Farmer Spotlight: Eco-City Farms

File-1Miles from the countryside, surrounded by townhomes and busy city streets in Prince George's County, Maryland, one organization is working to serve as a model for urban farming operations. Deborah Wren and the team at Eco-City Farms are working to prove that farming in urban environments is not only viable but is greatly needed in these areas. Wren, the lead farmer of Eco City Farms, draws on her experiences growing up on a dairy farm and studying anthropology in college as she connects people of various cultures, backgrounds, and classes to fresher food in the city. Wren works to ensure that Eco-City's motto of "growing great food, farms and farmers," spans across the organization's two farms in the county.

The Edmonston Farm, the first property Eco-City worked, was founded six years ago on 1.25 acres. The farm started with hoop houses and a small outdoor growing space in a highly residential area. The second property in Bladensburg is larger at 3.5 acres and is known for its permaculture, garden beds, and edible forest. Both properties are Certified Naturally Grown, which is "a practice managed by a farmer collective where farmers from around the world hold each other to certain standards."

PhotoFarmer Wren credits her passion for farming to her upbringing. As one of seven children she was often working outside, helping her mother in the garden or helping her father with the cows. In her undergraduate studies in anthropology she traveled to a number of developing countries. She began drawing comparisons between urban areas such as those in areas like Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County to those in developing countries. The shocking similarities—lack of resources, environmental issues, and lack of access to essential resources such as food—motivated her to make a change upon returning to the United States. Wren began her career with Eco-City Farms as an apprentice just five years ago and is now the lead farmer in her third growing season.

As one can imagine, farming techniques are different for urban agriculture. For example, tractors do not till the soil and extensive sprayers do not water the crops. A part of changing farming into urban spaces is adapting the growing practices as soil, water, and even temperature are all different in the city. Eco-City Farms works with these changes to provide fresh sustainably grown produce year-round to its local community.

PhotoAdjusting to the land is just one factor as Eco-City Farms also works to appeal to different cultures. Nearly 48 percent of its customers and volunteers are Spanish speaking. The organization has an education and outreach coordinator who is fluent in Spanish as the farms are located in what many locals call "Little Mexico." Addressing the cultural differences and unifying people through food is something they hope to achieve as they look to reach a broader audience.

Eco City Farms offers two-size CSA shares and allow members to apply and pay weekly, providing more flexibility to those in lower income communities. In addition to their CSA share, it sells fresh produce at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market on Thursdays and the Port Towns Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Eco-City Farms not only works to deliver food to those with limited access but also provides resources such as nutrition-based education, training programs such as the Beginner Farmer Rancher Training program, as well as hosting composting workshops, and beginner farmers for apprenticeships. Eco-City Farms is a model for the future of urban farming, led by people who want to reconnect people to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their culture, class, or location.

—Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Deborah Wren

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

 


Photo of the Week: Summer Solstice on the Bay

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With more than 150 major rivers and streams flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, we travel by boat within Maryland from the northern Bay heading toward the majestic Chesapeake Bay Bridge, where aesthetically the bridge's design in and of itself is absolutely breathtaking!

This body of water is known for its beauty and bounty; home to an array of beautiful birds, blue crabs, fish, oysters; a passageway for many sailboats, powerboats, and other vessels; place of amazing sunsets and gorgeous sunrises.

—Stephanie Rosier Karas

Ensure that Stephanie 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!


Good News about Oysters

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3.2 million spat on shell were planted in the South River this July. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

Persuading microscopic oyster larvae to "set" on old shells is as simple as placing plenty of both into a large round tank of circulating Bay water and leaving them together for several days. Right?

Not hardly. This Chesapeake miracle is absolutely dependent on good water quality. Some years, successive sets die off, handcuffing restoration programs.

But not this year, at least so far. CBF's MD Oyster Restoration Center at Shady Side has been able to produce a record number of spat (i.e. baby oysters) on shell, the universal currency of restoration. "The spring and summer have been extremely kind to us," said Capt. Karl Willey as he deftly maneuvered Patricia Campbell, CBF's 60' oyster planter, around Thunder & Lightning, an oyster reef in the South River that is open to harvest by watermen wielding hand tongs. "The hatchery at the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory started producing larvae early—in April—and has continued. We've seen strong spat sets in our tanks since then. We've actually gotten ahead of schedule, with 31 million spat set on shell and placed on restoration reefs in the Little Choptank...Now we have July to work small projects with some of our partners. That's why you found Kate [South River Federation Executive Director Kate Fritz] and me counting spat on the dock this morning." 

Indeed, as Dan Johannes, Pat Beall, and intern Patrick McCabe loaded spat on shell into the large bins on either side of Patricia Campbell's long foredeck, Karl and Kate carefully examined a random sample of several dozen shells, counting the pinhead-sized spat on each. Eight-to-twenty spat on each shell allowed him and Kate to estimate how many spat the big boat would be planting on this day: 3.2 million. 

Loading and counting completed, the crew and several volunteers, including Kate's Board Chair, Kevin Green, climbed aboard for the one-hour run up to South River. We slowed briefly to watch a large pod of dolphins fishing in the river's mouth, then got down to work on a sanctuary reef 11-14' deep off Larrimore Point. As Kate and Kevin watched on the foredeck, Dan started up the hydraulic system that tilts the bins full of spat on shell inward to the conveyor belt that runs down the center of the foredeck. Pat and Patrick began to regulate the flow of 1.4 million spat on their shells into a steady stream on the belt, all moving forward to drop onto a rotating "planter wheel" at the bow that throws them out in a circle 10-12' in diameter. Meanwhile, a GPS antenna mounted beside the wheel sent a continuous signal of our track to the electronic display in front of Karl at the helm, recording the data on a memory card. This technology arms Karl with the data to know everywhere this program has planted since 2003.

We dropped another 0.5 million spat on shell on an 8' sanctuary reef tended by John Flood, an South River Federation Board member emeritus, and 0.3 million on another sanctuary off the mouth of Little Aberdeen Creek. Finally, we moved to Thunder & Lightning, to drop the last 1 million in 10-12' where local watermen partners would be able to harvest them once they grow out in two-to-three years.

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CBF's oyster planting boat, the Patricia Campbell. Photo by Erika Nortemann.

Tiny predators like mud crabs that live on the reefs eat spat, but survival from spawn to adult for these guys set in concentration in our tanks is higher than natural sets in the wild," Karl said. "The density at which we plant [5 million spat on shell per acre] produces dense clusters." 

At the end of the month, Patricia Campbell and her crew will partner with the Coastal Conservation Association/Maryland to set 72 concrete reef balls with spat and place them onto the MD DNR's Tilghman Island Artificial Reef, in 18-20' of water due west of the island. The reef balls themselves have a special story: they have all been built by high school students in masonry classes, expressly for this purpose.

After three decades of bad news about oysters, imagine being able to get ahead of schedule with good news. Here's hoping we can make it last...

—John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist


Baltimore by the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terry Cummings, Director of CBF's Baltimore Initiative

Check out more photos and video of the Baltimore Floatilla!

 


The Best Part

A Day Seeding Four Million Oysters into the Little Choptank River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


Photo of the Week: Truly an Awesome Experience

IMG_1204In late May, I met a friend of mine and we decided to go sit on the beach . . . As soon as we saw the water we were in shock. For the past three years I have lived on the Chesapeake Bay right near Breezy Point Marina, and I had never seen so many horseshoe crabs. Even neighbors who have spent 50+ years in the neighborhood had never seen anything like it. There were clumps of two to five horseshoe crabs mating. It was truly an awesome experience.

The Chesapeake Bay is important to me for many reasons. The Bay provides food for families, careers for others, and a great place to live. My boyfriend has been mapping out stormwater sites all over the state of Maryland and that has helped clean up the water. I love being able to go out on a boat and catch a healthy dinner. I love being able to bring friends to my house and let them experience life on the Bay. I absolutely love living on the Chesapeake Bay. 

—Breanne Smith 

Ensure that Breanne 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!

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Farmer Spotlight: Sassafras Creek Farm

Dave and Jen in high tunnel 2015In honor of Military Appreciation Month, our latest Farmer Spotlight story features military couple David and Jennifer Paulk who went from serving our country to now serving our community. The former suburbanites never imagined that their small traveling backyard garden would one day inspire them to begin their own farming operation, Sassafras Creek Farm, in St. Mary's County, Maryland.

After serving in the United States Navy for 26 years, David began considering second careers as a veteran. In 2011, he applied for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Beginner Farmer Training Program where he apprenticed once a week at Calvert's Gift Farm in Baltimore County. Through his apprenticeship, he was able to learn the ins and outs of a small, organic farm.

20141016_104246Paulk explains that his military career allowed him time to get to know himself. By having real life experiences " . . . veterans are well suited to farming as they are used to maintaining structure, a skill required of any successful business owner who needs to develop a business plan and marketing strategies." Financial resources, coupled with that military background, allowed David to purchase an 80-acre property in St. Mary's County.

The property, Sassafras Creek Farm, consists of 46 tillable acres with the remaining 34 acres in forest cover. Forty of the 46 acres are in constant cover crop, which are " . . . key to building what is the essence of an organic farmers' healthy soil." Two seasonal high tunnels allow the Paulks to extend their growing season, and they plan to put up a third one in the next two weeks. The couple installed a 13 kW solar panel that generates more than enough power to run the greenhouse, walk-in coolers, lighting, and more. They grow spinach, lettuce, spring mix, beets, 20160515_160553_resizedkale, turnips, and carrots in the high tunnel, which extends the season and allows them to generate revenue year round.

While David runs the day to day operations on the farm, Jennifer (also certified a Maryland Master Gardener) manages the books, organic certification, and helps on the farm despite having a full-time career as an Environmental Scientist for the Department of the Navy. David explains that growing organic is in line with their beliefs and how they want to produce their own food. The USDA Organic Certification requires a third party inspection, adds certainty to their business model, and reassures their customers that the practices they are using are best for their own health as well as the health of the land and water around them.

David's advice to someone who is considering farming is clear: " . . . don't jump off the deep end into it. I had basic skills and financial resources. Starting a farm takes a small capital something that many fresh out of college do not have." Additionally he encourages all future farmers to go work on a farm or two and see first hand every aspect that goes into farming.

The Paulks show that the dream of having one's own farm is attainable. David recommends that anyone considering an occupation in farming work on a farm whether by volunteering or as a part of an apprenticeship program. Six years after graduating from the Future Harvest CASA program, he now serves as a mentor to new beginner farmers.

The organic produce from Sassafras Creek Farm is sold through a number of venues: California Farmers Market; Chesapeake's Bounty in North Beach; MOMS organic market in Waldorf; a natural food store in Leonardtown; and on the plates of guests at farm-to-table restaurant Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore City.

We are grateful for people like David and Jennifer who not only serve their country, but now serve their community through sustainable, responsible agricultural practices.

—Kellie Rogers

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


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Summertime Fishing

Locklear Story 0416 II Sam Loustanua"How will I know when a fish bites?" "Young Sam" asked his grandfather, Sam Locklear. Both Sams and younger brother, Nate, were fishing the Severn River with me last summer. It's always a treat to have enthusiastic ten- and seven-year-old anglers aboard, especially when a trip starts like this one. The words were hardly out in the air before two chunky white perch climbed onto the teasers on Young Sam's line, nearly taking the rod out of his hands. 

We were fishing a 12-14-foot-deep restoration oyster reef near the U.S. Naval Academy. This particular reef, an underwater point jutting out into the channel, is an example of where oysters thrive. The reef is elevated in the water column where currents bring the oysters food, carry away waste, and attract other critters—like worms, barnacles, grass shrimp, and mud crabs—that in turn attract predators like white perch and rockfish. We could see the perch on my skiff's fishfinder. The Severn has more successful restoration reefs like this one—they form the happy side of this story. 

The other side isn't as pretty. With supper on ice, the Sams, Nate, and I went upriver to a 25-foot-deep reef that showed hard bottom but no fish. It's a survey site for an upcoming restoration project, so we got out an electronic temperature/salinity/oxygen meter and lowered its sensor's ten-meter cable to get a profile of the water column. As usual for summer here—and in too many other parts of the Chesapeake system—the dissolved oxygen measured below two milligrams per liter from the bottom up to about 15 feet. That's a lethal level for perch and rockfish and stressful even for crabs. In fact, on the bottom that day, the level was below 0.5 mg/l—low enough to kill worms. No wonder the fishfinder screen was blank below 15 feet. That's what a "dead zone" looks like. This is the ugly side of the story. It illustrates why we concentrate oyster restoration in shallower water. 

As Memorial Day approaches, we've got dead zones on our minds. But why do dead zones form each summer? From human-caused nitrogen pollution. Take a look at this excellent graphic from YSI, Inc. (the maker of my oxygen meter). It concentrates on the Gulf of Mexico, but the global map shows hypoxia ("the environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms") all over the Earth, including the Chesapeake.

What can we do about it? We have a plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, and it's slowly turning the bad stuff around while we celebrate successes like these new oyster reefs. Want to make sure that Young Sam, Nate, and thousands of other youngsters have a healthy Bay to grow up around? Click here to find out how you can help.

John Page Williams, CBF's Senior Naturalist

 


Photo of the Week: The Bay as My Home Port

Sunset_tilgman_island-5924[These are] two images from a sailing trip to Tilghman Island last summer. One is right at Knapps Narrows and the other is from the inn just north of the narrows . . . they show just a taste of the beauty that the Bay has to offer.

The Bay is a big part of my world. I live part time on my sailboat in Tracys Landing, Maryland. It is my home. I rejoice at oyster season, dream of Rockfish Bites with buffalo sauce, [admire] sunsets on the wetlands behind my marina, and love to sail from port to port tasting the many flavors of the towns along the Bay. So many parts of my life revolve around the Bay, from my brother the oyster farmer in the South River, to the many dockbars that I love to haunt, to the adventure of sailing her beautiful waters.

I am a pro photographer, and I have hundreds of thousands of images from my travels, but I always keep coming to the Bay as my home port.

—Mark Schwenk 

Ensure that Mark and future generations continue to sail and 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!

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Photo of the Week: Nothing More Relaxing

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I took this early one November day at Conowingo Dam. The bird in the tree is an adult bald eagle.

I have been boating on and off the Bay for close to 50 years. There is nothing more relaxing than being on the water. I had an aunt and uncle who lived on Kent Island, and as a kid, I would try and go down as much as I could. To this day I still boat on the Bay with my wife and two labs at Middle River.

—Jeff Wetzel

Ensure that Jeff, his wife, his two labs, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like this 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!