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.

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!

Grow Your Own Sweet Potatoes

May 14th, 2014

By Deanna Lutz, Director of Operations

Potted Plant with Sweet PotatoAbout this time last year, I wrote about how easy it was to grow potatoes in pots, but did you realize that the vigorous sweet potato vine that is commonly found in containers can actually be sprouted from sweet potatoes and that you can even harvest a crop of potatoes at the end of the summer?

swpotatoesSweet potatoes are easy to grow and the vibrant chartreuse foliage of the vine can’t be beat! They will quickly form roots when sprouted in water but did I tell you that sweet potatoes are super easy to grow? You can root them first or simply cut off the end of a sweet potato or two, or depending on how many containers you have and plant in your pot. Potatoes from most supermarkets are treated to inhibit the eyes from growing so try to use organic potatoes.Be sure to select a pot at least 12-15 inches deep and fairly wide to give the potatoes lots of room to grow.

harvestSweet Potato Vine will grow best during the warm days of summer, thriving in sun or shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. You may begin to enjoy your home-grown sweet potatoes in late summer but it is better to leave them until the leaves begin to yellow and die back. In fact, leave them in the pot for as long as you can as an early frost will not damage them. Once harvested, allow them to mature for a week or so in the warmest area of your house with good circulation to allow the skins to ripen and the flavor of the potato to sweeten. Once mature, your potatoes are ready for use in cooking and will store quite happily in a cool dry place for a month or so. There’s nothing like the unforgettable flavor of a sweet potato that you grew yourself!

Spring Fever at Hard Bargain Farm

April 17th, 2014

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

Annie and goatsYou know how it is, those first warm days of spring, when you feel you can tackle any adventure that comes to mind and no destination is deemed too far away. Our barnyard animals had just such a day, a couple of weeks ago and several Hard Bargain Farm staff spotted our cow, goats, barnyard rooster and turkey in unexpected places. As it was also a day of many students going through our barnyard gates, opportunities for escape were plentiful, and apparently, too good to pass up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt some point in the morning, Annie, our cow, and Dot and Dash, our goats, found an open portal to adventure and moseyed up the road leading from the barnyard to the Farmhouse. All ended well, as Eileen, our farm manager and Karen, our facilities manager escorted them back down the road and into the barnyard for a little while, at least. A few hours later, Dot and Dash discovered yet another unsecured gate and let themselves out for a bit of grazing, though they stayed near to home this time and reluctantly allowed themselves to be led back to where they belonged.

Wanderlust was not just a mammalian state of mind on that eventful day. Among the fowl who call Hard Bargain Farm home are a tom turkey who was raised among chickens and a wildish rooster who came to us from one of our naturalist’s flocks. Both must have been feeling the tug of springtime and, seemingly, both felt the urge to find our hens, housed a ways up the hill from the barnyard. Later in the day, I found the rooster looking quite at home in the one chicken yard that lacked a male, and the turkey strutting and gobbling outside all of the chicken yards, in turn.

Turkey and Rooster in Black Stars Yard 003When you attend Spring Farm Festival on May 3rd, you will find our turkey and rooster happily dwelling among the hens, rather than down in the barnyard where they once lived. You will also be able to visit with our cow and goats, as well as our sheep and lambs, donkey and geese down in the barnyard. As exciting as was our day of Spring Fever, we prefer to know the whereabouts of all our animal members. After all, they are family.