Eastern Shore Farm Tour Shows it Takes a Village to Save the Bay

If you are anything like me, you didn’t exactly excel in the “hard sciences” while in school. Maybe that’s why you studied the humanities in college and ended up in law school? Yep, me too. If either of these realities sound like you, then you would probably react to someone showing you a handful of “bioreactors” and in-ground “phosphorus slag filters” the same way that I did: open-mouthed confusion and a profound realization that I should have paid more attention to Mr. Olsen in chemistry class. However, if you’re like me and crave opportunities to learn something new, I imagine that you would have had just as good a time as I did on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

On Monday, about two dozen environmentalists and I were given a tour by Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy of “On-Farm Water Quality Enhancement Projects” within the Choptank River Watershed. Despite the beating sunshine and oppressive humidity, the few hours we spent traipsing through tall grasses and down dirt farm roads were both exciting and fascinating.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy drove us to and walked us through three different farms in and around Ridgley, Maryland where Best Management Practices (BMPs for the uninitiated) have been installed. Mae Vue Farm, Mason’s Heritage, Cedarhurst Farm, and each of their respective owners were gracious hosts and were doing great things by allowing these BMPs to be put in place and continue to both monitor and filter harmful nutrients from entering nearby waterways.

Now, in addition to the heat, my head was spinning for a whole set of other reasons while on the tour. I frantically jotted down terms of art which I later Googled and Wikipedia[d] with equal fervor. Terms like: denitrification walls, woodchip bioreactors, anaerobic processes, and tile line. I will not go into any great depth about what these terms mean specifically—my own understanding is tenuous at best—but what I can tell you is that these practices and the interplay between them work. Since 2013, these agricultural best practices have seen annual reductions of roughly 15,941lbs. of nitrogen, 222lbs. of phosphorus, and 1,675lbs. of total suspended solids. These are impressive numbers, and with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy and their partners’ continued efforts, the numbers and ultimately the Bay will only get better.

I’ll say it again: I’m not a numbers guy. I want to save the Bay through persuasion and policy. Some do their part by developing devices which use bacteria underground to transform Nitrate-nitrogen into dinitrogen gas and release it safely into the air instead of surface waters (look at me now, Mr. Olsen). Others get their hands dirty and dig the trenches needed to house these devices. And some are farmers, providing for their family and their community, who take risks and allow these practices on their land for the greater good of the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. The point is, it takes all types of people to make a difference, and I for one am proud to be part of that group.