By Taylor Logsdon, CEI's Freetown Farm Manager
I am continually amazed by the complexity and beauty I see during a walk in the woods. In every available niche some plant/animal/fungus has found a place to not only grow and live, but to thrive. Nuts, berries, mushrooms and medicinal herbs all grow on their own volition, without any assistance from the human world. There is competition and, more importantly, a whole lot of cooperation between all these living parts.
In a food forest, or forest garden, we take our inspiration and design from these systems. Where in an orchard we might plant a fruit tree, in a food forest we plant a fruit tree family or guild. We work with layers and niches. Every site asks for a different design. Sun exposure, site size, water availability and flow dictate the species chosen. Nuts, fruits, berries, vines, herbs, mushrooms and perennial vegetables create a dynamic community of useful plants while reducing inputs and increasing yields. The plant niches we fill create habitat for wildlife, food for humans and a beautiful and abundant landscape for us to steward and above all enjoy.
At Freetown Farm, since the fall we have been steadily planting our forest garden with species including persimmon, pawpaw, elderberry, currants, black cherries, raspberries, blackberries, serviceberry, chokeberry, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and more. This area is adjacent to the two acres of woods we have at the back of the farm, ultimately it will extend the woods further north on the property in a delicious way. In the existing woods we are also planting more diverse, edible and/or medicinal species such as redbud, spice bush, hazelnut, sugar maple, and black walnut. It will be wonderful to watch this part of the farm grow!
We are here to help you design and install a forest garden on your property as well.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!
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 to ask for their thoughts about what to name it. The property has been known as Shaw Farm for almost 40 years, named for its prior owner. 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 arm will support the journey to a "carbon-free" future, we have, through an iterative process, chosen the name FREETOWN FARM.
CEI is committed to understanding and sharing the social and ecological history of this land. Records show that the plantations of this area used slave labor 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: “They built it. All of these buildings built in the 1700s, they must have used the slave trade to build them. Those people really struggled and worked and developed this area.”[i]
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]
Middle Patuxent River - At the bottom of the hill, on the south side of Rt. 32 and Cedar Lane in “Old Freetown,” winds the Middle Patuxent River. Near the bank of this river there is a cave-like area where people hid from slave raiders on their journey north.
Freetown Road - Old “Freetown” was originally bound by Cedar Lane down 216 and continued up around Howard Community College and over to Owen Brown. Today all that is left of the original tract is Freetown Road, the Harriet Tubman portion of Guilford Road, and the Locust United Methodist Church and Cemetery.
Locust Cemetery - Oral History says that Harriet Tubman and other formerly enslaved people who fled plantations in search of freedom hid and rested at the gravesites. The Cemetery is located at the corner of Harriet Tubman Lane and Freetown Road.
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. 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.
More information as well as artifacts and belongings of Harriet Tubman can be found at the Howard County Center of African American Culture Museum, Open Tuesday and Thursday from 12 pm-4 pm at 5434 Vantage Point Road in Columbia.
Most Howard County residents live within a half-mile of a storm drain or stream that eventually leads to the Patuxent or Patapsco rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. It is vital that residents learn how their behavior affects the health of our local waterways and become inspired to care for our natural resources. To achieve this big-picture goal, CEI applied for a Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) grant to create a new native tree grove in community open space owned by the Columbia Association. Also supported by the Howard County Forestry Board and the Audubon Society, this project was designed to achieve the following objectives:
In collaboration with the Columbia Association, CEI identied a plot of land in their open space property on which to create the new, native tree grove. The site location is just northeast of Woodblock Row in the Village of Oakland Mills. Prior to planting it was a mix of early succession black locust, autumn olive, and invasive vines. This location is in the Little Patuxent watershed adjacent to a tributary to the Little Patuxent River and along the Columbia “Lake to Lake Trail”, making it a strong choice for broader community visibility.
In April of 2018, two community events were held to prepare the site and then to plant the site with 213 trees from 18 different native species. Over 150 people participated in these two events. Since that time we have organized several events to tend to the tree and weed the grove. The trees are growing well and we look forward to seeing how this grove grows overtime and being able to replicate similar efforts around the community!
By Betsy A. Wier, MA, PhD, CEI Advisory Board Member
I had the opportunity to attend the UNFCCC COP 25 event in Madrid, Spain in December 2019 as part of a delegation from Colorado State University. It was in some ways an overwhelming experience with thousands of people from all over the world attending while the press ran from one end of the expo center to the other to document speeches including the climate superstar, Greta Thunberg. I managed to navigate the event with a cup of café con leche in hand and the UN app on my phone to find the meetings and locations. I logged an average of 18,000 steps a day just getting where I needed to go! Joking aside, I was sincerely impressed and a bit emotional about how much all of these people, organizations, universities, governments, scientists and politicians care about the planet. There was a sense of urgency to communicate the science, advance policy decisions, and implement concrete actions.
What is the UNFCCC COP 25? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1994, holds an annual Conference of Parties (COP) to work on national and global climate action plans. The “parties” refer to participating countries. There are 197 parties to the convention, of which 187 have ratified the convention. The national plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, include targets to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs), protect ecosystems, biodiversity and share scientific data. The Paris Agreement outlines what targets and contributions countries need to make as part of their national plans. The scientific data that provides evidence for setting targets and the content of the Paris Agreement is derived from a large cohort of hundreds of scientists across the globe called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
An easy way to understand the global emissions reduction targets needed is: By 2030 we need to cut emissions in half and then half again by 2050. These targets will prevent the global mean temperature from increasing beyond what we can currently model in terms of future scenarios. These same targets can be adopted at national, state and local levels to contribute to the global reduction goals. Locally, you may find similar goals in a city climate action plan and/or a state level plan.
The COP 25 event was a milestone event because the national plans go into effect in 2020. In other words, the planning phase has been done, now the countries must implement their plans. What is the United States doing to contribute? The U.S. drafted a national contributions plan at the end of the Obama Administration. The Trump administration chose to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement entirely. The U.S. will be officially withdrawn from the Paris Agreement in November 2020 unless a newly elected administration reengages. The participation of the U.S. in the Paris Agreement is critical because the rest of the world cannot achieve the emissions reductions necessary unless the United States and other large industrial nations contribute their fair share of reductions relative to the amount of GHGs emitted. It is important to note that a U.S. Congressional Delegation traveled to Madrid and attended the UNFCCC event despite the lack of official backing from the Trump Administration. That was a bold move and showed the world that the U.S. does want to participate.
What can you do? The Madrid metro signs had good advice, “DON’T CALL IT CHANGE, CALL IT CLIMATE EMERGENCY.” I believe the most important action right now, in this election year, is to be as politically active as possible. The global mean temperature has already increased by 1 degree Celsius – doesn’t sound like much – but that is all it took for storms to surge, fires to rage and the jet stream to buckle causing polar vortex events that we have never seen before. According to the 2019 Lancet Countdown report, a child born today will, “experience a world that is more than four degrees warmer than the pre-industrial average”.
The urgency to act is now and we can do it. We have enough technology, engineering and creativity to change the tide.
· Look up your city’s climate action plan and attend public meetings. City action is critically important as the building blocks for scaling up to state and federal programs and to advocate for those state and federal programs to exist. Cities may lead the way!
· Write to or call your mayor, governor, senators and representatives and tell them how important a bold climate agenda is to you and for future generations.
· Vote for candidates at all levels that have a clear climate action plan with tangible targets.
· Divest from fossil fuels in your own investments and put pressure on companies, banks and politicians to do the same.
· Familiarize yourself with the new CLEAN Future Act, a draft bill in the House to create a national clean energy standard.
· Support young people to advocate for the planet. Youth activists were powerful at the UN event. They protested daily, constantly infusing the event with a sense of urgency.
Keep up your energy for the good fight! Remember to spend time outside, breathe the air, hug a tree, play with your children in the woods. Love the earth and have the courage to fight for her in whatever way you are able. Rest assured there are millions of people just like you around the world that care and want to protect the earth for future generations.
When shopping at the grocery store, you are probably aware of food marked by the USDA Organic Label. But what does this label actually mean? Additionally, is organically grown food better for the environment? Or is it simply a marketing ploy to trick consumers into paying more for food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic produce as having been “grown on soil that had no prohibited substances (most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) applied for three years prior to harvest” (McEvoy, 2017). Organic farmers rely on natural substances and cultural, biological, and mechanical farming methods to protect the ecological health of their farm and conserve biodiversity.
Research has shown that organic agriculture has a multitude of environmental benefits, such as enhancing the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Studies have found that plants that are treated with chemical fertilizers do not need as extensive root systems to mine for nutrients, resulting in less below ground biomass that enriches the soil and stores carbon (Kane, 2015). In contrast, organic farming improves soil fertility by avoiding the use of chemicals that decrease soil microbial activity, which in turn enhances carbon sequestration, soil organic matter content, and the overall health of the ecosystem. In fact, a study found that organic agriculture increases biodiversity of flora and fauna by 30% and 50%, respectively, and reduces nitrogen leaches by 65% as compared with non-organic farms (Niggli, 2015).
However, organic farming does have some challenges, particularly in the form of weed management on large-scale farms. Because chemical herbicides are not used on organic farms, farmers tend to rely more heavily on tillage to control weed populations. Unfortunately, tilling disrupts and degrades the soil, reducing soil quality and fertility and hindering the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. In order to make organic no-till systems a more realistic option, researchers are developing methods that allow farmers to manage weeds without disturbing the soil. For example, the roller-crimper rolls over a standing cover crop in the spring while flattening plants and creating a mulch on the surface of the soil that will continue to suppress weeds during the growing season (Kane, 2015).
The food in CEI’s Climate Victory Grown is grown both organically and without tilling, therefore reaping the environmental benefits of both of these practices. We do not use any synthetic chemicals that may damage the garden and its surrounding ecosystem. The research is clear: Organic agriculture is an important component to a healthy, thriving, and environmentally friendly farm or garden.
By Faith Haney
Kane, D., & Solutions, L. L. C. (2015). Carbon sequestration potential on agricultural lands: a review of current science and available practices. In Natl. Sustain. Agric. Coalit. Wash. DC USA.
McEvoy, M. (2017, February 21). Understanding the USDA Organic Label. Retrieved from www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label.
Niggli, U. (2015). Sustainability of organic food production: challenges and innovations. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(1), 83-88.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, calling to mind Pilgrims, Native Americans, and a bountiful feast of food harvested from the land. However, our modern rituals are far from the gathering that is said to have occurred between Native Americans and Pilgrims in 1621. In fact, the original story of the first Thanksgiving is largely just that: a story. The holiday itself officially began in 1789 as a day of prayer and thanksgiving, with nothing to do with Native Americans. In the late nineteenth century, the tale of the first Thanksgiving was designed to set forth an image of peace and unity while clearly defining “Americanism” for the new European immigrants (Sherman, 2019). That being said, many of the foods traditionally served during this U.S. holiday, such as pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and cranberry sauce, did originate from crops grown by Native Americans (Park et al., 2016).
Did you know that Native Americans developed a complex agricultural system with practices that would be beneficial to follow today? While historically many Native American tribes obtained much of their food from hunting animals, such as bison, and foraging for wild edibles, such as nuts and berries, they also depended on growing food for a portion of their diet. Native Americans are widely known for their domestication of one of the world’s most consumed staple crops, maize (corn), which was used as a main ingredient in a variety of indigenous foods, such as corn bread and succotash (see recipe below). In fact, Native American maize farmers in east-central North America produced three to five times as much grain per acre as European wheat farmers during the same time period (Tenenbaum, 2012).
A majority of Native American agriculture revolved around three crops, known as the three sisters – corn, beans, and squash. Instead of dividing fields into sections containing just one plant as is typical on today's farms, Native Americans used companion planting in rows of mounds in which they planted the corn, beans, and squash together. This created a mutually beneficial relationship between the three plants. The corn stalks provided a pole for beans to climb, and the shade from the corn benefited squash that grew under the leaves. The beans provided nitrogen for the corn and squash. Finally, the shade from large squash leaves held moisture in the ground for all three plants (Park et al., 2016). Modern-day agriculture often consists of large monocrops, but the Native Americans’ three sisters agricultural system demonstrates the advantages of increasing crop diversity in agricultural fields. On CEI's new farm, one of the first things we planted was a three sisters garden. It thrived even during this summer's drought and the children in our Roots & Wings program had a wonderful time harvesting and popping the Dakota Black popcorn that was grown.
Native American growing practices were sustainable in their respect for the land. Since they did not deplete the soil, farmers did not need to create new fields by burning forest (Park et al., 2016). Much of indigenous agriculture consisted of permanent crops (perennials) which do not require replanting each season. Additionally, Native Americans did not traditionally plow or till their soil (Tenenbaum, 2012). It has become standard practice to till and plow farm land, but this disturbs the soil, leading to increased erosion, poor water absorption, the release of sequestered carbon, and the depletion of organic matter in the soil. Traditionally, Native Americans also rotated their fields instead of fertilizing in order to maintain crop productivity (Agriculture, American Indian, 2019). Crop rotation decreases land degradation and increases soil fertility and nutrients. Disregarded by large scale, industrialized agriculture, practices such as no-till farming, planting with perennials, and crop rotation have started to gain traction again with those interested in practicing regenerative agriculture. CEI is putting these practices into place on our new farm with gratitude for the wisdom Native American communities have long held for how to live in respectful, healthy relationship with the natural environment.
This year, let’s take the time to learn more about the true story of Thanksgiving, recognize and honor the Native American people who live(d) on and care(d) for the land on which we live, give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy delicious foods cultivated by the indigenous peoples of this land, and commit to practices that help us to live in greater balance and harmony with the natural environment on which we depend.
Recipe from Park et al.
"Agriculture, American Indian." Dictionary of American History. Retrieved November 20, 2019 from https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/agriculture-american-indian.
Park, S., Hongu, N., & Daily III, J. W. (2016). Native American foods: History, culture, and influence on modern diets. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 3(3), 171-177.
Sherman, S. (2019, November 11). Since the Thanksgiving Tale Is a Myth, Celebrate It This Way. Retrieved from https://time.com/5457183/thanksgiving-native-american-holiday/.
Tenenbaum, D. J. (2016, January 22). Farming, Native American style. Retrieved from https://whyfiles.org/2012/farming-native-american-style/index.html.
Article by Faith Haney
In World Wars I and II, the U.S. government launched the National War Garden Commission that encouraged Americans to grow their own food in home gardens. These gardens were known as “Victory Gardens” and became quite popular across the nation. By 1944, there were over 20 million victory gardens in the United States. The Climate Victory Garden is the revival of the original Victory Garden, but this time we have a new fighting: climate change.
In 2017 alone, there were 53.5 gigatons of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. For reference, that is equal to 117,947,310,268,910.8 pounds! Scientists have determined that cutting all greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that number would drop to zero, is not enough to prevent the average global temperature from increasing 2℃, which is the threshold for catastrophic global warming. In order to limit the temperature increase, we would need to achieve negative greenhouse gas emissions.
Many companies are working on bioenergy and carbon capture technologies to achieve negative emissions. However, did you know that there is something you can do at your own home to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? By growing your own Climate Victory Garden, you can make a difference. A Climate Victory Garden is a garden that utilizes regenerative agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored elsewhere, such as in soil.
The Climate Victory Garden employs a number of sustainable agricultural practices, such as: minimal soil disruption through no-till agriculture; planting perennial crops with deep roots that can store more carbon; increasing biodiversity, which creates a more stable and resilient ecosystem; and using cover crops that feed soil organisms and increase soil carbon levels. These practices improve the soil quality, which not only increases the soil’s carbon sequestration capacity, but also benefits the overall health of the garden.
Another way the Climate Victory Garden aids the environment is by limiting greenhouse gases emitted through food transportation and production. The food you buy at the store is processed, packaged, and shipped to your area. A considerable amount of greenhouse gases are emitted at all these stages. However, if more Americans were to grow their own food at home, greenhouse gas emissions from food production would significantly decrease.
Here at the Community Ecology Institute, we are in the process of growing our own Climate Victory Garden, which is only the second certified Climate Victory Garden in the state of Maryland. We will be sharing the process of growing our garden online, including tips for those of you who join us by planting your own gardens.
If you are concerned about the future of our planet, you don’t need to wait around for others to do something. You can make a difference right now by starting your own Climate Victory Garden. For more information, visit the Green America website at www.greenamerica.org/climatevictorygarden.
By Faith Haney