Greening Up Virginia's Eastern Shore Homes


In the small bayside town of Harborton, Sue and Bill Mastyl's home stands as a reminder that green home features are not only good for the environment, but also good for your wallet. For example, when they installed a solar power system and new hot water heater in 2009 they got back a whopping 50 percent of the cost through a combination of federal and state tax credits. They also got tax credits when they installed a new geothermal heat pump a few years ago.

Running energy-efficient systems that rely mainly on solar power, the couple's electricity bill adds up to only about eight dollars in an average month. When you factor in the quarterly renewable energy credits they get, by the end of the year they sometimes even end up making money!

"People think that things like solar and geothermal can only be done when you build new, so I'm constantly trying to reinforce that they can be added very easily to any type of building, as long as you have the right location," says Sue Mastyl. "I also try to emphasize that low-hanging fruit like energy-efficient windows, weather stripping, insulation, energy-efficient appliances, turning down the thermostat, remembering to turn off the lights when you leave a room—all of this can have a huge impact."

Home improvement tax credits are available for all types of projects, from boosting insulation to adding high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. It's worth checking out if a renovation qualifies next time you undertake projects around the house.

In addition to these credits, "energy-efficient mortgages" let homeowners borrow money for improvements. These loans can cover more pricey upgrades that otherwise might not be affordable, like installing double-pane windows or HVAC upgrades. Since heating and cooling accounts for more than half of the energy used in the average American home, these investments will help you stay comfortable and save money in the long run.

Janet and Haydon Rochester never thought their 1907 Onancock home would be the focus of so much local buzz when they started renovations a year ago. Their traditional Eastern Shore house is in the process of undergoing a complete renewal with an emphasis on energy-saving upgrades. 

While from the exterior the Rochester place looks like a traditional Eastern Shore house, numerous subtle upgrades have made the dwelling much more energy efficient. Many are simple improvements that have made a big difference in cutting down on heating and cooling costs. Windows are all double glazed and coated to reject heat, while the roof is a highly reflective material that keeps the house cooler during the summer. Beefed up insulation, along with aggressively sealing and caulking all cracks, has also made a big dent in energy loss. Low water toilets and shower heads add up to savings in the water bill. Interestingly, these renovations have actually enhanced the traditional character of an older home.

Of course, there are plenty of other benefits to undertaking energy-efficient upgrades. First and foremost, they lead to cleaner air and water for all of us. Using less energy at home often means burning less gas, coal, or oil. Burning those fossil fuels produces pollution that not only contaminates the air, but as a result of rain storms also ends up in local rivers, creeks, and the Chesapeake Bay. Cutting down on energy usage can mean a reduction of nitrogen oxides in our air, which are a significant source of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake. 

So by undertaking these upgrades you both help improve the environment and support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the plan in place to clean up the Bay.

The greening of towns up and down the Shore now has a new meaning—people are increasingly integrating green-building design elements into their homes and recognizing their personal impact on our environment. 

—Tatum Ford, CBF's Virginia Eastern Shore Outreach Coordinator

This Week in the Watershed

Md-va-state capitols
This week the Legislative Sessions opened in Annapolis, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia. Photos by Nikki Davis and Chuck Epes.

With the turning of the calendar to a new year comes new Legislative Sessions in two of the main Bay statesMaryland and Virginia. The outcomes of Maryland's 90-day session and Virginia's 60-day session will have a major impact on the Chesapeake Bay and each state's rivers and streams. Here at CBF, with the support of our members, we have several important priorities to advance.

In Maryland, CBF's top priority will be asking legislators to make big chicken corporations responsible for the excess manure their chickens produce. These corporations making big profits need to do their part to clean up the excess manure—instead of leaving small local farmers and Maryland taxpayers holding the (poop) bag. Some of our other priorities include working to ban plastic bags at retail stores, stopping unfair raids on funds for environmental programs that support the Clean Water Blueprint, and supporting efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Click here for a complete Maryland Legislative Session preview.

In Virginia, many of our priorities involve ensuring there is proper funding in place to implement best management practices to reduce pollution. These include supporting state funding for conservation practices to reduce pollution from farms, and increasing funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. In addition to funding efforts, some of our other priorities include moving menhaden management from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, supporting upgrades at wastewater treatment plants, and advancing oyster restoration and expanding sustainable oyster harvests. Click here for a complete Virginia Legislative Session preview.

Not to be forgotten, while Pennsylvania's Legislature meets on a year-round cycle, we are still hard at work fighting for clean water in the Keystone State. Our top current priority is pushing for the promised "reboot" of water quality efforts which will accelerate pollution reductions to the level that will get Pennsylvania back on track. Other efforts include working with farmers to reduce pollution, advocating for adequate funding for restoration efforts, and pushing for the Lower Susquehanna River to be listed as impaired.

No matter where you live in the watershed, we'll need your support for the elected leaders of your state to uphold their commitment to clean water in the Bay and local waterways. Stay tuned for important updates and calls to action in the coming weeks.

This Week in the Watershed: Legislative Sessions, Oyster Uproar, and Coal Ash

  • Despite uproar from hundreds of local citizens, Virginia's State Water Control Board approved permits for Dominion Virginia Power to dump drain water from coal ash ponds into the James and Potomac Rivers. (Roanoke Times—VA)
  • A coalition of environmental groups are coming together in support of a Maryland bill that will require large poultry companies to take responsibility for the manure their chickens produce. (WGMD—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Release.
  • There is still major concern among the environmental community regarding the decision by the Hogan Administration to delay oyster restoration efforts on the Tred Avon River. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: Bay Journal recap of the Tred Avon oyster restoration delay.
  • Menhaden will be a central topic in the upcoming Virginia Legislative Session, along with several other environmental issues. (Virginian-Pilot—VA)
  • CBF is lending a hand in the development of an artificial reef in Smoots Bay, off the Potomac River. Reef balls will be the building blocks for the reef. (ABC News WMARMD)
  • Nutrient trading is a new concept in the world of Maryland agriculture. Time will tell how effective it is in reducing pollution. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • With the Maryland Legislative Session now upon us, what's on the wish list of several environmental organizations? (Star Democrat—MD)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

January 14-16

  • College Park, MD: Join Future Harvest CASA for their 17th annual Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed conference. One of the region's largest farm and food gatherings, you'll be able to experience seven different conference tracks, interact with other farmers and food lovers, and enjoy local fare. Click here to register!

January 16-February 6

  • Across Virginia: Help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers by participating in CBF's Grasses for the Masses program. Participants grow wild celery, a type of underwater grass, in their homes for 10-12 weeks. After 10-12 weeks of growing, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. Workshops are being held throughout Virginia. Click here to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

What's Your Poo IQ?

CBF_FacebookAd01-PoopQuiz-560x292Think about it: There are hundreds of millions of people, livestock, pets, and wild animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay region. Every single one of us eats and that means every single one of us . . . well you know.

But do you know the impact of all that poop on our rivers, streams, and Bay? Take the quiz and find out!

You'll learn, for instance, how many of Virginia's rivers and streams are poop contaminated; how long it would take Pennsylvania inspectors to inspect all their farms; and how many tons of excess doo Maryland's chickens produce each year (Hint: It's a pretty insane number).  

Of course, in the wise words of children's author Taro Gomi: "Everyone poops." We can't avoid that necessary part of life, but we can make sure our water quality doesn't go down the toliet. So sit down, grab your #2 pencil, and take the Poo IQ Quiz!

This Week in the Watershed

Flooding is just one of the many potential consequences from irresponsible development. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

Around the region, irresponsible developments are being approved at the risk of polluting our waters. These poor decisions are hitting a nerve. Last month, at a packed public hearing over the proposed rezoning of Virginia's Fones Cliffs, the vast majority of speakers spoke out against development. This week, more than 1,100 CBF supporters responded to our call to action, sending e-mails to Maryland's Board of Public Works voicing their disapproval for a Kent Island housing development on a wetland. Both of these proposed developments are examples of large-scale building in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Despite this citizen protest, the outside developers won each time. Their shortsighted appeals of economic stimulus to the communities were chosen over the long-term economic benefits that a healthy Chesapeake Bay would provide. A recent study commissioned by CBF revealed that if the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented, it will provide an increase of $22.5 billion (that's billion with a "B") in natural benefits to the watershed every year. Talk about an economic stimulus.

Nobody ever said protecting the Bay would be easy. While clean water didn't win at Fones Cliffs or Kent Island this time, the fight isn't over. We won't back down.

This Week in the Watershed: Dirty Development, Farm Nutrients, and Oyster Love

  • Agriculture and fisheries management have collided with the recent boom of aquaculture in Maryland. (Daily Times—MD)
  • An irresponsible development on Kent Island called Four Seasons was approved despite citizen protest. (Capital Gazette—MD)
  • Dealing with the tons of chicken manure produced in Maryland every year is messy in more ways than one. But could it be used to produce clean, renewable energy? (Think Progress)
  • Nutrient management plans have a history of controversy, a theme that will likely continue with the Bay Program approving nutrient reduction credits for farms. (Bay Journal)
  • The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved phasing out the dedicated stormwater fee, while not providing an alternate plan for the county to pay for federally mandated stormwater remediation. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Any oyster fan will love this editorial and its celebration of November as Virginia Oyster Month. (Free Lance Star—VA)
  • ICYMI: the Richmond County Board of Supervisors has voted to rezone Fones Cliffs, a treasured site on the Rappahannock River. (Bay Journal)

Lend Your Voice for Clean Water!

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

November 26

  • Watershed-Wide: Happy Thanksgiving!

November 30

  • The Internet: Cyber Monday is a great day to find online deals. Before you get started though, answer this—What if a simple click could help Save the Bay? Now it can. All you have to do is type into your browser to shop on Amazon, and a percentage of every dollar you spend—no matter what you purchase—will go towards helping Save the Bay at no extra cost to you!

December 1

  • Watershed-Wide: Giving Tuesday is a global movement focused on giving, and it's the perfect opportunity to give something back to the Bay, the creatures that call it home, and your whole community. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation for our Bay on Giving Tuesday, and your gift's impact will be doubled!

December 2

  • VA Eastern Shore: Join CBF's monthly Citizen Advocacy Training to get a crash course on timely Bay legislative priorities and learn how they affect Virginia's Eastern Shore. This conference call will also allow time for you to ask questions and discuss opportunities to lend a hand or lift your voice for clean water. Contact Tatum Ford at or 757-971-0366 for more information.

December 5

  • Richmond, VA: Join us at the Virginia Conversation Network's General Assembly Preview. The event will cover topics like the Virginia Coastal Protection Act and the Clean Water Rule, with Delegate Lopez as the highlighted speaker. Lunch will be provided, but space is limited. Click here to register and learn more!

December 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: With far more requests for speaker's than we have staff or time, CBF relies on its Speaker's Bureau volunteers to handle a variety of speaking opportunities. Whether you are current on the issues and ready to share our message, or just enjoy public speaking and would like to get trained, we welcome your commitment to this important and high-profile program. Join us to learn the facts and skills to share our mission to Save the Bay with local groups and organizations. Click here to register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Creating an Eastern Shore Haven for Migrating Birds

3.GeeseA flock of Canada geese seen traveling across a familiar wetland landscape, seeking food and shelter after their long journey from Canada to overwinter on the Eastern Shore. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

Fall is the season of movement and change. The days shorten, the weather shifts, the world changes color, and the skies are filled with newcomers and old friends alike. On the Eastern Shore of Virginia nature thrives all year long and transients flock in abundance.

With its countless tidal mudflats, dunes, marsh, miles of beach, vegetated plains, and maritime forests, the Shore provides critical stopover points for an array of migrating birds. In fact, our peninsula embodies one of the most important migration bottlenecks in all of North America. Eastern Shore parks, refuges, preserves, and national seashore add up to more than 78,000 acres of protected lands, and it's no surprise that the flora and fauna thrive accordingly. "Habitats here receive extremely high use by migrant land birds during the fall months and are considered to have some of the highest conservation values on the continent," says Center for Conservation Biology Director Bryan Watts.

Until about mid-December, a host of migrating birds pass through the Shore on their way from summer grounds in the Northeast and Canada to wintering spots in the Southeast and the Caribbean. In the fall, warblers, sparrows, blue jays, thrushes, robins, finches, and flickers are a familiar sight. Unfortunately, as many as half of all migrating birds do not complete their journey.

2.RobinHowever, we can extend our good old Eastern Shore hospitality to our feathered friends by providing a haven for weary winged travelers this season. Any yard can be transformed to help the more than 200 species of migratory birds hard wired to visit us every year.

Create backyard habitat by planting native grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees. They will provide crucial food and shelter for birds. Eastern Shore native plants support both the rich tapestry of species that call the Shore home and those that use our lands as a crucial pit stop. Native plants also tend to have deep roots, so they stabilize soil and prevent polluted runoff from entering nearby rivers and creeks. In fact, including natives in the landscape is one of the easiest (and most beautiful) steps property owners can take to both provide wildlife habitat and reduce pollution in local waterways, notes Dot Field, Region Steward for the Eastern Shore Natural Heritage Program of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Additionally, planting native plants is just one of the many ways we can make progress toward Virginia's commitments under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the action plan to clean up our waterways. "With native plants, we can help clean up the Bay while enhancing the environment and creating valuable bird habitat," says CBF's Senior Educator Bill Portlock.

Native plants also require little-to-no maintenance, so you won't have to worry about watering routines and there's no need to use fertilizers or pesticides. Those chemicals can be toxic to birds and also pollute waterways and kill insects that birds rely on for food.  

1.WarblerThere are many reasons we should lend a hand to migrating visitors, explains American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick. "Protecting and helping birds is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for the economy and the future of our environment. Birds are invaluable as controllers of insect pests and as pollinators of crops, and also generate tremendous economic revenues through the pastimes of bird feeding and birdwatching," Fenwick says.

Virginia's Eastern Shore is nationally recognized as a birdwatching destination. More than 20 percent of the U.S. population participates in birdwatching, according to a recent federal government study, and about 20 million people travel annually to see birds. These birders spend about $36 billion a year in pursuit of their pastime, and support bird haven economies by frequenting hotels, local restaurants, and other attractions. In fact, at this year's Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival around Cape Charles, about 85 percent of the hundreds of registered participants came from distances that required overnight stays.

But migrating birds have value well beyond the incredible economic stimulus they provide. Observing traveling birds is one of the ways we mark the changing seasons and connect with the rhythms of nature, famed biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson wrote in her book The Edge of the Sea. "There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds; in the ebb and flow of the tides; responding to sun and moon as they have done for millions of years; in the repose of the folded bud in winter, ready within its sheath for spring," she states. "There is something infinitely healing in these repeated refrains of nature, the assurance that night after night, dawn comes, and spring after winter."

—Tatum Ford, CBF's Virginia Eastern Shore Outreach Coordinator

Photos: A robin enjoying some native red cedar berries (top right); this yellow-rumped warbler, the most common wintertime warbler in Virginia, comes to us all the way from Canada. It has the unique ability to digest wax myrtle berries, allowing it to winter farther north than other warblers (top left). All photos by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

This Week in the Watershed

Spruce Knob, on the western edge of the Chesapeake watershed in West Virginia, reveals the metaphorical peaks and valleys in the work to save the Bay. Photo by Justin Black/iLCP.

The work to save the Chesapeake Bay certainly has its peaks and valleys. Occasionally, these peaks and valleys come close together. This past week in the watershed, we were greeted with the good news that the Virginia oyster harvest is up 24 percent from last year. In addition to rebounding oyster numbers, we're seeing positive signs of improvement from pollution reduction throughout the watershed—underwater grasses are recovering, water clarity is improving, and levels of dissolved oxygen are rebounding. Despite this positive progress, we were reminded this week that there are still many obstacles to overcome.

Yesterday we were disappointed to learn that despite our efforts in conjunction with several conservation groups, the Richmond County Board of Supervisors voted to rezone Fones Cliffs. This treasured site on the Rappahannock River is a place like no other in the Chesapeake watershed. In addition to being one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast, the potential development is an environmental and economic threat to the community. While next steps are still to be determined, according to Peggy Sanner, assistant Virginia director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, one thing is clear—"It's not over yet."

The worst, albeit not surprising, news from the past week is the American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural lobbying organizations once again challenging the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, this time bringing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lauded in previous court decisions as a wonderful example of cooperative federalism, the legal challenges facing the Blueprint simply do not hold water (pardon the pun). As we have stated time and again, the Blueprint is the Bay's best, and perhaps last chance, to be saved. And although we are saddened by the Farm Bureau's groundless attempts to dismantle the Blueprint, we are confident the Supreme Court will lean on the sound legal and factual findings of the two previous court decisions, and reaffirm Bay restoration efforts.

This Week in the Watershed: Better, Bad, and Worst

  • Disappointing news from Virginia, as the Richmond County Board of Supervisors has voted to rezone Fones Cliffs, a treasured site on the Rappahannock River. (Richmond Times Dispatch—VA)
  • Excited to see that the Virginia oyster harvest is up 24 percent from 2014. (Associated Press)
  • This editorial is spot-on, criticizing the Baltimore County Council for its short-sighted approach in repealing its stormwater remediation fee. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • Polluted runoff is a central source of pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, but detecting violations is a significant challenge. (Bay Journal)
  • We're saddened but not surprised that the American Farm Bureau Federation and other industry groups are taking their assault on the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint all the way to the Supreme Court. (Bay Journal)
  • Implementing agricultural best management practices in Pennsylvania is critical in saving the Bay and its rivers and streams. Lancaster County, PA is on the front lines. (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal—PA)

Lend Your Voice for Clean Water!

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

November 13-15

  • Easton, MD: Volunteer to staff the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's exhibit in the iconic Waterfowl Festival! Lend a hand for just a few hours teaching the community about CBF's work on the Shore and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavor of the beautiful Eastern Shore. Contact Hilary Gibson at to sign up!

November 13

  • Onancock, VA: Meet new people, learn all about water quality issues on the Eastern Shore, and enjoy some great food at CBF's Dine & Discuss: Fish 'n Fowl Taco Night! Receive updates on fisheries, agriculture, and water quality with a smattering of science and a peppering of policy. Eat fish and chicken tacos free of charge. A cash bar will be available. This is an adult-only event. Reserve your spot today!

November 14

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Three to four volunteers are needed to staff a CBF display table at a local oyster roast! Volunteers will share current information with the attendees and enjoy this very informal event that includes all you can eat oysters with a portion of the proceeds going to CBF. For more information contact Tanner Council at or 757-622-1964.

November 18-20

  • Washington, D.C.: Join CBF at Greenbuild, the world's largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. The green building community gathers to share ideas and mutual passion at Greenbuild, with three groundbreaking days of inspiring speakers, invaluable networking opportunities, industry showcases, LEED workshops and tours of the host city's green buildings. Click here for more information!

November 18

  • Easton, MD: Attend CBF's Oyster Expo for a night of all things oyster! Staffed by leading scientists from around the region, this event will feature a variety of family-friendly exhibits, movies, and displays that bring to life the ongoing work to support the iconic Chesapeake Bay oyster. Learn about current oyster restoration projects and what you can do to help. Click here to register!

November 19

  • Chestertown, MD: Come on out for a Bay Panel Discussion featuring farmers, environmentalists, and local residents talking about the challenges and success in the effort to achieve a healthier Chesapeake Bay while continuing to produce food. Click here for more information!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

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.


Fones Cliffs Rezoning Meeting This Thursday

1Along a pristine stretch of the Rappahannock River on the Northern Neck, a massive, proposed development threatens a place like no other in the Chesapeake watershed. Fones Cliffs is one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast and what many consider to be the jewel of the Rappahannock.

This Thursday the Richmond County Board of Supervisors will again consider a request from the Diatomite Corporation to rezone part of this extraordinary place. All to make way for parking lots, commercial development, and townhomes. 

Please join us on Thursday, November 12 to oppose this destructive, short-sighted development. Details are as follows: 

What: Richmond County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Fones Cliffs Rezoning

When: Thursday, November 12, 9 a.m.

Where: Public Meeting Room, County Administrator's Office 333-3415, 101 Court Circle, Warsaw, VA 22572

RSVP: Please let us know if you plan to attend the meeting by e-mailing:

Yes, we're concerned about the eagles, but our concern extends beyond threats to the bald eagle population. It extends to the health of this land and community—both environmentally and economically. 

The proposed development would require extensive clearing of trees, exposing the land's highly erodible soils directly to rain and risking the stability of the cliffs. The health of the Rappahannock and nearby streams would be at risk, as sediment and polluted runoff from the new homes, roadways, parking lots, and golf course would flow directly into them. 

And for what benefit? Our experts believe the project would generate little net revenue for the county when you take into account expected increased costs for roads and schools.  

Thoughtful stewardship can preserve Fones Cliffs' unparalleled natural beauty and rich history for residents and visitors while creating economic opportunities that last far into the future. Please join us on Thursday.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

If you haven't yet, please sign our petition to Save Fones Cliffs!

Above photo: The Diatomite Corporation of America is threatening to develop part of this unspoiled place that is home to one of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.


Restoring the River of My Childhood

Chuck and James 4I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, in a home on the James River near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. I learned how to swim in the river, how to row a dinghy, how to fish and crab, how to read the wind and waves, and how to lose myself in the river's daily ebb and flow.

And like all kids, I knew every inch of my neighborhood. I knew every beach, pier, jetty, and seawall. I knew exactly where to wade to find soft crabs at low tide, on which rocks and pilings to net hard crabs at high tide, and under which Childhoof sunken logs lay fierce-looking (and biting) oyster toad fish. The river was truly a wonderland of life—clear water and vast underwater grass beds full of crabs, fish, oysters, mussels, and clams. In the fall, dozens of white deadrise workboats hovered offshore harvesting oysters. And during the winter, the river was black with waterfowl; on still nights the air was filled with their quacks and whistles.

It was an idyllic youth, a Huck Finn-Tom Sawyer childhood, and the James River was its focus and heart.

But as I became a teenager, the river changed. The water grew persistently muddy, making it impossible to see crabs and fish beneath the surface. Sandy beaches eroded away to rock and clay. The grass beds full of life disappeared. Tar balls and litter washed ashore. And the wintertime flocks of ducks thinned to just a few birds. The James River seemed to be fading with my youth, and while I had no clue why, I distinctly remember wishing it wasn't so but feeling helpless to stop it.

Eventually I concluded the changing river was just another difficult part of growing up, of letting go of childhood, of accepting those unfortunate realities of teen life like report cards, gangly bodies, and broken hearts. The older I got, the farther the James River of my youth receded into memory. Then it was off to college, adulthood, relocations, jobs, marriage, and family. I never solved the mystery of the river. I thought I never would.

Fast-forward 25 years and an 18-year career with CBF. There I learned about nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution, about excess fertilizer and manure, about wastewater, about sprawl development and urban runoff, about lost wetlands and forests, and about cloudy water and dead zones. And I learned that the health of the Chesapeake Bay had been declining for centuries, finally bottoming out in the 1960s—just about the time I noticed the James River begin to die.

And then it hit me. What was killing the Chesapeake Bay was the same thing that was killing the James River: too much pollution. I was thunderstruck. At last, a riddle that had frustrated me for decades was solved. Even more significantly, CBF was demonstrating every day that the James and Chesapeake were fixable. There was nothing absolute or immutable about pollution. It is caused by man; it can be stopped by man.

But most profoundly, CBF allowed me to be a part of the team working to ensure the Bay and the James River will be restored, so that one day another kid growing up beside another river can discover its wonders.

—Chuck Epes

Learn how we are working to restore the James and other rivers of the Bay through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Nourishment for the Soul on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Garden VolunteersThe Eastern Shore of Virginia is peppered with farms and waterways. But despite the Shore's predominantly agrarian landscape, a startling proportion of its 45,000 residents don't have enough to eat. According to the Foodbank's Eastern Shore Branch Manager Charmin Horton, an estimated 14,000 people on the Shore are served annually by the Foodbank of Southeast Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

Facing this challenge, local groups have taken action to assist struggling ­Shore residents. St. George's Episcopal  Parish (founded in Pungoteague in 1652 and considered the third Anglican church in the New World) together with its partner congregation St. James Episcopal Church in Accomac formed the Dos Santos Food Pantry Garden to grow fresh produce for those in need.

"We created the Dos Santos Food Pantry Garden out of a desire to feed our pantry clients fresh produce," Dos Santos Food Pantry Director Angelica Garcia-Randle explains. 

"We chose to name the pantry in Spanish as an indication of our primary objective—to assist migrant farmworkers and Latino immigrants on the Eastern Shore of Virginia by offering a resource where Spanish is spoken to clients and where food central to the Latino community is consistently offered," Garcia-Randle says. “Most of our pantry clients cannot afford to purchase fresh produce—even though a majority of them are harvesting in the fields. This seems ironic and unjust; a wrong that we could help make right." To that end, the pantry serves about 150 people per month and growing in an effort fully funded by donations. "We have a marvelous network of volunteers who help with maintenance, upkeep, harvest, and distribution," Garcia-Randle says.

Cameron Randle and Angelica Garcia Randle
Reverend Cameron Randle and Dos Santos Food Pantry Director Angelica Garcia-Randle.

Besides benefiting the community through the blessings of food distribution, the garden is also a model for how to grow food while minimizing damage to our Eastern Shore waterways. Hard impervious surfaces do not allow rain to soak into the ground, instead washing pollutants into local waters. But gardens allow water to soak into the soil, reducing damage by cutting the speed and amount of polluted runoff.

With such an interconnected relationship to our waterways here on the Shore, a sense of stewardship for the land and water is inherent within the Church's faith philosophy. "Our Episcopal/Anglican ethos is very much centered on a respect for all God's creation and a proactive sense of stewardship accountability for environmental resources," says Reverend Cameron Randle, rector of St. George's Parish. Quite literally practicing what he preaches, the garden at St. George's strives to incorporate environmentally friendly growing techniques.

After receiving soil test results from the local Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Dos Santos understood the nutrient needs of its soil, applying to the land only what was necessary—an important step that keeps excess fertilizer from polluting our local waterways. Often times, additional or improperly applied fertilizer washes into rivers and creeks creating harmful algal blooms, which in turn form dead zones that reduce underwater habitat and harm fisheries.

Peppers in HandThe Dos Santos Garden minimizes polluted runoff with gentle watering techniques such as drip irrigation and rain barrel use, and utilizes organic pest management strategies. It also composts waste, mulches the garden to reduce exposed soil, and plants a host of biodiverse crops. And the garden's bounty is right across the lawn from the food pantry, cutting the distance the food travels and reducing the amount of gas burned.

Reverend Randle is steadfast in his belief that the gospel message of unconditional love and hospitality extends to all manifestations of God's creation—the human and animal, the skies, earth, and waters. He explains that the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer asking God to "give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty." Through community outreach, enhancing local food security, and providing ample blessings to others while being mindful of impacts on the environment, the volunteers for the Dos Santos Community Garden are happy to get their hands dirty in the name of caring for creation.

—Tatum Ford, CBF's Virginia Eastern Shore Outreach Coordinator