Ac­co­keek Foun­da­tion ‘ex­hibits’ the im­por­tance of soil

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

Tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to make con­nec­tions to mod­ern-day en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues through the lens of his­tory, the Ac­co­keek Foun­da­tion opened its Un­der­space! The Sci­ence of Soil ex­hibit as part of its new green his­tory pro­gram­ming Satur­day at Piscataway Park in Ac­co­keek.

Green his­tory pro­gram­ming is an ini­tia­tive that came about two years ago un­der the lead­er­ship of An­drea Jones, di­rec­tor of pro­grams and vis­i­tor en­gage­ment for the foun­da­tion, who was tasked with tak­ing a colo­nial his­tory sight, a mod­ern agri­cul­tural sight and a na­tional park and putting it un­der one theme of sus­tain­abil­ity. From now to Dec. 10, vis­i­tors will ex­plore four dif­fer­ent top­ics about the foun­da­tion’s con­nec­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment through in­ter­ac­tive and role-play­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. The top­ics in­clude soil health, wa­ter con­ser­va­tion, en­ergy con­ser­va­tion and food waste, ac­cord­ing to An­jela Barnes, the foun­da­tion’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing.

“We’ll ex­plore soil for 12 weeks and then wa­ter and then food waste and en­ergy con­ser­va­tion through­out the year,” Barnes said. “They learn a lit­tle bit, they have a lit­tle bit of fun and then they go to the Na­tional Colo­nial

Farm and will in­ter­act with the char­ac­ters to fur­ther ex­plore the sci­ence of soil.”

Barnes said the pur­pose of the soil ex­hibit is about “en­gag­ing thought” and “af­fect­ing change” by get­ting peo­ple to think about their daily ac­tions and be­hav­iors.

“What we’ve learned is that through the kids, the par­ents learn. And so what they’re learn­ing through our school pro­grams and the week­end pro­grams here, the kids are get­ting ex­cited about do­ing good for the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Barnes. “We hope that they leave here with a lit­tle bit of knowl­edge to carry that out at home and in their com­mu­ni­ties.”

Kate McGowan of Dunkirk, a mu­seum in­ter­preter at the foun­da­tion, played the role of soil cap­tain for the ex­hibit and in­ter­acted with chil­dren and their fam­i­lies. She said agrar­ian his­tory of South­ern Mary­land is so im­por­tant be­cause most peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­pre­ci­ate where their food comes from, the work that has to go into it and how na­ture af­fects every­thing they do. But “the more peo­ple know about it, the more they can ap­pre­ci­ate it,” she said.

“What I like about this pro­gram is that we’re teach­ing them what the dif­fer­ence be­tween healthy and un­healthy soil is and they’re able to ap­ply that and sort of teach that to the Bolton fam­ily,” McGowan said. “A lot of our green his­tory in­ter­pre­ta­tion is sort of fo­cused on learn­ing from the Boltons about how they didn’t cause such a neg­a­tive im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment as we do to­day. To­bacco farm­ing is very hard on the soil and they don’t know a lot of the mod­ern tech­niques that we use to sort of mit­i­gate that. And so it’s kind of like we both have some­thing to learn from each other.”

Ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion, Con­gress­woman Frances Payne Bolton of Ohio, a mem­ber of the Mount Ver­non Ladies’ As­so­ci­a­tion, pur­chased a 500-acre farm across the Po­tomac River from Mount Ver­non and do­nated it to the cre­ation of the Ac­co­keek Foun­da­tion. Along with a coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions that in­cluded the Alice Fer­gu­son Foun­da­tion, Moyaone As­so­ci­a­tion and Mount Ver­non Ladies’ As­so­ci­a­tion, an am­bi­tious pro­gram was launched to pro­tect 6 miles of shore­line. The con­ser­va­tion ef­fort led the way for the cre­ation of Piscataway Park, the first na­tional park es­tab­lished to preserve his­toric vistas.

The foun­da­tion es­tab­lished the Na­tional Colo­nial Farm in 1958, a his­toric farm mu­seum which demon­strates 18th cen­tury agri­cul­ture by pre­serv­ing rare breeds of an­i­mals and crops. Struc­tures lo­cated within the farm site are open to the pub­lic and in­clude a circa 1770 farm dwelling, an 18th cen­tury to­bacco barn and an out­side kitchen.

Vis­i­tors who got a tour of the soil ex­hibit were handed a cloth bag which con­tained oats, mus­tard seeds and hairy vetch seeds. They were then di­rected to the Na­tional Colo­nial Farm to par­tic­i­pate and in­ter­act in a fic­tion­al­ized, role-play­ing ac­tiv­ity with two of AF’s mu­seum in­ter­preters, Shemika Berry and Joy White.

Berry, who joined the AF in 2013, said work­ing at the foun­da­tion has opened her eyes to the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, as well as the green his­tory and sus­tain­abil­ity of it. The his­tor­i­cal as­pect is very “near and dear” to her heart, she said.

“Our ob­jec­tive is to get vis­i­tors ex­cited about sus­tain­abil­ity and to get them in­volved with un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of the soil,” Berry said. “Of­ten, if you do not have any agri­cul­ture in your back­ground or in your fam­ily, you don’t have much con­sid­er­a­tion or thought for where your food comes from. You go to the store, you pur­chase it. You go to a restau­rant, you or­der your meal and you don’t think about the process. We have learned with the soil sci­en­tists that the Earth may have a good 50 years left of top­soil and that is not very en­cour­ag­ing. So we must do what we can to preserve the soil be­cause with­out good healthy soil, we will not have any food.”

Berry played the role of Cate Sharper, an en­slaved woman owned by the Bolton fam­ily — named in honor of AF’s founder — who are mid­dling to­bacco planters in the 1770 era. The sto­ry­line is about how her master’s land has been de­pleted and stripped of its nu­tri­ents due to the to­bacco. Be­cause the Boltons didn’t have the money to buy new seeds, they sold Sharper’s 10-yearold son, Jack, to an­other fam­ily. Now that the Boltons are con­sid­er­ing sell­ing their land and up­root­ing west to Penn­syl­va­nia, Sharper is con­cerned whether they will sell her to an­other fam­ily as well or take her with them to Penn­syl­va­nia where she would be fur­ther away from her son, Berry said.

“I’ve had Cau­casian [African-Amer­i­can and even Amer­i­can In­dian] adults and chil­dren that have come to visit and have all, in some way, shape or form, ei­ther of­fered me my free­dom or tried to tell me how a bet­ter day is com­ing or [con­vinc­ing me] ‘go ahead and just go,’” she said. “It’s been an ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s re­ally made me ap­pre­ci­ate the his­tor­i­cal na­ture of it a lot more. … Know­ing that I can go home at the end of the day, it still makes me think about my an­ces­tors couldn’t and they didn’t. That’s why I will never take por­tray­ing any slave lightly.”

Berry said the idea of the role-play­ing ex­er­cise is for vis­i­tors to en­cour­age the Boltons or Cate Sharper and her freed sis­ter to plant the bag of seeds which will help re­plen­ish the nu­tri­ents back into the Boltons’ land, al­low­ing the soil to be­come healthy again. This would al­low the Boltons to keep their land and for Sharper to re­main as close as pos­si­ble to her son, ac­cord­ing to Berry.

“I find it an honor to tell her story. The sto­ries need to be told be­cause we’re not go­ing to learn them in other places,” Berry said. “I want to give her the honor and re­spect she de­serves as a hu­man be­ing. … No­body in his­tory will ever know who Cate Sharper is but if you come to this foun­da­tion and to this land, you’ll find out her story.”

White played the role of Cate Sharp­ton’s older and freed sis­ter, Mary Ann Sole. White said she is pleased that vis­i­tors are able to un­der­stand and sym­pa­thize with her char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially dur­ing a time in his­tory that “wasn’t right.”

“For me to be able to por­tray this role and to bring peo­ple into light of what hap­pened, it’s def­i­nitely a priv­i­lege. At first, I was a bit ap­pre­hen­sive to tak­ing the job and re­al­iz­ing I would have to be a slave or por­tray some­one in this time­frame, but I’ve been shocked by some of the re­sponses I’ve got­ten,” White said. “Some­times peo­ple shy away from what we know is the re­al­ity of African-Amer­i­cans be­ing brought here and los­ing their his­tory. It’s def­i­nitely had an im­pact on peo­ple. I’m grate­ful to see that and see how peo­ple take it.”

STAFF PHOTOS BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Kate McGowan of Dunkirk shares a smile as she in­ter­acts with chil­dren dur­ing the open­ing of the Ac­co­keek Foun­da­tion’s Un­der­space! The Sci­ence of Soil ex­hibit on April 10 at Piscataway Park in Ac­co­keek. McGowan, a mu­seum in­ter­preter at the foun­da­tion, played the role of soil cap­tain for the ex­hibit.

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