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Shining a light on USDA Volunteers

Goshen Farm is an idyllic, historic agricultural property that is now used as an education center and community garden. The property, located in the Cape St. Claire community of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has a very rich history, and the Goshen Farm Preservation Society and its board of directors have worked hard to maintain the property and its legacy.

Goshen Farm’s aThe Goshen Farm Sharing Garden is one of the many educational attractions found on the property. Photo: Goshen Farm Team.gricultural ties make it an excellent partner for the NRCS Earth Team. The partnership between the Goshen Farm Preservation Society and Maryland NRCS blossomed when Dean Cowherd, a recently retired NRCS soil scientist and Earth Team volunteer, saw the potential for cooperation between the two organizations. Roy Benner, the grounds manager and a board member of Goshen Farm, is also a former NRCS employee and Earth Team volunteer and understands the NRCS mission. He manages the property in a way that aligns with the NRCS message, serving as a showcase property for conservation-oriented work.

The partnership was initiated when the NRCS Earth Team sponsored the U.S. Naval Academy and the Midshipman Action Group (MAG) to assist with manual labor on the property. For three years straight, MAG came to Goshen once per year to help with tasks on the property including digging a soil health pit, clearing invasive species and building a fence around the soil health pit. The soil pit, which has since become a permanent fixture of Goshen Farm, is used to support the environmental literacy requirements set by Maryland Public Schools and to educate teachers, children and adults about soils and soil health. The MAG participants gained exposure to ground penetrating radar (GPR) when NRCS used the technology to unearth cultural artifacts at Goshen. Individuals from the NRCS national office, state office, field offices and soil conservation districts also participated in the GPR session.

Roy Benner, Becky Benner, and Terry Brandon (left to right) holding their 2020 Earth Team Partnership award in front of the Goshen Farm entrance sign. Photo: Goshen Farm Team.This initial partnership was composed of NRCS, MAG, Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District, Anne Arundel County Board of Education and Goshen Farm.

In more recent years, NRCS and Goshen Farm have teamed up to advance environmental literacy in the area by hosting an annual field trip for hundreds of elementary school children. Students from the nearby Cape St. Claire Elementary School can walk over to the property, where they are greeted by NRCS staff, who teach them some basic soil science principles. The educational experience fully immerses the students by allowing them to create their own “soil profiles,” where they can feel the soil and layer it into plastic tubes to visualize soil horizons. The students can take their soil profiles home as a souvenir to remind them of what they learned.

Dean Cowherd, current Earth Team Volunteer and former Maryland NRCS Soil Scientist, teaches a group of middle and high school teachers at the Goshen Farm soil pit. Photo: Laura Eddy.To reinforce what they learned while creating soil profiles, the students are then taken to the onsite soil pit to observe a soil profile in real life. NRCS helps Goshen Farm maintain the soil pit, which serves as an excellent educational tool for both parties. NRCS also partners with Goshen Farm on their open house events, where people of all ages come to visit the historic property. NRCS staff serves as technical experts to strengthen the environmental education aspect of the event, while Goshen Farm provides the infrastructure and location for public outreach.

As a symbiotic relationship should be, both parties have benefited tremendously by fostering this partnership. NRCS has gained the ability to expand their public outreach, while Goshen Farm has gained the benefit of NRCS technical assistance to improve their environmental education program. Both parties have been able to expand their shared message of conservation within the community, creating a place where people can learn to love the land. Goshen Farm has helped NRCS gain publicity with people of all ages, and actively promote NRCS programs and ideals.

In FY 2021 alone, Goshen Farm has contributed 100.5 volunteer hours, mainly through the education program lead by Terry Brandon (Educational Outreach Committee chairman for the Goshen Farm Preservation Society and Earth Team volunteer). The partnership between the organizations is strong and will certainly continue for many years to come.