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 us at [email protected].

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

Creating The Ultimate Environmental Education Classroom

September 7th, 2015

As students return to their classrooms this fall, the Alice Ferguson Foundation is readying its own new state-of-the-art environmental education campus, unlike any other in the world! When we made the commitment to the Living Building Challenge© nearly a decade ago, we had no idea what the journey would hold. Today, we stand ready to share the first phase of that journey with students from throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

This week, students will begin learning not only how to use a net-zero energy and water building, but also what it takes to construct it in a carbon neutral way with non-toxic materials. As they explore the first of our two-building environmental education campus, they will learn of the building’s role in the campus ecosystem.

Code named ‘Grass,’ for its location in a sunny field, this first building’s ‘job’ in the educational campus ecosystem is to gather solar energy to power the building. Combined with geothermal wells along with walls and a roof designed to be a three-fold energy efficiency improvement over the average building, this first part of the Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC) represents a light year leap ahead of the current best practices in construction.

Complementing the Grass building are two sleeping cabins along with a special boardwalk/nature trail through an emergent wetland on the Foundation’s 330-acre working farm that serves as the backdrop for our environmental education endeavors. Welcoming students to these new facilities this fall is a fitting capstone to the celebration of our 60th year of operation. We will be officially cutting the ribbon on the new facility in early October. Soon thereafter, we look forward to beginning Phase Two of the project, which will include replacement of our current overnight lodge that has served students for nearly half a century.

Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center is Bustling with Activity

July 16th, 2015

You don’t have to have lived in the Washington metropolitan area very long to know what an Teacher Instituteanomaly a day like today is. Temps are in the low 80’s, there’s a little breeze, humidity is undetectable—and it’s July! The Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center is bustling with activity, hosting the Summer Teacher Institute for Maryland educators and also a group of participants from the District Department of the Environment, Green Zone Environmental Program (GZEP).

For two weeks in July, teachers from Prince George’s County Public Schools convene at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center to participate in an environmental science teacher institute. Today was the fourth of ten very full days soaking up ways of conveying environmental concepts in a hands-on/minds-on way to their students. Each day of the 10-day Institute provides elementary and middle school teachers experiential and collaborative learning, real world applications, ready-to-use activities, and issue investigation strategies. The Institute’s activities and concepts are correlated to Next Generation Science Standards.

GZEP introduces District of Columbia youth, age 14 to 24, to the green industry, exposing them to numerous exciting careers through workshops and hands-on training in the environment. The program participants develop basic skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. GZEP youth workers undertake projects that have immeasurable sustainability impact in the District. At AFF, some of the youth’s field-based training included assisting in demonstrating first-hand how trash ends up in our water systems. They were placed into groups and challenged to draw pictures of pollution and how trash and chemicals pollute our water. The information learned will be put to use as they work on city beautification projects, invasive plant removal, and other projects in the District.

Hard Bargain Farm is Home to 16 Eastern Bluebird Houses

July 14th, 2015

The Alice Ferguson Foundation headquarters is pleased to be the home of 16 new Eastern Bluebird houses.Blue bird house The houses were built and installed courtesy of Curtis Gentry and family. The houses’ construction pays close attention to the needs of the bluebirds, that were on the verge of extinction just a few decades ago. The green roofs, thick walls, and cross ventilation openings all serve to regulate temperature, providing natural cooling in warmer months. Stovepipe guards on the posts keep out predators, such as racoons and snakes; entry holes sized specifically for the bluebird eliminate more aggressive bird species; sloped roofs, drainage holes and recessed floors keep the birds dry and comfortable. Eastern Bluebirds eat insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and caterpillars so they are welcomed to make Hard Bargain Farm their home.

AFF Hosts Annual Garden Party & Wine Tasting

July 2nd, 2015

Alice Ferguson Foundation hosted its Annual Garden Party and Wine Tasting evegarden-party-eve-croppednt on June 19th. This event was sponsored in partnership with the Prince George’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Among the more than 100 attendees were leadership from the Prince George’s County EDC, two MD cabinet secretaries, two heads of local jurisdictional Departments of the Environment, the Chair of the County Council, and many esteemed members of the local community, businesses, and nonprofits. Guests mingled on the hilltop for an evening of delicious food, drinks, and live music. It was our pleasure to feature some of Prince George’s County’s finest businesses as we offered specialty chocolates generously provided by SPAGnVOLA, as well as a variety of wines from Romano Vineyard and Winery, in addition to a selection of artisanal wines created by AFF Board President Dan Jackson.

The Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center offered the perfect setting and served as a compelling reminder of AFF’s mission to connect people to the natural world by providing environmental education experiences to the students of Prince George’s County and the Washington, DC metropolitan region. We invite you to learn more about the Foundation’s events and news and join our community of members and to support our efforts.

Our guiding principles of education, inspiration and innovation were front and center throughout the evening, particularly with opportunities to tour the nearly completed first phase of our upgraded education buildings. Our Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC), one of just a handful of building sites in the world that fully embrace the Living Building Challenge ©, will serve as a valuable teaching tool and resource for business leaders, community members, students and teachers alike. We invite you to learn more about this ground breaking project and to become involved.