Spending a semester traveling throughout the Chesapeake Bay I never would have imagined all the understanding and insight I have gained towards this treasured yet troubled watershed. The Chesapeake Semester has provided me with a multitude of wonderful opportunities to enrich myself as a person while exploring and learning about the Bay watershed and all that it entails. Reflecting back on my first blog post, I have garnered the “Chesapeake ethic” that I hoped for and so much more. Journey Four, our final excursion, has provided me with an even greater and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake region. This journey has focused on ethical and humanities perspectives regarded resource and regulation issues of the Bay, providing me with an enhanced outlook on what needs to be done and what can be done to fix these type of problems. It has been helpful in cultivating and refining my ethic, and therefore my future role in saving the Chesapeake Bay.
This Journey took us on a whirlwind trip navigating the resources and regulations of the Bay, and how those factors affect the citizens and the environment. We began by visiting the Davis brothers large poultry operation, followed by a trip the next day to two very different dairy farms. We met with the Chester River’s river keeper to discuss policy issues, and followed that by a discussion with a lawyer who had a difference in opinion. We also met with two local watermen to get their views on regulations, and ended the journey by meeting with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, who is a non-profit devoted to conserving land and bettering the environment of the Bay watershed. I feel that the agriculture and farming operations toured on this trip truly gave me an eye-opening reminder of where our food comes from and how it effects society and the environment.
Approximately 50% of U.S. land use is devoted to agriculture. That totals to millions of acres, a fair amount of which fall into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a 64,000 square mile area that includes six states and the federal jurisdiction of Washington D.C. Add that with the 11,000 miles of shoreline and millions of people who live in the watershed and you get lots of people who need food and lots of land to produce that resource. All of this production leads to lots of pollution, in the form of runoff, nutrient pollution, eutrophication, and dead zones. The Chesapeake Bay Program has estimated that an alarming 57% of phosphorous and 42% nitrogen was input into the Bay in 2013 by agriculture alone (Hardesty, lecture). This pollution stems from the horrible conditions that are widespread in our nation’s agriculture and food industry. We have gone from the idyllic image of a sunny red barn and silo farm to a reality of factory production and assembly lines of animals.
We now get our food from a system of uniformity, conformity, and cheapness. This “more efficient” mass production really only leads to more problems and less solutions. Cheaper food and economic efficiencies can lead to environmental degradation, a large price. Differences need to be made in the Chesapeake and worldwide in how we approach agriculture and in doing so the connection and relationship between human culture and the environment. This difference was highlighted for me while visiting the Jones Family Farm, a dairy operation with 2,700 cows, and St. Brigid’s Dairy, a farm with only 50-100 pasture raised cows. I believe that a smaller, more sustainable, and local farming operation is the best way to go. Eating is an agricultural act, and we have the chance to vote three times a day.
Overall, this Journey has highlighted for the importance of a relationship between human society and the natural world. In Wendell Berry’s essay “Renewing Husbandry” he highlights that the way we farm effects our local community, economy, and ecosystem, and the greater system as a whole. Perhaps we need a fresh start in the way we farm, and with that how we form regulation and policy surrounding our resources. In recognizing our connection to the finite and precious natural resources we still have, we can work to better sustain and conserve our environment and culture. Instilling these thoughts into my own views and “Chesapeake Ethic” have helped me grow towards being a responsible consumer, citizen, and steward of our environment and society.
Berry, Wendell. Renewing Husbandry. Orion Magazine. 2005.
Hardesty, Michael. Lectures. 2015.