Archive for the ‘Environmental Education’ Category

Good Riddance Garbage

April 1st, 2015

good-riddance-garbageBy guest writer David Thompson, a high school junior in Prince George’s County.

On March 21, along with eight others, I cleaned up a few streets in a Maryland residential area. I heard about this cleanup initiative through my cousin, who resides in the neighborhood. Despite our different ages, races, and backgrounds we all had one common goal in mind: ridding the area of litter.

We immediately grabbed our equipment (a neon green vest, a trash pickup tool, and latex gloves) and wasted no time bagging up the trash. While doing so, we found many noteworthy items: a woman’s purse, a diaper, a shopping cart, at least four tires, a tennis shoe, and two televisions! By the time we were finished cleaning the site, I honestly felt like a full-fledged detective! I pondered why some of our findings would be in the trash, i.e. the two TVs. A group member and I joked around that someone was infuriated and threw out the TVs in a vicious rampage! The cleanup crew chatted as we worked, but that definitely didn’t make us lose sight of our goal. The team’s aura was consistently energetic and passionate about making such a difference in the community. Now I don’t consider myself a tree-hugger, but I was quite disappointed to witness the enormous amount of pollution, which I felt detracted from the beauty of the surrounding nature. It served as an eye-opening juxtaposition to the natural beauty of the Earth. Trees, plants, and shrubs, being depreciated by liquor bottles, beer cans, and all sorts of snack wrappers.

As a result, we pulled out all of our stops. One of the ladies on the team walked to her nearby home to bring back a shovel, rake, and trashcan to make our hard work more effective. Once we pulled the rubbish from underneath the shrubbery, we were able to dispose of and recycle the trash even quicker than before. I stayed out there cleaning up for four hours and I even was hurt by several thorny vines while trying to get a grip on far away items. But ironically, as time progressed I didn’t get tired. My drive increased. After this experience, I felt a rhapsody of accomplishment and a sense of fulfillment.

All in all, I learned and acknowledged that there is strength in numbers, and that no matter how major or simple that difference may be, you’re never too old or young to make a difference in the community.

Can We Talk About Your Trash?

March 24th, 2015

Cleanup-for-trash-postBy Tim Murphy, Potomac River Watershed Cleanup Coordinator

I recently had the privilege of addressing a communications class at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) taught by Assistant Professor Michelle Brosco Christian. This class is part of CSM’s service learning curriculum, and one assignment in the course is to choose an organization for which you can lead a service project.

I was invited to the class to discuss the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and demonstrate how the students could use this event for their assignment. Most of the students in this class understood that recycling is important and that they should not litter; but my conversation with the students deepened their understanding of the pervasive problems of trash. Thanks to Prof. Christian for sharing student feedback!

A number of students were very motivated by your talk to our class! Look what one student wrote:

“When the representative from the [Alice] Ferguson Foundation presented in class last week, I was very inspired by the work they did, how easy it was to get involved, and how large of a scale the problem was. Even if I don’t use [The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup] for service learning, I realize I was motivated to volunteer and help, to actually align my actions with my environmentally-conscious viewpoints. The representative mentioned that [Frances ‘Frankie’ Sherman, Recycling Superintendent] is really trying to spearhead recycling in Charles County, and has already made headway. And all I could think about was that in my neighborhood, as long as I have known, there has been no recycling program – and how appalling that is. Sometime this semester, I would like to not only organize a cleanup (for the place dearly needs one), but perhaps talk to the homeowners’ association about why a recycling program hasn’t been implemented, and what steps could be taken to change that.”

Trash makes the places we live and work unsafe and unhealthy, and students are shaping our future laws and policies. I’m glad I had a chance to talk in-depth with them about our region’s trash problems and solutions. Here are some ways we can all help:

  1. Encourage your family and friends not to litter.
  2. Make sure your trash and recycling bins have lids to keep wind and critters from creating litter.
  3. Join us on Saturday, April 11 for the 27th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

Want to know more about recycling in your town? Here are some local recycling resources. Know of others? Add them in the comments.


AFF’s Newest Trash Free School: in their own words

January 27th, 2015

Guest blog post by Maurice Collier-Shabazz and the rest of the Green Team at Phyllis E. Williams Elementary School

Phyllis E. Williams Elementary SchoolGoing Green…
This school year Phyllis E. Williams Elementary School decided to participate in the Maryland Green School Project and Alice Ferguson Foundation’s (AFF) Trash Free School Project. These projects help us focus and take action on a few community-wide issues. These issues include recycling, solid waste reduction, water conservation/pollution prevention, energy conservation and habitat restoration. The school saw a community need and decided to create an action plan to help combat what was deemed to be an environmental problem.

The first step in our going green process has been to set up a successful recycling program as well as participating in the Trash Free School Project. Our students and parents have stepped up to the challenge to sign the Trash Free Lunch pledge, which takes place on Thursdays. Our focus in going green is to lower our waste as a school and focusing on the 3 R’s- Rethink, Reduce and Reuse.

The students of Phyllis E. Williams have taken the lead in the creation of the Going Green initiative. The after-school program led the initiative to start the recycling program by managing the disposal of all recyclables collected during the school day. The Student Government and Honor Society are supporting our green movement by creating posters to reinforce the schools message regarding the recycling and trash free programs.

Phyllis E. Williams is currently partnering with the Alice Ferguson Foundation and MAEOE (Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education) to assist our school to become a certified Green School within the next year or so. Looking ahead, Phyllis E. Williams will have a Green School Kick Off Celebration that will include representatives from Pepco, WSSC (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission), and AFF to address the importance of energy conservation and maintaining a trash-free watershed.

For more information on Trash Free Schools click here.
For more information on Maryland Green Schools click here.

Why I Give

December 16th, 2014

Dan Jackson and familyBy Dan Jackson, Alice Ferguson Foundation Board President

It is that time of year again when many people start to think about monetary donations to help reduce income tax liability. However, many of us also think about charitable donations, throughout the year. I am listing six reasons I choose to donate both money, and time, to AFF on a regular basis. In no particular order:

  1. I believe 100% in AFF’s mission

    To me, there is nothing better than supporting an organization that opens minds of all ages to nature’s tune on a 300-acre working farm. I am so proud to represent and serve an organization that advocates for environmental, agricultural, and cultural education, stewardship of resources, trash-free schools and businesses, and healthy waterways and woodlands.

  2. AFF has helped me build stronger bonds with family and friends

    Since my first affiliation with AFF in 2000, Hard Bargain Farm has been and continues to be a bonding place for me, especially with my sons. They were 10 and 8 when we first helped Eileen Watts milk Marmalade, feed the cattle, and pick eggs. Since then we’ve spent many days and nights at the Farm and have often been joined by friends and extended family who have also embraced how special the Farm is and have appreciated AFF’s work.

  3. My involvement with AFF has helped me develop and refine skills

    As one who takes a strong interest in sharpening the saw, I volunteer to hone existing skills and learn new ones. Volunteering and Board leadership is an opportunity for me to learn from individuals I may not meet otherwise, to find common bonds, and develop more business acumen as we dig deep into strategic and operational issues that guide the organization. What I gain is a greater understanding of common goals, a respect for others, and perspective.

  4. I follow a legacy of service by working with AFF

    My Mom and Dad have been volunteers for as long as I can remember in one form or another. At the moment, they’re heavily involved in several organizations including Montgomery Village Kiwanis and The Miracle League Montgomery County, MD. My sons are following – partially because it’s a highly worthy school requirement, but also because they see what we get out of the experiences. They started young and I expect they’ll continue to serve. I truly hope they’ll find the same level of satisfaction as I have found by working with AFF.

  5. I meet and work with amazing people through AFF

    It begins with AFF staff and leadership and extends to Board, volunteers, and community members. The folks affiliated with AFF are amazing and dedicated to the organization, Hard Bargain Farm, the area’s rich history, and preserving the awesome sense of place. This dedication and caliber of people inspires me to continue my affiliation with AFF.

  6. My efforts through AFF are sincerely appreciated

    From the time I first signed-up as a volunteer stream clean-up leader to serving in my current role as Board President, I’ve always felt that my contributions have been welcomed and valued no matter the amount of time I’ve given, the big or small ideas shared, or the amount of money I’ve contributed. This has not always been the case with other organizations for which I’ve served. I believe this treatment is a testament to AFF’s greatness.

Urban Plight to Agricultural Delight

December 12th, 2014
Urban Farm Site Before BAIBLocated on 32nd and Branch Ave in Temple Hills, MD is a 5,000 square foot abandoned street scape project that has existed since 1974. Thirty years later this forgotten site, a road that literally led nowhere, will be the future home for an urban farm thanks to an initiative spearheaded by Branch Avenue In Bloom (BAIB). Since 2010 BAIB, a program of the Maryland Small Business Development Center, has been coordinating with the local businesses and community residents to revitalize the Branch Avenue commercial corridor. BAIB has partnered with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative to address litter in their community with the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign and through community cleanups.

Urban Farm Real Time Map

Urban Farm Renderings InteriorThe urban farm will have 20 raised beds where participants will have the freedom to plant crops of their choice as well as have over 20 fruit trees, including peach, plum, pomegranate, fig, and persimmon. The farm will give the local community an opportunity to grow their own food and eat healthier. This is especially important in the Branch Avenue corridor, which is considered a food desert, an area where there aren’t any grocery stores nearby. The farm will also serve as a shared community space that will feature urban farming entrepreneurial training, stormwater management awareness, hands on educational opportunities for area schools, jazz shows, movies, and other related outdoor activities. We can’t wait to see how the urban farm will impact and empower the local community.

Urban Farm Renderings Outlay Part 2What originally started off as an idea incepted in 2011 to transform the physical appearance of Branch Avenue, has since transformed into a project that affects the public health and environmental spectrums of the local area and the state. In 2012 BAIB discovered that stormwater runs off the site into a local stream, Oxon Run, which is behind the farm. This stormwater runoff carries pollutants, such as litter and nitrogen, which contaminate Oxon Run. BAIB decided to incorporate stormwater management strategies into their schematics to address the problem. As Oxon Run empties into the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, the urban farm will not only help to build community, revitalize the business corridor, and address a food desert, but will work to protect our environment and the region’s waterways.

To follow the progress of the Branch Avenue Urban Farm, please visit the If you have any questions, BAIB can be reached at [email protected] and/or (301)-702-2250.

To learn more about where your stormwater goes, explore this map of bags of trash collected at community cleanups in the Washington, DC area. If you zoom into your location, you can use the “Flow Path Tool” to figure out where your stormwater goes and the “Upstream Area Tool” to figure out what areas drain towards you. Both these tools are under the “Draw Tools” menu listed on the right of the map.

Celebrating 60 Years of Service to Our Community

October 24th, 2014

By Lori Arguelles, AFF Executive Director

It was 60 years ago today that the pioneers of the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) realized the first fruits of their labors. On October 24, 1954 the Articles of Incorporation for the Foundation were approved and AFF was “born.” This momentous act has had lasting impact during the last six decades including:

– Serving more than 300,000 students through our environmental education programs at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center and in national and state parks through our Bridging the Watershed Program.

alice henry – Engaging more than 130,000 volunteers in the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup by removing more than 7 million pounds of debris over the past 26 years.

– Leading the way in energy efficient and green building design by embracing the Living Building Challenge © as we construct and renovate buildings on our educational campus. The net-zero energy, net-zero water, and zero-waste criteria, combined with carbon-neutral and non-toxic, non-polluting component requirements make this a ground-breaking and landscape-altering undertaking.

Throughout the decades, the Foundation has stayed true to its guiding principles of education, inspiration, and innovation. And the impact is both deep-rooted and widespread as evidenced by the experience of one 10-year old student from Heather Hills Elementary School:

“I couldn’t wait until my overnight trip to Hard Bargain Farm. My first activity was a hike through the woods. We learned about pollution and how it harms living organisms. That one hike changed my whole point of view about the environment. In the future I see myself stopping someone from littering to protect the animals and nature.”

Surely our namesake, Alice Ferguson, would appreciate how her vision of a special place in nature has been embraced by student and adult learners alike. And we are proud that Alice’s vision for Hard Bargain Farm has been recognized as nationally significant. Just in time for our Diamond Jubilee celebration the Farm was selected for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This prestigious roster is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. As anniversary gifts go, this is definitely a gem!IMG_0486
But the greatest gift of all is the privilege of sharing the wonder and beauty of nature with a child for the first time. Nothing can match the eye-opening and often life-changing experiences that come from this connection. We couldn’t do any of this without the generous support of friends like you. Thank you for helping us to make a difference!
If you’d like to make a special gift in honor of our anniversary, please visit our donation page. Thank you for your support, and Happy Anniversary!

With new school year, changes are afoot

August 19th, 2014

By Keith Roumfort, AFF Education Program Manager

pollinator garden
The calendar says that January 1 is the start of a new year, but for many who enter classrooms either in front of desks or behind desks, or even send youth to them, September serves as the benchmark for a new year as so many things change. Outside the classroom, the world of nature marks these changes in different ways.
Nature pays no regard to the calendar or the holidays that bookend the summer season. Nature’s cue is the decreasing level of daylight (photoperiod) and decreasing evening temperatures. A careful observer gets to savor these subtle signs all for oneself as the fall season advances.
The tell-tale sign of our planet’s orbit past the summer solstice is the brilliant changes in colors in the leaves of deciduous trees. Those of us in more northern climes get to see this spectacle either in our yards or along roads. The food-producing leaves of deciduous trees face an annual dilemma: how to survive when the length of solar-powering energy decreases. These trees start cutting off these energy-draining organs off their branches, and with that the green-pigmented chlorophyll leaves too revealing red anthocyanins, yellow xanthophylls, and brown tannins. Keep an eye out for black gum trees amongst a forest of trees. Black gum (black tupelo) trees are often the first to flirt with an autumnal palette. Their simple, oval-shaped leaves begin to flicker with red-orange in a prelude to its neighbors’ leaves.
Evening entertainment displays in the backyard change too. Fireflies’ flickering light show fades into a symphony of chirping crickets. Whether it is light or sound, these displays are acts of courtship who don’t mind the human audience. On those crisp, cool fall evenings, count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to that number to get the current outdoor, Fahrenheit temperature.
Those with a tuned ear will notice a change in bird calls and songs amongst the trees as light levels dwindle. Snowbirds aren’t just people who vacation in Florida. There are birds who take wing almost overnight for a long journey south in pursuit of more food. The bright songs of warblers and flute-like calls of thrushes become silent in our woods leaving behind the hardier stalwarts, like chickadees and cardinals.
With the ever-growing darkness, many wild plants start preparing for new offspring with forming and dispersing seeds. Whether spread by wind or by animal, seeds lay with dormant expectation until spring. However, not all seeds reach their expected potential; often they are the food source for fattening animals which realize an impending food scarcity is coming.
It’s human curiosity that we like to know what’s coming up around the bend. Nature gives us glimpses of some changes if we attune ourselves to them. If one doesn’t just see but looks, and if one doesn’t just hear, but listens, you can see all the subtle signs of an amazing season of change.

Get to Know our New Katahdin Sheep

July 7th, 2014

By Eileen Watts, AFF Farm Manager

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you have visited the Farm recently or been on Facebook, you may have noticed that we got two new lambs this spring.  They are a recently developed breed of hair sheep that got its start in Maine.  In the 1950’s Michael Piel wanted a breed of trouble-free, good meat producing sheep to graze under power lines in his area.  He imported three African hair sheep breeds and started crossing them with many other breeds.  About 15 years later he came close to his goal, calling the result, Katahdin, after Mt. Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine.

After Piel’s death, Heifer Project International, an international livestock development charity, took an interest in his work and built a sizeable flock at their center in Arkansas through the 1980’s.  Today there is an international registry of Katahdin’s.  They are hardy, adaptable, low maintenance sheep.  They do not produce a fleece and therefore do not require shearing.  Their winter coat sheds in warm weather.  Their smooth hair summer coat and other adaptive characteristics allow them to tolerate heat and humidity well, which is great for our kind of summers.  They are naturally hornless and do not require tail docking.  They are significantly resistant to internal and external parasites, are docile and easily handled.  The ewes are excellent mothers and usually have twins.  They can be any color or combination of colors.

Our two males are white and were named Bo and Peep (voted on by you)!  These bottle-fed babes know and love people.  They came to us from our good friend, Jerry TePaske.


To show Bo and Peep your love, consider “adopting” them through our Barnyard Animal Adoption Program!

The Stories of Why

July 7th, 2014

By Alena Rosen, AFF Communications Coordinator

Washington Canoe Club 5_1This year reveals another record breaking year for the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup with 14,766 volunteers removing 288 tons of trash from 671 sites throughout the Watershed. Along with being numerically impressive, these Cleanup numbers tell an even larger and greater story. View full Cleanup results here.


I have had the privilege of coordinating the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup for the past three years. During this time, I have had the opportunity to collaborate and talk with hundreds of site leaders, partner organizations, and volunteers. One of my favorite parts of these conversations is hearing their “stories of why”: why they originally got involved, why they are passionate about trash, and why, in many cases, they continue their efforts throughout the year.

Through listening to these stories, I get to hear the passion of these community leaders as they work to protect their neighborhoods, local waterways, and parks.  I hear about how an individual picking up trash in their local stream sparked a conversation with neighbors about the public hazard of trash, which led to the creation of a community volunteer organization dedicated to eradicating trash in their sub-watershed and regular community cleanups.  I hear about a volunteer who had originally been dragged to a cleanup by a friend and went on to adopt her own site and lead year-round cleanups for the past decade because she had been surprised and disgusted by the volume of trash at the cleanup site.  I hear about a partner organization that uses cleanups to motivate environmental activism by showing their volunteers that they can make a tangible difference in the environment. I hear about a cleanup participant who works tirelessly for solutions to the litter problem in their community and use cleanups as public education platforms.

Each of the “why stories” I listen to, demonstrate the power cleanups have to create a positive change in individual actions, strengthen communities, and protect the environment.  These whys allow the Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup to be the catalyst for change that it has become, because each why leads to an area of our watershed that is being tended to by a steward who will in turn create an experience for a future generation whys.

If you are interested in sharing your “why” to inspire others, email [email protected]

What Motivates You to Keep Your Neighborhood Trash Free?

June 30th, 2014

By Albert Arevalo, Community Outreach Liaison

Despite where we live in the District, litter is something that we find scattered in all corners of the city. The goal of the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign  is to educate the community and to change attitudes and behavior around the bad habit of littering. I spend my days in this District of Columbia talking to people about litter and getting them involved with the Litter Campaign. Meeting community members who invest time daily to pick up trash provides a strong motivation for me to keep fighting for a trash free watershed. Kitty Dawson was the first community member  I met who had a strong personal commitment to keeping her neighborhood trash free and can be found on most days picking up trash in Ward 5. I’ve asked Kitty to share what motivates her:

Looking out my living room window every morning gives me joy to see the lovely trees and birds.  However, the trash disturbs me and it makes my smile disappear.  I tell myself not to look at the trash so it won’t bother me, but that doesn’t work. I look around and wonder, ‘where is all the trash coming from, I just cleaned the street several hours ago?’


I care about the grass and I care about how my neighborhood looks, and I feel good picking up trash in my neighborhood.  Honestly I say to myself it is not worth it because although there are trash bags around for people to dump their trash the trash still end up on the street or below the trash bag.  But I continue because I care about my community so I will continue to pick up the trash in front of my building.  Hopefully one day there will be more individuals who care about their neighborhood and love to keep it free from trash.

One day while picking up trash and a young man came over to me and asked if he can give me free bags he introduced himself and told me he was part of a non profit organization and shared what the organization offer.  Like free trash bags and gloves or whatever you may need to keep your neighborhood trash free.  It was a pleasure meeting Albert Arevalo just knowing there are others for the cause brings me joy.

As our campaign grows and gains momentum, we wish to ease the load of those other “Kitty Dawson’s” who take great pride in their community. I encourage you to make your own personal commitment to end litter. Some simple actions you can take include:

Just as piece by piece, litter adds up and makes the places we go every day unsafe and unhealthy, so too can we build a healthy, trash-free Potomac Watershed with each individual action. Only by working together will we see a change, and only by working together can we make a difference.