Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 4: Shell Shakin'

Today we went to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center. There, we learned about the process of cleaning oyster shells to plant back in the bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gets oyster shells from shucking companies and donations. Then, they are left outside for at least a year to allow the sun, rain, insects, and time clean them. Today, we shoveled those shells onto a device that allowed us to shake off the broken pieces and dirt. Then, we shoveled the remaining shells into bags. The bags were dunked in water to give them a final rinse. The work was strenuous, but satisfying. From there, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation uses these bags of oysters to provide substrate for more oysters to grow on. They also provide habitat for other organisms in the bay. We saw an old black and white photo of men standing on huge mounds of oyster shell that was left over from shucking operations. It is satisfying to know that things that were once waste products can be used to improve the quality of our water. Today we left our mark on the Oyster Restoration Center’s walls to sign our names, but we also left a mark on the Chesapeake Bay itself!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 3: Reforestation at Cambridge

Another day to make a difference. I woke up to the sunrise against the bay. The view was picturesque; I blinked my eyes to an orange-yellow sky with the sun rising like a drop of pure yellow. The bay was sparkling with the sun rays and birds were chirping to welcome the morning.

Today we drove to a farm in Cambridge, Md., an hour and a half away from the camp site. As I sat in the back of the van listening to the radio, the scenery changed from stores and buildings to patches of farm and cattle grazing. The plants grown at the farm were meant to provide a buffer to the habitat and waterways.

We first did a quality check on the plants; we checked that the tree shelters were secure with the stick and that they were growing straight up.

After lunch, we added to the forest restoration effort by planting more trees with the tree shelters. The tree shelter was a plastic tube zip-tied to a stick that goes around the tree. The stick prevents rodents and burrowers from damaging the roots and the plastic tube prevents deer from brushing up against the trees.

We also found the bones of a deer and, possibly, a fox. David Tana, our community partner, kept the fox’s skull as a souvenir. Our guides Dan Murphy and Brian Jennings from USFWS were more than happy to drive us around the farm and answer our questions.

I remember riding in the back of Brian’s truck with my legs hanging off the edge. The ground was running away under me. It was fascinating to realize we helped put together a forest. In a few years, the trees we planted will become forest. Amazing, right?

At reflection that night, we discussed our definitions of helping, fixing, and serving as the campfire flickered around us. We also shared our favorite moment from the day, and I would have to say that the satisfaction I got from knowing we put together trees that had been cut down was my best moment.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 2: Adventures at Clagett Farm

Camping next to the Chesapeake Bay is a very unique experience, especially when awakening to a snowy, late March Sunday. Gladly, this grim weather cleared up as we made our way to Clagett Farm for our second day of service.

Upon arrival we met up with Rob, the Assistant Farm Manager at Clagett Farm, who is the first step in a tree restoration project. Here we got to transfer baby trees from their packaging into individual pots with compost, organic fertilizer, and mulch. Compost usually isn’t the most glamorous of ingredients, but it was really interesting to learn that Clagett Farm makes all of their own compost. They use the Clivus Toilet system that takes human waster and turns for two years until it’s compost and ready to help grow all kinds of plants!

We had a very busy day of service, planting over 800 trees! After this long day of work, we got to enjoy a sweet potato chili made by some of our wonderful breakers. After this amazing dinner we enjoyed some sweet s’mores by a very satisfyingly warm fire.

Around this warm fire, we had some deep discussions about how and what we identify ourselves with. We got to learn a lot about each other and it was amazing to see how comfortable everyone was with sharing personal stories. Once this deep discussion was over, we all retreated to our tents with warm sleeping bags to prepare for our next day of hard work!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 1: Cleaning in Canton

 Waking up the first morning was easy … pretty excited to get on the road and start our week of volunteering and camping.

We drove to Canton in Baltimore and met Carmera Thomas, Program Manager of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Waterfront Partnership. She taught us how to clean the oyster cages that hung from the deck; this process was not the most glamorous of activities, but was definitely one of the coolest experiences. With Carmera’s help, we learned about the role of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and the risks that they face. A few other organisms were found in the cages: a few guppies, mud crabs, and other invertebrates. These observations from a small cluster of oyster cages containing this diverse community provides a glimpse into what a natural oyster reef must hold, and I thought that was pretty awesome. The first service ended with a well-deserved burrito stop :-)

Fast forward a few hours and David Tana, the Maryland Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, gave us a tour of the Philip Merrill Environmental Center and helped us set up camp on the beach adjacent to the LEED-Platinum certified building. After eating dinner and gathtering for a reflection, we took shelter in our tents for a cold, raining night … only to wake up to a new day and start a new service project at Clagett Farm!