Farmer Spotlight: Whitmore Farm

Picture 1The opportunity to purchase a farm gave Maryland native Will Morrow a final push into a mid-life career change. From a residential landscape design firm in D.C. to the hills of Frederick County, Morrow credits his interest in eating well in the city to spurring him into organic- and pasture-based farming. 

Despite the weeds and abandoned structures, Morrow invested in a 30-acre farm property in the Valley and dedicated himself to restoring the land to its previous splendor. Upon purchasing the land in 2003, Morrow established Whitmore Farm as a way of honoring the successful pioneer years of Benjamin Whitmore and his family. The property, which lies within the Monocacy Watershed, is bordered by Toms Creek and now serves as a Certified Organic Production.

Morrow notes that a large part of the farm's success—both environmentally and economically—is approaching the business with a consumer perspective: "We were the people shopping at farmers' markets in the city. We were the people seeking out and eating at restaurants that sourced locally. So, as a producer, I was familiar with the venues I wanted to sell at. I was also comfortable navigating the tight urban landscape for deliveries. And, I knew my buyer well. I was selling to myself."

Picture 2Morrow works to emphasize sustainable agricultural practices while he raises acres of crops and livestock. The farm specializes in both Heritage and American breed pasture-raised livestock for lamb, pork, and poultry for eggs. Morrow's philosophy toward animals is not only evident in the pasture-raised system but through his Livestock Guardian Dogs, a team made up of five rescued Great Pyrenees and a central Asian Shepherd.

In addition to his pastoral operations, Morrow is always looking for new ways to improve the sustainable production of the farm. He remains steadfast in his philosophy that ". . . part of our farm's mission is to use sustainable ag practices that respect the land and provide healthy food to our customers."

Picture 3The small but mighty farm raises grass-fed and finished lamb, pastured pork, and pastured eggs. In addition to the livestock and poultry productions, Whitmore Farm is also home to a sustainable and certified organic produce operation. Morrow grows an assortment of tomatoes, peas, arugula, beets, carrots, and flavorful figs to distribute to restaurants and sell at farmers' markets.

What's more, Morrow is a huge advocate for clean water. During an interview with the Baltimore Sun in November, he stated that the American Farm Bureau Federation was "on the wrong side of history" when it and its allies petitioned the Supreme Court to review their challenge to Chesapeake clean-up efforts.

Picture 4"As I get older, I tend to focus more on the long view," says Morrow. "Society, culture, and values are not static. They evolve over time . . . people farming today farm differently than their parents did and different still from the way their grandparents did. To think that we have reached the apogee in farming and that our current agricultural system is beyond reproach is naive and arrogant. The Farm Bureau is ignoring the science and values that most of the farmers I know hold dear. The status quo is not acceptable. The sooner they accept that, the sooner we can focus on the solutions."

A staunch believer in the power of education, Morrow has hosted numerous field days and informative trips for teachers as well as served as president of the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Board. "Education is key for the next generation of farmers," he says. Appropriately, CASA's mission is to provide education, networking, and advocacy to help build a sustainable Chesapeake foodshed—something Morrow does every day on his farm in Frederick County.

—Text by Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Will Morrow

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

 


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


Farmer Spotlight: Ladybrook Farm

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Carin Celebuski and Vince Matanoski on their travels. Photo courtesy of Carin Celebuski.

A sustainable farm in Baltimore County is emerging thanks to two new farmers, Carin Celebuski and Vince Matanoski. As the volunteer coordinator at the University of Maryland Arboretum, Carin "has always been into everything green." Farther from the farming fields is Vince who currently serves as the deputy director of the Constitutional and Specialized Torts Branch as well as a Captain in the United States Naval Reserve in sub-Saharan Africa.

Vince explains "that after all of the years in this kind of work, I want to do an honest day's work." In just few short months both Carin and Vince will be hard at work on their new property, Ladybrook Farm. The couple purchased the land and farmhouse hoping to convert the fields stripped from grain production into permanent pasture.

The idea of starting a sustainable farm developed as they both wanted to turn their strong interest in local foods and the environment into a business. The aspiring farmers wasted no time in preparing for their new careers. They attended events and conferences such as the Future Harvest: Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Conference last January. While there, they met CBF's Maryland Restoration Scientist Rob Schnabel who discussed how smart farming can help Maryland meet its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals for healthy, sustainable waters across the region.

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Planting trees at Ladybrook Farm this fall. Photo courtesy of Carin Celebuski.

After learning about the vision for Ladybrook Farm, CBF's Maryland restoration team got involved. This fall more than 100 volunteers planted 800 trees across four acres. This spring, we'll work to plant six additional acres of forested buffers to help clean and filter water and improve the overall health of the land. Although Vince was in Africa for business during the first planting, Carin worked with the volunteers digging, planting, and sharing her vision for Ladybrook Farm.

The enthusiasm and work ethic the couple shares for the endeavor is clear and will undoubtedly translate into the success of Ladybrook Farm. Vince and Carin have even begun their own honey production, which they are looking forward to integrating into the farm. Upon the completion of the farm store and barn, goats, vegetables, and bees will roam the land slowly bringing it back to life. Additionally they will use a rotational grazing system to improve productivity and reduce the impact on the environment.

What's more, Vince looks forward to working with retired thoroughbred race horses stemming from a lifelong hobby. "I grew up riding, and I am looking forward to working with the horses, to retrain them for second, more permanent careers . . . bringing them to the farm will allow them a chance to relax and relearn what it

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Working on their honey bee production. Photo courtesy of Carin Celebuski.

means to be a horse again, giving them a new purpose and meaning for the rest of their lives."

Vince and Carin hope to have the farm open this spring, eventually selling sustainably grown and processed goat cheese, honey, vegetables and perhaps some fruits and cut flowers at their farm store. And Ladybrook Farm will give retired racehorses a second chance and new meaning in life just as it will fulfill the vision shared by two new farmers who want to help Save the Bay.

—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.

 

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Ladybrook Farm tree planting this fall. Photo courtesy of Rob Schnabel/CBF Staff.

A Farmer's Support Means Cleaner Water

Donor Charles Bares
Charles Bares, a dairy farmer from upstate New York, is a generous supporter of CBF’s work to defend and implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. He believes, like CBF, that the Blueprint can improve waterways across the United States.

"I was an environmentalist before I was a farmer," Charles Bares says by phone one warm September morning. Bares has taken time out from managing his dairy farm–which comprises 5,000 acres and a few thousand cows–to speak about his support of CBF.

Bares and his family live in upstate New York–outside the Bay watershed. In fact, he's only been to the Chesapeake Bay region a handful of times. Yet, he generously supports CBF's work.

"You're going out there and fighting the good fight, and that's what I appreciated," he says.

Bares strongly believes in CBF's work to support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a plan that he hopes will foster change and influence the cleanup of other polluted bodies of water. 

From defending the Blueprint in the courts, to our hands-on restoration work and educational programs, Bares believes that CBF is laying groundwork that will help provide clean water to people all over the United States.  

"The work that CBF is doing . . . people are going to stand on those shoulders," he says, adding, "[CBF is at] the forefront of changing opinions and getting policy makers behind you and showing how many people care and how [they] can make a difference."

Bares emphasizes that the American Farm Bureau Federation—the group challenging the legality of the Blueprint—does not speak for all farmers. "They certainly don't speak for me," he says.

Bares traces his passion for protecting the environment to his enjoyment of the outdoors, which began during his childhood in suburban Cleveland. He remembers summers spent fishing, birdwatching, and exploring nature, experiences that taught him to appreciate the environment and inspired him to become a farmer.

Over the years, the amount of time he has spent outdoors has given him a unique perspective on the impact of pollution. As an example, he mentions toads, a species that has been hit especially hard by pollution and habitat loss. He describes seeing the amphibians during summers while he was growing up and compares it to what his children see today. "To my kids it would be unbelievable. It would be like the world is being overtaken by toads!"

Not content to passively watch these changes occur, Bares and his brother formed a company that uses technology to reduce agricultural pollution. Known as Rowbot, the company produces small robots that roll through cornfields applying the exact amount of nitrogen fertilizer that the plants need. This is a departure from traditional farming practices, in which fertilizer is sprayed broadly across fields by large machines. Although the robots are still being tested, the idea holds the potential to reduce pollution and save farmers money.  

"[We wanted] to do something that could make a difference," Bares explains, noting that the project utilizes his expertise in farming, and his brother’s background in engineering.

In addition to his company's innovative use of technology, Bares is an advocate for more traditional methods of reducing agricultural pollution as well, including the use of BMPs or best management practices. These techniques, such as utilizing cover crops to prevent erosion, and fencing livestock from streams and creeks, make farming more sustainable. "It [doesn't] take a lot of money, it takes a willingness," he says.

He emphasizes that being a farmer and caring about the environment aren't mutually exclusive. "There are lots of farmers out there who don't want to pollute. They want to leave their creek behind the barn the way they found it . . . for their kids and grandkids," he says, adding, "We all just have to take care of our own little piece [of land] and lead by example."

—Melanie McCarty
CBF's Donor Communications Manager

Are you interested in joining the clean water movement just like Charles Bares? Click here.

 


We're Halfway There: Horn Family, Delta Springs Farm

FarmThis 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.

At Delta Springs Farm near Harrisonburg, Virginia, three generations of the Horn family raise chickens, dairy replacement heifers, and beef cattle. Charles Horn and his wife Faye run the operation along with their son Chuck, his wife Jill, and grandchildren Joe and Olivia.

"In 1936 my grandfather owned 129 acres. They had a very diverse operation with just about everything—hogs, chickens, sheep, cattle, and horses," Charles explains. "Things are a lot different now. We are much more intense and have to farm a lot more acres to make things work. We are much more aware of our environment now too, and how our actions can affect people downstream."

For example, fences along waterways keep livestock from fouling streams. "All of our perennial streams are fenced so our cows don't have access to them," he says. "We used the soil and water programs to help us put in watering stations throughout the farm so we could rotate our livestock. Because of the way we constructed the fences it is much easier to get our cows into the barnyard now."

The fencing effort also includes neighboring farms along Freemason Run, a stream running though Delta Springs. All the farmers along the Run's entire six miles have fenced the streambanks, making the waterway livestock free and cleaner.

The Horns raise two million broiler chickens each year and grow all the roughage for their cattle including corn, hay, and small grain silage. They also use many Best Management Practices, including rotational grazing, cover crops, no-till farming, stream exclusion, nutrient management, and variable rate application of fertilizer. Much of their cropland is high in soil phosphorus so the farm is very limited in what manure and fertilizer they can apply. The Horns sell most of their poultry manure to areas in need of phosphorus.

"We are proud of the conservation practices we have installed on our farm," Charles says. "We could not have done it without the technical and financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District."

—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.

 


We're Halfway There: Holy Cross Abbey, Cool Spring Farm


Holy Cross Abbey June 2015 (Clarke Co CD10)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.

Father James Orthmann is a monk at the Holy Cross Abbey, a 1,200-acre farm with nearly three miles of river frontage on the main stem of the Shenandoah River.

"In order for us to be spiritually sustainable, it is necessary for us to take care of the place where we live," he explains. The monks' "place" is Cool Spring Farm, located along the west bank of the river where the American Civil War Battle of Cool Spring occurred in the summer of 1864.

The Trappist monks of Cool Spring began their natural resources pilgrimage with a sustainability study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2009-2010.

"One of the first recommendations from the study was to get our cows out of the Shenandoah River and all the tributaries on the farm," Orthmann says. "How could we be true to our guiding principal of loving our 'place' with cows in the river and streams? The cows were polluting the water and ruining the streambanks.

"To achieve this, we first removed the cattle from the flood plain and leased that land to an 'all natural' produce farm. Next we contacted the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for assistance with fencing and watering troughs for the rest of the streams on the farm.

"With the help from these dedicated public servants, we were able to protect almost four and a half miles of streambanks, including the Shenandoah River and the historic Cool Spring itself."

The community of monks continued their sustainability journey by diversifying their operation. Not only do they produce cattle, fruits, vegetables, and timber, they also now have a "natural cemetery," a retreat house, gift shop, and the Monastery Bakery—the one that produces those famous Trappist fruitcakes.

"Sustainability works," Orthmann continued. "It's paying off economically, environmentally, and spiritually. As Trappist monks committed to this community and land for life, fencing the cows out of the stream was an easy first step toward a more holistic lifestyle."

—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.

 


We're Halfway There: Fort Stover Farm


Gibson June 2015 (Page Co CD6)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.

John Gibson is a man of the river. He founded one of the first canoe companies on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in 1974. He has been sharing the beauty of the river with others ever since.

In 1980 he was floating down the river and noticed an abandoned stone house on a bluff on the east side of the river. Research, perseverance, and being at the right place at the right time gave John the opportunity to buy the 1769 German "Flurkuchenhaus" (AKA hall-kitchen house) just one year later.

Eventually he acquired the surrounding farm and placed both the historic house and land in an open space easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. These cultural and natural resources are now protected forever from development.

"I bought a subdivision and turned it into a farm," Gibson laughs. "It can be done . . . turning it around. When we bought the farm it was divided into 243 lots, and cattle roamed all over the place. The tenant farmer's cows would wander up- and downriver and cross the river onto other people's property—it was a real nightmare."

Fort Stover Farm has a mile and a half of river frontage. One of Gibson's first conservation efforts was erecting a fence to keep the cows out of the river.

"As soon as we put a fence up along the river, the 1985 flood took it out. I decided then to get the cows out of the flood plain all together and just use it for hay," he says.

Gibson converted 50 acres of pasture to permanent hay and no longer worries about a flood taking out one of his fences. To water the cows he installed two alternative watering stations. This was all done without state or federal cost-share assistance.

"Being on the river, I saw firsthand the damage cattle do to stream banks," Gibson said, adding, "It's a negative aspect to my customer's adventure on the river."

Today, Fort Stover Farm produces not only healthier cows but also cleaner water and a more pleasant float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

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

A week from today our Bay cleanup leaders will be meeting in Washington. Send them a message before they meet urging they fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to providing farmers with the necessary assistance they need to make their farms and our waters healthier.

 


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!


Inside CBF: Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller

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Pollution from agriculture continues to be the largest source of pollution to the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love. It is also the most cost-effective to clean up, and the sector on which the Chesapeake's states are relying on most to achieve their Clean Water Blueprint-reduction goalsNow more than ever, it is critical to understand how healthy farming practices are intrinsically tied to a healthy Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and streams that feed it. As such we revisit a summer's day last year, when we got to visit with and learn from CBF's Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Read on . . .   

It's a particularly steamy early Friday morning on CBF's Clagett Farm. The cows are testy, lined up, and waiting expectantly when Farm Manager Michael Heller and I pull up in his '96 Ford Ranger, windows down, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture on the radio drifting across the fields on warm June air. The minute they see Heller, the cows are especially vocal. The herd of Red Angus and Red Devon are anxious to move on to the next field for grazing, occasionally nudging Heller with their noses as they pass. "Our cows are very gentle," says Heller with pride.

DSC_0045Besides providing affection, the cows do wonders for the soil and as Heller says, "Building soil quality is probably the single most important thing to improving water quality." As soon as Heller started at Clagett in 1982, he was determined to use truly sustainable farming methods to make a healthier, more productive farm starting with the soil. "From day one I have not used pesticides," says Heller. "I didn't want them for my children; I didn't want them for the students coming out here. There were just so many reasons not to use them . . . when that's you're starting point, you have to be ecological in how you do things." So the plant ecology major cultivated fields of orchard grass, timothy, clover, hairy vetch, and other diverse plant species that never have to be tilled, therefore they protect the ground, soak up nutrients, build the soil, and improve water quality.      

"The beauty of working on the farm here is it directly affects water quality and the Bay," says Heller, "but also it allows me and CBF to get a real perspective of what farmers need to be successful. Because we don't want to make farmers unsuccessful; we want to help farmers be successful and protect the Bay."

It was only natural that Heller wound up at Clagett. The Pennsylvania native grew up working on the farm next door, bird watching with his mother, and tending his garden: "My friends used to joke that I was the only high school quarterback with a wildflower garden."

DSC_0013After stints at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the National Park Service at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the University of Maryland, the avid environmentalist got a call from CBF asking him to run its newly acquired Clagett Farm. Here he would not only manage the 285-acre farm but run the education program and write grants. "It was a wonderfully impossible job," says Heller with a glowing enthusiasm, "and here 30 years later, the learning curve keeps going up and up . . . I still feel like I'm just getting started!"

We might argue otherwise considering Heller's substantial contributions to the farming and environmental communities thus far. He was instrumental in starting both Future Harvest, a regional sustainable agriculture organization, and Maryland Grazer's Network, a mentorship program where farmers learn from other farmers about successful and sustainable farming practices. In his downtime, Heller co-authored a cookbook about grass-fed beef, started Clagett's CSA (in which 40 percent of each year's harvest is donated to the Capital Area Food Bank), became a Johns Hopkins visiting scholar, raised three bright children, and spent as much time as possible either on a tractor or in a canoe. "I love to hang out in a canoe. I'm never happier than when I'm in a canoe, in a marsh, listening to marsh wrens and bitterns and rails calling." 

When asked why it's so important for future generations to come out and get a taste of Clagett Farm, Heller doesn't take long to answer: "I just know that my kids are different for having grown up on a farm. I wish every kid could grow up on a farm. When students come out here, they always work a little bit . . . I think they see that there's a tangible result to work. And they get a real sense of a connection between the land and what's happening in the water."

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

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


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.