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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: trashnetwork.fergusonfoundation.org. 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]

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.

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!

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.

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.

Stewards of our Watershed

April 8th, 2015
peace creek

Peace Creek with the remnants of a shopping cart and bike on the opposite shore.

By Tim Murphy, Potomac River Watershed Cleanup Coordinator

At Peace Lutheran Church in Waldorf, Maryland, we have had a long standing and robust Social Concerns Ministry.  Under the direction of Pastor Craig Endicott, we are further exploring the issue of social justice, particularly what keeps a person as a social concern and what it is we can do to address it.

I am the Cleanup Coordinator for The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and a member this church. As a part of the Foundation’s Trash Initiative, we explore how trash makes an area unsafe and unhealthy, and how trash can be a gateway to greater social concerns. As part of the Foundation’s newly-launched Faith in our Watershed Initiative, we seek to inspire faith communities around three points:

    • To be stewards of the environment
    • To take action with a cleanup, by adopting a litter can, or with other activities
    • To raise awareness within the broader community using free materials such as posters and yard signs

As the annual Cleanup and goals of Faith in our Watershed meshed well with our social justice focus, it made sense for Peace Lutheran to host a cleanup site this year in the creek that flows behind the church. As stewards of our environment and shepherds of our community, we look forward to participating in this project. Our little cleanup may not have a large impact on the greater watershed, but it raises awareness of a problem that exists in our midst and motivates us to work for a change.

This year’s cleanup is on April 11, but sites are hosting events throughout the month. It is easy to locate a site to volunteer, either for the annual Cleanup or for events held year round.  All of our registered events are found on our Trash Network website.