My Chesapeake Ethic Revisited

While I have only lived in Chestertown for a year or so, I have come to learn all about its rich history and the people that make it unique. My initial understanding of Chestertown and its role in the Chesapeake Bay was limited. However, after traveling and meeting with professionals throughout the Bay, I now have a better appreciation and connection to the land. In my first ethic, I mentioned how technology and science have changed the way in which we view ecological problems. During the semester, the journeys we went on provided helpful insight into this topic. Specifically, meeting and having open conversations with local farmers emphasized how society tends to view environmental problems “solely on economic self-interest” (Leopold, 19). Fortunately, the experiences I had point towards a more sustainable future and innovative ways of farming that benefit the land, the farmer and the consumer.

The current agri-food system is complex, dynamic, and “is having a major effect all around the world, though in some places with greater consequences than in others” (Sage). In the United States, agriculture is dominated by certain grains and livestock production. The majority of farms are large commercialized monocultures. This trend began in the 19th century, after innovations like the steam engine, hybridized seeds, and synthetic nitrogen produced by the Haber-Bosch process. These technologies, which were quickly adopted in the United States, dramatically increased production and created a system that stresses, “increases in productivity and lowered food prices”(Sage). For these reasons, farmers are pressured to adopt the newest technologies and this requires them to take more loans out from the bank.

Appropriationism, or the idea that each aspect of agricultural activity becomes a “sector for innovation, technological control, and the accumulation of value in places far distant from farmers” (Sage)  is a threat to the agri-food system. Pressure on sales, tighter regulations, and costs of research and development make it so that companies have to merge and consolidate. As a result, there are only a few global corporations that manufacture things like machinery, fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds. Due to the significant input costs, farmers, who are the landowners, are subsidized by these large businesses. Although this makes sense economically, it leaves the farmer vulnerable. In reality, these large businesses are in control. They have the legal rights to “specify the methods of production, timing and harvest dates, the uniform characteristics of size and appearance, and the price that will be paid” (Sage). This approach is destructive to farmers. For them, farming is more of a livelihood than a profession. Treating food production like a factory is unnatural. The element of artisanship is quickly diminishing.

In his essay, “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, the author, Wendell Berry discusses a system of farming that “allows him to gather food and raise livestock while also protecting the integrity of his property” (Berry). Berry understands that humans are destroying the land faster than we will be able to replace it. He feels a special connection with his childhood farmland in Kentucky and wants to preserve it. Berry recognizes that restoring the land is not easy. He must plow with horses instead of tractors because his land is hilly and rough. However, for Berry being a farmer is not about economics. It is about enjoying work and taking pride in what you do. In fact, he even compares one’s relation to the land to “marrying your sweetheart” (Berry). As a society, we need to start applying this mentality. Decisions should be community based and not government enforced. Setting mandated harvest dates and limiting fertilizer use in the winter seem helpful, however each farm is unique and responds differently to changing environmental conditions.

Visiting various farm operations on the Eastern Shore showed me that there can be a balance between new technologies, production, and conservation. In many cases, advances in science have sparked this change. For example, improvements in genetics, nutrition, and housing have enabled poultry farmers to produce a larger, healthier bird. Additionally, developments like the spinner spreader are minimizing the negative environmental effects of excess poultry litter. Also, GPS monitoring systems can now educate farmers and policy makers about current and past nutrient levels, which is essential for determining regulations. In the words of Berry, “we were wrong to assume that agriculture could be adequately defined by reductionist science and determinist economics”. Even though we have the technologies for mass-producing crops, it is important to stay humble. This means keeping food production local, farm-based, and intentional.


Works Cited

Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic.” A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949,

Sage, Colin. “The Global Agri-Food System.” Environment and Food, Routledge, pp. 26–55.

Berry, Wendell. “The Making of a Marginal Farm.” The Woods Stretched for Miles, The University of Georgia Press, pp. 31–40.



Environmental Justice

Slow violence, or “a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space” (Nixon) is a concern for both the Chesapeake Bay and Belize. However, due to differences in economies, government structure, and resource availability, our countries are experiencing slow violence at a different rate and in different forms.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay remains largely influenced by anthropogenic contributions, specifically farming. For years, corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and poultry have brought jobs and money to the Eastern Shore. However, despite these successes, deforestation and the continued use of fertilizers have degraded both the land and water surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.

In the Coastal Bays Report Card (2015) it was noted that phosphorous degradation continues to be a major concern for the Bay’s health. More importantly, The Maryland Coastal Bays assessment points out that poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula has been increasing over time, due to innovations in managing the capacity of poultry houses. This is a problem because poultry litter is high in phosphorous, which in excess can cause huge algal blooms and dead zones. Additionally, rain and weathering cause rocks to release phosphate ions. This inorganic phosphate is an anion, which means it adsorbs to other surfaces easily. Because of this, legacy groundwater, additional nutrients from actions that happened on land many years ago is a concern. In fact, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program found that in the Bay, 99% of sites do not meet the seagrass phosphorous threshold. For years, chicken farmers have been held responsible for their manure each year. Fortunately, more recent legislation is now targeting the “chicken integrators” like Perdue and Tyson for “picking up and responsibly disposing of any excess manure that their contracted chicken farmers could not find a use for” (The Poultry Litter Management Act). This is good news for farmers and tax payers because they will no longer have to pay for programs that transport the manure properly. The Poultry Litter Management Act has shifted the financial burden on the corporations. This shows that Maryland officials understand the environmental consequences of additional phosphorous. More importantly, it shows that fair action is being taken, that is the owners of the chickens are responsible for disposing the manure, not the subsidized farmers who tend to them.

As far as Belize is concerned, the waste left behind “some 800,000 tourists a year” is causing significant environmental issues for Belize ( Cruise ships in particular create problems for the coastal nation because the ships lack a solid waste management system. Unlike the United States of America, Belize has a low population density. There is a need for improved infrastructure and roads to develop a more stable economy. Because of this Belize is less resilient to climate-related events.

Nixon points out how the rich are careless and relentlessly continue living without particular concern for either the environment or the poor. Although their actions are not deliberate or shattering, their long-term impacts are frightening.  Our society embraces a culture that emphasizes materialism and consumption. New technologies are constantly replacing old ones. For this reason, electronic waste is a major problem. Lead, which is a common element of most electric products, can leach into the soil and groundwater. The United States depends on poor areas in China to store this hazardous material. Large trash dumps near communal areas are dangerous to both the environment and people.

Politicians and policy makers tend to ignore the concerns of the poor. In fact, after the 2010 Deep-water Horizon Oil Spill, Republican and oil apologist, Don Young said that the spill was not an environmental disaster because “oil has seeped into this ocean for centuries” and that sea-life would recover eventually. For an environmental perspective, this is threatening because it supports short-termism, or a neglect for the future. In reality, the effects of an oil spill that large is unmeasurable. Additionally, it is unclear when these consequences will come about.

Environmental writers are important for society because they force us to think about our actions. Most Americans never question where their trash ends up or what the “environmental-cost” of the materials they buy is. As a society, we tend to benefit from the expense of others. For example, we depend on developing countries to manufacture our clothing and store our hazardous waste. But is this fair? Our government needs to take into consideration the well-being of the poor and address the global effects of having the world’s largest market economy.



Works Cited

Nixon, Rob. “Slow Violence, Gender, and the Environmentalism of the Poor.” doi:


The Need For Harmony

A prominent conservationist once said, “If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering” (Leopold, 190). Unfortunately, humans today have impacted the future by neglecting to conserve and protect “the parts” – earth’s natural resources. Our capitalistic society is based on consumption and the idea that more is better. This means that resources get treated as limitless, and as we now know, this is not true. From deforestation and strip mining to over-harvesting and agricultural runoff, humans have affected the structure of ecosystems everywhere. It is difficult for society to understand the complex interrelated relationships between species and their environment. There is no question that humanity benefits from ecosystems and their services. They provide things like the purification of air and water, climate regulation and the cycling and movement of nutrients. “These services are so fundamental to life that they are easy to take for granted, and so large in scale that it is hard to imagine that human activities could irreparably disrupt them” (Ecological Society of America, 4). However, we continue to exploit and alter the natural environment, despite the scientific consensus that we need to stop.

It is essential for humans to start understanding that we share the planet with other species. Even though we are at the top of the food chain, our actions affect all trophic levels. “Internal configuration is largely controlled by the interactions among the species in the ecosystem” (Ehrlich and Mooney, 248). At this moment, humans are forcing an unprecedented rate of endangerment and it is unclear to what degree these vulnerable populations can be replaced without impairing either short-or long term ecosystem functioning. In the Chesapeake Bay area, the Atlantic sturgeon, Delmarva fox squirrel, oysters and swamp pink are a few of the federally listed threatened species. A conservative estimate of the rate of species lost is about 1 per hour, which unfortunately exceeds the rate of evolution of new species by a factor of 10,000 or more” (Wilson 1989; Lawton and May 1995). This is problematic.

Coevolution is defined as the process of reciprocal evolutionary change that occurs between pairs of species or among groups of species as they interact with one another. Thus, the loss or reduction of a species can result in significant long-term damage to an ecosystem. The Chesapeake Bay is a popular destination for migrating birds. These birds depend on the fruit from trees such as the flowing dogwood, crabapple and wild cherry. Through evolution, their entire structure has changed to accommodate their dependency on these trees. For example, their beak is specially modified to feed from these trees, and they know to migrate when it gets cold. The trees benefit from the birds because the birds help disperse their seeds. This is one example of how species benefit each other. Furthermore, when new species are introduced to an area, problems can occur. The blue catfish, the nutria, and the Phragmites are examples of introduced species that are currently altering the estuarine ecosystem of the Chesapeake. They are competing with the native species for their habitat, food and sunlight.

In an era of climate change, it is critical for scientists and policymakers to reach a middle ground. Plants and animals have the ability to adapt to a changing environment, but this process takes time. For this reason, we need to be careful about polluting the environment and trans-locating species to new habitats.


Works Cited

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, 1968.

“Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems.”, The Ecological Society of America, 1997,

Ehrlich, Paul R., and Harold A. Mooney. “Extinction, Substitution, and Ecosystem Services.” American Institute of Biological Sciences, vol. 33, Apr. 1983, pp. 248–254. JSTOR [JSTOR].




The Three Percent

Nowadays, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. However, the issue of climate change remains a debate in the United States. In 2012, a nation-wide survey question revealed that, “only 45% of the U.S. public accurately reported the near unanimity of the scientific community about anthropogenic climate change” (Brulle, 2013). This is concerning because it shows a broad misunderstanding of a serious issue.

The Climate Change Movement (CCM) is a network of individuals and organizations that seek to justify the unlimited use of fossil fuels by challenging the existing science. In the paper, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations the author, Robert J. Brulle, explains how massive corporations like Koch and ExxonMobil foundations no longer make publicly traceable contributions. Instead, they are using “donor directed” foundations and anonymous donations. It is a problem that a few wealthy businessmen have the power to manipulate and mislead the public over climate science.

In the essay Preserving Wilderness, the author, Wendell Berry argues that “the wildernesses we are trying to preserve are standing squarely in the way of our present economy, and that the wildernesses cannot survive if our economy does not change” (Berry, 1987). The United States is a highly developed country. We have a very advanced economy that is fueled by abundant natural resources and high productivity. However, we never stop to think about the subsidies, or “the unpaid borrowings from nature that have so far sustained industrial civilization” (Berry, 1987). As a powerful nation with the third highest population, our “ecological footprint” is far greater than other countries. Most Americans are living unsustainable lifestyles and this is a problem. Society is dominated by a culture of materialism, where citizens always want the newest and best things. This is stressing the natural environment. As a nation, we need to start addressing the relationship between business and the environment. More importantly, the government needs to enact legislation to prevent powerful conservative companies like Fox News, Exxon Mobil, and Koch industries from misinforming citizens for their financial benefit. Mitigating the effects of climate change is complex and will require both national and global cooperation.


Works Cited

Brulle, Robert J. “Institutionalizing Delay: Foundation Funding and the Creation of U.S. Climate Change Counter-Movement Organizations.” Climate Change , 2013, pp. 1–14.

Berry, Wendell. “Preserving Wilderness.” Home Economics, 1987, pp. 516–530.

A Call For Change

Although Aldo Leopold’s, The Land Ethic was published in 1949 as a finale to A Sand County Almanac, its messages and themes are still relevant today. In fact, the ethic Leopold presents is more important nowadays than it will ever be. The modern world is conflicted with numerous problems that all seem to stem from man’s relationship with the natural environment. Global warming is a serious issue that does not have a single solution. Humans are responsible for emitting disturbing amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. As a result, the average temperature of the Earth is increasing at an unprecedented rate. This slight increase in global temperature has profound effects. From sea level rise to prolonged periods of flooding and drought, the consequences of climate change are complex and growing. In other words, dealing with these problems requires more than just technology and money. They will require a change in the way society thinks and interacts with the environment. In The Land Ethic, Leopold writes, “An ethic may be regarded as a mode of guidance for meeting ecological situations so new or intricate, or involving such deferred reactions, that the path of social expediency is not discernible to the average individual” (Leopold, 3). Leopold, a master forester, insightful philosopher, environmentalist, but more importantly a concerned citizen of the world, includes The Land Ethic chapter to offer society his best advice.

Leopold points out that “obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land” (Leopold, 13). Unfortunately, American society has always encouraged economic self-interest. For some, the notion of wealth is more important than the well being of others. This is problematic. Society is stressing the environment by exhausting Earth’s limited natural resources at a rapid rate. We are more concerned about the present moment than the future. Leopold recommends we change this. Citizens need to start associating “the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land” (Leopold, 4). The Earth is a complex system that uses a variety of physical, chemical, biological processes to function. A change in one part of the system has an effect on the whole. Society needs to become more aware of its influence on the natural world. We need to stop playing the role of the conqueror. In order to do this, we need to embrace a more community orientated way of thinking and engage in thoughtful conversations with other nations.

Lastly, in her book Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape author Lauret Savory, writes, “The American land preceded hate”. Society needs to realize that the land does not discriminate. Humans are responsible for creating a sociocultural system, in which success is measured with wealth and material goods. Consequently, this has engrained certain attitudes within our society. Specifically, ideas like bigger is better and quantity over quality have caused society to think and act unsustainably. It is in our best interest to read and moralize Leopold’s The Land Ethic. The threats of global climate change are real and the sooner society addresses these issues, the more time and effort can go into planning their solutions.


Works Cited

Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic.” A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press,         1949,

Savoy, Lauret E. “Alien Land Ethic.” Trace : Memory, History, Race, and the American     Landscape, Counterpoint, 2015.

History, People, and a Sense of Place

The themes of Journey One related to history, people, and a sense of place. Throughout the trip, we met with a variety of professionals whose livelihoods depend on the Chesapeake Bay. Some of these people included Native Americans, colonial interpreters, archeologists, and historians. Each of them had a unique perspective on the Chesapeake. I found that different groups of people connect with their landscape in distinctive ways. More importantly, I learned how cultural materialism helps us gain insights and a better understanding of the lifestyles and societies of the past. Culture is learned behavior that has no genetic basis. For these reasons, it is hard to explain human beliefs and why they change overtime. Regardless, meeting and speaking with a diverse cast of individuals benefited me because it gave me a more complex understanding of the Chesapeake and its history, and revealed common patterns.

The Native American perspective influenced me the most. Prior to The Chesapeake Semester, I had never studied America’s oldest inhabitants. I did not realize there was regional variation among tribes and how well adapted to the environment these groups were. I found this particular perspective most helpful because it was so closely interrelated with the natural environment. After all, Indians were the first watermen in the Chesapeake. They harvested oysters and speared fish. They were also the first to forage and farm the Chesapeake region. Culturally, these groups had a respect for their natural surroundings and a spiritual relationship with the environment. It seems to me they understood the concept of “changelessness” that Tom Horton writes about in Bay Country. He writes, “Changelessness, or a least the diligent pursuit of it, is a good. Many environmentalists and ecologists feel that precisely because it is so hard to know what is natural, we should, in any decision affecting the environment, consider how first not to change the existing order.” (Horton, 5). Unlike their European counterparts, Native Americans were not striving for bigger, better, or faster ways of living, and this was reflected by their deep respect for nature.

I was able to experience the Native American lifestyle firsthand when the group went camping at Chino Farms. Foraging for meals is not an easy task. It requires cooperation and intense knowledge of the land. Fortunately, we had our professors and books to guide us. Otherwise we may have starved. The work was divided and shared equally. We ate cattails, autumn olive, sumac berries, sheep sorrel, sassafras root, persimmons, wild rice, crickets, clams, silversides, venison, and bison. It was a feast. Although the Indians ate similar things, they did not eat in abundance. In the words of Thomas Harriet, a colonist of the first Virginia settlement at Roanoke Island, …”the Indians were very sober in their eating and drinking and subsequently very long lived because they did not oppress nature” (Wennersten, 13). Unfortunately, English settlers did not understand this ethic. For them, “Nature was something to be bought, sold, traded, and developed…” (Wennersten, 13). And as history demonstrates, this was the mindset that prevailed and continues to be seen today.

In Williamsburg, we met with two modern-day Indians. One was Cherokee and one was a local Pamunkey. It was fascinating to hear their views on tradition, public misconceptions, and the future. Even though Warren and Cody belong to different tribes, they share commonalities and deal with the same types of problems. For example, both of their tribes feel oppressed by the Fish and Wildlife commission, who set limitations on their harvests. In the case of the Pomunkey Indians, they have seen their annual shad harvest decline in the past years. The building of canals and dams disrupts migration patterns. Additionally, overfishing and pollution have caused shad numbers to decline . Both men addressed issues such as poverty, alcoholism, inadequate health care, and the decline of native languages within their respective reservations. It seems to be a trend that younger generations are losing their connection to the their ancestry. Despite all these difficulties, “protecting land and resources is an important concern of the tribes, including the preservation of sacred sites” (We Have A Story to Tell, 13).

The Native American perspective provides us with a better and more complex understanding of the Chesapeake. Although their populations have dramatically decreased, their influence and legacy remains essential to the Chesapeake Bay. Their ability to adapt to changing circumstances continues to be just as critical today as it was centuries ago. For example, Native Americans sell crafts such as baskets and pottery, which still honors their relationship to the land. While author Shepard Krech III in his book, The Ecological Indian, points out that viewing Native Americans as leaving no trace on the environment “demeans” them as a people, he also states that “he (the Indian) does not waste or despoil, exhaust or extinguish, and that he does, with deliberation, leave the environment and resources like the animal population in a usable state for succeeding generations.” (Krech III, 26). Looking at the Chesapeake through eyes of Native Americans can help us preserve the estuary and enable us to continue to benefit from its ecological services.

Although it might not be obvious, the impact of Native Americans surrounds the Chesapeake today. Residents harvest oysters, eat crabs and fish, and grow corn, beans, pumpkins and squash. Hunting is popular on the Eastern Shore, as well as canoeing, kayaking and enjoying the beauty of the water. Despite recent advancements in technology and decades of damage to the environment in the Chesapeake region, the lessons of the past can be used today to make sure the Chesapeake remains a vital part of our culture and society.



Works Cited

Krech, Shepard. “Introduction.” Ecological Indian: Myth and History, Norton, 2001, pp. 1-26.

Horton, Tom. “What Is Natural, What Is Right.” Bay Country, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, pp. 1–17.

Tayac, Gabrielle, and Edwin Schupman. “We Have A Story To Tell.” Edited by Mark Hirsch Http://, National Museum Of The American Indian, 2006,

Wennersten, John R. “The New World Environment of Chesapeake Bay.” The Chesapeake, Maryland Historical Society, 2001, pp. 1–38.




Learning From the Past

Nowadays, it is hard to envision Native Americans living in the Chesapeake region. However, artifacts such as stone tools, shells, animal bones, and spear heads are still found on riverbanks and beaches throughout the Chesapeake Bay today, indicating that these people are a part of Chesapeake Bay history.

In his essay, “An Entrance to the Woods” the author, Wendell Berry writes “If one has read of the prehistoric Indians whose flint arrow points and pottery and hominy holes and petroglyphs have been found here, then every rock shelter and clifty spring will suggest the presence of those dim people who have disappeared into the earth.” This line stood out to me because it is incorrect. The Native Americans tribes inhabiting the rivers of the Chesapeake were not dim. Historical records along with archaeological data demonstrate regional variation in Chesapeake Indians. Native Americans had to adapt to various landscapes and a rapidly changing environment. For these reasons, separate and unique cultures emerged. For example, large Native American confederations had  their own language and political systems. Because of this, art, music, pottery styles, and spirituality varied throughout the  Chesapeake Bay region. Regardless, it is worthwhile studying these cultures because “anthropology creates an expanding global awareness an an appreciation for cultures other than our own” (Scupin and DeCorse 16).

In his essay, Berry  also writes, “The faster one goes, the more strain there is on the senses, the more they fail to take in.” It is important to slow down and investigate things from different perspectives.  It is never a good idea to generalize a group of people, past or present. Societies are dynamic, and consist of several diverse components.   We are all human after all, and the lessons we can learn from the past may someday save the future.

My Chesapeake Ethic

Before I came to Washington College , I knew very little about the Chesapeake Bay. I did not know that the watershed spread throughout several states and over 60,000 miles. Not only is the Bay area a sanctuary for a variety of fish, birds and plants, I’ve learned how unique, historical, and environmentally valuable the region is. More importantly, I’ve come to realize that the Chesapeake Bay is a system and that modern day problems like over-harvesting,  algae blooms , and climate change are the result of too much stress on the system. In the words of Wendell Berry, “the whole complex of problems whose proper solution add up to health: the health of the soil, of plants and animals, of farm and farmer…. All involved in the same interested interlocking pattern”. He is saying that overworking one aspect of a system impacts the overall health and viability of the entire thing. Additionally,  have come to realize the historical importance of the Chesapeake Bay region. I never knew that one could come across ancient oyster middens while exploring the Chester river today. These “dumps” provide great insights into the lifestyles of our early ancestors. Understanding the Chesapeake Bay and its patterns is critical because we depend on the health and well-being of the ecosystem and the services it provides.

In the article , “The Art Of Seeing Things”, the author, John Burroughs writes ” the modern man looks at nature with an eye of sympathy and love where the earlier man looked with an eye of fear and superstition” . This line stood out to me. The author is saying that modern society dominates the landscape. Science and technology have changed the way in which we view ecological problems. We assume that there will always be a new and better solution to a problem. The modern man looks at nature with an eye of sympathy and love because he is aware of human impact. Society depends on nature’s resources, yet we continue to abuse and push the limits of our land, usually for economic purposes.