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Accokeek Foundation - Fostering Stewardship and Sustainability

In GreenJobs.com ongoing interview series we have the Accokeek foundation on tap for an interview. 

Today we will be speaking with the marketing manager for Accokeek Foundation, Casey Harlow. She got her start as a volunteer coordinator with the organization via an AmeriCorps program called Volunteer Maryland. The program matches AmeriCorps members with Maryland nonprofits that needed support for volunteer programs. She spent a year building up the Accokeek Foundation's team of volunteers, and when her service year was up, she asked to stay on at the Foundation full-time. 

Casey has been with the Accokeek Foundation ever since, wearing various hats, and eventually moving up to become the marketing manager. She is also a Master Naturalist in her free time, so working in a national park, even if much of her day is spent in the office, is an amazing experience.

GreenJobs.com - Can you explain the mission of the Accokeek Foundation?

Casey Harlow - The Accokeek Foundation’s mission is to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and a commitment to stewardship and sustainability. Piscataway Park is a 5,000-acre national park on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River, and it was actually created to preserve the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In creating the park and preserving this landscape, so much more than just a view was saved. For over 400 generations, this land has been home to indigenous people, and today it remains the cherished homeland of the Piscataway people of Southern Maryland. The Accokeek Foundation is a National Park Service partner in Piscataway Park, and we take care of about 200 acres of parkland. The focus of our work is to connect people to the land and engage them in creating a sustainable world.

How does the organization do outreach with the community?

CH - Piscataway Park is open to visitors year-round, with no entrance fee to enter the park. That makes it an incredible resource for members of the community. The Accokeek Foundation, as the boots-on-the-ground steward of this resource, acts as an ambassador and advocate for the park every day. We provide the information visitors need to plan a trip to the park—whether they’re coming to fish in the Potomac, walk their dog on a nature trail, or learn about Southern Maryland history on the National Colonial Farm. We work closely with local school systems to provide environmental and agriculture education (both within the park and at the schools) to K-12 students. We work with leaders in the conservation field and climate movement to create a space for dialogue about the history and future of this landscape. And we connect with farmers through a heritage breed livestock conservation program that conserves critically endangered breeds of farm animals.

What would you say people take away from the tours you run?

CH - People often leave a tour of the park or the National Colonial Farm with a sense of connection to a space they may or may not have known existed before they visited. This landscape holds the stories of so many different people, and those stories are inextricably linked. There is 11,000 years of indigenous history contained within this soil, and the native plants and animals help tell a part of that history. There is also a legacy of slavery and colonialism on this space. We tell the story of a woman named Cate Sharper, who was enslaved in Prince George’s County in the mid-18th-century, along with her son, Jack. Cate’s story is a narrative of slavery not often told—that of a woman on a small tobacco plantation where she would have been one of the only enslaved people working on the farm. Our tours and programs are designed to offer diverse perspectives, and we hope people leave Piscataway Park with a greater sense of our shared history.

How do you teach conservation and land management?

CH - The Accokeek Foundation promotes sustainable agriculture and agroforestry through inclusive, hands-on visitor engagement, scholarly research, and presentations. Our educational programs incorporate community needs, historical context, indigenous knowledge, and farm expertise. Each year, thousands of school children from Maryland, DC, and Virginia visit the National Colonial Farm to attend our award-winning “Eco-Explorers” field trip. During the summer months, the Foundation hosts high-school and college-aged interns through a program called the Accokeek Conservation Corps. Through a partnership with the Maryland 4-H office, we also host a 4-H livestock club for youth ages 8-18. Children who are unable to raise their own animals at home can work with the livestock in the Accokeek Foundation’s Heritage Breed Livestock Conservation program. We also offer classes, workshops, and nature programs that are open to anyone who would like to attend.

Do you partner and work with other organizations in the area? How?

CH - We partner with the National Park Service to steward and maintain the 200 acres of Piscataway Park that are open to the public. Since there are no rangers or NPS offices in Piscataway Park, it is the responsibility of the Foundation to provide visitor services and interpretation for the tens of thousands of people who visit the park each year. We also partner closely with George Washington’s Mount Vernon as we continue to preserve the viewshed. We have relationships with many other organizations to serve the public, including educators like Prince George’s County Public Schools, as well as environmental organizations, historic preservation groups, and tourism associations.

Can you tell us the short term and long term goals for Accokeek?

CH - We seek to engage the community in respectful, authentic conversations about the complex challenges that face our region, such as race, agriculture, the environment, and living history. We believe that creating space for these types of discussions and problem-solving work improves the quality of life for all of the region’s residents. Specifically, we are working toward the following long term goals:

  • Increased public knowledge about sustainability and environmental issues, especially in the context of the cultural and historical landscape.
  • Motivation of individual and collective action to better protect and restore the natural environment and to ensure equitable food access and food security.
  • Creation of interest and awareness about the breadth of careers in the environmental sciences and the agricultural sector, and better prepare young people for college and employment.
  • Exploration of innovative land management techniques designed to regenerate healthy soils, protect water, and enhance air quality, to test and demonstrate those strategies, and engagement of stakeholders in dialogue about using those strategies in ways that contribute to community health and well-being.

If people want to volunteer, donate, work with you, etc. what is the best way to do that?

CH - Check our website (accokeek.org), subscribe to our mailing list, or follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). We have seasonal and part-time positions that open up throughout the season, as well as full-time careers. With so much space to take care of, we always need volunteers. Volunteers help us with trail maintenance, shoreline clean-ups, livestock care, gardening, events, visitor services, bluebird monitoring, and nature programs. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, we’re also donor-supported and rely on the generosity of the individuals who care about our mission as much as we do.