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Chesapeake Bay News

Jul
14
2017

A walk in the edible woods

Lincoln Smith, founder of Forested, a food forest in Bowie, Md., inspects a tree while giving a tour of his land on July 6. Over the five years that Smith has been renting the ten acres from a local church, he has transformed it into a multistory food forest that produces diverse crops and provides food for the community.

Imagine a forest garden, where the best of both farming and forestry combine to form an ecosystem that gives back to the land. Figs, pomegranates, pineapple guavas,  mulberries, leafy greens, mushrooms and raspberry brambles grow and are harvested in harmony with shady canopies and a wide array of other edible plants, and the environment benefits from the forested landscape. What you may not imagine is that you can find this forest agriculture paradise in a quiet, suburban cul-de-sac in Bowie, Maryland.

Just past the cheerful mailboxes and carefully trimmed lawns of its host neighborhood sits the forest garden, a ten-acre demonstration site founded in 2011 by Lincoln Smith through a grant from the District of Columbia Urban Forestry Administration and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Smith designs forest gardens and teaches courses on production ecosystems through his organization, Forested, LLC.

Goldenseal, a plant valued for its medicinal properties, grows in Smith’s forest farm.

Stepping inside the rustic gate, you are greeted to an array of edible plants, both of the standard and unexpected variety. Oak trees make up a portion of the canopy, providing all of the traditional benefits of trees such as improving air quality, retaining water and providing shade, however they also supply a surprising staple: starch. In terms of production and space, acorns produce as much as or more food per acre than wheat. It is this kind of information that Smith hopes will get people thinking differently about food. Helping him to do that in a delicious way is Michael Costa, head chef for the Washington, D.C., restaurant Zaytinya.

Food Forest Feasts are held twice a year at Forested and feature dishes created from the forest abundance. All over the forest garden, special emphasis is given to species that grow wild. A species of grapevine growing all over the garden is embraced as a food source and used by Chef Costa to create dolmas from the leaves. Fresh wine cap, shitake and oyster mushrooms feature in the meals. Spice bush is used to make a vinegar, sumac for a lemon spice.

Smith picks Wine Cap mushrooms of several maturity stages growing in a mulched patch of ground inside the forest. Due to their quick growth rate, Smith tries to check on the wine caps, or Stropharia Rugosoannulata, twice a day during harvest season.

Designed as a space for the community to be enriched, Forested’s forest garden is always open to the public. The land is owned by a local church, and the steps Smith had to take in order to rent it perfectly fit with his concept of urban forest agriculture. “I had to go to every home in the neighborhood,” he laughs, spreading his arms over the tops of kale and indicating the homes nearby.

Community members go to the garden to learn about edible forestry, paint the landscape, help with the harvest or just take their dogs on a leisurely stroll. “The longer we’re here,” says Smith with quiet pride, “the more the local community seems to understand and appreciate the project.”

A close up of perennial asparagus as it grows in a sunny vegetable patch of the forest garden. The delicate, fern-like foliage grows throughout the summer before dying back to make way for fresh, harvestable asparagus shoots the following spring.

If the forest garden is well-integrated with the human community, its relationship among the winged, crawling and rooted community is even more impressive. Take, for instance, the resident flock of ducks, whose grazing area rotates so they can forage throughout the garden. When harlequin bugs become a problem for the brassicas—crunchy vegetables like cabbages and radishes—the ducks are set loose to thin out the pests. Comfrey and dandelions are also a favorite snack of the ducks, who in turn spread nutrients as the comfrey and dandelions pass through their digestive systems.

Thanks to the biodiversity encouraged by a healthy ecosystem, pests like the invasive Japanese beetle meet some formidable foes at Forested. Scolia dubia, a native and beautiful blue-winged wasp, preys on the beetle. And wheel bugs are given a free pass to feast on the mulberry crop, in exchange for providing a valuable service in actively liquefying Japanese beetles. There are complex interactions to an ecosystem, which when working in harmony produce a beautiful, living landscape.

With the forest garden now in its sixth year, it is beginning to generate its own prizes outside, or ahead of, the man-made design. Jack-in-the-pulpit, sassafras and jewelweed now all grow unbidden. Will the herbalist begin creating jewelweed salves for bug bites and other irritations? Will they use that sassafras to create root beer? When the biosphere is diverse, it builds its own potential.

Smith tends a mulberry tree amidst his forest farm. The farm is maintained by him as well as neighbors, other volunteers and members of the forest’s Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, whose customers receive produce from the farm.

Food forests provide a wide variety of sustenance in a small space, and hit that double mark of community space and environmental improvement. Forested recently worked on a project to design a new food forest for the city of Hyattsville in Prince George’s County, and discussion is underway for additional gardens. Given all the intertwined benefits, it is no surprise that many are excited to implement forest gardens into urban settings.

Caitlyn Johnstone's avatar
About Caitlyn Johnstone - Caitlyn is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She earned her Bachelor's in English and Behavioral Psychology at WVU Eberly Honors College, where she fed her interest in the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. Caitlyn continues that passion on her native Eastern Shore by seeking comprehensive strategies to human and environmental wellbeing.



Jul
14
2017

Photo of the Week: ‘Paradise Found’ along the Elizabeth River

Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Virginia, is seen on July 6, 2017. Once nicknamed "Paradise Lost" because of its close proximity to the former New Gosport landfill—a Superfund site—the area has become a model for urban waterway restoration.

Paradise Creek is a tributary of the Elizabeth River, historically one of the most polluted waterways not just in the Chesapeake Bay region, but in the United States. Years of dredging and filling brought drastic changes to the Elizabeth River, creating a waterway much deeper and narrower than the broad, shallow Bay tributary it once was. Some of that leftover dredged material made its way to Paradise Creek, where it filled in the creek bottom and smothered the area where tidal wetlands once thrived.

In 2001, the Elizabeth River Project began planning for the restoration of Paradise Creek and the surrounding land. Through the decade that followed, the City of Portsmouth agreed to operate the site as a public park, the land was purchased and the Virginia Port Authority removed more than 300,000 cubic yards of dredged material from the creek bottom. Today, eleven acres of once-lost tidal wetlands have reemerged.

Opened to the public in 2012, two phases of restoration efforts have helped turn Paradise Creek Nature Park into a recreational haven. The 40-acre park is now home to two miles of trails, a launch for canoes and kayaks, a wetland learning lab and thousands of newly-planted native trees and shrubs. Visitors can even rent unique, clear-bottom kayaks to get an up-close look at the waterway’s recovery.

Learn more about Paradise Creek Nature Park or take a virtual tour of the Elizabeth River.

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Jul
10
2017

Creating a cadre of Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals

Written and photographed by Jim Edward, Deputy Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program

As I drove into the parking lot of the Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Annapolis on June 20, I couldn’t help but notice the rain gardens and lush native plantings on the church property. It certainly seemed appropriate, though, as I was there to attend a two-day training class with others aspiring to become certified as Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals (CBLP). The nascent CBLP Certification Program, in its first full year of operation, is a new voluntary credential system for professionals who design, install and maintain sustainable landscapes. The training and examination are based on a core set of standards in sustainable landscaping, emphasizing best practices for stormwater retrofitting and conservation landscaping to benefit the environment.

A rain garden at Hillsmere Shores Community Beach is visited during a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals (CBLP) training workshop in Annapolis, Md., on June 21. CBLP offers voluntary certification for sustainable landscape professionals.

My class consisted of about 25 people representing a wide variety of environmental professionals. Some, like myself, had degrees in landscape architecture or regional planning, while others were horticulturists, arborists, engineers, ecologists or environmental scientists. While a bit eclectic, we were all there for two reasons: first, because we care about protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, streams and creeks, and second, to learn about the design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscapes, with an emphasis on properly maintaining stormwater best management practices (BMPs). Consisting of a two-day class, an online webinar series and a written exam, the course incorporates interactive classroom instruction with a field-based practicum.

To begin our class, we were greeted warmly by Reverend Johnny Calhoun, pastor of our host Mt. Olive AME Church and one of the Chesapeake region’s leading advocates of involving faith communities in Bay restoration work. Thus inspired by the Reverend, we spent most of the day in the classroom with CBLP Program Coordinator Beth Ginter and our expert instructors learning about a variety of topics, including native plants, invasive species and soil textures. Following an overview of issues related to the design, installation and maintenance of stormwater BMPs, we finally headed outside for some field work.

We didn’t have to go far: the grounds of Mt. Olive AME Church served as a perfect venue for viewing first-hand some rainwater harvesting practices. For most places of worship, large parking lots are the norm, and Mt. Olive is no exception. To help limit stormwater runoff, church leadership put a number of practices in place, including three rain gardens lush with native plants and flowering perennials as well as some rain barrels to capture runoff from the church and community center roofs. They also installed pervious concrete in parts of the parking lot to help prevent stormwater from leaving their property and polluting local streams and rivers.

Day two of the CBLP training was spent primarily out in the field, participating in a “BMP Maintenance Practicum.” The CBLP management team decided that, regardless of whether a professional is going to focus on landscape design, installation or maintenance, it is imperative that everyone understand and properly plan for the maintenance needs and implications of sustainable landscapes. Armed with our inspection checklists, we spent the day examining various residential and commercial sites in and around the city of Annapolis.

A rain garden at Mt. Olive AME Church in Annapolis captures and filters stormwater before it can leave the property.

Our first stop was the downtown Annapolis Visitors Center. We met with local landscape architect Shelley Rentsch, who designed the elliptical parking lot and bioremediation practices and plantings that surround it. Her design—which won a Best Urban BMP in the Bay Award, or BUBBA—uses a mix of rain gardens and their larger cousins, bioswales, as well as pervious concrete and permeable pavers for the parking spaces and driving surfaces. The conservation landscaping was generally in good shape, although our instructor was able to point out a few minor maintenance issues likely resulting from an inadequately trained maintenance crew.

Next was a green roof on top of a bank building off Westgate Circle. It was well-maintained and watered by a professional landscaping crew and had mainly low-growing, herbaceous plantings with some benches for workers to sit and enjoy the view of the city.

We then moved onto the Hillsmere Shores neighborhood, where we saw a number of good examples of somewhat larger-scale bioremediation projects on community properties (beaches, neighborhood pools, etc.), such as bioswales, step pool storm conveyances and raingardens. Most of them were well-established and professionally maintained, although we were told that annual maintenance costs are starting to raise concerns among some community residents.

We spent the remainder of the day touring other residential and commercial sites around the city, some of which had more serious maintenance issues (no names, please!). In a number of cases, it was hard to tell if the issues were the result of inadequate maintenance or of flaws in design or installation. But that was what the training was for: to get us thinking about these issues now, so we’ll each be prepared to address them in the future when we become certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals. We’ll know for sure after we take our certification exams this fall!

About Jim Edward - Jim Edward is the Deputy Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He plays a lead role in coordinating the U.S. EPA's activities with other federal agencies, and works with state and local authorities to improve the water quality and living resources of the Bay.



Jul
07
2017

Photo of the Week: Osprey banding not just for the birds

Greg Kearns, a naturalist at Patuxent River Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, reads the numbers on a newly-banded osprey during a tour of the river on Thursday, June 29. Members of the public were able to handle osprey and participate in the banding process, which helps researchers monitor the species.

During banding, birds are fitted with an aluminum ring around one leg—25 standard sizes and five specialty sizes mean bands can fit on anything from the large tundra swan to the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird. Each band is stamped with a unique eight or nine digit number, allowing researchers to track the movement and behavior of individual birds.

Banding data from across the country is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory, housed at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. More than 1.2 million banding records are send to the Bird Banding Laboratory each year, helping scientists understand migration patterns, population dynamics, sources of mortality and how long birds live. Much of the critical information known about birds like osprey comes from tracking and reporting banding data.

Not everyone can band a bird: to protect the safety and health of migrating birds, bird banding is strictly controlled and limited to trained, permitted professionals whose projects aid in bird conservation and management. However, anyone is welcome to report a banded bird. If you come across a banded bird, report the band number at www.reportband.gov or 1-800-327-BAND along with where, when and how you found it.

Learn more about osprey, or get a behind-the-scenes look at bird banding on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.

Image by Skyler Ballard

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



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