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The Ultimate "Senior Experience"

Boys with Michael on farmAlec 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 project.

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.

As the 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 Slater
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.

Learn more about how we are working with farmers across the watershed to clean up our waters!



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