Along the Potomac River just across from the historic Mount Vernon plantation sits Piscataway Park, a 5,000-acre span of natural landscape. The park is a product of a large-scale conservation effort begun in the 1950s, when rapid development threatened to destroy the land. Today, the stewardship of the park is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation, an organization dedicated to sharing the land and its heritage with visitors. This week’s Friday Focus is a conversation with Anjela Barnes, the Foundation’s Marketing Director.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
A: The Accokeek Foundation’s mission is to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. We were founded in 1957 to protect the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon as one of the nation’s first land trusts, and we continue land conservation efforts today to ensure continued protection of the viewshed and the working landscapes in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the Foundation uses Piscataway Park to interpret agriculture and environmental stewardship to its 20,000 annual visitors, including school youth, local residents, recreational enthusiasts and D.C. area tourists. The National Colonial Farm, a well known historic farm museum established in 1958, demonstrates Maryland agriculture during the 18th century, and has been the backdrop for hundreds of school tours each year. The Ecosystem Farm, a certified organic 8-acre farm, teaches visitors about sustainable food production using innovative growing techniques. It is the goal of the farm to demonstrate a compelling variety of possibilities that inspire people to want to grow while creating a thriving, engaged community.
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: There are so many favorite moments that it’s hard to choose just one, but I would say that the best moments come by way of the school tours offered to kids aged 13 or younger. Last fall, the organic farm we operate was host to a group of kids from D.C.’s Mundo Verde Public Charter School. The kids learned about what it’s like to be a farmer, where their food comes from and even helped to harvest carrots–a lot of carrots! For many of the kids, it is their first time visiting a farm, an experience quoted by one teacher as, “one they’ll never forget.”
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Because of recent federal budget cuts, including sequestration and the 2014 shutdown, the Accokeek Foundation has been impacted by a decrease in federal funding. Support from private foundations and individuals help to provide the funds needed so we can maintain and provide an open space that is available daily and free for all to enjoy its beauty.
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
A: There are many ways to get involved with the organization. Volunteering on a recurring basis is often the most rewarding way to get involved and give back by helping with the gardens, caring for heritage breed livestock, working the on-farm market or lending a hand during special events. Individuals and families can also join and become members of the Accokeek Foundation to support the natural and cultural heritage programs offered. Or simply visit, bring your family and friends, and enjoy the natural beauty of Piscataway Park, preserved and protected for generations to come.