How do we visit Freetown Farm?
Freetown Farm is a small, private, heavily programmed property. Therefore, all visits are by appointment, event, program, etc. only. If you would like to schedule a tour, we would love to show you the property and share our work with you. We have three standard times that are available for tours: Wednesdays between 3pm and just before sunset; Thursdays between 10 and 1; and the second Saturday (and sometimes fourth) Saturday of each month between 11 and 2. To schedule a tour, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and expect to need to schedule at least two weeks in advance.
Can we volunteer?
Yes, volunteers are essential to our work! We welcome both individuals and groups of volunteers. Please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more and get signed up on our volunteer management platform, Better Impact, to begin volunteering. If you have not yet visited Freetown Farm or volunteered with CEI, we encourage you to attend one of our regular “New to CEI” tours that occur on the first Saturday and third Wednesday of each month. Sign-up on our Flipcause page here.
How can I donate to support your work?
Thank you, our work depends on the support of people who value its benefits! You can make your donation online on this main page Donate - Community Ecology Institute or make a check to The Community Ecology Institute and mail it to 8000 Harriet Tubman Lane, Columbia, MD 21044.
Can my group come out for a field trip?
Yes. We offer field trips primarily on Fridays. Our parking at Freetown Farm is limited to groups of no more than 15 cars or one bus. The details for field trips are planned on a case-by-case basis depending on the number and age of people involved and the extent to which the request requires additional preparation by our staff. Please email email@example.com to request a field trip and expect to need to schedule at least two to three weeks in advance.
Do you all do speaking engagements?
Yes. Members of CEI board and staff are able to do speaking engagements on a variety of topics at the many intersections of education, environment, equity and health. We are able to speak within Howard County in person and virtually outside of our hometown. Details for speaking engagements are planned on a case-by-case basis. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a speaker and expect to need to schedule at least three weeks in advance.
Anti-Racist & social justice resources
In recognition of the acute nature of the racial injustices occurring in our country, CEI joins the call for a more equitable, inclusive, peaceful and just future that reaffirms dignity and ensures safety for everyone. The following resources facilitate listening, learning, communication, and effective action towards racial justice.
On Being Anti-RacistOn Teaching and Talking To Kids about Race
Further your knowledge with these articles and scholarly publications!
Nature Connection, Sense of Place & and Pro-Environmental Behavior:
Walkable watershed project
A Walkable Watershed integrates the flow of water and people into a cohesive strategy to improve the overall health of a community and the surrounding watershed. The concept is based on the idea that high-quality water goes hand-in-hand with a high quality of life, supporting access to the outdoors, enhanced community infrastructure and services, and stronger health outcomes.
A Walkable Watershed process:
CEI's Freetown Farm is located less than a mile from the Middle Patuxent River within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Currently stormwater from neighboring Atholton High School is directed onto the farm via a culvert and underground pipe and the previous farm owner piped this water to the edge of the property, resulting in flooding and erosion for residential neighbors. Stormwater runoff from the school also flows across the road and a bus yard and on to the farm causing flooding for the farm as well as surrounding properties. CEI and Atholton High School are in a unique position to support the health of the Middle Patuxent watershed through treatment of a significant volume of stormwater runoff as well as model how homeowners and commercial properties can address stormwater issues in a socio-ecologically beneficial manner.
From 2019 to 2021 CEI implemented a series of three Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) grants called “Water F.O.R.C.E.” to address the stormwater from the high school that flows on to our farm. We completed an ecological master plan of the property and developed a plan to implement best management practices in the northwest field of the farm that will slow the stormwater down, spread it out, and allow it to soak into the ground. A second series of CBT grants through the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns is focused on mitigating the runoff from the high school by developing a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) concept plan for the high school using a selection of integrated best management practices (BMPs). These projects will begin the “walkable watershed” by developing connected projects between the school and CEI’s farm property to provide students access to outdoor environmental education opportunities. Once implemented, these two connected projects will provide a highly visible demonstration of BMPs such as bioretention areas, infiltration trenches and dry wells, berms and swales, rain gardens, urban tree canopies, conservation landscapes, and rainwater harvesting. In addition to the demonstration value of the project, the installation of the BMPs will achieve reductions in nutrient and sediment loads in Middle Patuxent Watershed.
The work at Freetown Farm and Atholton High School will be the beginning of a larger community Walkable Watershed initiative supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will address stormwater management issues while simultaneously addressing community needs and neighborhood quality of life goals – such as improved neighborhood connectivity and better access to vibrant outdoor spaces – and integrating different assets within the community including CEI’s environmental learning center, Atholton High School, Robinson Nature Center, and the cultural heritage of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad route. CEI is leading this initiative because we are connected and committed to the community and the different stakeholders associated with this work while also being nimble enough to take a leadership role in encouraging and pursuing innovations. The Freetown Walkable Watershed Initiative report is available here.
The University of Maryland Extension and the Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy are key partners through all the phases of the walkable watershed initiative. CEI worked with Biohabitats to develop the design to address the stormwater flowing onto Freetown Farm. We are working with Skeo Solutions on the walkable watershed design plans for Atholton High and the surrounding Hickory Ridge community. They completed their first Walkable Watershed pilot in early 2012 in a community in Richmond, Virginia. They have since led Walkable Watershed projects benefiting communities with environmental justice concerns in more than seven locations across the country. We worked with Howard EcoWorks and Triangle Contracting on the BMP installation elements at Freetown Farm and are bringing this team back for the installation of BMPs at Atholton High School, new work which is being overseen by Coastal Resources Inc.
CFIN Membership & FAQs
As seasonal CFIN members, your family will receive weekly invitations to join an Event Leader and other member families on planned nature outings. Enjoy community building with other families, exploration and free play in nature, and thoughtful activities planned by your leader; outings may include hiking, learning about seasonal changes, Junior Naturalist activities, creative fun, land stewardship opportunities, and more.
In addition, CFIN offers FREE community events once each season and leader-facilitated summer and autumn camping trips!
To keep up to date with upcoming registrations, follow us on Facebook and/or join our mailing list to receive updates!
Current Registration information
**Our Spring 2023 Season is coming to a close! Registration for CFIN: Summer 2023 will begin June 6th at 10AM.** Click on the 'Summer Membership' button below for more information and to register.
Our Seasonal Memberships include 10 unique outdoor events for your entire family! Follow us on Facebook and/or join our mailing list to receive updates and reminders for registration (buttons above). Almost all of our outings take place on Sunday afternoons (for the summer season - 2:30PM to 4:30PM). Our pricing will be expanding starting with our summer season so that families can continue to choose a membership price that best meets their budget. A fully-sponsored membership is also available for families who need additional financial assistance; please contact us at email@example.com for details. Read through our FAQs below for more information about memberships and feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions!
Our Spring FREE Event was held on Sunday, June 4th; our camping focused event was held in collaboration with the Columbia Gear Closet. We talked all-things gear, food, activities, and starting campfires! We ended our event with a dinner picnic around the fire.
Registration for our summer camping trips is ongoing! Registration for both our Calvert Cliffs (July) and Greenbrier (August) State Park trips are open; click on the registration button for either trip to begin registering for it (more details below followed by the registration buttons); registration for our Patapsco: Hilton Area camping trip will begin June 22nd (details below). Following us on Facebook and joining our CFIN mailing list will ensure you receive the most up to date information on CFIN happenings (buttons for that are at the top of the page!).
This summer and autumn, CFIN is excited to announce that our community camping events will be open to a wider audience! We have CFIN alumni members who have been camping together for many summers and we can’t wait to share the fun of community camping with more families! We will be offering 3 camping trips this year: Calvert Cliffs State Park-- July 13-16th, Greenbrier State Park--August 18-20th, and Patapsco Valley State Park (Hilton Area)--September 22-24th. Participation is limited on these trips to 15-18 families. There will be a fee per family for each trip ranging from $30-$40; financial assistance details upon request--email (email@example.com) Registration is now open for our Calvert Cliffs and Greenbrier trips ; find the registration buttons below! Registration begins Thursday, June 22nd for our Patapsco-Hilton trip. Registration will remain open until all spots are filled.
With respect to COVID-19 and masking procedures, masks are welcome, but not required; participants are encouraged to make the masking decision that feels best for themselves and their family.
You're Invited to Come Outside and Play!
Who: Children and their adults.
What: Free-play, family hikes, educational experiences, volunteer activities. When you join us, prepare to have fun, make friends, and earn your bath!
Where: We have excursions in natural areas in and around Howard County, Maryland.
When: Four Sunday afternoons per month.
See our Membership page for more details.
Why: People who spend frequent time outdoors experience enhanced use of the senses, fewer attention difficulties and decreased rates of physical and emotional illness and obesity. Spending frequent time outdoors is also the best way to develop a connection to nature, which is essential for environmental stewardship.
Having close relationships with important adults also gives children a sense of well-being and confidence that allows them to connect with the world around them. Learn more about of benefits of CFIN here!
CFIN is committed to giving families the opportunity to connect with nature, each other, and their community.
Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice
Just as biodiversity strengthens natural systems, the diversity of human experience strengthens our efforts to create socially and ecologically healthy communities.
CEI is committed to honoring diversity, prioritizing inclusion, and working towards equity in all we do. We are dedicated to creating an environment free from any kind of discrimination including race, color, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, national or ethnic origin, and veteran status.
Our land was part of the Underground Railroad and is now within Columbia, Maryland—a place explicitly founded by James Rouse to be “a garden for growing people where anyone—whatever their race, wealth or religious beliefs—could reach their full potential.”
We continuously work to make this vision a reality and to help other communities do the same. CEI joins the call for a more equitable, inclusive, peaceful, and just future that reaffirms dignity and ensures safety for all.
The History of Freetown Farm
As the new stewards of this historic, 6.4-acre farm on Harriet Tubman Lane in Howard County, Maryland, CEI reached out to those who helped us purchase and protect this land for their thoughts about what to rename it. CEI is committed to understanding and sharing the social and ecological history of this land.
THE NAME OF THE FARM
The property has been known as Shaw Farm for almost 40 years, named for its prior owner, Mr. David Shaw. We received close to 100 different name suggestions! To honor the important history of this land as well as the ways in which our urban farm will support the journey to a "carbon-free" future, we have, through an iterative process, chosen the name FREETOWN FARM. Our choice of the name Freetown Farm recognizes the important history of the land on which the Community Ecology Institute is putting down roots. We are working to develop programming that tells the story of this land and its historic community.
INDIGENOUS LAND HISTORY
To begin, we acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe as well as the Susquehannock, Algonquian, Lenape, Nanticoke, Powhatan, and Patuxent. In 1634, colonists came to the area via the Ark and Dove ships, and colonization of tribal lands was started by Leonard Calvert, Maryland’s first colonial governor. Conflict began to rise as the colonists continued to encroach on tribal lands, culminating in the first treaty in 1666 to establish the Piscataway reservation. This was followed by subsequent treaties, all of which would be broken in the coming years, resulting in the loss of native homelands.
Records show that the plantations of this area used the labor of enslaved people as early as 1690, often for the growing and harvesting of tobacco. Once iron ore was discovered, slave labor was used in mining to support railroads.
When asked what role enslaved people played in developing Howard County, Wylene Burch, the founding director of the Howard County Center of African American Culture explained:
After more than 150 years of slavery in Howard County, in 1845 local landowner Nicolas Worthington freed seventeen people he had enslaved and gave them 150 acres of land—an area that became known as Freetown. According to the 1860 Census, more than one in five Howard County residents was an enslaved person; another 10 percent were free black people—double the proportion of the rest of the state. Local historians believe that Freetown and the surrounding community of Simpsonville served as an important stopover point in the Underground Railroad. Ms. Burch noted research that showed the Underground Railroad thrived in the county because it was in “the tight place” as slaves moved north through Maryland via different waterways, such as the Middle Patuxent and Patapsco rivers.[ii]
Our farm on Harriet Tubman Lane sits at the intersection of three locations on the Freetown-Simpsonville Legacy Trail known to have been part of the Underground Railroad:[iii]
The farm is located across the street from the Harriet Tubman School, a segregated high school for African American students established in 1948. Howard County Schools did not honor the 1954 Supreme Court Ruling mandating racial integration of schools until 1965. At that time, the Harriet Tubman School was closed after a new, integrated school, Atholton High School, was built next door. The Harriet Tubman School is now being renovated to become a historic, educational, and cultural center for the community. We are excited to pursue programming partnerships with the Harriet Tubman School once their facilities are complete. As that work continues, the Howard County Branch of the NAACP is stewarding a garden plot on the farm that will both help to tell the story of the African American history on this land and address local food justice issues.
Freetown Farm is located in Columbia, Maryland—a unique, planned community founded in 1967 by James Rouse, whose commitment to racial integration and openness set an example for the nation. From its inception, Columbia championed integration—across race, class, and faith. The city’s iconic “People Tree” statue embodies this vision of our inter-connectedness. Rouse described Columbia as “a garden for growing people.”[iv] At Freetown Farm we aim to honor the rich legacies in our soil.
Please click the "Read More" button to view our sources.
Roots & wings learning community
The mission of the Roots & Wings Learning Community is to offer supplemental, educational programming to home-schooled children, in order to nurture a deep connection to self & others through transformative arts integration, social responsibility and nature-rich activities.
Below is an example of what the program schedule will look like next year (please note it is subject to slight changes):
Information about class sections:
The Community Ecology Institute co-authors the material on this blog with the support of several team members.