings/CBF Staff.

The water was a thick mahogany brown as we loaded 20,000 juvenile oysters onto CBF's workboat the Snow Goose for a trip to the Fort Carroll oyster sanctuary reef, their soon-to-be permanent home 18 feet below on the Patapsco River bottom just below the Key Bridge. 

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Planting oysters in Baltimore Harbor. Photo courtesy of Terry Cummings/CBF Staff.

The trip was one of six to the reef to plant the oysters, which were grown from tiny baby spat to quarter-sized juveniles in cages hung from docks around Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Two years ago, CBF and the Waterfront Partnership established the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership to bring more notoriety to this most critical bivalve, which is at historic lows, and engage Baltimoreans in raising them. Last year we planted about 80,000 oysters at Fort Carroll. In 2016, 150 oyster gardeners raised 111,000 oysters in 10 locations from Canton to Locust Point. When they grow to adults in two years, those oysters will filter more than 5,500,000 gallons of water a day, helping to improve water quality while creating acres of valuable fish habitat.

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Turning a vacant lot into a community garden in West Baltimore. Photo by Jay Fleming.

Ten days later, across town, 45 volunteers helped plant 3,000 coneflowers, black-eyed-susans, white aster, and goldenrod on a renovated vacant lot. CBF and 11 partner organizations replaced 10,000 square feet of concrete and asphalt with tons of new topsoil, almost two dozen trees, 50 native shrubs and the 3,000 perennials to help reduce polluted runoff by 242,000 gallons a year. This planting culminated the 18-month project and set the stage for more restoration work by engendering the Westside Collaborative, a partnership to improve neighborhoods and the green infrastructure in West Baltimore.

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Passionate paddlers at the Baltimore Floatilla. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Downstream from the lot the following weekend, a host of paddlers gathered at Canton Waterfront Park for the 2.5-mile paddle to the Science Center in the Inner Harbor as part of the Waterfront Partnership's  first-ever Baltimore Floatilla. Another 100 paddlers from Tide Point joined the Canton group on its way to meet the infamous Mr. Trash Wheel and start the rally for clean water. Roughly 250 paddlers converged around the solar-powered, floating trash collector (which, by the way, scooped up 238.8 tons of trash last year). Under a bright blue Baltimore sky, participants in the Floatilla shouted "Fix the Pipes," demanding Baltimore City fix its century-old broken and leaky sewage and stormwater systems. To date, millions of dollars have been spent and millions more will be spent within the decade to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the harbor.

CBF recognizes and thanks the hundreds of volunteers and many partner organizations involved in our Baltimore restoration efforts. And we encourage everyone in Baltimore's neighborhoods to help in the restoration of the city and its waters. Together we will restore, plant, and paddle for healthy, clean, and sustainable communities and waterways.

—Terry Cummings, Director of CBF's Baltimore Initiative

Check out more photos and video of the Baltimore Floatilla!

 


Photo of the Week: Pink Sky on Nandua Creek

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Living within walking distance of one of the best sunset viewing spots ever, I get many, many great photos but this recently snapped shot has become a new favorite! After enjoying a cookout at my house with my son and family, we noticed the pink sky and jumped in the golf cart to catch what was left of the sunset. That's my four-year-old grandson playing on the dock while his father gave a neighbor an assist with his jet skis. This beautiful spot is on Nandua Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, on Virginia's gorgeous Eastern Shore.

What do the Bay and its waters mean to me? Oh goodness, what don't they mean?! I've lived on or near such bodies of water since I was 10. Boating, skiing, fishing, crabbing, playing, relaxing. Now I'm teaching grandchildren to play in and around [the Bay and its rivers] and to respect these beautiful bodies of water!

—Leesa Walker

Ensure that Leesa, her grandchildren, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

 


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.

 


Photo of the Week: No Better Place on Earth Than Here

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Sunset on the Great Wicomico River, just after witnessing a large pod of dolphins playing near Reedville. An awesome day from start to finish.

I grew up spending weekends in Reedville on the Northern Neck. My memories of crabbing, fishing, and swimming were so wonderful. I bought a cottage on Whays Creek in 2002 to continue the family tradition. We spend every weekend exploring the Chesapeake Bay—kayaking, fishing, and taking photos of sunrises and sunsets! We love the Chespeake Bay and the peace and beauty she provides.

There is no better place on earth than here.

—Sharon Sylvia

Ensure that Sharon and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


The Best Part

A Day Seeding Four Million Oysters into the Little Choptank River

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Crossing the Bay to plant four million oysters (weighing almost 30 tons) in the Little Choptank River!

"There's just something about being on the water . . . you're in a different world." Native Marylander and CBF oyster restoration volunteer Jim Ridgell is standing on the bow of the Patricia Campbell, our oyster restoration vessel, when he says this, staring out at the flat, endless Bay stretched out before us. We're on our way back in after spending the first sunny day in a string of wet weather planting oysters in the Little Choptank River off the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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Jim Ridgell, a native Marylander who week after week for the past 10 years has been coming out to our Oyster Restoration Center to volunteer with us.

As a CBF oyster volunteer for close to 10 years, this is hardly Ridgell's first trip. In fact, for roughly a decade now, Ridgell has been coming out to our Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, to clean shell, load up oysters, or whatever else needs doing. "It's not about the oysters so much," says Ridgell. "It's about helping the Bay—something that's given me so much in my life. It's about giving back to something you love."

And give back he does. On this trip alone, we planted four million oysters (or 27 tons!) onto a 1.9-acre reef we're helping to build with partners as part of a network of reefs in the Little Choptank Sanctuary. By summer's end, we hope to plant roughly 25 million baby oysters across the

Planting
Oysters are moved on a conveyer belt to the bow of the boat where they are spread across the water below.

sanctuary, which will mean incredible things for the Bay. In addition to providing critical habitat for critters like fish and crabs, oyster reefs do much for water quality, with one adult oyster able to filter and clean up to 50 gallons of water a day

Restoring the Bay is intrinsically tied to restoring its native oyster population, and so in 1997, CBF started its oyster restoration program. "The realization by the 1990s that oysters were so critical to the Bay ecosystem and that their numbers were down 99 percent inspired the effort," says CBF's Director of Fisheries and founder of its oyster restoration program Bill Goldsborough. As oyster restoration in the Bay started to take shape in the ’90s, different conservation groups and agencies assumed different roles with CBF focusing on public outreach and engagement through oyster gardening, education, and other programs. "Involving citizens in the work is essential. You're forging a constituency for restoration," says Goldsborough.    

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At the end of the conveyer belt, the oysters go through a spreader that evenly distributes them across the water.

Later, in 2002, the addition of the 60-foot Patricia Campbell vessel "changed our game completely," says Karl Willey, manager of CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Program. With her unique way of planting millions of oysters in less than an hour via a conveyer belt, which connects to a spreader at the bow of the boat that evenly distributes the oysters across a reef, the Patricia Campbell is "one of a kind," says Willey. "There's no other boat quite like it." Now with 250 volunteer oyster gardeners and the Patricia Campbell, we're planting between 26 and 30 million oysters in Maryland waters a year.

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"Patricia Campbell" Captain and Maryland Oyster Restoration Manager Karl Willey at the end of a satisfying day on the water.

There are no words between us as we motor back in at day's end. Silently soaking up the rare appearance of the sun and lulled into a satisfied tired with muddied hands by our side and the comforting hum of the Patricia Campbell's diesel engines. Four million oysters in the water has a way of making you feel utterly and completely gratified. But then again, there's just something about being on the water.

—Text and Photos by Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 

Click here to learn more and to watch a video of the Little Choptank oyster planting.

And sign up to become an oyster volunteer like Jim Ridgell!

 


This Week in the Watershed

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These Cub Scout volunteers on Clean the Bay Day are a small sampling of the many inspiring volunteers fighting for clean water throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

These days, it seems like there's a special day, week, or month set aside to recognize and celebrate everything: causes, issues, and occasionally, culinary creations. While there is nothing wrong with National Donut Day, for too long there wasn't a time to pause and appreciate the country's largest estuary. To change this trend, the legislatures of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania chose the week of June 4-12 to celebrate the first Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

This week for the Chesapeake is a time not only to celebrate the beauty, bounty, and recreation the Bay provides but also to remember that the fight to save the Bay and its rivers and streams is a marathon, not a sprint. In this long, hard, endurance race we are inspired by the many stalwart fighters for clean water, such as Bernie Fowler. The 92-year old former Maryland state senator has dedicated his life to cleaning the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. His efforts have made an indelible impact, and his never-give-up attitude serves as motivation to a new generation of Bay advocates.

These advocates are found across the watershed, from Bonnie Kersta, a CBF oyster gardener volunteer, to farmers implementing best management practices for clean water, to the over 6,000 volunteers across Virginia who cleaned 440 miles of streamline and shore, removing over 138,000 pounds of harmful debris on Clean the Bay Day. All this hard work, from these volunteers and others, is making a difference. Recently, the Bay has shown encouraging signs of recovery, with the resurgence of underwater grasses, horseshoe crabs, and the blue crab population. Despite these positive trends, the fight to save the Bay is far from over. But with the implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the amazing contributions of inspiring individuals, the Bay is well on its way.

This Week in the Watershed: #AreYouBayAware, A Successful Cleaning, and Resilient Horseshoe Crabs

  • Farmers in Virginia are helping to save the Bay through implementing best management practices for clean water on their farms. (Daily Progress—VA)
  • Bernie Fowler, a legendary champion for the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River, is an inspiration for clean water fighters. (Daily Times—VA)
  • This week is the first Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, a joint effort by Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to promote national appreciation for the largest estuary in the country. (Daily Press—VA)
  • A Pennsylvania legislator has proposed a new water fee to raise revenue for water restoration efforts throughout the Keystone State. (Bay Journal)
  • CBF's 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day was a resounding success, with over 6,000 volunteers participating across Virginia and over 138,000 pounds of harmful debris removed. (Progress Index—VA) Bonus: CBF Press Release
  • Horseshoe crabs are making a comeback throughout the Chesapeake Bay. (Bay Journal)
  • Bonnie Kersta is a finalist for this year's COX Conserves Heroes Program for her volunteer work with CBF's oyster gardening program. If Bonnie wins, CBF will receive a $10,000 grant. You can help by voting online, and you only need to vote once between now and June 17. (Williamsburg Yorktown Daily—VA) Click here to vote for Bonnie!

What's Happening around the Watershed?

Throughout June

June 11

  • Baltimore, MD: Join CBF and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore for a Healthy Harbor paddle and rally to support the environmental restoration of this ecosystem and show that we value the health of our city, our harbor, our Bay, and our streams. Pre-register at BaltimoreFloatilla.com. 

June 18

  • Easton, MD: The fourth annual outdoor Clean Water Concert Series continues with the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters. The Navy's official chorus will perform pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between. Top-notch entertainment you won't want to miss! All concerts are free and open to the public. While enjoying the music, be sure to stop by the dozens of environmental and community exhibits, including CBF's, so that you can learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

June 24

  • 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. We'll be shaking off the dirt and debris on shells 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. Click here to register!

June 25

  • Easton, MD: The fourth annual outdoor Clean Water Concert Series wraps up with The XPD's. One of the best bands in the D.C. area, the XPD's are back and ready to groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that will have you on your feet! All concerts are free and open to the public. While enjoying the music, be sure to stop by the dozens of environmental and community exhibits, including CBF's, so that you can learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

June 26

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join CBF for a day at Clagett Farm for educational presentations, a tour of the farm, a service project, and a showcase of foods produced on the sustainable farm. Attendees will assist in the filling and planting of elevated garden beds designed for easier accessibility to individuals with a limited range of motion. Click here to learn more and register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Making a Difference with Día de la Bahía


Haz clic aquí para la versión en Español.

Oscar Contreras
Oscar Contreras and family.

Among the thousands of volunteers across Virginia who came together on Clean the Bay Day, this year there was a big presence from the Hispanic community. Like every year of the past 28 years, volunteers got together to clean up trash from beaches and parks with rivers and streams that reach the Chesapeake Bay. But for the first time we launched bilingual sites for this Virginian tradition, which is now also known as Día de la Bahía.

Oscar Contreras took his two kids to Pocahontas State Park, where from a canoe they picked up trash. "Across human history, the perfect place to start a civilization has always been near rivers and beautiful places. These rivers feed the Bay, taking water with them. Unfortunately, they also carry trash. That affects the Bay and the environment," Contreras said in his radio program Community Focus on Radio Poder WBTK.

The Richmond area had two bilingual sites in this massive cleanup campaign, including Ancarrow's Landing and Pocahontas State Park. In total, more than 50 volunteers from the Hispanic community helped out, with most of them coming from Richmond's Sacred Heart Center.

Karina Murcia and her mother Dania Hernandez
Karina Murcia and her mother Dania Hernandez.

It was early on a hot Saturday morning, but the volunteers still came. They wanted to take care of the environment and animals, to raise awareness, to feel proud after helping, and to contribute to the community.

Many people came with the whole family, picking up bottles, plastic, fishing line, clothing, aluminum, and even construction materials.Dania Hernández was surprised by how much trash she found at Ancarrow's Landing. "It's a lot of trash. It's sad how people can destroy the environment," Hernández said. But she hopes that she's making a difference. "The people who are here fishing see that we are picking up trash. I hope that we're raising awareness so that they don't just leave their trash behind, but instead pick up any they have with them."

Marvin C (pink shirt) and Friends
Marvin C. (far right) and friends.

Karina Murcia is nine years old and was very happy to help. "I like what we're doing. It's really important to me," Karina says. "The animals need to live, and if they eat bad things they could die."

Alicia is only 13 years old, but she knows exactly why she came to help. "We are cleaning up because eventually if it rains it's going to wash off to the river. Fishing season is coming and if the fish eats it then we are going to eat it," Alicia says. "Because the weather and the erosion will take this trash into the water, it's going to be dangerous."

Many volunteers said they felt really good after the cleanup, including Marvin Cáceres, originally from Honduras. "After you finish you feel proud of yourself, just because you know that you are saving nature," according to Cáceres. "It is my first time doing this, I wasn't familiar with the Foundation or the program. But I really like it because we can show our kids and they are going to pass it on. Save the Bay, brother!"

—Ana Martínez

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Haciendo la Diferencia en el Día de la Bahía

 
Click here for the English translation of the following blog post.

Oscar Contreras
Oscar Contreras y su familia.

Entre los miles de voluntarios que se reunieron para Clean the Bay Day en Virginia, este año contamos con un gran acto de presencia de la comunidad hispana. De hecho, por primera vez a esta tradición se le conoce como Día de la Bahía. Como cada año por 28 años consecutivos, los voluntarios se reunieron para limpiar basura tirada en las playas y parques con ríos y arroyos que llegan a la Bahía de Chesapeake.

Oscar Contreras llevó a sus hijos a Pocahontas State Park, donde desde una canoa buscaron remover basura. “En la historia humana los lugares perfectos para comenzar una civilización siempre han sido alrededor de los ríos y lugares hermosos. Estos ríos se desembocan en la Bahía, llevan agua, pero lamentablemente también llevan la basura. Eso afecta a la bahía y al medio ambiente,” dice Contreras en su programa de radio enfoque a la comunidad en Radio Poder WBTK.

Marvin C (pink shirt) and Friends
De derecho a izquierda: Marvin C., Juan Ortiz y Ricardo O.

Este año en la campaña de limpieza masiva contamos con dos sitios bilingües: Ancarrow's Landing y Pocahontas State Park. En total más de 50 voluntarios de la comunidad hispana del área de Richmond asistieron a ayudar. La gran mayoría vinieron de Sacred Heart Center en Richmond.

Era un sábado muy temprano en la mañana y con mucho calor. Pero a los voluntarios presentes les motivaron diferentes cosas, desde cuidar el medio ambiente y los animales, crear más conciencia, sentir orgullo después de ayudar y aportar positivamente a la comunidad.

Dania Hernández estaba impresionada por la cantidad de basura que encontró en Ancarrow’s Landing.  “Es mucha basura. Es lamentable como las personas pueden destruir el medio ambiente,” dice Hernández. Pero espera que está haciendo la diferencia. “La gente que está aquí pescando, nos ve que estamos recogiendo basura, y espero que con esto estamos creando conciencia que no la tiren y que recojan la basura que tengan consigo.”

Karina Murcia and her mother Dania Hernandez
Karina Murcia y su mamá Dania Hernández.

Muchos llegaron con toda la familia, recogiendo botellas, plástico, hilo de pesca, ropa, aluminio, y hasta desechos de construcción.

Karina Murcia tiene nueve años de edad y estaba feliz de poder ayudar ese día. “Me gusta lo que estamos haciendo, es muy importante para mí,” dice Karina. “Los animales necesitan vivir, si comen cosas malas para ellos se pueden morir.” 

Alicia tiene apenas trece años y sabe perfectamente por que vino a ayudar. “Estamos limpiando porque eventualmente cuando llueva la basura va a llegar al río, y así llega a los peces, la temporada de pesca viene y nos vamos a comer esa basura,” dice Alicia. “La lluvia y la erosión harán que esa basura llegue al agua y será peligroso.”

Los voluntarios se sentían muy bien al final de la campaña de limpieza, como Marvin Cáceres originario de Honduras. “Nos sentimos orgullosos porque nos damos cuenta que estamos salvando la naturaleza," según Cáceres. “Es la primera vez que hago esto, no estaba familiarizado con la Fundación Chesapeake Bay ni con el programa. Pero me gusta mucho porque podemos enseñar a nuestros hijos y ellos van a empezar una tradición. Invito a todos a salvar la Bahía, brother!”

—Ana Martínez

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6,000 Virginians Giving Back to the Bay

IMG_20160604_102908Saturday June 4 marked the 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day, a yearly seismic eruption of volunteers, all descending on waterways throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia to give a little back. And all those small individual efforts had a massive cumulative effect once again.

As CBF's single largest annual clean-up event—and one of the largest volunteer programs in Virginia—Clean the Bay Day brought several thousand people together to clean up harmful debris and litter from hundreds of miles of streams and shoreline in just three short hours!

In the birthplace of the program, all seven cities of the Hampton Roads area were absolutely overflowing with volunteers. The Navy had a precedent-setting turnout and even ran out of places to clean! Every state park in the Chesapeake watershed in Virginia (22 total) fielded clean-up teams. Our clean-up sites in Richmond and Charlottesville specifically saw a tremendous spike in volunteers this year. And we had our first bilingual "Día de la Bahía" clean-up event, which attracted more than 50 volunteers from the Richmond-area Latino community. Clean the Bay Day also helped kick off the very first #ChesapeakeBay Awareness Week, which continues through June 12. The enormity of this event never ceases to amaze.

NewNumbers are still rolling in, but here are the impressive stats that we've tallied thus far from the day's events:

  • Approximately 6,000 volunteers;

  • Roughly 138,000 pounds of debris removed;

  • More than 440 miles of streams and shoreline cleaned; 

  • All in just three hours;

  • A mix of 20 elected officials (federal, state, and local), government appointees, and more participated; DSC_0578

  • Approximately 25 organizations participated;

  • 13 military installations took part, including more than 1,200 enlisted and their families;

  • 22 Virginia State Parks participated; 

  • 265 clean-up sites across Virginia.


As usual, the most common items found during the cleanup were plastic bottles, plastic bags, and cigarette butts. But household appliances, automobile parts (especially tires), furniture, shopping 1carts, ghost crab pots, and construction debris were a big part of the overall yield. Volunteers were also surprised by many strange finds including a lottery ticket station, a crock pot, a jet ski, a complete car transmission and an axle, multiple mattresses, a teddy bear with Mardi Gras beads, an enormous stuffed bear, a headless G.I. Joe doll, a taxidermy deer head, a screen door, a smart phone, a walkie-talkie, and two kitchen sinks.

Since 1989, Clean the Bay Day has engaged approximately 146,000 volunteers who have removed more than 6.4 million pounds of debris from more than 6,900 miles of shoreline.

—Tanner Council, Hampton Roads Grassroots Coordinator

Check out more photos from the day in our Facebook Photo Album.


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.