Posts Tagged ‘Living Building Challenge’

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.

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.


‘Living’ Boardwalk Brings Environmental Education to Life: Old Line Bank President Cuts Ribbon for Inaugural Use

May 23rd, 2014

May 20, 2014

(Accokeek, MD) In partnership with Old Line Bank, the Alice Ferguson Foundation will unveil its Potomac Watershed Study Center Wetlands Boardwalk with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 21, 2014. The boardwalk will be a key component of the Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center education program providing vital connections for students to their natural environment.  The construction of the boardwalk is an important part of the Foundation’s larger Potomac Watershed Study Center, which will embrace the principles of the Living Building Challenge©, making it among the most innovative and environmentally sustainable building projects in the world.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s interpretive boardwalk, made possible by the largest donation in Old Line Bank’s history, skirts a seasonally wet emergent wetland that showcases many ecological concepts as well as plants and animal species.  “This boardwalk will further enhance the environmental education experience of the thousands of students we serve each year,” said Lori Arguelles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation.  “Through this generous donation, Old Line Bank has not only helped us physically build a connection to nature that will foster the next generation of environmental stewards, but they have also contributed to a project that is changing the entire global building industry. We are very grateful for their support.”
boardwalk in the mist
In addition to facilitating environmental education experiences at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, the boardwalk will be a key component of the Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC), which seeks to meet the stringent requirements of the Living Building Challenge©.  The new high-performance Net-ZERO Energy, Net-ZERO Water and Carbon Neutral buildings and outdoor spaces that make up the Center will go far beyond what most people recognize as a “green building,” currently, there are only five certified Living Buildings in the world. In keeping with the Foundation’s mission, all of the PWSC’s systems will be integrated, transparent teaching tools that inspire the thousands of students and visitors to lessen their impact on the environment.

“We are proud to help bring one of the most important building projects in the world to Maryland and bring the communities we serve into the cutting edge of green movement” said James W. Cornelsen President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Line Bank. “At our core, Old Line Bank is a community institution and we are honored to contribute to a project that benefits the communities in which we serve by inspiring people to understand the effects of climate change, educating the public on their environmental impact, and demonstrating the possibility of living in harmony with nature.”

The Alice Ferguson Foundation connects people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship and advocacy. AFF operates the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center—a 330-acre working farm located on the shorelines of the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C.  Learn more at


View photos from the event here.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

October 31st, 2013

By Karen Miles, Land Use/ Facilities Manager

Backfillingaround FOundationLots of things to report on in this Blogpost! Decisions, decisions, decisions. The project architects have given the AFF staff materials and color options for the floors, walls, exterior siding, roofing, windows and (wait for it) bathroom stalls. So many decisions; but we think that what we finally came up with will be wonderful here at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. We kept in mind the natural color palette for our area. Now, we just have to wait for the project to come along to the point where they can be seen.

Have you ever heard of FSC certified lumber? It stands for Forestry Stewardship Council Certification and is the best indicator in the United States that the wood used for construction is harvested sustainably. Responsible forest management includes:

  • Protecting fragile ecosystems
  • Respecting native cultures and economies
  • Preventing illegal logging
  • Restricting clear-cutting (removing all trees in a tract) and pesticide use
  • Monitoring the “chain of custody,” or ensuring that the wood in the product you’re looking at really came from the forest that was certified.

All of the lumber in a Living Building must be FSC certified and come from local sources, if possible.

We are working with the local electric energy provider, SMECO, to ensure that their electric lines can handle the excess power that is generated by the solar arrays that will be installed on-site. As luck would have it, they are in the process of installing a three phase line in the area and will be more than adequate for this purpose. Modifications in engineering plans have been made for the specified equipment to be changed from single phase to three phase lines.

ReadyingSlab The concrete pouring is coming to a close next week with the slab-on-grade pour. This means the flooring for the kitchen and mechanical equipment rooms will be poured. The kitchen will have a colorant (La Crescenta Brown) used. The waterproofing has been applied to the exterior underground walls and backfilling is in process. For the first time in about six months, one can see the natural lay of the land again.

Once the floors have been poured, the next steps are installation of the expanded metal trusses and Glulam beams (laminated wood). We will begin to see the building take shape more with each addition. It is very exciting to be a continuing part of this process. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Great Progress Made on the PWSC

September 23rd, 2013

By Karen Miles, Land Use/ Facilities Manager

Retaining WallThings are in full swing at the PWSC construction site.  There are contractors on-site for concrete work, geothermal hookups, electric and plumbing hookups and fire protection piping.  At long last, our project superintendent, Matt Burwell of Facchina Construction, may be getting electrical power to the construction trailer.  As you can see in the attached photographs, you can now begin to see the day-use building take form!  The flour should be able to be poured next week after the three feet of rainwater (from this past weekend’s down pour) is pumped out of the trenches After that, the framing contractor will come in and we will see above ground progress.

Green Wall

Another exciting development is the construction and planting of the green retaining wall near the existing lodge.  It snakes along the base of a very steep hill and keeps the soil from eroding down into the lodge area.  It has been planted with about 500 native plants of three species – Christmas fern, Pennsylvania sedge and Virginia creeper.  When they fill in, the effect should be lovely, with sweeps of different textures and hues undulating along the more than one hundred foot wall.  There is a temporary pathway leading to the lodge deck that will be in use until final grading sometime in the spring of 2014.

We are working on getting an alternative gray water septic system to handle water that comes from faucets, showers and sinks in the buildings.  We have received permission from the Prince George’s County Health Department to conduct dry season percolation tests and they should be completed in the next couple of weeks.

Grass day-use building under construction


PWSC Construction Journal Entry 3

August 6th, 2013

By Karen Miles, Land Use/ Facilities Manager


August 2, 2013

PWSC Construction August 2013The last two weeks have been a flurry of more trenching, pipe laying,  third party and County inspections, and trench filling.  The lay of the land at the construction site is finally looking similar to what was there prior to site work and most excitedly,  all of the inspections passed muster.

The next piece of the puzzle was removal and storage of the topsoil in the footprint of the day-use building.  A crew is currently on-site surveying the correct spots for footings for the building.  Four men are hand-digging these footings and the first concrete should be poured within the next couple of days.  An item that has taken up many nighttime ‘thinking’ hours for our construction project manager is how to get the sleeves for all of the various underground lines (geothermal, water, fire protection, electric) under these footings so they can eventually meet up with the connecting ones in the building and on to the other planned buildings in the near future.  I can see how important it is to have someone on the job who can put all of these pieces together out in the field.

We had just shy of two inches of rain last evening, so the foundation footings are full of water and will have to be pumped out.  The importance of the sedimentation and erosion controls that were the first thing to be put in place is very evident and thankfully are working according to plan. To learn more about erosion and sedimentation, check out our BTW module ‘Don’t Get Sedimental’.


August 5, 2013

PWSC Construction August 2013-2It is now three days later.  The trenches were pumped and mucked out and more foundation trenches were dug in preparation for additional footing concrete pourings.  This process should last until the end of the week.  The construction office trailer was delivered this morning.  Now, our Facchina Project Manager, Matt Burwell, doesn’t have to conduct work in his truck cab!

Very shortly, we will actually see the building’s shape begin to rise from the ground – something that we have been waiting for several years. J

Potomac Watershed Study Center Phase One Construction in its Infancy

July 26th, 2013

By Karen Miles, Land Use/Facilities Manager

PWSCgeothermalFor anyone not familiar with construction projects, the work going on in preparation for Phase One of the Potomac Watershed Study Center (PWSC) is mind boggling. When we go into any private or commercial building that is already built, all of the ‘invisible’ parts are taken for granted. These include all of the various underground pipes that carry drinking water, septic, electric lines, fire protection water lines, communications lines, storm water culverts and more.

I have never seen so many trenches and holes dug in such a small space! Not only are these underground lines necessary to any project, but these particular ones are different than nearly all that have been laid in the past. They are all a part of our Living Buildings Project that has the potential to actually improve the quality of the environment. If you are reading this blog post, you probably have read about our PWSC project on the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Website, so I won’t go into more detail.

The products that are used in an endeavor such as this must meet stringent guidelines and each item and its parts, plus the manufacturing process toxic impact, must be submitted to the International Living Futures Institute (ILFI) for approval prior to using it. This process is new to most architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors and government entities, so it can be tedious. As with any new and revolutionary concept, those who sign on in the beginning have to lay the groundwork for all those following in their footsteps.

Many of the building products contain toxins and/or were manufactured thousands of miles from the work site. Man’s footprint on the environment can be reduced drastically by using non-toxic materials that are manufactured within a tight radius of each project. Even the road building aggregates must be tested for conformance to this strict set of standards. The normally used piping that carries water from a water storage tank to the buildings in case of a fire contains ‘red-listed’ chemicals, so an alternative had to be found. High density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes replace the common poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) or metal lines. These pipe sections must be fused with a special piece of equipment that requires training prior to using it. Even the valves that are placed in the lines and things like screws in equipment must be submitted and approved. The concrete recipe that is commonly used for footings and walls contains a very small amount of formaldehyde which aids the curing process. Our concrete subcontractor has agreed to change to chemical content of the pour to conform to the ILFI standards.

This way of doing things is totally new to almost everyone now involved in our project, but as is with most new innovations or standards, will soon become the norm. We hope to be THE PROJECT in the DC metropolitan area and beyond that showcases what can be done when people aim for the moon and actually land on it, metaphorically!

Taking on the Living Building Challenge©

July 1st, 2013

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

The Alice Ferguson Foundation has been providing life-changing connections to the natural world through our education program field studies for the better part of five decades.  We believe that connecting kids to nature in a meaningful way has benefits for both the kids and the planet we inhabit.  So when we were facing the challenge of upgrading and enhancing facilities at our Hard Bargain Farm Education Center we decided to go the extra mile and embrace the Living Building Challenge©, which is the most stringent set of green building requirements in existence today.

Currently, the biggest consumer of energy is buildings, or more correctly, the people that inhabit and operate inefficiently and poorly designed buildings are the biggest consumers of energy.  If we’re going to turn the corner on the critical issues of the day, such as climate change, we need to build a bridge between the natural world and the ‘built world.’  So what do we do about it?

For us, the answer was obvious:  Take on the Living Building Challenge© and lead by example. Most green building criteria focus on mitigation, or in other words—doing less bad. The Living Building Challenge© focuses on how buildings can actually help regenerate the environment they inhabit.  It makes perfect sense for an organization like ours to tackle criteria such as net-zero energy, net-zero water, carbon neutral, and non-toxic facilities. After all our mission is quite literally to ‘connect people to the natural world.’

As an environmental education facility we are deeply committed not only to ‘walking the talk’ but also to sharing what we learn in the process.  And there is much to learn!  Part of what we will need to do as part of this process is to help change the supply chain.  The biggest part of the ‘Challenge’ has to do with the non-toxic materials requirements.  And the frightening thing is just how commonplace these toxics are in our homes, workplaces and other locales we frequent regularly.

Our blog will chronicle our journey down the Living Building path as we begin construction on our Potomac Watershed Study Center.  Thanks for your interest and support as we undertake this incredible endeavor.  After all, there are currently only FOUR Living Buildings certified anywhere in the world today.  Together, let’s make sure that in the future Living Buildings are the rule, not the exception.