Volume XI, Issue 28 ~ July 10-16, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

Three Strikes and They’re Out
Mute swan reprieve soon to end — slaughter to resume

The saga of Chesapeake Country’s mute swans continues as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this month that the killing of these non-native creatures could continue as early as August 1.

“I’m happy to announce the availability of an environmental assessment to reduce the population of mute swans in the Atlantic flyway,” said Paul Schmidt, assistant director for Migratory Birds and State Programs for Fish and Wildlife. “There is a need for swan management on the Atlantic flyway. Mute swans are an invasive, exotic species.”

For a larger view, click on the graphic by Betsy Kehne, above.

The Atlantic flyway is the path migratory birds take along the East Coast in their annual pilgrimage from north and south and back again. Part of the controversy is whether mute swans are indeed migratory, for if so they would be protected by federal law.

In 2001, a lawsuit defended mute swans, arguing that they were indeed protected under the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Fish and Wildlife, however, insists that mute swans do not migrate, staying in one area throughout the year.

Migratory or not, on the Atlantic flyway the big birds have concentrated in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. Seventy-three percent of all mute swans in the United States — some 14,000 birds — live within the borders of these six states. The Service’s proposed plan would reduce the population to below 3,000 in the next decade.

But the plan has been halted by another lawsuit, filed May 16 of this year in Washington, D.C. To leap that obstacle, Fish and Wildlife drafted its environmental assessment. Once the Service approves its assessment, states including Maryland could reduce the mute swan population. Comments on the draft plan (which can be downloaded on-line at migratorybirds.fws.gov) are accepted until July 16.

Under the plan, “integrated population management” is the preferred modus operandi. The method requires four steps before the reprieve on Chesapeake Country’s swans is lifted:

1. Receive public comments on draft environmental assessment;
2. Analyze comments with recommendations;
3. Make a decision incorporating comments into assessment;
4. Reissue permits to states to reduce mute swan population over the next five to 10 years.

If integrated population management is approved, the Service maintains that Maryland could be issued a license to kill swans as early as the end of July, in time for action during mating season.

James Clemenko

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Summertime Experiments
Learning how to SAVe the Bay

The exuberant voice of middle-schooler Kevin Chew Jr. — 2003 master of ceremonies — welcomed the guests to Kings Landing Park’s Patuxent Hall for the results of the second Maryland Summer Center for Aquatic Research.

In eight days, 28 students became scientists with hands-on knowledge of the Patuxent River and Choctaw Creek.
Nominated by their teachers, middle school students came from Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties to study submerged aquatic vegetation.

photo by Theresa M. Troescher
Summer SAV scientists Christopher Meier, Kenneth McCuistion, LaQuita Jones and Amanda Weeks.

“SAVs are plants that live beneath the waters of creeks, rivers and the Bay,” explained student Amanda Weeks. “We found eight different species of them in Choctaw Creek and Patuxent River.”

That’s just what Calvert County Natural Resources director Dwight Williams has in mind for the program. “Direct hands-on contact is great for these kids,” he said.

Makeup snow days cut down this year’s experiment from 10 to eight days. “I am amazed at how they pulled together so quickly to get the work done,” said Gina McCullough, one of the volunteer project counselors and a teacher at Chespax statewide environmental education program.

Students studied and planted grasses in three sites along the Patuxent River and Choctaw Creek.

“We did a density, soil and control experiment,” explained student Shaylyn Leary.

Students predicted that the SAV wild celery chosen for the sites would grow better when planted densely rather than distantly. For the soil experiment, they hypothesized that muddy soil — native to the area — would grow better plants than topsoil or sand. Learning that all good scientists use a control group in their experiments, they kept one SAV group unchanged for comparison.

Sojourners canoeing group — long concerned with the fate of the Bay — volunteered for the experiments. They helped the middle schoolers deliver three Taylor floats to each of the three sites. The PVC pipe floats, weighted down by cinder blocks, will protect the plants as they grow.

A couple of trays of wild celery grown in local science classrooms were lowered in each float. Sponsor Chespax plans on checking the data loggers the kids attached throughout the coming year and will post the growth results on its web site: www.calvertnet.k12.md.us/schools/chespax/chespax.asp.

Next school term, Calvert County seventh graders will conduct an identical experiment at Kings Landing Park.

The learning did not end on the water for this summer’s scientists. Students prepared for a community presentation by constructing poster boards of their experiments, creating a Power Point presentation and by writing a case study. When the big day came, students stood beside project boards, eager to share their new knowledge with browsing family and guests. In steady voices, they gave their presentation and read their case study aloud.

Guests learned that SAVs protect the health of the Bay. They shelter fish and soft-shell crabs and filter runoff, keeping sediment from the Bay. Some 162,000 acres of SAVs have been lost to the Bay. Students urged adults not to over-fertilize their lawns and not to leave their trash on the ground. It all makes its way into the creeks, rivers and Bay.

These scientists took more than SAV knowledge away from the 2003 Maryland Summer Center for Aquatic Research program. They learned that they can make positive changes in the environment and, by spreading the word, can teach others. Their summer has taught them how to be proactive in the fight for Chesapeake Bay. They have experienced, hands-on, how change is made.

— Theresa M. Troescher

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Hungry? Why Wait? Grab Something Local
Calvert Country Market, reopening soon, offers more than just veggies

If you’re craving more than a salad, the grander Calvert Country Market will satisfy — whether you’re strict vegetarian, meat lover, dessert connoisseur or proponent of keeping Calvert country.

While this is a farm market, shoppers will find more than field-grown chow in the mixing bowl of local farmers and retailers who’ll raise the curtain for Calvert Country Market’s grand reopening some time this month in the Prince Frederick Shopping Center.

Four rows of 28 stalls — 21 new this year — will stand at the core of this now 12,000-square-foot complex. The first rows feature local artisans, while rows two through four house Calvert County farmers.

Farmers will be selling what’s in season. By mid-July, when the ribbon’s expected to be cut, that’s likely to be tomatoes, squash, corn, greens such as Swiss chard and lettuce, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, herbs, flowers and more.

To enhance the farmers’ seasonal offerings, the encompassing stalls will feature year-round, complementary products.

Joining the seven inaugural farmers and two veteran retailers — Bunnyhead’s Bakery and Captain Smith’s Seafood — are a deli; a green grocer with out-of-season and non-local goodies; a local dairy; a coffee and ice-cream shop; a ceramics artist with a full-size kiln; and a butcher offering custom-cut, local beef.

If you still have nightmares from when Mom force fed you vegetables as a tot, you’ll find the sweets you always wished were on the end of that fork instead of the broccoli spear staring back at you.

Susan Berman of Bunnyhead’s Bakery — who has taken her in-home operation to full-scale retail level — returns for a second season at the Prince Frederick Shopping Center, offering pies, tarts, brownies, cookies, quiche, focaccia and handmade artisan breads.

“It’s been a nice connection for me as a baker in terms of having all the great produce,” said Berman who uses the farmers’ fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs to concoct her culinary creations.

Captain Smith also returns with his local Chesapeake Bay seafood, most of it harvested by members of the Maryland Watermen’s Association in Solomon’s Island.

In addition to the fresh, uncooked and frozen seafood from last year, you’ll find live and steamed crabs, steamed shrimp, a lunch counter with a full menu and up-front window seating for 40 — and even oyster-shucking classes.

With electricity now wired into every stall, farmers, too, can become teachers, showing how to cook what they grow and offering tastes. On the educational side, there’s also a new meeting room with full audio-visual equipment.

The Calvert Country Market is as much a feast for the eyes and imagination as for the belly and mind. Local artisans such as the Calvert Spinners and Weavers, Creative Glass Works and Dick Mulford — aka the Gourd Man — will display their handiwork.

“I do it for fun,” said Mulford who, in retirement, will enjoy a larger area in his second year of showcasing the gourds he’s grown in his four-acre field and transformed into birdhouses, snowmen, birdfeeders and more. “I think the market’s going to mean something to the people in the county,” he said.

The Calvert Country Market certainly will mean something to the people in the county, as it aims to cater to foodshoppers, growers and eaters alike.

No more wondering about the origins and travels of the produce on your dinner table, because, as a shopper, “if you have a question about what type of vegetable you’re buying, the farmers will be right there to answer that,” said Kevin Owen, Calvert Country Market manager.

Owen doesn’t plan on the market competing for customers with supermarket giants. Instead, he sees it as “more of a destination and not an alternative to grocery stores.”

Farmers see the market as their gateway to more customers and, for those who have been forced to abandon their tobacco sickles, an outlet for their vegetables.

“When a farmer’s been growing tobacco all his life, it’s hard to convince him he can make money doing anything else,” said Tim Wallace, a farmer and board member of the Calvert Country Market.

The market hopes to make that hard job easier. “Offering a merchant the opportunity to rent a small space in an area that will have high traffic and high visibility,” said Owen, “allows farmers to use the market as a test tube, to learn what sells and what doesn’t. If a product sells well enough, farmers may choose to open their own retail outlet. In that respect, the Calvert Country Market acts something like a business incubator.”

photo by Russell Barnes
Roxanne Whitt sells flowers at the Calvert Country Market that are grown at her Wise Acres Farm in Huntingtown.
In the big picture, Calvert’s Country Market entices farmers to make the transition from tobacco to vegetables.

Three of the nine farmers reserving stalls for this season are former tobacco farmers, and Owen hopes to see more come on board.

For most Calvert farmers, farming is a second source of income behind their primary source, whether it be truck driving, heating-and-air-conditioning service or running their own feed and supply store.

Board president and flower farmer John Prouty predicts that Calvert Country Market will help farmers reap more from what they sow in the fields, helping make farming “a major, but not a sole, source of income.”

One way the market enlarges farmers’ horizons is bringing their products to produce distributors. In its first hour of business, the market opens for commercial buyers, who resell to restaurants, grocery stores and other retail outlets. These buyers order big, and the farmer, in turn, feeds more people.

“I’m really in love with the project,” said baker-buyer Berman, “because it supports something in a different direction economically.”

The something Berman refers to is the county, and the direction is circular: Local shoppers buy from local farmers who, in turn, plow the money right back into the local economy.

Chances are that what you buy at the Calvert Country Market is grown either by a Calvert resident or using Calvert farmland. The market allocates space according to residence. Top priority goes to Calvert County residents, property owners and growers who lease land in the county.

Out-of-county growers may reserve a stall only if Calvert County farmers are no longer vying for open spaces. Not only does this satisfy the county’s appetite to support the local economy, but it also, Prouty says, “creates a showcase for Calvert County agriculture.”

The Calvert Country Market was created in June 2002 with tobacco buyout funds — from the multi-billion dollar 1998 national tobacco settlement — that came to the county from the state.

Calvert County’s hope was to preserve farmland and farming as tobacco dried up because of the buyout. “Preserving farmland is still in the market’s main objective,” said Owen.

More help fuels the expansion this year: grants and other aid from, among others, the Maryland State Housing and Development Department, the Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture estimates the market grossed $100,000 in revenues last year. That figure is expected to climb this year as many more come on board to sell their products.

This season, the Calvert Country Market also expands its hours. The store opens seven days a week, 7am to 7pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 4pm Sunday. Farm stalls may have shorter hours: They’re guaranteed to open 9am to 2pm Saturday and 11am to 2pm Wednesday.

All of which makes the Calvert Country Market a market of the county, by the county and for the county. It’s “a place that is not just a market, but a place where people come to talk, visit, have a cup of coffee and buy something fresh instead of going to the supermarket and fighting people at the checkout counter,” said Prouty.

So stand by. As any good farmer will tell you, something good will grow only if you wait.

— Lauren Silver with Russ Barnes

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Way Downstream …

In Chesapeake Bay, researchers on the Marion Dufresne last month drilled the deepest holes ever in the floor of the Bay: 77.5 feet down into layers of the bed of the ancient Susquehanna River, Associated Press reported. The goal is predicting how climate change and land-use will effect the Bay in the future …

On the Eastern Shore, workers out of a job now that Tyson Foods has closed its poultry plant in Berlin will benefit from a $2.5 million grant from the Bush administration for counseling, job training and remedial education, Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced this week …

In Brazil, a tiny town’s pollution problem has grown frighteningly bad. A layer of foam emitting dangerous acidic gas has covered the town of Pirapora do Born Jesus, the result of a chemical reaction from overflowing pollution from nearby Sao Paulo. In some places, the foam looks like huge snowdrifts, forcing motorists to decide whether or not to turn on their windshield wipers and plunge ahead …

Our Creature Feature also comes from South America, where Chilean scientists are asking researchers from around the world to help identify a mysterious creature as long as a school bus that washed up on a Pacific Ocean beach near Santiago.

They described it as a 40-foot-long mass of leathery gray flesh that was first thought to be a beached whale. Looking closer, researchers decided that it might be a mammoth jellyfish, a giant squid missing its tentacles or perhaps a species not seen before. “We’ve never before seen such a strange specimen,” marine biologist Elsa Cabrera told Reuters.

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Last updated July 10, 2003 @ 1:13am