What a Farm Can Tell Us About The Chesapeake Bay

Danny
Who would have thought a farm 20 miles from Washington, DC would directly affect the Chesapeake Bay? Did you know the Chesapeake Bay watershed reaches into six states?

Clagett Farm, in Upper Marlboro, MD was donated nearly 30 years ago by a family to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. What once was a tobacco farm is now home to an organic farm whose purpose is multidimensional. Its main purpose, though, is education. I recently spent the day with my daughter Gabby as part of a field trip with her middle school. The day consisted of moving grass-fed, free-range cattle and chickens; planting onions and flowers; learning about composting; and how what we do on land directly impacts the quality of the bay’s waters.

Gabby planting sunflower seeds

Gabby

What an amazing way to learn about the environment and how I affect it. I didn’t realize how much my own actions could affect the Chesapeake Bay, but this place called Clagget Farm showed me.

Some of my classmates and I went to Clagett Farm on a field trip. When we arrived, we met Phillip and Melissa, our educators for the day. We played a trivia game in a barn using maps of the Chesapeake and the surrounding area. We learned about how when you plant trees, it keeps the dirt from going into the bay.

Glowing Water

Melissa Simmons demonstrates how fertilizer runoff finds its way into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay

I really liked how we learned about how the different surfaces affect the water going into the bay. The suburban lawn with fertilizer on it had dye in it to make it show bright yellow-green so we could see the fertilizer in the water. We also saw how the forest area made the water clean.

I got to plant sunflower seeds and eat bok choy right from the ground. It kind of tasted like lettuce but very fresh.

Herding cows was fun but stepping in cow pies was not. We got to move them from one field to another so they could get fresh grass. The old manure would make the grass grow back so they would be able to move back to the previous area.

What an amazing day! I learned so much about how what I do is connected to the water and the animals both in it and surrounding it.

Danny

The experiment using surface types consisted of a hillside that was prepared with surfaces including urban sprawl, suburban lawn, cover crops, tilled fields and forest. For visual effect, dye was added to the water to illustrate how much fertilizer is washed away versus being absorbed. I liked seeing how Gabby reacted to the bright green color of the water.

Runoff experiment at Clagett Farm

The message being that fertilizer isn’t necessarily bad on lawns in correct amounts; the issue is when too much is applied, it runs eventually into the Chesapeake. But the larger message of the experiment is that paved surfaces, groomed lawns and traditionally tilled fields can negatively affect the Chesapeake Bay, whereas limiting fertilizers, planting cover crops and forested areas positively affect the health of the bay.

About the authors: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications. Gabby Hart is in the 7th Grade, loves dance and wants to be a doctor.