Archive for the ‘Environmental Education’ Category

Teacher Institute and Trainings of Summer 2016

September 13th, 2016

Teacher Institute and Trainings 2016
This summer 70 teachers from across the region received environmental education training from the Alice Ferguson Foundation education team in a variety of exciting locations, everywhere from the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial to a pontoon boat on Jug Bay to our very own working farm on the shore of the Potomac River. For many of our teachers turned students, these were opportunities to move from their comfort zone to their “challenge zone”, learning new ways to teach hands on science.

During our two week Teacher Institute with Prince George’s County teachers, staff from across AFF came to speak to our teachers on all of the exciting ways they could bring environmental concepts to life in the classroom. Julia Saintz from our Trash Initiative spoke to the teachers about creating Trash Free Schools and Trash Free Classrooms. Staff from the education team demonstrated multiple ways to teach watershed concepts, first using simple classroom tools and eventually moving outside to teach concepts that could easily be covered on a school’s parking lot or playground. Local experts gave tours of recycling, compost, and waste water treatment facilities that affect the daily lives of these teachers and the students they teach. Farm staff shared their expertise about gardening, soils and other topics that could be shared in the school setting. By the end of the Institute, the teachers became experts in field work, doing water quality testing and making assessments that they could do with their students.

Teachers who were nervous about being outdoors started with hands-on learning of simple lesson plans that could be used in the schoolyard, and over the course of two weeks were empowered to touch benthic macro invertebrates (creek critters), observe wild osprey, as well as kayak and canoe on the river. It was an exciting transformation for the teachers and for the staff who had the privilege of working with them.

With the Bridging the Watershed Teacher Trainings, local teachers met at National Parks to participate in student modules to learn to assess water quality through chemical testing, macro invertebrate sampling, invasive plant identification, and trash studies. They learned about the detrimental effects of human impacts, including marine debris and polluted runoff on drinking water and marine species. Teachers learned ways to bring these studies back to the classroom curriculum and prepare their students for outdoor learning experiences.

The most important part of all AFF education programs is to empower students with ways to have positive human impact on the environment. AFF hopes to model effective teaching on environmental issues by approaching people in their comfort zone and challenging them to learn more, teach more, and get more hands on.

One of our teachers wrote after the institute, “Our knowledge of how we are impacting our planet, and ways to apply science to solve and investigate real world issues was increased tremendously. . . My experience at Hard Bargain Farm was truly special and will inform my instruction and attitude for the years to come.”

Virginia Student from St. Stephens and St. Agnes High School Studies at HBF

June 23rd, 2016

Interning at AFF
By Camryn Collette

Teresa in the children's garden. Photo by Camryn ColletteFor my high school senior project, I volunteered 21 hours with the Alice Ferguson Foundation in Accokeek, Maryland. For our senior projects, we each proposed one question through a social justice lens that we would then attempt to answer. My question was, “How can I help to work towards more natural, peaceful, and greener ways for humans to live, while taking in consideration all forms of life?” I worked with Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for AFF’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, as well as, AFF’s Hard Bargain Farm educators. The facilities and land they have are beautiful; especially their newest building that is currently in the process of being certified as a Living Building, which is like nothing I have ever seen before. My favorite part of the Living Building was the solar panel roof and front deck made out of recycled plastic. One thing that makes AFF special is the amount of passion and enthusiasm the staff has. As Hannah says, they are a “small but mighty crew,” and she is absolutely right.

One of the many important things they do at AFF is educate younger kids from D.C., PG County, and other places in the metropolitan region about environmental issues, and how to make a difference towards saving the Earth in everyday life. Since the majority of these students live in the city, this program often connects them to nature for the first time. While I was on the farm, I learned lots of cool and useful facts and ways I can help work towards a more natural, peaceful, greener life for humans to live, and I am excited to share this knowledge with others. One of the many things I learned on the farm is how huge of a positive impact humans can make on the environment just by doing simple things, such as sorting trash from recyclables and picking up trash or recycling that has been littered.

Living Building at Hard Bargain Farm.  Photo by Camryn Collette


Faith In Our Watershed Month – May 2016

May 13th, 2016

Faith In Our Watershed, photo by Bill TownsendTim Murphy, Coordinator, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, Alice Ferguson Foundation

As I watch the drops of rain fall at the farm today, I am reminded that every molecule of water on the earth has always been here. It exists in our waterways, has seeped into the earth, resurfaced for our needs, and evaporated into the air, only to return again as rain. Refilling my 52 oz water jug from the tap supplied by our well, I start to wonder about all the places these molecules of water might have been.

The 2nd Annual Faith in our Watershed Month is a program sponsored by the Alice Ferguson Foundation. We are encouraging faith communities to consider where our water comes from and the gift it is to all the people of the earth. 2/3 of our body weight is water, making the presence of water the primary factor of human viability. The essential message is that how we treat our water will have a long-term impact on our survival. The actions we are calling for are:

  1. Inspiring your faith community through messages during worship or organized educational activities. We at the Alice Ferguson Foundation are ready as a resource for any programming you want to do.
  2. Take Action by cleaning up the trash in your area. Cleanup activities are listed year round on our Trash Network: You can even organize your own cleanup and list it on the network as well. We can take you through every step. Our Adopt A Litter Can program involves taking ownership of a litter can that we provide, to put in a place that is often littered. This program is getting popular, and proving to be an exceptional solution.
  3. Raise Awareness by posting our litter campaign materials. We can provide you with free promotional materials that are proven to reduce littering.

For more information on Faith in our Watershed Month, contact us: [email protected]

Mallows Bay Cleanup Volunteers Remove 4.84 Tons of Trash

May 13th, 2016

Mallows Bay Cleanup, Photo by Adirenne FarfallaThe 28th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup was April 16, 2016. AFF supported hundreds of cleanups all over the region from DC, MD, VA, to WV. Among the cleanup sites was Mallows Bay. Mallows Bay has recently passed the nomination process to become a National Marine Sanctuary and will be entering the next phase of designation involving a highly participatory and transparent public review process. 

Over 150 people volunteered at the cleanup, removing a total of 4.84 tons of trash!

Representing AFF were staff members Karen Jensen Miles, Adrienne Farfalla and Board of Directors Member Liz Theobalds. The site leader at Mallows Bay was Sammy Orlando from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Also in attendance was Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson, Tom Roland. Chief of Parks & Grounds, Don Shomette, author of Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, Susan Langley, Chief Underwater Archaeologist for the State of Maryland, Mary Groves with MD DNR Smallwood State park, Nick Kuttner with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Charlie Stek, Chair of the Mallows Bay- Potomac River Community group, Dave Howe and the team from Institute of Maritime History, Judy Lathrop’s Atlantic Kayak Company, and the Nanjemoy Fire and Rescue team. These volunteers freely engaged the cleanup participants in wonderful stories about the sunken vessels and ecological treasures in the bay.

Tim Emhoff from Nanjemoy Creek and Adrienne Farfalla from the Alice Ferguson Foundation lead education programs with fourth grade students from Gale-Bailey Elementary School after the cleanup on activities such as; Who Polluted the Potomac, and Trash Timeline.

Going Green is Good for Business!

April 29th, 2016

AFF award pic2Ten years ago, the Alice Ferguson Foundation began the design process for a 4,200 sq. ft. carbon neutral, net-zero energy, net-zero water education building. Yesterday, this state-of-the-art “green” education building was listed as one of Washington Business Journal’s Top 25 Best Real Estate Deals for 2015. The only nonprofit in attendance, we were recognized in the cadre of 24 other projects in the Washington D.C. metro area.

Our day-use education building is on track to meet strict certification requirements for the Living Building Challenge. Currently, only eight Living Building projects in the world are certified. To be fully certified, living buildings must prove that they are net-zero energy and water, and carbon neutral by operating for a full year and documenting those results…and we are on track.

farmWhen this project began there were no certified Living Buildings in existence, which meant we were entering unchartered territory. We overcame many hurdles and challenges to make the building a reality. The entire process took ten years—we finished construction last October and the final product was worth the wait!

The “Grass” educational building, as it is nicknamed for its plant-like ability to absorb the energy of the sun, is located at the edge of a south-facing field. Its roof spreads out like wings to capture the sun’s energy and a network of 20 geothermal wells, located in the grassy field in front of the building, help ensure we use this power most efficiently. These wells, along with solar panels on the roof, provide all of the renewable energy needed to power the building.

Living Buildings are designed to function like species in an ecosystem and mimic the beauty, resourcefulness and efficiency of nature. They are designed to regenerate—not deplete— their surroundings.

The building works in harmony with nature, aligning with the Challenge’s seven performance categories, which include:

  • Restoring a healthy local ecosystem
  • Sourcing all its water from rainfall
  • Harvesting all its energy from renewable sources
  • Choosing non-toxic materials
  • Supporting a just, equitable world
  • Maximizing physical and psychological health of guests
  • Celebrating beauty, inspiring transformative change through design

Once certified, AFF will join an elite group of leaders dedicated to the newest in sustainable technologies and educating the next generation of environmental stewards. We are honored to have been featured in Washington Business Journal’s list, and invite you to learn more about this innovative project.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Potomac River Watershed Cleanup at Riley’s Lock

April 21st, 2015

By Hannah Seligman, Intern, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative

The Potomac River offers fun, healthy, and educational adventures, and each April the Alice Ferguson Foundation partners with hundreds of local community groups to clean up the watershed during our annual Potomac Cleanup. As part of our cleanup events this year, I participated in the Riley’s Lock Cleanup on the C&O Canal. Kay Fulcomer, a longtime river activist, has led a cleanup here for eight consecutive years. Calleva Outdoors Education provided canoes, life jackets, and paddles for volunteers, and AFF provided gloves and large, heavy duty bags for trash and recycling.

reillys lock 2We launched our canoes from the Seneca Landing boat ramp around 10am and spread across Seneca Creek, the mouth of the Potomac River, and downriver to Violettes Lock. After about three hours on the water we collected 17 full bags of trash, 12 full bags of recyclables (the bulk being plastic or glass beverage bottles), one mini refrigerator, one fifty-five gallon barrel, fishing hooks and lures, one tire, one steel lunch tray, sports balls and lots of Styrofoam. The C&O Canal National Historic Park kindly assists us in disposal of all trash. Jim Heins of the C&O Canal Association – also a leader of several cleanup sites – personally sorts through the recycling bags to ensure that they will be approved at the recycling facility.

Crawling along the banks of the river, reaching to pick up trash, brought me a huge surge of inspiration and joy. Despite the thick bugs I knew I would swallow if I opened my mouth, I could not convince my muscles otherwise. I was smiling and motivated from the feeling of community. I’ve been an intern with the AFF since March, and my goal for this internship is to connect as many people as possible to their local watershed and to promote a sense of belonging to encourage community rapport. Ultimately, I would like to see cleanups be closely affiliated with ecology education to further engage youth.

Reilly lock 1Every action on land will affect the river, and it’s time to awaken our awareness to consumption patterns. The banks along the waterways constantly collect debris. Natural strainers in the water, such as tree matter and broken branches, also accumulate trash floating in the river. Trash is deadly to wildlife and increases toxins to be filtered out of our drinking water. Here are some ways to be part of the solution: Take control; take care of your trash. Do not litter and report any illegal dumping to your county or other jurisdiction. Make sure your trash and recycling receptacles have a secure lid and are not overflowing when you put them on the street for pickup. Volunteer at a community cleanup! “The Potomac River naturally brings good people together,” said Cleanup leader Fulcomer, and The Riley’s Lock Cleanup was a successful community event. Volunteers included community residents, Potomac River Keeper Dean Naujoks, the Canoe Cruisers Association, the Monocacy Canoe Club, Blue Ridge Voyageurs, Seneca Creek Watershed Partners, the Muddy Branch Alliance, Calleva Outdoors, and Montgomery Parks. Thank you to everyone who came out to make a difference and beautify our local waterways! It’s never too late to get involved. Our ultimate goal is a Trash Free Potomac. Contact [email protected] or 301-292-5665 to learn more and find out about upcoming events.