5 Things I Learned as an Alice Ferguson Foundation Intern

February 5th, 2019

By: Bryana Ellis

 

When I first got the news that I would be an intern for an organization in the town I grew up in, I was ecstatic. In 5th grade, I remember going to another farm for our big environmental science field trip, so I had only heard stories of Hard Bargain Farm from my older siblings and their friends. Growing up, visiting Piscataway Park had always been a fun and relaxing way to spend leisure time, but I did not know a lot about the area. Little did I know that my first internship that pertained to my major would open my eyes to so much.

Learning More About My Home

My first day was unlike any I’ve ever had before. After the casual meet-and-greet with coworkers, I was given the excellent opportunity to tour and learn so much about the history and legacy of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, Piscataway Park, and the Moyaone Reserve community. The most exciting part was my first interactive experience with seeing and feeding farm animals. Being raised in Accokeek, I discovered the trails and hidden ways of my neighborhood; it was hugely refreshing to see what was down these narrow dirt paths and hilly pastures. Not only did the beautiful view of the Potomac River await, but also a space full of history, heritage and a love of the environment.

Sustainability Isn’t Simple

Immersing myself with the culture of the Alice Ferguson Foundation wasn’t hard. My day might include drinking well water, making sure to separating regular trash from compost and recycling when throwing things again and more. Small daily tasks like that showed me how very simple, yet complex keeping our environment clean is. When I did research or draft content for social media, the statistics about good and harmful environmental factors are genuinely alarming. Reading and learning that 340,000 pounds of trash have been cleaned from your local communities in just one month is something to be elated over but educating yourself on how not to let the trash reaccumulate is even more important. My time at the Alice Ferguson Foundation has made me more aware of the products I use or the activities I partake in.

Social Media is Beyond Powerful

In a world where we are always on our phones, texting, tweeting, liking, or subscribing, the use of social networks can sometimes feel natural and innate. In my time creating newsletter, tweets, campaigns, and other post led me to honestly see how difficult the position of a social media content coordinator can be. The use of certain words, colors, or images has a ton to do with engagement and analytics. With each task, I felt myself growing more aware and deft with my work. Creating content for the Alice Ferguson Foundation has taught me the importance of staying true to the mission and being authentic. It is possible to care about the environment and reach the masses appropriately!

Places are Being Built to Save the World

When we think about construction and labor, we think about the daunting issues of pollution and emissions. During my time with the Alice Ferguson Foundation, I was given the opportunity to do research on the Living Building Challenge and learn more about centers across the globe that are built to be environmentally beneficial and support sustainability. The Foundation’s own Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Environmental Center is a Living Building certified educational center. This information about these places are fascinating along with how they manage water use, generate power from solar panels, or have net zero energy is remarkable. Seeing technology and innovation thrive while supporting the environment is excellent!

Small Can Be Mighty

The staff size at the Alice Ferguson Foundation is not very big. Some days I would come in, and it would be very quiet, some days it would be bustling with non-ending phone calls and people walking up and down the stairs. Whether the attendance was three or thirty, I was always greeted with smiling faces of hardworking people. Their embrace has made me excel as an intern and provided me with the right tools to succeed after the internship ended. Their affable personalities made it easy for me to learn and be inspired about the world around me.

A Day in the Life of a Hard Bargain Farm 5th Grader

August 29th, 2018

By: Kayla David, Outreach Coordinator

For those of us to have walked the paths of Hard Bargain Farm, it is no wonder to us why Alice Ferguson first fell in love with these rolling hills, forests, meadows and wetlands. The land is so much more than dirt and rocks. Each student that comes to Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm walks in the footprints of the young adventurers who came before them. For many of those students, this trip is their very first outdoor experience – and what an experience it is! A day at Hard Bargain Farm is never the same twice, but it might look something like this:

Rising early, the students dress and make their way down a winding path towards the gleaming solar panels of the Cafritz Environmental Center where they eat breakfast, family-style. Once everyone is fed and watered, the students hit the trails that wind through the property.

Along the way, the students stop at a meadow to learn about the migration of local wildlife,  their adaptations, and the resilience of nature as they inspect a few milkweed seeds (or as we like to call them milkweed fairies), and blow them into the wind. Their next stop is at the swamp, where they use dip nets and buckets to dig down into the leaves and muck to discover the life there. Squeals of excitement are heard when they discover a crayfish hiding in the mud.

“If we want to examine it, someone has to pick it up and put it in this bucket,” explains the educator. Looks of disgust and fear cover the faces of the students. Finally, a nervous but determined little hand reaches forward and grabs the small crustacean. Joy erupts all around, and now each student is in line to prove they are just as brave.

Once the students finally reach the river, they gaze out across the water at Mt. Vernon and imagine what life would have been like before this land was developed, before pieces of plastic washed up daily onto the shoreline. In this moment, the students see with their own eyes both the rich cultural history of the area, and how their actions – at their school, in their community – might impact the world around them.

Then, out of nowhere, and osprey swoops down, catches a fish and carries it to a nearby tree to enjoy. The students gasp and exclaim in excitement. After watching the bird for a little longer, it’s time to head back. As the Hard Bargain Farm educator herds the students back on the trail, the most important words of the day are spoken.

A student exclaims, “Aw, I don’t want to leave.” 

Sharing Green Energy

January 24th, 2018

Sharing Green Energy

Did you know that just down the hill from the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s historic home and office, the Foundation’s educational center is one of the greenest buildings in the world? As of this year, our community remains just one of just 15 places in the world to have a Living Building helping to power their neighborhood. 

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Education Center at the Alice Ferguson Foundation is just one of seven such buildings on the East Coast.

 

One of the most obvious “green” elements of our building is visible almost as soon as you turn into the campus. The environmental center’s roof is covered with solar panels. This past year, these panels, along with our geothermal wells and thick insulation, combined to generate 25% more electricity than we used. This excess energy, generated from the sun, and enhanced and made more efficient through our geothermal system, was sent back into the grid.

 

We’ve invested more than a decade in understanding, exploring and now reaping the benefits of an investment in green buildings and technology.

Learn more about the building here.

 

Celebrating the Year of the Anacostia

January 17th, 2018
By Laura Cattell Noll, Program Manager, Trash Free Initiative

 

In the 60 years since our founding, we have seen firsthand the importance of the Anacostia River and, in particular, the educational, cultural, recreational and economic resources the waterfront offers to District residents. Earlier this month, the DC Mayor declared 2018 as the Year of the Anacostia to pay tribute to this incredible local resource.

Here are just a few reasons we’re so excited to celebrate the Year of the Anacostia:

The Anacostia waterfront provides District residents with unparalleled access to public lands in their own community. These riverfront public lands are on par with some of the best publicly accessible waterfronts in the world, including San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Chicago’s lakefront parks. Since the 1970s, we have worked closely with the National Park Service, including Anacostia Park to encourage students and community members to visit our national public lands and discover nature in their own back yard. Green spaces are important to our communities and they bring real value to our lives.


The Anacostia river and waterfront provide an incredible opportunity for environmental and watershed education.
Learning is both more meaningful and more relevant when it happens in a student’s community. This year is also the 20th anniversary of our educational program, Bridging the Watershed, which brings more than 6,000 students per year out to their local parks. Through this program, hundreds of students visit Anacostia riverfront parks to engage in inquiry-based scientific field studies. The transformative experiences during these hands-on learning programs inspire our youth to utilize their local resources and engage with the environment in meaningful ways.

The Anacostia waterfront inspires community-based watershed stewardship.

As an important tributary of the Potomac River, the Anacostia watershed has long-been a focus of the Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup. Last year, more than 9,000 volunteers, removed more than 400,000 pounds of trash from the watershed. During our 30th cleanup later this April, volunteers will come together to host dozens of cleanup sites across the Anacostia River Watershed. We continue to be inspired by the unprecedented collaboration within the Anacostia watershed that includes thousands of volunteers and a diverse coalition of government, non-profit, business and community partners.

We are excited to celebrate, enjoy and honor the history of the Anacostia River and surrounding communities this year, and in the years to come.

Learn more about the Year of the Anacostia here.

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.”