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

 


April Is Oyster Month!

OysterQuiz2016_500x261We all know oysters are awesome. They filter our water; they provide important habitat and protection from storms; and they are delicious.

So this month, just as we're launching into our oyster restoration season, we're celebrating everything there is to love about our favorite mollusk.

You can take part in the celebration by:

Whatever you chose to do, we hope you'll take some time this month to appreciate and give thanks to these brilliant bivalves! They truly are amazing.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


Photo of the Week: Spring Has Sprung

FB7022 - Snow Geese at Lift-Off Spring MigrationSpring has literally sprung over the Northeast!

If there's ever a time to witness one of the most spectacular natural wonders, it's during the annual spring migration of snow geese and tundra swans that stopover at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Middle Creek is a vital tributary of the Susquehanna River that [plays an important part in] the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and its wildlife. HUGE flocks of snow geese have been returning early to this popular rest-stop on their way back throughout the Eastern Shore to their summer breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

—Dom J Manalo

Ensure that Dom J 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!


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.


What's Bill Seeing in the Field: A Sure Sign of Spring

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . .

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I found this spotted turtle around 10 a.m. on March 17 resting on a bridge over the Mattaponi River in Caroline County. The sky was clear and the turtle appeared to be gathering warmth from the sun on the cement. Cold-blooded reptiles often regulate their body temperatures this way. However, he was in a precarious location with turtle speed no match for passing cars and trucks. So I stopped to help him to a safer place. I also had my camera with me. I knew it was an uncommon turtle and did not want to disturb him for long, nor certainly remove him from his territory, but did want to document the species in Caroline County as well as share another sure sign of spring with my friends: a turtle emerging from hibernation.

Turtle2The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a relatively small, rare, omnivorous freshwater turtle of Eastern North America, with an adult's shell typically about five inches long. Its upper black shell is overlaid with an irregular, attractive pattern of yellow-orange spots that define the species. Males have brown eyes and a female's eyes are yellow. Males also have a concave plastron (under shell) whose shape is thought to facilitate mating. Spotted turtles seem to occur in small, localized populations with each having three to four different feeding territories—so they do move around. These turtles feed on algae and aquatic vegetation, insect larvae, worms, slugs, spiders, crustaceans, tadpoles, small fish—always eating in water. Males are actively looking for a mate right now, too.

Mid-March is the time spotted turtles emerge from winter sleep. From October to March they live underground and sometimes underwater, buried in mud Turtle4beneath muskrat lodges or sphagnum moss, with other spotted turtles in what is known as a hibernacula. They seem to have strong fidelity to these sites year after year. Surprisingly, they lose little body weight during these months of inactivity. Their peak time of activity is March through June, followed by summer inactivity. See below for more particulars on their habitat and biology.

Students on CBF education programs encounter species of aquatic turtles frequently. Red-bellied cooters, painted turtles, mud- and musk turtles, and even snapping turtles are common freshwater turtles. Spotted turtles are more rare and deserve our care and attention to making our watershed healthy by stopping polluted runoff. Just as with many other species, the presence of a spotted turtle is a welcome indicator of a healthy environment.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

Habitat
Spotted turtles prefer unpolluted, slow-moving, shallow waters of ponds, swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, vernal pools, and wet sedge meadows with a soft underlying bottom of mud. Sphagnum moss, sedge tussocks, cattails, water lilies, and hydrophilic ("water-loving") shrubs are important components of the preferred aquatic habitats used by spotted turtles. They travel over uplands, too, when seeking other aquatic feeding territories or as females look for suitable nest sites.

Biology
Spotted turtles aggregate in aquatic habitats in spring (usually in May) to mate. Nesting occurs from mid- to late June. Clutch sizes are usually 3-5 eggs. Most females do not produce eggs every year. The turtles reach sexual maturity when they are 11-15 years old. Summer dormancy, primarily in terrestrial sites, occasionally takes place from July through August and into September, after which turtles enter hibernation. These turtles live to at least 30 years old and can exceed 50 years.

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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.