Flora, Fauna, and…Fire

February 5th, 2016

By Karen Jensen Miles

Breezeway Fireplace with concretre stainedWhen students and other visitors visit Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, they are immediately struck by a sense that they are in the midst of something special. First, the land itself is a widely varied mix of habitats, each of which has its own beauty as evidenced by the senses that are awakened—lichens on the trees, the raucous chatter of the red-headed woodpecker, or the aroma of the many habitat components.

To add to this aura, the Grass Building has an outdoor fireplace and a wood-burning stove in the large common room. The fireplace is strategically placed in the breezeway, which is the main entrance to the building. The north end of the breezeway frames a real-life painting of treetops and distant fields that is enchanting. The breeze caresses one’s body as it accelerates through the passageway. Some of the gray-brown stones that face the fireplace have moss and lichens growing on them and the many shapes are pleasing to the eye. There are two large openings that face the firebox itself. These store firewood that is procured at the Farm from fallen trees and split into long triangles of differing sizes. When the openings are full of the wood, they are interesting to look at as well. White and red oak; red maple; beech; tulip poplar; and sycamore all have characteristic colors and textures that cause one to reflect on their beauty. There is a raised hearth where persons wanting to feel the radiant heat from the flames may sit.

Visitors that come to the farm frequently gather ‘round a roaring fire to hear ghost stories such as the one about the ‘goat man’ that wanders at night (great fun for grade schoolers) and roast marshmallows and hotdogs on sticks over the fire. These experiences promote a sense of inclusivity, contentment, and the creation of lifelong memories for so many who have never had an experience like this and may never have again. We frequently hear tales of adults who, as children, came to the farm and one of the highlights was the campfire.

The ceramic wood-burning stove in the common room evokes a sense of warmth even when there isn’t a fire set in it. All year long, people remark about how nice it would be to feel the heat radiating from it. There is something primeval about man’s fascination with flames and how they can mesmerize and allow persons close by to dream and meditate. These things are not measurable and there are no rubrics, but they are very real.

Neither the fireplace nor the woodstove will be used to heat unless there is a prolonged power outage, but the value they add to this project and the experience for all who visit is undeniable.

Top 5 Reasons to Support AFF

December 30th, 2015

Grass Day-Use Building, Potomac Watershed Study Center1.  Constructed One of the Greenest Education Buildings in the World
Net zero energy, carbon neutral ‘Living Building’ Opened in October
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Dip netting2Provided Experiential Environmental Education to more than 7,000 Students in our Bridging the Watershed and Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center programs
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BTW students picking up dip net3.  Celebrated our 60th Year in Operation, having served approximately 500,000 Students in our environmental education programs
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2015 contest finalist rc conservancy cleanup canoe crew jai julie4. Mobilized More Than 20,000 Volunteers in the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup
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Critter-investigation-Web5.  85% of Your Donation directly supports our environmental education programs
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Thank you for helping us reach our year end campaign goal …and everything you do to support AFF!

Volunteers Sweep Up the Shoreline at Oxon Cove Park

December 7th, 2015

Cleanup Chronicles, December 6, 2015

Another successful cleanup was held on Sunday, December 6th, at Oxon Cove Park. Twenty five volunteers enjoyed the sunshine and came out to help on this fall Sunday.

It was an adventure every step of the way. We all met in the parking lot, to be escorted to the shoreline by a tractor wagon. It was a scenic, slightly bumpy ride through endless fields and bare fall trees. The shoreline of the Potomac River offered a unique view of Alexandria, Virginia and the District of Columbia cityscapes. Together, we removed 23 bags of trash from the watershed, including a large plastic crate and an old, broken fishing pole. I was inspired by the words of fellow volunteers when I asked what they were finding. “We are finding a lot of Styrofoam. I am never buying Styrofoam again!” said Khara, volunteering with her daughter who is a high school student in Virginia.

“There are so many food wrappers; we should really be considering biodegradable options… You can learn a lot about people from the trash,” said Erik, a volunteer with Campfire Scouts. Erik said, “This is a great activity for kids because it is so simple, and it gets them outside.”

A group of Bowie State students were strongly represented. “It was something we could do together as a group.”

Ranger Stephanie Marrone was our cleanup leader. Marrone is very knowledgeable about the history of the park and is a wonderful steward of the land.

Thank you for volunteering! A cleanup saves animals, improves water quality and beautifies the park. I highly encourage everyone to participate in a trash cleanup; it is an eye opening experience.

Join us for the next Shoreline Sweep Up on January 3rd, 2016. Contact Hannah at [email protected] or by phone at 202.417.3524 with questions or to volunteer.

If you would like to learn more about Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm, please check out this article from the National Parks Magazine!

Embracing the Living Building Challenge

November 19th, 2015

By Karen Jensen Miles

Sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Greenbuild is the world’s largest conferenceLiving Building and expo dedicated to green building. The green building community gathers annually to share ideals and mutual passion. The conference features uplifting speakers, unparalled networking opportunities, showcases, LEED workshops and tours of green buildings in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Greenbuild offers a place for thousands to gather and renew their commitment to the green movement.

This year, Greenbuild is hosted by the National Capital Region chapter. The Alice Ferguson Foundation is honored to have been chosen as the site for two of the carefully vetted tours. On Monday, November 16th, we were the last stop on a day long tour entitled ‘River Ride Along the Watershed’, where attendees visited our new education campus that contains the region’s first ‘Living Building’. Attendees learned how this site embraces the principles of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), while also continuing their day of education about the perils threatening, and opportunities arising, for the area’s watershed. The presenters discussed the foundation’s mission and history and why it was important for our organization to embrace the LBC; an introduction to the LBC; and an overview of the building and the site’s water systems that included existing site conditions, project priorities, supply water, waste water and stormwater. Attendees also participated in an interactive, educational lesson called ‘Who Polluted the Potomac?’ that highlights the types of activities that all of us do that impacts our natural waterways. They also walked the site to see the ‘flow’ of water on the site.

On Friday, November 20th, a technical tour comprised of about 50 attendees and ten presenters will arrive at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center to learn about the Living Building Challenge (LBC) in the context of our project. There will be information about AFF as a whole; the project description and development to include: design process, charrette, construction process; rainwater and the site; water and energy; materials used; and LBC lessons learned. Our LBC project is being monitored carefully by the ‘green’ world of architects, engineers, planners, contractors and governmental agencies. We are very excited to be under the microscope since our experiences will aid others as they determine the various routes and responsibilities they want to undertake in the future.

A New Chapter: Back to the Future!

October 23rd, 2015

For fans of the movie Back to the Future II, October 21, 2015 is a notable date. When the film was released in 1989, that date seemed light years away. Interestingly enough, many of its predictions proved remarkably accurate. For fans of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, October 23, 2015, marks the last day of our 60th year of operation. Throughout the past six decades, our guiding principles of Education, Inspiration and Innovation have also proved to be remarkably on point.

In many ways we feel like we’ve gone ‘Back to the Future’ as we unveil our new education building. Some of the key components of the facility, like nutrient recycling toilets, are a modern day twist on an age-old concept. Other components, like harvesting energy from the sun’s power, seemed fantastical just a few decades ago.

Today, as we cut the ribbon on our new education building we look forward to serving thousands of students annually from around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area who will be able to enjoy and learn using one of the world’s greenest, most energy efficient buildings. To date, only seven buildings worldwide have been certified through this rigorous regimen, which also requires strict adherence to use of non-toxic materials in building construction as well as the net zero energy, net zero water and carbon neutral requirements of the Living Building Challenge™.

Leaders from around the region joined us for this important milestone including U.S. Senator Ben Cardin who said “Not long ago, carbon-neutral buildings made completely of non-toxic materials that use net zero energy and water were the stuff of science fiction, but today are a reality. Visionary projects like these will help show us the way out of the climate change crisis we are continuing to create for ourselves. I couldn’t be happier to have this monument to sustainability in Maryland or to know that thousands of students will have the chance to learn vital lessons here in the future.”

Our goal is for students to have an inspiring place to learn in these buildings that serve as powerful and innovative teaching tools. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III also joined us for the ceremony and remarked, “With today’s ribbon cutting of this unique state-of-the-art environmental learning center, the Alice Ferguson Foundation and Prince George’s County will be demonstrating to the world the newest in sustainable technologies and simultaneously educating the next generation of incredible environmental stewards.”

Nobody knows exactly what the future holds, not even Back to the Future’s main character, Marty McFly. What we do know is that the future will be brighter and more promising as a result of the Foundation’s investment in the Living Building Challenge which is certain to change the face of construction for generations to come.

Barnyard Update: Animals and Students Benefit from One Another

October 22nd, 2015
Berkshire-piglets

Berkshire Piglets

Back-to-school time on the farm is exciting for staff and animals alike, as we enjoy the return of visiting children. The entertainment value goes both ways between students and animals. This fall we have a new dairy calf to show off, born in August; two young Berkshire pigs, born in June; and a batch of broiler chicks; which arrived in September. All will quickly learn that young children are very interesting and friendly animals, themselves. Read more

Our goats, sheep, dairy cow, donkey, cat, geese, and chickens already know that children bring hand-outs as well, even if it is a back scratch. The dairy calf and young pigs will eventually get names that kids have suggested. The Angus beef herd is up to sixteen, which includes a bull, six cows, and young of varying ages. The rotational-grazing program, a practice we whole-heartedly endorse, started 6 or 7 years ago.

Annie-calf 2015

Annie and her Calf

When asked what crops we raise, the answer is, “grass.” The farm harvests its own hay for winter feeding of all the animals, and the pastures provide grazing for the rest of the year. It is the sole diet of all our ruminants!

The farm staff grew this summer by hiring Justin Beaven, a young agriculture graduate from the University of Maryland. Justin is very much at home driving a tractor, using and maintaining a wide variety of farm equipment, and handling beef cattle. He grew up helping his dad on his family’s farm in St. Mary’s County, where they raise cattle, and grow corn, soybeans, wheat/straw, and hay. Welcome, Justin.

Volunteer for Fall Cleanup at Chapman State Park, November 7

October 22nd, 2015

AFF is pleased to have formed a partnership with Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorpsChapman State Park program. We now have a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator on staff to help establish a more robust volunteer program throughout the Foundation.

Hannah Seligmann served as an intern earlier this year, helping to organize the Potomac River Watershed Annual Cleanup. She will be setting up area cleanups and helping to organize other volunteer opportunities around Hard Bargain Farm, as well.

The first of her efforts includes a cleanup at Chapman State Park on November 7, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Stay for the whole time or come out for an hour, every effort helps! Student service learning hours will be awarded.

For questions, contact Hannah at [email protected] or 301.292.5665 x216

Inaugural Partnership with the District’s Green Zone Environmental Program

October 22nd, 2015
Education team members from the Trash Initiative and HBF joined forces this summer GZEPwhile working with the Green Zone Environmental Program (GZEP). GZEP is an initiative funded and administered by the District’s Department of Employment Services and the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment. GZEP is one of the largest green jobs training programs for youth, ages 14 to 24, in the nation. This summer, AFF hosted 111 GZEP youth and 19 chaperones at Hard Bargain Farm to further their mission to work on projects that have immeasurable sustainability impacts.
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During their visit, the youth learned and created solutions to combat litter in their communities. They kicked off the day by heading down the river bank to pick up trash and experience the impacts of litter pollution in the watershed. Educators from AFF discussed who is responsible for the litter in the watershed and facilitated discussions and solutions. GZEP youth were challenged to create their own litter prevention campaign. They created some catchy slogans, such as: “Stop Pollution. That’s the Revolution”, “Litter Gives Me Jitters!”, “Drop That Trash! That’s Your A**”, “Littering is a reflection of who you are…think about it!”. Everyone went home with tools to help keep their communities clean, including a “Trash Kit” that contained a tote bag, gloves, water bottles or tumbler, and recycling bags.

Alice Ferguson Foundation Unveils One of the Greenest Environmental Education Buildings in the World

October 22nd, 2015

Buildings as Teaching Tools

Since its founding more than six decades ago, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has been students-at-buildingdedicated to educating visitors of all ages about the natural world, inspiring them to recognize their role in protecting it and seeking innovative ways to solve environmental challenges. When it came time to renovate and refresh our educational campus, we challenged ourselves to incorporate the latest advances in environmental design and construction. Our goal is for students to have an inspiring place to learn and to construct buildings that serve as powerful and innovative teaching tools.

The unveiling of our Living Building, marks a major milestone in our multi-phase project that provides educational facilities constructed with the greenest building standards in the world today. The thousands of students who visit our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center will learn how design and construction can make the world a better place. In keeping with the Foundation’s mission, the building will work in harmony with nature, allowing us to utilize the building as both a classroom and a teaching tool.

All building users will have an energy and water ‘budget’ to manage during their stay. Electronic tablets that are connected to the buildings’ infrastructure will allow constant monitoring of resource use, even when students are not in the building. The data will inform any adaptations and new strategies that may need to be made as each group of students seeks to help the Foundation meet the net zero energy and water goals inherent in the Living Building Challenge. The data will be analyzed, synthesized, and shared as part of our commitment to sustainability, learning, and innovation.

Our core values of Education, Inspiration, and Innovation are serving us well as we transform our aging infrastructure into one of the most innovative and inspirational education facilities anywhere in the world. The Living Building will not only enhance and upgrade our structure but also serve as a tool for teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) concepts, as well as augment our core ecological curriculum.

Hard Bargain Farm is Teeming with Excitement This Fall

September 8th, 2015

Back-to-school time on the farm is exciting for staff and animals alike, as we look forward to the return of visiting children. Some interesting developments on the Farm include a new dairy calf to show off, born in August. Late summer saw the addition of two young Berkshire pigs, born in June. A batch of broiler chicks will arrive on September 8. These animals will quickly learn that young children are very interesting and friendly animals themselves. Our goats, sheep, dairy cow, donkey, cat, geese, and chickens already know that children bring hand-outs as well, even if it is a back scratch. The dairy calf and young pigs will eventually be named based upon names the kids have suggested. The Angus beef herd is now at sixteen, which includes a bull, six cows, and young of differing ages. The rotational-grazing program, a practice we whole-heartedly endorse, started six or seven years ago.

  Berkshire PigletsAnnie and her calf