Get Out and Give Back: Down on the Farm

by WL Author

This colonial, organic and heritage farm lets you live a farmer’s life in the city–barn cleaning included.

By Jane Hess Collins

Dr. Lisa Hayes, incoming President/CEO of the Accokeek Foundation; Alan McCurry, incoming Board chair, Gail McCurry, Wilton C. Corkern, President, Accokeek Foundation (retiring Sept 30)

Polly Festa , the livestock manager of the Accokeek Foundation, treats the heritage cows, horses, pigs and other farm animals as if they were her own. “I don’t know how to do it any other way,” she said. A third generation farmer from upstate New York, Polly can argue the nuances between a milking Devon and a Brown Swiss the way Beltway insiders discuss politics.

Such was the alternative universe known as the Accokeek Foundation, a beautiful colonial, organic and heritage farm just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Maryland. Find yourself a convertible and lower the top as you drive through the winding country roads to Accokeek. It’s hard to believe than ten miles outside of the Beltway, green pastures and 100-year-old farmhouses await you.

The best thing about spending a glorious morning on a farm is having a buddy with you. My buddy Josephine Withers, a retired professor from the University of Maryland, is the kind of pal who will shovel out a barn stall with you.

More on that later.

It was time for business. Polly, Josephine and I had to move Mercy, a full-grown cow, and her daughter Mary Gertrude from one pasture to another. Mary Gertrude, named after Polly’s grandmother, was just three weeks old and Polly warned us that Mary Gertrude wasn’t about to leave her pasture, even with her mama mooing for her outside.

Trying to shepherd that poor calf anywhere was useless and baby calves leap like fawns, especially when three women in ball caps and gardens gloves are hollering and waving at them. Finally Mary Gertrude found another hole in the fence and tentatively crept out, following her mother who was following a bucket of food.

I don’t know what was in the bucket but I’m betting it was part chocolate.

Every animal at the Accokeek Foundation has a personality, a name and a history as complex as any of its human counterparts, and Polly knew them all. Each rooster had its story. I met native hogs, a beautiful rescue horse and learned the difference between a bull and a steer.

Accokeek Foundation volunteer Josephine Withers teaches classes at the Accokeek Farm when she's not helping me clean a stall.

It was now time to clean the barn and another learning adventure. Even pitchforks come in different shapes and sizes, and the three-pronged American Gothic pitchfork is now a Facebook photo.

The task was simple. Shovel everything onto a two-wheeled cart. Wheel it outside and transfer it to a wagon for hauling to a pasture.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Truth be told, I had been dreading this for weeks. I have never even changed a diaper, and gag when scooping a litter box. I’ve heard city folk say that cleaning a cow’s bathroom is therapeutic. I tried to view this as a free therapy session.

Josephine shoveled right alongside of me. Everything, even cow paddy tossing, is more fun with a buddy, and this was way more fun than an analyst’s couch.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! It was a wonderful, free morning in the great outdoors. Accokeek Foundation has plenty of volunteer activities if barn cleaning isn’t your thing.

If your style runs more black tie than Black Angus, click here to find out about their Leadership Salute Gala on October 9.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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