History of Evening Chores

December 21st, 2012

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

It was drizzling as I headed down to the barnyard.  The sky was grey, dusk was early and most of the chickens had decided that staying indoors and dry, was preferable to being outdoors and wet. They didn’t seem to mind being closed in a tad earlier than usual.  Our laying flock includes Red Stars, Black Stars, White Rocks and Barred Rocks laying brown eggs in various hues, Leghorns laying white eggs and, Americanas laying lovely eggs of blues and greens. The chickens are housed in four coops built long ago, having sheltered literally dozens of generations of laying hens who have roamed the chicken yards, shaded by towering sycamore and sweet gum trees.  Like previous generations and the generations to come, our flocks roost on the old roosts and lay their eggs in the old nest boxes.

As is often the case on weekends, the farm was quiet and I was alone with the animals – a rich, sweet, peaceful aloneness in which everything felt exactly right, exactly as it ought to be.  As I made my way into the barnyard, the animals were waiting for me.  The watch-geese, I call them, have the loudest voices on the farm and sounded a raucous alarm that the evening routine was about to begin (someone has to do it, I suppose, and they have taken the responsibility to heart).  I gave the donkey his hay in the pasture, allowing the geese and I to scoot into their pen at the back of his stall. I closed them in and as they greedily gobbled their corn, I called to the turkey, already on his way to his own quarters. Eager for his own rations, he unhesitatingly marched into his pen and I latched the latch, leaving him happily pecking his way through dinner.

Turning my attention to the evening milking chores, I gathered the washing solution, washcloth and milk pail and headed in to Annie and Marmalade, already in place and munching blissfully on the fragrant hay. I breathed in deeply and smiled.  Though the world is filled with many wonderful scents, I don’t believe there are any finer than that of warm cows and good hay. I looked around the small old milking barn wondering how many cows had previously stood in the stalls that are now occupied by our cows, how many hands milked those cows, and how many gallons of milk had fallen  into shiny metal pails, just as I was doing and others will do after me.

Living and working on Hard Bargain Farm has allowed me to step into the history and the continuum of this place.  Wherever I look, be it barns or houses or the fields and woodlands, I am aware of those who have gone before, living their lives and taking their sustenance from this land. I am grateful to be a part of that continuum and for the opportunity to do the same.

A Holiday Ode to Our Animals

December 7th, 2012

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

This time of year we are bombarded with holiday images. There’s Santa, of course, along with reindeer and sacks of toys; Sugar Plum Fairies and nutcrackers dance through our heads as well.  For me, some of the images I can’t get out of my head are from a classical holiday song that’s got something for everyone—from the jewelry lovers to the nature lovers and everyone in between.  I think that the imagery is so powerful for me this year in part because for the first time in my life I’m actually privileged to KNOW some of those eight maids-a-milking, six geese-a-laying, and even three French hens!  It’s a beneficial byproduct of leading an organization like the Alice Ferguson Foundation where the working farm aspect of our facility, containing a wide array of animals,  is one of the many things that make a visit here such a memorable experience.

Let’s face it, there’s something special about animals. They accept us for who we are.  They don’t care about what’s in our wallets (though they do love carrots in our pockets!).  And the notion of naughty or nice is totally different from their perspective.  A colleague told me recently about a student who participated in a field study at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center.  This student was clearly one who had been deemed ‘naughty’ by teachers and even fellow students, which is a label you can carry for a long time, even if it’s not accurate any more.  This student clearly felt the mark of his status, which is what made his words all the more powerful as he bonded with one of our playful goats and said “Wow, Sparkle really just likes me for me.”

Some students don’t have success in a traditional classroom.  Their brains simply aren’t wired for it and because classroom environments don’t always have much space for alternative thinkers or kids with too much energy they get a ‘naughty’ label that’s hard to shake.  Here at the Alice Ferguson Foundation, we  get the gift of seeing these students excel in our environment—in nature!  We get the gift of knowing that we’ve helped a child see themselves and the world a little differently.  We get the gift of creating a lifelong memory for this precious child.

As “The Twelve Days of Christmas” continues to play on repeat in my head, flashing images of our animals and the smiling faces of students, I am reminded of how grateful we are here to receive these gifts and to, in turn share them with you.

I’ve got to go…Sparkle is looking for treats and I don’t want to disappoint!

First Gathering FBEA Mid-Atlantic Region

December 4th, 2012

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, HBF hosted the inaugural meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Network of Farm Based Educators. Twenty eight farm educators from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia launched the regional chapter of the international Farm-Based Education Association (FBEA). This exciting new agricultural adventure parallels the creation of MAEOE (Maryland Association for Outdoor and Environmental Educators), which AFF has supported since its beginning in 1985.Like MAEOE’s national affiliation with NAAEE (North American Association of Environmental Education) our regional organization has the support of the parent organization, FBEA, headquartered at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.

The day was filled with enthusiasm and ideas, highlighted by local food and tours of the HBF barnyard and Children’s Agricultural Garden. Under the guidance of Peggy Eppig of MAEF (Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation) and Karen Fedor (Maryland Department of Agriculture) this fledgling organization has great plans to reach out to farms, schools, and the community to increase awareness of the benefits of local food, formal and non-formal agricultural education, and build aged networks within the region. See more about this new organization at http://www.farmbasededucation.org/group/maryland-network.




The Strudel Queen

September 28th, 2012
Please join the Alice Ferguson Foundation for its 32nd annual Oktoberfest on October 6th from 1-6pm at Hard Bargain Farm.  For the past 25 years our Cultural Heritage Coordinator, Doris Sharp, has been an integral part in shepherding this beloved festival. We recently sat down with Doris to learn more about the history of Oktoberfest at Hard Bargain Farm and how she makes this event so special every year. Read our interview with the “Strudel Queen” below.

Tell us about yourself and what you do at the Foundation.

I started to work part time at the Foundation in 1987.  The first assignment was cataloguing the books in the Ferguson collection, then I was working as a naturalist, publications specialist, head gardener of the formal gardens, coordinating Theater in the Woods and Concert in the Woods and many other tasks—in essence I was wearing many hats (sometimes the hat rack was too short!).

What do you know about the history of Oktoberfest at the Foundation?

Our Oktoberfestmeister, Stafford Allison, a Moyaone community member, presented the idea of Oktoberfest as a fundraiser to then Executive Director Kay Powell. That was thirty-two years ago. In the same community some neighbors were members of the Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattlers and that group performed at the first Oktoberfest and ever since. I’ve been involved with the event for 25 of those years.

How has the annual Oktoberfest grown over the years you’ve been involved?

When I started it was a relatively small community event.  With more and better advertising and reaching out to the DC metro area, the audience grew over the years. The record number was close to 1500 visitors.

What kinds of things will guests find at Oktoberfest and what makes it so special?

Oktoberfest means beer, bratwurst, potato salad and sauerkraut. And that is what we offer at Hard Bargain Farm.  All homemade! And not to forget the ‘real’ strudel now! (For the last few years we have been offering vegetarian chili as an alternative food.) We have a “Country Store” where people can buy all kinds of goodies—homemade jams, cookies, brownies and breads etc.

Oktoberfest is a lot of fun. Besides wonderful food and imported beer (Spaten from Munich), the Alt Washintonia Schuhplattlers are sporting original Bavarian costumes and perform Bavarian and Austrian dances and music (accordion, guitars, dulcimer, tuba, alphorns, even a saw!).

One of the favorite features of Oktoberfest is your homemade strudel.  How did you become the Strudel Queen?

At the 35th anniversary of the Alice Ferguson Foundation Stafford Allison approached me and said, “You know, we serve all that excellent and delicious food and then there is that stuff they call apple strudel…”  (It was a kind of apple cake).  He didn’t say any more and just looked at me.  I simply said, “Okay.” Well, I have been baking apple strudels for the Oktoberfest ever since! Stafford generously provides his space and professional ovens to do that and I have an outstanding crew of helpers. Each year we bake about 75 strudels using four bushels of apples that need to be peeled and cut into pieces.  The strudel filling is made totally from scratch. From year to year our visitors are looking forward to it.

What do you enjoy most about Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest brings people and cultures together and it gives a glimpse of the original Oktoberfest in Munich on a very small scale. (six  million people descend on Munich over the course of two weeks.)

At the end of the day, the Schuhplattlers invite the guests onto the stage to dance with them, which is very popular with everyone, especially with the children.

What is your favorite memory of an Oktoberfest?

My favorite memory is when my kids went on stage to dance with the Schuhplatters.  They were too shy so I had to coax them.  But then they had lots of fun.

What do you look forward to this year? 

First, of course, I hope the weather will be on our side.  Then everything will fall into place and a good time will be had by all—Hard Bargain style.

Pirates in the Garden

September 19th, 2012

by Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

Though at first glance, the Hard Bargain Farm Children’s Garden appears to be a peaceful and harmonious place – nothing could be further from the truth. First glances can be deceiving and first impressions often reflect what we hope to find, do they not? While it is true that our garden is filled with the beauty of colorful vegetables, flowers and fruit, it is also filled with menacing killers, robbers and marauders, all bent on self-serving destruction. Some of these villains have six legs, some have four and some have two, and of those who have two, some are even human. 

Cicada killers, intimidating but thankfully non-aggressive wasps burrow long, deep tunnels into the soft soil of our garden beds, filling them with stunned cicadas upon which the females lay their eggs. Robber flies, fuzzy predators with large protruding eyes, perch on the garden fence waiting for unsuspecting insect prey, and dragon flies do the same on stakes placed throughout the garden. Groundhogs breach the electric fencing from time to time, pillaging among the sweet potato vines and bush beans, and squirrels commonly survey the garden from nearby trees, assessing their chances of successful retreat, should they find a way in. Sometimes, whole families are involved in garden assaults as adults teach valuable foraging skills to their offspring. When they rightly assume that the gardener is not watching, mockingbird and crow families swoop in to maim and carry off defenseless ripe tomatoes, leaving partially-eaten ones behind to rot on the ground or become food for the ants. Small flocks of goldfinches, tufted titmice and chickadees stealthily work among the sunflowers, snatching away any seeds mature enough to provide ample nourishment.

As students return to the garden this fall, they will have opportunity to witness these “pirates of the garden” and even engage in a bit of plundering themselves. For, when you think about it, what we term “harvesting” is in fact nothing more than appropriating for our own purposes parts of the plant that would allow it to reproduce during the current season, in the case of tomatoes, peppers and beans or during the following season, in the case of carrots, beets, and potatoes. As this school year begins, we look forward to introducing students to the wonders of the natural world in our garden setting, to the food webs found there, to the many and varied pollinators that work among our plants, to the flavors and fragrances of abundant vegetables and herbs, and to the satisfaction of digging the soil and exploring its life. And we look forward to helping students realize that to garden is to be involved in a grand adventure of piracy, provision, and plenty and that doing so is within their grasp, no matter where they live.

Fergie’s Gardeners Visit Flower Farm

August 23rd, 2012

By Marylee Phelps

Scarborough Farm On August 14 Fergie’s Gardeners visited Scarborough Farm, a cut flower farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland. The seven acre farm is filled with a wonderful variety of flowers and ornamental plants. Even during the heat of this very dry summer, Trumpet Lilies, Lisianthus, Zinnias, Dahlias and Snow on the Mountain were lush and vibrant. Butterflies covered the Harlequin tree and the scent of fresh flowers filled the air.

Kathy York, the enthusiastic, vivacious and creative farmer led us on a tour of the garden, answered our questions and shared insight into the problems and successes of cut flower farming. Scarborough Farm specializes in providing flowers for weddings and special events. Buckets of flowers are also available through their subscription program. Kathy shared with us her creative arrangements which frequently included unusual ornamental plants such as cotton and hops. Buying local is not just about vegetables. Meeting Kathy reminds us that buying direct from a local flower farmer is a greener choice and leaves a lower carbon footprint compared to flowers shipped from South America. Kathy uses pesticides only when absolutely necessary and drip irrigation for efficient use of local water resources.

It was a wonderful adventure to see where all the flowers grow and to meet flower gardener, Kathy. For more information, see Kathy’s website www.scarboroughfarmsflowers.com



Hard Bargain Farm Has Champions of Another Sort

August 21st, 2012

By Karen Jensen Miles, Land Use/ Facilities Manager

Thanks to the efforts of Sam Lyon, Hard Bargain Farm has two Maryland State Champion trees on its grounds. Sam’s father was the MD State Forester for many years, and Sam was steeped in all things relating to his dad’s profession. So, when he saw several really large tree and shrub specimens here at the farm, he sent in the pertinent information to MD Department of Natural Resources Forest Service’s Big Tree Program.

In September, four representatives from the Big Tree Measurement Team came to the farm to officially measure them. The Team declared two tree specimens to be state winners – a pawpaw and an American hornbeam.

Official measurements:

American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana
Circumference: 4 feet, 2 inches
Height: 48 feet
Average Crown Width: 38 feet
Total Points: 108.0 points

Common Pawpaw, Asimina triloba
Circumference: 2 feet, 7 inches
Height: 48 feet
Average Crown Width: 22 feet
Total Points: 85.0 points

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service has been collecting data on the largest trees of each species growing in our state since 1925. The Big Tree Program recognizes these trees with the goal to honor tree owners as good stewards of trees and to educate citizens about the importance of trees in our lives.

The champion for each species is determined by the value of the total points. If a tree is designated a champion, it will be automatically considered for nomination in to the National Register of Big Trees, a program of the conservation organization American Forests.

AFF’s New Website Shines Spotlight on Mission and Programs

July 17th, 2012

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director

Welcome to AFF’s newly revitalized website! We hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the site, which has been designed to be more user-friendly, interactive and informative. Enjoy reading our blog posts, keeping track of news and events at the Foundation, and staying connected with our work. As you explore the site, we hope you will take advantage some of the new features that will allow you to stay connected with our work. For example, you can use the RSS feed to subscribe to our weekly blog posts and keep track of news and events.

In our continued efforts to gear our site towards you, the user, we value your feedback about your experience. Please take a minute to fill out this short survey. If you only want to leave a comment, scroll down to the last question and write your comment there.

Thank you for being a supporter and friend of AFF and we hope that you enjoy our new site as much as we do!

A 1% We Can Believe In: 1% For the Planet!

July 13th, 2012

By Megan Logan, Development Associate

What do Patagonia clothing company, Sterling Vineyards and Cliff bars have in common? They’re all part of 1% for the Planet, a unique collaboration of businesses, consumers and nonprofits that are all connected through the power of philanthropy. Since being founded in 2002, 1% for the Planet has created a consortium of more than 1,300 businesses that agree to contribute 1% of their annual sales to environmental groups whose missions these proceeds then support. The Alice Ferguson Foundation has recently been invited to join the non-profit partners in the 1% network.

We are proud to be a part of this varied and vibrant group of people and organizations committed to taking actions that sustain our world. We invite you to learn more and if you recognize a company in the network to recommend that they support our work.

But you don’t have to be part of the 1% for the Planet network to help support the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s efforts. Your membership and donation donations help support our activities every day. Thanks for your support!

July Farm Update

July 13th, 2012

By Eileen Watts

The rain deficit is about over — grass is growing with gusto and it’s haying time.  Our fields are increasingly being inundated with hemp dogbane that is toxic to livestock.  The name tells of its harmfulness, “bane” in the dictionary means murderer!  (It is a native plant and Native Americans used the fine fibrous inner layers of the stem to weave small baskets and bowls.)  We have mowed the most thickly populated spots so that they won’t be incorporated in the hay.  It proliferates via rhizomes (underground roots), so our plan for now is to mow several times this year and again for the next couple of years to weaken it.  An old dictionary from 1961 calls dogbane chiefly a tropical plant.  Is this another indicator of climate change?  It is definitely on the rise.
The need for natural areas and outdoor experiences will always be with us, I guess, especially as urbanization continues.  Recently, a school girl from Washington, DC visiting the Farm was going to help plant field corn in an area that had been planted previously but crows pulled up all the tiny plants and seeds.  After hearing this, the girl asked “What is a crow?”  It took us by surprise, but then comparing her environment to ours we could understand.  However, many crows do dwell in cities but not all city dwellers spend much time outdoors.  The common crow is not so common to everyone.