Alec Schadelbauer and Matt Slater with Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller. Photo courtesy of Dave Slater/CBF Staff.
Learning Through Experience on CBF's Clagett Farm
At the end of every school year, the graduating seniors at Washington-Lee
High School in Arlington, Virginia, participate in a program called "senior experience." For the last month of school, seniors get the privilege of
experiencing life in the real world. Some choose to get retail jobs to earn
money for college, while others decide to volunteer or do their own, unique
For our senior experience, we decided to do something
completely different from your average retail job at American Eagle or dull
desk job working at a cubicle all day. We had the opportunity to work at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett
Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It turned out to be a memorable
experience that brought our book-learning to life.
Before we actually started, Michael
Heller, the farm manager, invited us and our families out to
the farm to show us around and give us an idea of what we would be doing. After
a quick hello, he threw all of us, even the moms, into the back of his pick-up
truck and took us out to see the cows. When we arrived at the pasture, Michael
greeted the cows with his signature "Hey guys!" which immediately brought roughly 50 cows gathered around him at the gate, mooing their reply. He then gave us
the job of herding the cows into the next pasture (easier said than
done!). Much to our parent's, and Michael's enjoyment, we quickly
found out just how fast and stubborn cows can be. Within minutes, we had
stepped in at least five fresh cow pies and learned that these cows weren't
going anywhere that they didn't want to go.
day went on, Michael explained the goals of the farm and how it works. His
knowledge and enthusiasm toward reducing pollution that flows into the
Chesapeake Bay assured us that we had made the right decision to
work on the farm.
Each day that we worked with Michael, the connection to "saving the Bay" became clearer and clearer. Although we may not have realized
it from the beginning, Clagett Farm uses
many techniques to preserve the environment, especially through the elimination
of harmful runoff. According to Clagett
Farm’s website, there are "no GMOs, no antibiotics, and no hormones" used with the purely grass-fed cows. This means far less harmful substances
being carried off by rain and causing pollution to our waters.
We also were introduced to small, separate strips of land
that are used to test the amount of runoff that is released from different
types of land. For example, in one test, there is a strip of heavily forested
land, a strip of parking lot land, a strip of contour plowing, a strip of
grass, and a strip of an average farm field with no contour plowing. At the
end of each short strip, there is a funnel that gathers and collects the runoff
from each. This gives Michael and his staff an idea of what type of land
possibly does the most damage when heavy rains come around. Although these are not
the only techniques, they accurately reflect the objective of the Chesapeake
Bay Foundation, and were without a doubt a great way to educate us about the
dangers of polluted runoff.
In four short weeks of working with Michael on the farm, we were
able to experience almost everything that goes into running a 285-acre farm
with more than 50 cows and countless fields of fruits and vegetables. From fixing
barbed wire fences to unloading hundreds of hay bales to wrestling with baby calves,
we were able to get a grasp on what it takes to manage an organic farm.
Although we have both taken an environmental science course in our school, it
was nice to finally experience what we had learned about the entire school year
in a hands-on manner. It was interesting to see the different methods that
Michael uses to reduce runoff and other pollution, and how easy it is for
farmers to have a great impact on the health of the Bay.
—Alec Schadelbauer and Matt
about how we are working with farmers across the watershed to clean up our
We wish Alec and Matt luck next fall as they head to Virginia Tech and James Madison University, respectively. Both plan to pursue environmental studies.