Oktoberfest Fun, Dance, & Great Food

October 10th, 2016

Local Oktoberfest Celebrates Community & Benefits Environmental Education

Accokeek, MD – The Alice Ferguson Foundation opened its doors Saturday, October 8 for its 34th annual Oktoberfest at the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center in Accokeek, Maryland. One of the area’s most popular fall activities, this year’s Oktoberfest featured high-spirited, authentic performances of dances from Bavaria and Austria, traditional Alpine music, delicious German food, hay wagon rides to the Potomac River, door prizes, barnyard animals and the beautiful autumn landscape of the 330-acre farm.

“The fall harvest season is always a great opportunity to connect our community back to the bounty of nature and the importance of protecting and preserving nature and our farmlands,” said Alice Ferguson Foundation Executive Director Lori Arguelles.

In keeping with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s commitment to innovation in the environmental field, this year’s Oktoberfest took place on the lawn of the recently completed environmental education center, the first net zero “Living Building Challenge” structure in Maryland and one of a handful of such buildings in the United States. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about this groundbreaking structure, which meets the strictest ecofriendly building standards in the world, while enjoying the festival events, featured displays and homemade baked delicacies at the country store.

“Not only is this day an opportunity to bring everyone together, but the proceeds from our annual Oktoberfest festivities all go towards our great environmental education programs,” said Arguelles. “Each year, we are proud and honored to provide hands-on, experiential learning to thousands of students throughout the Potomac Watershed.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Bavarian dance group Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattlers performed traditional dances and offered lively singalongs throughout the day. Children and the young-at-heart had the opportunity to meet and learn about the farm’s barnyard animals, squeeze apple cider with an old-fashioned cider press, and make their own unique crafts in the Foundation’s historic cabin.

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.”


1:00 pm - 6:00 pm Oktoberfest
Hard Bargain Farm, Accokeek MD

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


Alice Ferguson Foundation Leads Cleanup of 334,952 Pounds of Trash

June 9th, 2016

Community comes together for 28th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup

Drawing from results collected on AFF’s Trash Network, nearly 10,000 volunteers collected 334,952 pounds of trash at 265 sites throughout the watershed in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and West Virginia.

“I am incredibly proud of the work we were able to do this year to clean up our watershed,” said Lori Arguelles, Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Executive Director. “As the largest regional event of its kind, the Cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages citizens and community leaders and generates momentum for change. I want to thank all of our partners and volunteers for their efforts and commitment to making the Potomac Watershed healthy, clean and trash-free.”

A wide range of litter was removed during the cleanup – including 16,116 plastic bags, 1,003 tires, 14,280 cigarettes, 11 bicycles, car parts and even a bowling ball.
The announcement comes during the first annual Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, a joint effort by Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to draw national attention to the history and importance of the nation’s largest estuary. The Potomac is one of the largest rivers that flows into the Bay, and littering is a widespread problem in the area.

The annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is one of many of the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s programs designed to promote environmental sustainability in the region and connect people to the natural world. The Foundation’s Regional Litter Prevention Campaign empowers communities to “Take Control, Take Care of Your Trash,” and has reduced littering behavior by over 30 percent when comparing target areas before and after the campaign began in 2011.

“What you do every day matters more than what you do only once in a while,” said volunteer Keenan Williams from Charles County, MD.

Several hundred organizations and groups partner in the Cleanup each year, including Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Anacostia Watershed Society, C&O Canal Association, Charles County Public Works, City of Alexandria, DC Department of Energy and Environment, Fairfax County Government Center, Friends of Accotink Creek, Friends of Little Hunting Creek, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Joint Base Andrews, Montgomery County Parks and Planning, National Park Service, Prince George’s County, Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, Reston Association, Rock Creek Conservancy and Rock Creek Nature Center.

AFF’s Living Building Featured on CTV

May 26th, 2016

Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Sustainable Building Receives Awards and Accolades

April 29th, 2016

State-of-the-art “green” building listed as one of Washington Business Journal’s Top 25 Best Real Estate Deals for 2015; achieves LEED Platinum certification

AFF award pic2On April 28, 2016, the Washington Business Journal recognized the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s education building as one of the Top 25 Best Real Estate Deals of 2015 at the Journal’s annual awards dinner. The Foundation’s 4,200 sq. ft. carbon neutral, net-zero energy, net-zero water education building opened last fall. Designed to be one of the most energy efficient green buildings in the world, the building also received LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification—the highest LEED certification possible.

“This building reflects our guiding principles: education, inspiration and innovation,” says Alice Ferguson Foundation Executive Director Lori Arguelles. “We are thrilled to receive this recognition from the Washington Business Journal as well as to achieve LEED Platinum status. This building is an excellent addition to our campus—it’s more than just a structure; it’s a teaching tool to help students have an even more meaningful experience connecting with and understanding both the natural and the built world.”

The Alice Ferguson Foundation was the only nonprofit organization to be recognized in the cadre of 24 other projects in the Washington D.C. metro area at the Washington Business Journal’s event. The new education building, which opened last October, features innovative technologies that will regenerate, not deplete, its surroundings as well as help inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.

farmIn addition to the award recognition, the Foundation also received notification this week that the building has achieved LEED® Platinum certification. This highest level of LEED certification requires that a building achieve 80 out of 110 points—the day-use education building passed with flying colors with a score of 86 points. It also scored 100 percent of available points in several impact categories, including Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, and Indoor Environmental Quality.

For more than 60 years, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has been a premier provider of transformative, environmental education programs for approximately 500,000 students in the Washington D.C. area at their location on the shores of the Potomac River. The Foundation’s 330-acre working farm, Hard Bargain Farm in Accokeek, Maryland, helps to educate 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 draw-up plans to renovate and refresh the educational campus in 2006, the Foundation decided to pursue not only the highest LEED certification possible, but also to meet the strict requirements of the Living Building Challenge.

“Our next goal is to achieve Living Building Challenge certification—the most rigorous set of energy efficiency, green building standards in the world today,” adds Arguelles. “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.”
Currently there are only eight fully certified Living Building projects in the world.

This building is the first in a complex of buildings being developed by AFF. Rather than working independently, the AFF buildings are designed to ultimately work together (as a “living system”) to maintain the net-zero energy and water efficiency targets.

The building is constructed using non-toxic materials. It uses geothermal and solar energy for heating and cooling, treats wastewater and storm water on site and reuses greywater (gently used water) for landscape irrigation.

“The new building will dramatically improve our ability to educate and inspire students, teachers, and the community,” says the Foundation’s Board Chair Dan Jackson. “It brings together art, science, technology, math, engineering and the environment. Educational information throughout the structure illustrates the lessons learned from using less energy and natural resources. For example, through technology and engineering, our campus will reduce 168 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—the equivalent of removing 47 cars from the road.”

Support for the project has come from the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County, and many private and nonprofit organizations—Unilever, Old Line Bank, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, Philip L. Graham Fund, James Hardie/Hardiplank, Kresge Foundation, the Veverka Family Foundation, the Solar Schools Foundation—as well as numerous individual donors.

Consilience LLC led the project development as AFF’s Owner’s Representative, Re:Vision Architecture led the project design and Facchina Construction Company served as the general contractor.
The Alice Ferguson Foundation was established in 1954 as a non-profit organization chartered in the state of Maryland. The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s educational programs unite students, educators, park rangers, communities, regional organizations, and government agencies throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to promote the environmental sustainability of the Potomac River watershed.

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.

Living Building Featured in Energy & Infrastructure Article

February 4th, 2016

Read the Solar Case Study: Living Learning Center in the February 2016 issue of Energy & Infrastructure magazine.