By Cassy Sottile and Erica Quinones
Washington College was awarded a $1 million grant from the Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative Fund (MEIF) to further develop the River and Field Campus (RAFC).
The Fund is awarded by the Maryland Department of Commerce and began appropriating grants in the 2016 fiscal year.
The Department of Commerce grants money to Maryland nonprofit institutions of higher education to further basic and applied research in scientific and technical fields, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce’s website.
This is WC’s fourth consecutive year receiving the grant, totalling $8 million between the state’s funding and the required matched gift, according to President Kurt Landgraf.
The Department of Commerce, who awards the grant, follows a set of guidelines focused on innovation and entrepreneurship when deciding awardees, according to Landgraf.
Director of the Center for Environment & Society and Lammot du Pont Copeland Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Dr. John Seidel said that navigating these guidelines is the key to a successful pitch.
While the Department focuses on innovation, its broader goal is to support economic activity in the state. So, every proposal by WC keeps that aspect in mind as well as their sustainability initiatives, according to Dr. Seidel.
The 2020 beneficiary, RAFC, balances the commercial and experimental aspects through its many moving parts.
First started in 2015, the RAFC’s 5000 acres of land are broken into different areas, including agriculture, restored habitat, and recreational space.
On the agricultural land, which is farmed by a private contractor, WC can test new farming practices and crops. Experimental farming paired with conservation methods to show that they can create a profitable farm while keeping a high standard of environmental protection, according to Associate Director of Center for Environment & Society Programs and Staff, Lecturer in Environmental Science and Studies, and soon-to-be named Director of the River and Field Campus Dr. Michael Hardesty.
Simultaneously, the land can help break down the “unnecessary division” between agriculture, recreation, and protected habitat by continuing its protected quail habitat programs and opening to athletic and student recreation like hunting, hiking, and track and field, according to Dr. Hardesty.
With the grant money, Dr. Hardesty hopes to start a student farm where students can develop an appreciation for what food is, how it is produced, and how to influence production.
Dr. Hardesty hopes to work with the Eastern Shore Food Lab on the student farm.
By regulating recreational activities by area and season, they can both protect their preserved habitat and the species that visit the area while allowing locals to connect with and appreciate nature.
“In order to make the case for habitat restoration, we have to have people who appreciate it. You cannot appreciate it by reading about it or thinking about it. You have to go out and experience it,” Dr. Hardesty said.
But these models are not only for Chestertown and the Eastern Shore. The RAFC hopes to become a model of holistic land management for the state, demonstrating that it is not only profitable but desirable.
Be it ecotourism, aesthetic, or nostalgia for the rotund bobwhite quail whose populations were once vast on the eastern shore, finding an environmental aspect that landowners care about will motivate them to bring said aspect back, improving the natural beauty and ecosystem of the state, according to Dr. Seidel.
MEIF does two rounds of grants annually. CES is currently attempting to raise money to match the next round while working on proposals for future MEIF phases.
Additionally, Hardesty and Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio are co-chairing a strategic planning group. They will host information sessions this semester as they canvas the WC community for input on developing programs and activities for RAFC.