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.

Alice Ferguson Foundation Leads Multi-Sector Conversation on Ending Local Plastic Pollution

October 22nd, 2018

Businesses share insight on finding solutions to plastic pollution

Arlington, VA – The Alice Ferguson Foundation convened more than one hundred fifty policymakers, nonprofit partners, and local business owners for a one-day conference on solutions to local trash pollution. Now in its 12th year, the 2018 Trash Summit, themed “Business Solutions to Plastic Pollution” featured speakers from organizations and businesses, including KCI Technologies, Marriott International, Farmers Restaurant Group, Elevation Burger, Busboys and Poets, Our Last Straw and others. The event featured a keynote speaker from As You Sow, a nonprofit that works directly with large multinational corporations on recycling and waste diversion.

Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow, delivers the keynote address.

The event included speakers from the Virginia State Senate, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, the District Department of Public Works, the District Department of Energy and Environment, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and George Mason University, among others. Speakers discussed the science and practice behind new trash reduction and management initiatives aimed at removing single use plastics from area restaurants, and how creative partnerships between businesses and organizations can raise awareness and drive systems change.

 

Other topics featured at the event included research conducted by George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, discussion from businesses on source reduction procedures and policies, data from D.C, Maryland, and Virginia trash reduction efforts, and a conversation on waste-reduction best practices.

Presentations and other resources from the conference are available online here.

12th Annual Trash Summit: Business Solutions for Plastic Pollution was made possible with support from George Mason University and other sponsors.

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.

 

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.” 

4 Quotes for Environmental Educators to Live By

July 25th, 2018

By: Christina Morgal, Communications Intern

Did you know that every year we help local teachers bring the wonder of the outdoors into their classrooms? Our summer workshops bring teachers out to their local parks to prepare for and experience the Bridging The Watershed activities their students will do in the upcoming school year. After taking this summer training, teachers are confident and ready to dive into the hands-on science learning activities with their classes, both inside and outside the classroom.

Recently, I shadowed a group of teachers from Charles County Public Schools as they explored renewable energy, litter prevention, and sustainability activities with our Bridging The Watershed educators.

 

As we learned about pollution in local waterways, I overheard these four awesome quotes:

 “Small changes lead to bigger changes.”

Sustainability will not be achieved in a day. But, if everyone makes one change in their own lives, then we would all make a big stride to save our waterways!

Program educators highlighted the ways we help each class do an action plan or project they can implement in their own lives or schools based on what they learn during their experience with us. These actions often include small changes students can make in their daily lives, such as getting a recycling bin for their home or asking their parents to use reusable shopping bags. An action plan can also include writing a letter to their principal about how they could be a “greener” school.

Small changes like these definitely add up.

“You’re not the one that caused it, but you can be the one to change it.”

The environment is not picky about who helps protect it! Although you may not have been the person to throw trash in the river, you can choose to join the fight against pollution and take action by volunteering for cleanups, educating others about sustainability, or implementing changes in your workplace, school, or home.

 

 

“We don’t see what we don’t look for.”

Have you ever looked at a plastic straw and thought about it might end up once you throw it away? Turns out, plastic straws can’t be recycled or composted, so they often end up in landfills, waterways, and communities…and are one of the top ten items found during cleanups!

During the day’s pollution cleanup activity, we collected more than thirteen bags of trash from the Potomac River shoreline in just 45 minutes, which included more than 250 plastic straws. Once you see how these everyday items end up as litter, it’s hard to walk anywhere without spotting that discarded plastic straw, bottle cap, food container, or empty bottle.

 

“Buy green and reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

This old adage still rings true! The three R’s mantra continues to be one of the easiest sustainability practices to implement, with three small changes that anyone can make in their daily lives:

  • Reduce the amount of waste that we produce
  • Reuse items in creative ways
  • Recycle items that can be harmful to our environment

After spending just one day with this great group of teachers, I know that the lessons they’ve learned today will go back with them to the classroom and help inspire the next generation of environmental champions. Here’s to these four overheard and unassuming ideas can help change the world for the better.

Never Too Young To Make a Difference: 5th Graders Divert School Waste from Landfills

July 10th, 2018

Students from CCPCS participate in the Trash Timeline activity, which explores decomposition rates of different materials.

This past school year, hundreds of students from around the region participated in the Trash Free Schools program. Students learned about waste production, the impacts of litter on the environment and took action to clean up their communities and waterways.

Through a Community Stormwater Solutions grant from the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), Alice Ferguson Foundation staff worked with Capital City Public Charter School (CCPCS) to engage 80 fifth graders in creative student-led action projects to prevent litter, clean up waterways, and ensure healthy communities in the District. 

During a program led by Alice Ferguson Foundation staff, students explored decomposition rates of commonly littered items by creating a visual timeline. Student also conducted a waste audit in their cafeteria to learn about the kinds of trash produced at the school.

Results from cafeteria waste audit at Capital City Public Charter School. These results informed student-led action projects.

Two field trips, first to Hard Bargain Farm and then to the Fort Totten Transfer Station, supplemented the student’s learning by highlighting what happens to trash, recycling and composting after they leave our schools and homes.

Alice Ferguson Foundation staff met with students to brainstorm and discuss potential action projects and provide feedback on detailed project proposals. Students decided to launch an expanded trash disposal station, which would allow them to expand recycling, expand composting and create a table for unwanted and untouched food for sharing. Students designed the disposal station, created signs to explain proper sorting and volunteered to stand by the sorting station to help students properly dispose of their lunch waste.

Thanks to the students hard work, the station was launched in mid-May and has already helped to divert more than 100 pounds of compost and recycling from the landfill!

If you’re interested in joining the Trash Free Schools program, email us at [email protected] or call (301)292-5665.

2018 Potomac Cleanup Photo Winners

May 25th, 2018

When it comes to community cleanups, your photos are the most powerful way to make a statement. Thank you to everyone who submits photos of volunteers, interesting finds, data counts, and events!

This year’s Photo Contest Winners are…

 

First Place Photo by
Stephen E. Dreikorn

 

 

Second Place Photo by
Tanya Hutchins Lamond Riggs

 

Third Place Photo by
Russell Croy

 

 

Huge thank you to everyone who participated this year!

 

 

Share your photos on social media during the month of April and tag us @AliceFerguson and #PotomacCleanup.

You can also email your photos to [email protected]

Stay connected:

   

 

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.

Green Your Holiday Gift-Wrapping

December 16th, 2017

 

In the United States, more trash is produced between Thanksgiving and the New Year than any other time of year. And a lot of the Holiday trash that we throw out does not break down quickly.

While regular paper takes  2 to 4 weeks to decompose, modern wrapping paper is usually made with foil and coated with plastic film, making it slow to break down and difficult to recycle. Plastic itself never decomposes.

But this year, we can all do our small part to green our holidays gift-wrapping and gift-giving:

  1. Use the gift bags or wrapping paper you’ve saved from last year’s gifts for this year’s colorful (and green) present wrapping. The smaller scraps and pieces can be used as holiday tags or cut into small pieces to decorate the gift.
  2. Have a newspaper lying around, or some old books you’ve been meaning to throw away? Paper can be great for wrapping, especially if you include a holiday-themed passage or story!
  3. Give a gift within a gift: items can be wrapped in a scarf, sweater, sock, or a brightly patterned reusable shopping bag.
  4. Surprise your friends and family with a switcharoo. Use the box from a product you’ve bought previously, and put your present inside. Imagine the surprise when your friend receives a box of goldfish crackers, only to find the book they’ve been wishing for inside!
  5. Baskets, buckets, and other containers make for fun holiday gift boxes – and they definitely stand out in the pile.

This year, express your creativity! Share your green holiday ideas with us on twitter by tagging us at @AliceFerguson.

 

 

 

Innovation & Collaboration at this Year’s Trash Summit

December 12th, 2017
Guest post by Lowell George, National River Cleanup Manager at American Rivers

 

At the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 11th Annual Trash Summit more than 200 people – including high school students, nonprofit staff, concerned citizens, business leaders, and elected officials – brought with them their own passion for clean spaces and waterways and ideas for how to solve the persistent pollution problem that affects our nation. While solutions ranged from finding alternatives to balloon releases at weddings to District-wide bag taxes, they were all united by what Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Benjamin Grumbles called “the power of innovation and triumph of collaboration.”

Power of Innovation

While many would argue that innovations over the past 100 years, especially those related to single-use plastic products, are a large cause of the littler problem we face today, innovation is also one of the most promising solutions moving forward. During the keynote address and a panel discussion at the Trash Summit, speakers from the Rozalia Project, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, Clean Virginia Waterways, and MGM National Harbor highlighted steps their groups are taking to keep up with pollution prevention and mitigation:

  • The Rozalia Project, a nonprofit working to clean and protect our ocean, developed a product individuals can use in their daily lives to stop microfibers from ever getting out of our washing machines and reaching our seas.
  • Prince George’s County is setting up wildlife cameras throughout the region to monitor illegal dumping while also tracking litter via the PGCLitterTRAK app to help develop accurate maps of the litter collected.
  • Clean Virginia Waterways is helping change behavior at restaurants and weddings by providing paper (instead of plastic) straws to eating establishments and by showing engaged couples alternatives to balloon release send-offs.
  • MGM is taking on sustainable initiatives in their operations, including a 700-gallon cistern that stores rain water to be used in back-of-house toilets and an oyster shell recycling program connected to their restaurant.
 

While these products and initiatives vary in size and scope, they all serve as easy alternatives to current norms and educate the public on the dangers of current behaviors. By stopping litter at the source and reacting quickly to new pollution threats, these innovations are efficiently and effectively creating long-term impacts.

Triumph of Collaboration

Innovation does seem like a strong option for overcoming the obstacles posed by litter, but innovating in a silo won’t be nearly as effective, as was demonstrated during the Trash Summit. Throughout the day, discussions came back to the theme of the power of partnerships and the essential role collaboration – between nonprofits, private companies, and government agencies – plays in the problem solving process. While it can be easy to see why working together around a common problem would lead to a stronger cure quicker, it can be more challenging to identify the pivotal role competition plays in this issue.

Throughout the Summit, political leaders, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, were talking trash with one another – and not just sharing their ways to solve their respective pollution problems. Each region’s representative touched on the ongoing competition between one another to be the most environmentally friendly and proactive, referencing plastic bag taxes, Styrofoam bans, and fights for bottle return bills in their cases. While competition in other areas of government or between states can lead to inefficiency and the ineffective use of resources, this friendly battle seems to be benefiting all involved. Each governing body is able to see what initiatives or programs the others are launching and replicate or adapt them to fit their jurisdiction’s needs. By having such a concentration of environmentally-focused decision-makers in a relatively small but populous area, the DC metro region is able to compete, collaborate, and evolve together for a greater impact and triumph for all.

   

According to Katie Register from Clean Virginia Waterways, “regulation, innovation, and education” are how changes are made in today’s society. The presenters and other panelists at the Trash Summit reinforced this takeaway by demonstrating the top-down and bottom-up forces driving change in their work in the DMV and across the country. While education may be the best long-term solution for preventing litter and pollution, nonprofits, companies, and government agencies are turning to incentives and innovations to solve the problems trash is creating for our communities now. Individuals, companies, and local governments are working together and pushing each other toward a more sustainable future.

While there is still much progress to be made in creating a trash free system of waterways and natural spaces, the Trash Summit made clear that there are already victories to celebrate in the powerful partnerships that have been forged and the innovations developed that will continue to shape our future and push us to a cleaner planet.