It’s not the poppies from the Wizard of Oz, but the 15-acres of Black-eyed Susans at Bar-T Mountainside near Urbana does bring to mind a fairytale.
“It’s almost magical,” said Joe Richardson, owner of Bar-T, a summer camp, after-school program and environmental education center. “You look at a field like this and whether there are deer running through it or my granddaughters, there’s just a surreal quality to it.”
The flowers, a mix of multiple wildflowers, were planted in the fall by Jason Wood of Wood General Inc. with funding from the Feed a Bee program, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Feed a Bee is funded by Bayer and “is an initiative of the Bayer Bee Care Program focused on planting pollinator forage across the nation with the help of communities, individuals and organizational partners,” according to the Bayer Bee Care Program website.
“I really need to credit Lisa Orr, she’s … executive director of my nonprofit, Mountainside Education and Enrichment, and she sort of scours the landscape for partnerships with organizations,” Richardson said. “We’re always open to partnerships with organizations that can help us make this facility more sustainable.”
There’s almost 50 acres of cultivatable land at Bar-T, at least some of which has been used for more conventional agriculture in the past.
“We’ve been looking for best land practices and we know that for the next two to three years, we just want to build soils and create a more symbiotic relationship with nature, and pollinators certainly is part of the mission,” Richardson said.
Part of the mission at Bar-T, he said, is to teach and demonstrate different ways to manage land and be sustainable.
And Richardson pointed out that the things he’s been able to do, including a $1.3 million stream restoration, couldn't have been achieved without organizations that help.
“I’m presenting this facility as a perfect example of sustainability, but people don’t have the money just to go ahead and do this,” he said. “There are organizations that can help you do it and affiliating with them and partnering with them makes it all possible.”
Richardson said that for hundreds of years, there's been an environmental war against the planet and he wants to look at healing it with better land management and stewardship.
“I’m blessed to own this beautiful 115-acre farm,” he said. “I’m very concerned about climate change and global warming, and so in this very small parcel of land, I can kind of demonstrate practices that will help reverse the process and show others what it looks like.”
It’s not just wildflowers. In addition to the stream restoration project, 17 acres in warm and cool season pasture mixes were also planted. The project was funded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundations Farm Stewardship Agreement, which provided $300 per acre and 200 trees and shrubs, according to an email from Orr.
“We’re not done,” Richardson said. “But this sure is fun.”