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.

Embracing the Living Building Challenge

November 19th, 2015

By Karen Jensen Miles

Sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Greenbuild is the world’s largest conferenceLiving Building and expo dedicated to green building. The green building community gathers annually to share ideals and mutual passion. The conference features uplifting speakers, unparalled networking opportunities, showcases, LEED workshops and tours of green buildings in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Greenbuild offers a place for thousands to gather and renew their commitment to the green movement.

This year, Greenbuild is hosted by the National Capital Region chapter. The Alice Ferguson Foundation is honored to have been chosen as the site for two of the carefully vetted tours. On Monday, November 16th, we were the last stop on a day long tour entitled ‘River Ride Along the Watershed’, where attendees visited our new education campus that contains the region’s first ‘Living Building’. Attendees learned how this site embraces the principles of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), while also continuing their day of education about the perils threatening, and opportunities arising, for the area’s watershed. The presenters discussed the foundation’s mission and history and why it was important for our organization to embrace the LBC; an introduction to the LBC; and an overview of the building and the site’s water systems that included existing site conditions, project priorities, supply water, waste water and stormwater. Attendees also participated in an interactive, educational lesson called ‘Who Polluted the Potomac?’ that highlights the types of activities that all of us do that impacts our natural waterways. They also walked the site to see the ‘flow’ of water on the site.

On Friday, November 20th, a technical tour comprised of about 50 attendees and ten presenters will arrive at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center to learn about the Living Building Challenge (LBC) in the context of our project. There will be information about AFF as a whole; the project description and development to include: design process, charrette, construction process; rainwater and the site; water and energy; materials used; and LBC lessons learned. Our LBC project is being monitored carefully by the ‘green’ world of architects, engineers, planners, contractors and governmental agencies. We are very excited to be under the microscope since our experiences will aid others as they determine the various routes and responsibilities they want to undertake in the future.

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.

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.

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