by Kelly Shenk
On a foggy Saturday morning, my 12-year old son and I were on a cattle and cropland farm in Carroll County, Maryland. We joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its 60 volunteers to plant 1,200 trees and shrubs along a creek. The creek flows to the Monocacy River and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.
We worked beside some seasoned tree planters who told us they had been planting trees along streams for over a decade. Within that decade, they said the trees have grown up, shaded the streams, and helped bring the fish and wildlife back. Seeing results like that has motivated them to keep volunteering.
This project is part of the farmer’s long-term plan to plant 10 acres of “riparian forest buffer” to improve the water quality and wildlife habitat of his creek. This buffer of trees and shrubs will help absorb nitrogen and phosphorus coming off his barnyard and his corn and soybean fields when it rains.
As we planted and talked, the creek water suddenly turned muddy. We looked up the stream and saw that a cow had tromped down the streambank and was wading in the creek. It was a perfect illustration of how cows with access to the creek can erode the streambank and cause sediment – another pollutant – in the creek.
The landowner is in the process of fencing his cattle out of the creek. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation explained to the volunteers that excluding cows from the stream improves the cows’ health because they will be drinking cleaner water from a trough. Healthier cows mean lower veterinary bills. And cows drinking clean water gain weight faster which means more money in a cattleman’s pocket.
I asked my son what he thought about the day. I expected him to focus on all the cow patties we stepped in – after all he is 12 years old! But he surprised me. “It was pretty cool that we were all working together to help the farmer and the environment.” His focus was on “together.” We truly can have healthy farms and clean water by working together.
I’m looking forward to a day, 10 years from now, when I bring my son back to this farm and see how our work together has improved this farmer’s business and our local streams.
About the author: Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agriculture Advisor. She works with farmers to achieve healthy, well-managed farms and clean water. EPA is proud to be one of many partners who helped fund this work through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.