Clean Water Among the Many Visions for "Many Streams Farm" in Southern York County

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Bob and Maggie Cahalan on their southern York County farm. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Among the many dreams Bob and Maggie Cahalan have for their southern York County farm, protecting the water that runs through it is one of their most important.

With the help of CBF in Pennsylvania and restoration specialist Ashley Spotts, the Cahalans and their partners planted more than 300 native trees and shrubs on three acres, as buffers to trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise flow into Ebaugh and Shaw streams. The cool, babbling waters converge into Deer Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay.

CBF is emphasizing clean water efforts in York County through its "Clean Water Counts: York" program, which organizes and mobilizes residents to urge leaders in Harrisburg to show greater commitment to improving water quality, and focuses on the need to clean up York County's 350 miles of impaired creeks, streams, and rivers.

The Cahalans live in Greenbelt, Maryland, and with partners Eugenia Kalnay and Jorge Rivas, bought the 37-acre farm in Stewartstown, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in 2011. It is no longer a working farm, in that there currently are no crops or livestock to tend.

The forested and streamside buffers on Many Streams Farm are unique in the diversity of plants chosen. Various oaks and hickories, persimmon, paw paw, honey locust, and several types of berry-producing shrubs are among the 40 species.

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The Calahans inspect a tree on their farm with Ashley Spotts, CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

With guidance from CBF, Many Streams Farm benefited from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which makes annual rental payments for land taken out of pasture or production and based on soil type.

"The CREP plan has everything they need to know, including tree and shrub numbers, maintenance requirements, contractor lists, tree lists, and reimbursement costs for the program," CBF's Ashley Spotts says.

"CREP had value beyond monetary value, because it had certain procedures that were developed and outlined," Bob Cahalan says. "We had to plant to a certain date and get 70 percent to survive."

The Cahalans intend to practice permaculture amid the farm's rolling hills, streams, and wetlands. They see permaculture as the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable and ethical way.

"Experimenting with restorative and re-generative soil building agriculture that does not depend on annual plantings for food sources is a major goal," Maggie Cahalan says. "We hope to foster increased use of perennial and tree crops as food sources for humans and animals. We think it is especially appropriate for the sloped land of this piedmont hill farm."

The Cahalans would like to produce half of their personal food on Many Streams Farm. They have plans for spiral orchards of varieties of apples and cherries; a medicine wheel garden of ginger, berries, witch hazel and other medicinal plants; a farm museum; and a greenhouse. They are installing 30 solar panels to generate energy for farm needs and even have a project to harvest acorns and make bread.

They also see the property as a place for environmental education, a nursery for heirloom and edible native plants, and an opportune place for senior citizens to contribute and integrate.

The Cahalans' interest in clean water and the Chesapeake Bay extends beyond their York County Farm.

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Bob Calahan in a stream on his farm in southern York County. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

They are very active in the non-profit CHEARS (CHesapeake Education, Arts, and Research Society), dedicated to the health of all who share the Chesapeake watershed environment. It is a vehicle for volunteer work to help the health of the Bay. The goal of the non-profit is to foster rural-urban linkages for the good of the Chesapeake watershed in urban, suburban, and rural areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

The Cahalans are also very much committed to Chestory (The Center for the Chesapeake Story), with roots in southern Maryland and the work of the late Tom Wisner. It is a group of artists, scientists, citizen activists, educators, poets, writers, and waterfolk who believe that art, song, and story can be the thread that binds people with the deep spiritual Chesapeake experience.

The Cahalans' passion for the Bay grew out of their reading CBF's State of the Bay report in 2005. "One of our first activities was to write an article for the little town we lived in, in Greenbelt," Maggie Cahalan says. "It was to summarize materials from the Foundation, and it galvanized us. I think the work of the Foundation in educating people is really important."

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


CBF Pennsylvania Carries Restoration Message to Nation's Capital

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Standing outside the Washington, D.C., office of Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania are, from left: CBF PA Executive Director Harry Campbell; Lee Ann Murray, CBF PA assistant director and attorney; Liz Hermsen, senior policy advisor to Senator Casey; Clair Ryan, CBF watershed restoration program manager; and restoration specialists Steve Smith, Ashley Spotts, and Kristen Hoke. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Frank and Kandy Rohrer's proactive approach to improving the land and water quality on their Lancaster County farm, sets a positive example for others.

Since 2000, the Rohrers have installed two streamside buffers on their 200-acre farm, taking advantage of Pennsylvania's Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP) to help reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into nearby waters. They also put in grassed waterways, cover crops, and employ no-till production.

Restoration specialists from CBF Pennsylvania carried the Rohrers' success story, and others, to the nation's capital Dec. 2 and 3, to demonstrate the importance and challenges of their work to the two U.S. senators from the Keystone State.

The Pennsylvania field staff took the opportunity to meet with staff members for Senators Robert Casey, Jr., and Pat Toomey, while in Washington, D.C. for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Nationwide, CRP encompasses over 23 million acres, with 625,000 contracts on 410,000 farms. Pennsylvania's CREP is part of CRP.

CREP participants receive funding to create buffers, wetlands, wildlife habitat, grass filter strips, native grass stands, and more. The program pays up to 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually between $40 and $240 per acre/per year.

Through CREP, CBF and its partners have planted more than 1,800 miles of streamside buffers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In Bradford County, the partners under CREP planted over 3,000 acres of trees, making the county a conservation leader in Pennsylvania.

For Alix Murdoch, CBF's federal policy director, getting field staff together with top federal legislators was exciting. "It's the first time I've been able to bring in restoration staff, who I consider the source for where the action is really happening for us," Murdoch said. "Getting the final link in the chain in where our power, engineering and contributions come from, all the way up to the Hill where decisions are made on the federal level.

"Restoration staff spoke specifically about their experiences, where they work and what they do," Murdoch added. "It was totally relevant to the federal program and is the type of feedback that federal members need to hear."

Restoration specialists Steve Smith, Ashley Spotts, and Kristen Hoke emphasized the value of the CREP program, the importance of stream buffers, and the need for funding, when they met first with Liz Hermsen, senior policy advisor for Senator Casey, in the Russell Senate Office Building.

"It was a privilege to be asked to represent restoration staff and to tell them how CBF really does walk the walk and puts money into restoration," Hoke said. "We're not just telling people to put money toward restoration. For me, talking about the projects I've work on gives me new hope that my workload and the interest in CREP will pick up and I can be a method for that and help facilitate that."

Hoke works in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Franklin counties. Spotts works in York, Lancaster, Lebanon, and Chester counties. Smith is in Potter, Tioga, and Bradford counties. Restoration specialists Jennifer Johns and Frank Rohrer were unable to make the trip.

Other CBF Pennsylvania staffers making the trip to Washington, were Harry Campbell, executive director; Lee Ann Murray, assistant director and attorney; and Clair Ryan, watershed restoration program manager.

A key message delivered to top legislators from Pennsylvania, was that CBF's passion and commitment to clean water in the Commonwealth, is implemented by Pennsylvanians themselves.

"It's that local connection, understanding that we work for CBF, but we are Pennsylvania residents, concerned about Pennsylvania rivers and streams and that we want to work with farmers to get them to do what they ultimately want to do. And help their bottom line," Lee Ann Murray said. "It's that more local connection that maybe in the federal government gets lost in the process. It is important that they understand that what we are doing back home in the state is relevant and important and is a good use of funds. This visit puts a face to the work. That there are real people doing the work with real people who are constituents, and farmers."

The Pennsylvania contingent then met with Tyler Minnich, aide to Senator Toomey, in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Ashley Spotts spoke about the projects on the Rohrer farm, and detailed cooperative efforts to implement conservation practices on Amish farms in Lancaster County. "It was nice to finally be recognized that we are doing good things in our state," Spotts said. "I want to do right by my farmers and landowners and I want to help them as best I can."

Clair Ryan emphasized that CBF and farmers get good value when farmers participate in CREP funding. "It seems like the whole game with government programs is to do more with less and that is what we were explaining, how we do work on these programs, in a very efficient manner," Ryan said. "We bring private funds to the table that wouldn't be leveraged otherwise and we're committed to being good partners on these programs."

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CBF staffers met with Tyler Minnich, aide to Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

"These are the types of things that farmers by and large want. Most know it will be helpful to their bottom lines and to their operations," Harry Campbell told Tyler Minnich. "It's just that they don't have the time because of the demands of the work that they do, nor the resources necessary to do it on their own. Barnyard improvements, for example, are something that farmers recognize they have to get to, but when will they fit it in and get the assistance for it?"

Earlier in the day, Steve Smith attended a luncheon sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, honoring landowners participating in CREP. Smith and his family have owned land near Mansfield, Tioga County, and participated in CREP for 25 years.

Smith said there was a real diversity of conservation groups and landowners from different states at the luncheon. Smith had the chance to talk with USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse, about the need for additional funding. Smith was happy to tell the Undersecretary and senators about, "The importance of keeping CREP going and about the needs we have in Pennsylvania," Smith said. "The Bay situation and our shortfall in Pennsylvania is the most important thing to stress to them. We need funding to get there."

The Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitment. Agriculture is the leading source of pollution, specifically the runoff of harmful nitrogen and sediment into Pennsylvania rivers and streams. 

At a reception that evening commemorating the 30th anniversary of CRP, the CBF staffers heard Undersecretary Scuse say the program does what many hoped it would do when it was created. "It solved problems," he told the gathering. "But it also added improved qualities to many American lives. There are not many provisions in laws implemented that can lay claim to so many unanticipated benefits. I'm proud to that we can show that American farmers and ranchers are directly involved in addressing this very critical social issue of climate change."

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was in his fifth year as a member of the House of Representatives, when he introduced legislation authorizing CRP as the Farmland Conservation Acreage Preserve Act of 1985. "CRP not only encourages producers to conserve marginal farm land, but proved a valuable safety net to producers during some of their most difficult times," Roberts said. "An important aspect of CRP now includes a variety of initiatives that address specific conservation challenges such as improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species." 

Through success stories about working with landowners like the Rohrers and Plain Sect farmers, the message made clear to legislators by the restoration contingent, was that clean water counts in Pennsylvania.

"I would hope we continue to meet with other legislators within our PA delegation, while differentiating ourselves from other national organizations that are conservation or environmentally-minded, that they typically hear from," Harry Campbell said. "This sets us apart in their minds as to who we are and what we do, and also what we are trying to accomplish."

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


Partnerships on Susquehanna County Farm Advance

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Fencing cattle out of streams is critical for both water quality and the cattle themselves. Photo by BJ Small/CBF Staff.

Beef cattle lounge in the shaded corner of a trampled barnyard near fencing that shields fresh grass and a newly-planted swath of seedlings on both sides of the narrow creek. Up the slope and north of the barn, workers hammer away at the framework for the concrete of a manure storage area. Orange flagging marks parameters of a new, adjacent concrete barnyard.

The Bennett farm on Toad Hollow Road, near Montrose, Susquehanna County, is a hub of activity by local, state and federal partnerships intent on improving farm efficiency, maintaining the health of the herd, and protecting the water quality of Roe Creek that ambles through the property.

Less than a year after fencing was installed and trees were planted in the spring, progress is easy to see. "The stream banks will show the most immediate improvement," Chesapeake Bay Foundation restoration specialist Jennifer Johns said. "Beef cattle, weighing an average of 1,500 pounds can do substantial damage to the banks. Their exclusion alone will decrease sediment loss significantly."

Claude Bennett, now 80, ran the farm starting in 1953. He bought it in 1964 when he was told the only way he could get a loan to put an addition onto the barn, was to own it. He milked cows on it until 1984. His son, Terry, has taken over daily operations of the 240-acre property and is actively participating in restoration. Today the farm grows mostly hay, and sells only a few cows.

"We're doing this to keep the streams clean and keep the nitrogen back out of the streams," Terry Bennett said of the fencing. "People look at it and say 'why did you fence the creek?' We did it to keep the cattle back away from the creek."

Forested buffers, like the one along Roe Creek, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, Pennsylvania's most problematic pollutants, before they can run off into waters like Roe Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

CBF assisted with the planting 1,400 trees and shrubs on 12 acres, creating forested buffers along the creek and on a hillside. Funding came from the Commonwealth's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year.

The Bennett project also qualified for CBF's Buffer Bonus program and a Growing Greener grazing grant, which earned it $27,500 to go toward the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the barnyard and grazing practices that are not cost shared. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance and is funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CBF, Pheasants Forever, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), USDA, and Susquehanna County Conservation District joined forces to provide technical and financial support.

CBF collaborated with DEP on installation of more than 7,700 feet of fencing to keep the 80 cows and 30 calves out of 77 acres that includes the creek and woodlots.

"Funding sources come and go, but ambitious counties work collaboratively with their partners to piecemeal and piggyback available programs to make the projects workable and affordable," Jennifer Johns added. "Partnering with agencies like the local conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, NRCS, and DEP is critical and just makes sense. So many successful projects would not have been completed without these valued and essential partners."

Runoff of nutrients and sediment, particularly from agriculture, is the largest source of impairment to Pennsylvania waterways. Best Management Practices (BMPs) like those at the Bennett farm advance efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution and meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The Blueprint includes science-based limits on the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. It also includes Pennsylvania's plans to achieve those limits and a commitment to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success. The Commonwealth must have 60 percent of its practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.

Pennsylvania must continue to move forward in its commitment to reduce pollution by implementing BMPs like those on the Bennett farm. Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

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

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


Restoration Success on Pennsylvania's Centre County Stream

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Property owner Charles "Chip" Brown, left, and Ed Meiser, install a protective plastic tube around a freshly planted sycamore tree along Elk Creek. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Charles "Chip" Brown cupped his hands around the top lip of the four-foot plastic tube, peered down into it and shook his head, frustrated by the gnawed edges of a stunted silky dogwood. White-tailed deer prefer the dogwoods over the sycamores he planted.

Brown and his wife, Diane, have owned the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club, 30 miles east of State College, for a decade. Creating a mature streamside buffer has been a priority for the 3.1 acres that parallel Elk Creek, because planting 450 trees benefits anglers, wildlife, and the water quality of the winding, Class A stream.

"Our long-range goal with the buffer, is get some terrestrial habitat for trout," Brown said. "It provides cover for all types of wildlife and enhances the stream by stopping the erosion. So everything we're trying to do is keep the siltation from moving away from here and stabilizing our bank."

Frank Rohrer, restoration specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that the buffers offer multiple benefits. "It's about water quality and the wildlife habitat created," Rohrer said. "It provides nesting and food, like acorns. For water quality, the buffer provides shade. Anything we can do to get shade helps lower the water temperature and raise fish survival. If you had a crop field it also catches and filters the runoff and pollution."

Leading up to the week that includes Earth Day and Arbor Day, Brown and his crew replenished the buffer with 150 new seedlings. The trees were part of 10,000 donated Arbor Day trees restoration specialists like Rohrer delivered to CBF projects within the Susquehanna River watershed.

Forested streamside buffers like the one hoping to mature on the Centre County property, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the Commonwealth's most problematic pollutants, before they run off into waters like the 20 miles of Elk Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Brown's passion for maintaining the 108 acres of club ground, and dedication particularly to success of the buffer, rings clear by the excitement in his voice, the wealth of knowledge he shares about land and water issues, and the time he spends at it.

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Charles "Chip" Brown and members of the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club in Centre County are maintaining a 450-tree streamside buffer along Elk Creek. Photo by Kelly Abbe/CBF Staff.

Brown was the first to receive a national volunteer award from the National Wildlife Federation. Fox Gap shares its facilities with wounded warriors for a hunt in the fall of each year.

Brown receives funding for his buffer project from Pennsylvania's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year. CBF and CREP partners in the Commonwealth have leveraged $95 million in state and federal funds and assisted more than 5,000 rural landowners to install over 20,000 acres, roughly 2,200 miles of forested buffers.

So far, the buffer has been able to maintain the three-year, 70 percent survival rate of its trees, as required by CREP. "We're probably at 75 percent, except they are not getting to where they need to be," Chip Brown added, looking again at the tree tube. "Survival and growth are two different things."

If only the deer would cooperate.

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


Want Clean Rivers? Plant Trees!


May31_12_big5The following first appeared in the Bay Journal Newsservice.

Streams with tree-lined banks are two to eight times more capable of processing nutrients and organic matter than streams without a healthy fringe of trees. That's what scientists at the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania tell us. It doesn't matter if that organic matter comes from a sewage treatment plant or the back end of a cow.

Why? Streams flowing through woods have a thriving aquatic ecosystem full of microbes and insects that consume nutrients and organic matter. Forested streamsides, at least in the temperate Eastern United States, are a necessary component of healthy riverine systems.

More than 90 percent of the stream miles in the United States are headwater streams. These are "zero order" to "third order" streams: The ones that just bubble out of the ground to those that have no more than six tributaries entering upstream of them. Most of them don't even have names.

These countless small streams have a huge impact on the health of our rivers and estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle Sound, and the Gulf of Mexico. In order to have healthy rivers in the temperate Eastern United States, it is imperative that most of these headwater streams have trees along their banks.

A streamside forest of native trees provides many important ecosystem services. Some are obvious, like stabilizing the stream banks, filtering out nutrients, providing shade and sequestering carbon. But trees do much more.

Native deciduous trees provide headwater streams with a lot of the food that aquatic microbes and insects such as mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies need for a thriving ecosystem. The hard work of all of these creatures make a stream capable of processing two to eight times more pollutants than a stream flowing through non-forested lands.

There are hundreds of species of aquatic insects that eat leaves; entomologists call them "shredders." Likewise there are many species of trees. The leaves from different trees have different nutritional values and each insect species prefers certain species over others and often grows best on the tree that it prefers. One species of caddisfly, for example, prefers tulip poplar leaves to river birch leaves. One species of mayfly prefers American sycamore leaves to white oak leaves.

To support a diverse community of aquatic insects, we need a diverse community of native trees to provide them with the food they need to help them do their work in processing material that enters the stream.

Leaves from non-native plants won't do. Scientists at the Stroud Water Research Center found no "shredder" that would eat the leaves of multiflora Rose. Sycamore, black willow, catalpa, and tulip poplar are more palatable and far superior at supplying food than tree of heaven, Bradford pear, and multiflora rose, all of which are invasive and nonnative.

Trees also help to cool water temperatures in streams during the summer. Cool summer temperatures are more natural and critical to a thriving aquatic ecosystem. Some native mayflies, for example, thrive at 68 degrees but perish at 70.

Trees do more. Sunlight intensity reaching the stream affects the type of algae that grow in the water. Direct sunlight favors long filamentous types of algae that are not desirable food for insects. The light levels beneath a tree canopy are ideal for single-celled algae, called diatoms, which are the preferred food of insects. These types of algae can also coat the surfaces of leaves, making them more palatable and nutritious to "shredder insects."

Many efforts are under way to improve our streams through reforestation. Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, for example, have excluded livestock from more than 7,000 miles of streams and planted more than 6.5 million hardwood trees to form forested buffers for streams through U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. A restored Chesapeake Bay is within our reach through these kinds of efforts.

These farmers deserve our thanks and our support. We should encourage the continuation of programs that help them keep livestock out of streams, plant trees that trap sediment and nutrients and help detoxify polluted runoff containing pathogens and hormones that would otherwise end up in our water.

These leafy banks also help our streams become thriving aquatic ecosystems that support native trout, as well as a healthy, diverse aquatic community.

—Bobby Whitescarver

Help us plant more trees!


We're Halfway There: Dutch Hollow Cattle Company

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This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Butch Snow and his wife Melody Tennant have a beef cattle operation in Rockbridge County in the headwaters of the James River. It's a cow/calf operation and a grass-finished beef business called the Dutch Hollow Cattle Company. They own one farm and lease four adjoining farms.

The pair rotate their cows and calves through 19 grazing pastures, allowing each pasture at least 45 days of rest. This allows Snow and his wife to extend their grazing into mid-January, which has cut their need for hay in half.

"Because of our rotational grazing system, we've sold all of our hay equipment," explains Snow. "I'm buying better hay than what I could make." 

Snow contends that by rotating his cattle herds, he gets more grazing days and has healthier livestock.

"Since we started rotating, we have fewer pink-eye outbreaks and fewer parasite problems. We are also weaning heavier calves."

But "you can't rotate if you don't have water," Snow continues. The couple has used several combinations of CREP, EQIP, and the state's agricultural cost-share program to get their cows out of the streams and build rotational grazing systems.

"I attribute my better herd health to better water. They would rather drink out of a trough than in the creek. When I found out these programs help pay for wells, I was motivated to enroll. I could not have swallowed the cost of these improvements. It actually works."

Snow also persuaded the owners of the farms the couple leases to enroll in programs that help pay for cross-fencing, stream exclusion, and alternate watering systems. The owners enrolled in the programs, and Snow coordinated the conservation work.

"It was definitely worth it for me to make these improvements on farms I didn't own," he says. "We get healthier, heavier calves, and the owner gets capital improvements on the land and better forage with fewer weeds."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

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

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs. 


We're Halfway There: Bellevue Farm

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This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Charlie Drumheller and his wife Vicki own and, together with their son Bobby, operate Bellevue Farm, a grazing operation in Swoope located in Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

"Any successful business has to have a goal to continually improve," Charlie says, "and we've been doing that on this farm my whole life."

Their commercial cow/calf operation began with Charlie's father in 1944. "We knew long ago that the most effective use of the land was for grazing, and in order to have an efficient grazing farm, you have to have abundant water," Charlie said.

Supplying abundant clean water wasn't easy during several drought years. "I tried to partially fence out the creeks with 'T' posts and temporary wire, but we didn't have the alternative water to really make it work," Charlie recalls.

The farm's rotational grazing system is now fully operational, thanks to several Farm Bill programs and Virginia's Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) program. "We started by getting the cows out of the stream in the barnyard. It was a mess," Charlie said. "Then when the CREP program opened up in Virginia, we used USDA technical support and funding to set up the watering system for the whole farm."

They now have 20 grazing units and 11 livestock watering stations, with plans to add four more, using a combination of programs including CREP, EQIP, and VACS.

"Prior to fencing the stream, you would have to go to church twice on Sunday to ask forgiveness about what you called the cattle trying to get them into the barnyard," Charlie remembers. "It's a whole lot easier to get the cows in now. When we open a gate, they come."

Charlie and Bobby offer a host of advantages for rotational grazing over their former continuous grazing system on the farm: ease of herd movement, better forage utilization, healthier cattle, no more muck and mud, better manure distribution, and reduced hay needs.

This 365-acre farm has also dedicated about 25 percent of the land to riparian buffer and wildlife areas. "Before we got into CREP, we never saw a turkey on this farm," Bobby says. "Now we see them regularly. And it's nice to see the water leaving our farm clear even after a rain."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

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

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs. 


Bay-Friendly Farm Bill Passes Senate!

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Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It has taken YEARS, but today the U.S. Senate joined the House and passed a new Bay-friendly Farm Bill! The bill includes conservation programs that will help Bay farmers stop pollution at its source and ensure our families enjoy clean water.

With senators and representatives from all six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we worked hard to make sure this new bill invests in sustainable family farms in the watershed, and provides them with the tools and resources they need to protect our legacy: clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and in the rivers and streams that feed it. In fact, many Bay senators were prepared to vote NO on this bill if it did not help Bay farmers. 

And our effort was successful: This Farm Bill will help family farmers in our watershed keep valuable fertilizer on their land and ensure we have clean water. While this vote happened in Washington, it was our work together--our restoration, outreach, advocacy, and communications efforts--that built the support these senators needed to vote for the Bay.

Here is a roundup of the Farm Bill programs essential to Bay restoration: The new bill includes three U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide critical tools and resources for family farmers in the Bay watershed. These programs are: 

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shares the costs with farmers for installing basic on-farm practices that keep fertilizer on the farm and out of the water. In all watershed states, demand for this program exceeds supply.
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a new program that will continue the commitment to make targeted investments in family farms, particularly those farms located in "critical conservation areas" like the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For example, it will provide additional resources for installing on-farm practices that prevent pollution from entering the water.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps landowners to restore streams that run through their land by installing conservation measures. For example, farmers plant trees that both stabilize soil on stream banks and create shade that lowers stream temperatures for fish. Additionally, they install fences that keep animals--and their manure--out of streams.

Now that the bill is poised to become law, CBF intends to work closely with Bay farmers to ensure they can participate in the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Under this program, groups like CBF will help family farmers plan and install specific agricultural conservation practices on their land that are vital to improving local and downstream water quality. 

So, taken together, this bill is a great step forward towards clean water!

—Alix Murdoch, CBF's Federal Policy Director

Learn more about how farmers throughout the Bay watershed are working to improve both water quality and efficiency on their farms through critical Farm Bill programs. 


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Marquardt Farms, Centre County, PA

 

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Mike Marquardt farms 360 acres in central Pennsylvania. Photo by Frank Rohrer.

Meandering its way through central Pennsylvania, Penns Creek is a world-class trout fishery. But lately it's not just anglers who are drawn to it.

Attention has shifted to the efforts of local farmers who, with many partners and funding through the federal Farm Bill, are improving Penns Creek and its tributaries. At the same time, they are improving the economic stability of their farms.

The watershed has its share of problems. Cows muck through the creek, plowing fields sends soil rushing into streams during rains, and land use changes like the development of farmlands all take a toll on the trout and on their clean water habitat.

But it is getting better, thanks to farmers like Mike Marquardt, who operates Marquardt Farms in Spring Mills. He shares, "Muddy Creek [a tributary of Penns Creek] runs through the farms, so I have to do my part to minimize the impacts."

Mike's efforts are doing just that.

He says, "Cover crops keep the nutrients in the ground!" Planting cover crops and utilizing no-till planting methods are two of the conservation practices Mike follows for the 360 acres of farmland that he manages for his mother Linda. These soil-saving practices and others were prescribed through USDA NRCS conservation plans.

In addition to managing crops, he also raises 50 steers and 40 holstein heifers. That can add up to a lot of manure. Through programs like the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP), and the Chesapeake Bay Program, Mike received the technical and financial assistance needed to build a manure storage facility.

"With my new manure storage I can spread manure when I want to and put it where I need it." And that's important. Properly managing manure application, combined with planting cover crops goes a long way toward keeping nutrients in the ground and out of the stream.

Finally, Mike knew that having the cows muck-around in Muddy Creek was not good for the water--or for the cows. So with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) he enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

CREP provided the assistance Mike needed to fence the cattle from the creek and plant a buffer of trees between the creek and the field--one more way to keep the nutrients and the soil where they belong.

—Frank Rohrer and Kelly Donaldson

 Ensure that families like the Kuhns are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!


How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Kuhn Family Farm, Bradford County, PA

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Randy and Tina Kuhn own and operate the Kuhn Family Farm in Bradford County, PA.

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Nestled along Springfield Road in a small valley amid the rural rolling hills of Bradford County farm country, you'll find the Kuhn Family Farm.

Randy and Tina Kuhn own and operate this 40-acre niche farm with the premise of working with the land instead of manipulating it for their own profit.

You can stop by the Kuhn farm three days a week and shop in their small barn-turned-farm store. One hundred percent Grass-fed Red Angus and Charlais Beefalo beef, pastured Tamworth and Duroc-Hamp pork, pastured poultry and eggs, holiday turkeys, cherries and raspberries, as well as sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, and pears, all raised on their 40 acres, are available when in season.

Strict rules of conduct to ensure the animal's health and well-being guide how the Kuhn's raise their animals. This makes for happier animals and better products for their customers.

In keeping with the theme of working with nature, the Kuhns have taken measures to improve water quality on the farm, and to limit excess sediment pollution. The farm was not in good shape seven years ago when they started farming the land.

"This farm was literally a cesspool when we moved here!" exclaimed Randy. "We tested the water in the pond and it wasn't fit to use for anything. Do NOT let your cattle drink out of it, they said." Randy was referring to the small pond on the downhill side of the farm. Unfortunately their pond was the collecting point for all of the farmland in the small valley.

The Kuhns enrolled seven acres of their farm into USDA's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The areas next to the pond and stream were planted with hardwood trees and shrubs to form a forested riparian buffer. This buffer helps filter nutrients and sediment that could make it to the stream and pond at times of heavy rainfall and runoff. It also enhances the habitat for wildlife.

Through CREP and funds provided by the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, the Kuhn's also installed a new well and livestock watering system away from the stream and pond. Keeping the livestock away from the pond and stream will further improve water quality.

Today, the pond is visibly healthier and "we even have deer coming up through the buffer to drink from the pond and they don't even keel over after they drink," Randy quips. It is also home for stocked fish that thrive in the healthy environment.

—Steve Smith and Kelly Donaldson

 Ensure that families like the Kuhns are able to continue doing this good work on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!