Steve Derrenbacher has been implementing eco-friendly practices at Heirland Farm for a long time, but he’s always looking to become even greener. After Saturday, he was about 1,200 trees greener.
Sixty volunteers with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) came out to Derrenbacher’s farm Saturday morning to plant six acres of 12 different tree and shrub species along a tributary of Israel Creek. It was the third phase of a planting project that started in 2017, explained Rob Schnabel, CBF’s Maryland restoration scientist.
Planting trees along a stream is called “forest buffer,” Schnabel explained. Frederick County has a goal to plant 550 acres of forest buffer, which is about a third of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s statewide total goal.
“[Forest buffer] is kind of the last little green filter to clean the water, as well as hold the soil in place, provide erosion control,” Schnabel said. “And then what’s critical, too, is these trees provide canopy cover to help block the sun, which helps maintain cooler water temperatures in the summer time.”
Cooler temperatures increase the water’s oxygen capacity, which aids the health of fish that live in the stream.
Derrenbacher’s farm is a unique property, as it uses rotational grazing and regenerative agriculture. This means Derrenbacher moves his sheep to a different paddock every few days. In order for this to work, he plants a large variety of grasses instead of just laying down one type of cover crop.
This helps build healthier soil over time and also ensures that large parts of land aren’t completely eradicated of their crops at any given time, which can lead to erosion or environmental damage to the soil.
“And that’s critical not only for water quality and long-term productive agriculture soils, but it’s also critical for climate change,” Schnabel said. “Because when you’re building soils, you’re sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and putting carbon into the soil.”
Derrenbacher is also hoping to curb his contributions to climate change by selling more of his meat straight to consumers. This takes out the transportation factor, and also helps fund the farm as there aren’t as many middlemen.
He’s partnered with the Sweet Farm next door to create a subscription service for people looking for sustainably farmed meat and eggs.
Environmentalism was certainly top of mind for many volunteers at the event. Peggy Cruz and her husband took their two children to the planting to help out. Cruz said that she wants to stress the importance of curbing climate change to her children since they will be the generation highly affected by it.
She explained to them before the event about how planting trees along the stream can help create a carbon sink.
“They have to take an active role,” she said. “It doesn’t just happen on its own.”
Derrenbacher was thankful for the team of volunteers, which included University of Maryland students and the Hood College women’s volleyball team.
“It would be a long day if you didn’t have all these people,” Derrenbacher said.
Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley