As the Alliance continues to grow within the agricultural conservation space across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, one thing is constant – our “brand” of conservation is driven by partnerships. The partnerships we create not only include the typical players such as; environmental nonprofits, state and local agencies, and universities, but also corporations. Partnering with industry allows us to make connections along the supply chain and bring more resources to the table to address issues like improving water quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some folks may think back to those dreaded group projects in school, and think partnerships with various stakeholders, at best, are clunky and inefficient. The fact is, though, the Alliance is able to accelerate conservation efforts by increasing available funding and removing roadblocks that prevent projects. Perhaps one of the best examples of how this works is our recent involvement in a project in Frederick County, MD, on a dairy farm owned and operated by the Doody family.

A barn and silo with a clear, sunny sky behind it.

The Doody’s existing calf barn is inadequate and has an erosion issue. A new calf facility will improve efficiency on farm as well as reduce the potential for sediment and nutrients from leaving the farm.

Our work with dairy farmers in Pennsylvania led us to partner with the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA). By working with MDVA, we are connected to hundreds of farmers throughout the watershed that provide milk to the coop. MDVA is in frequent contact with their producers, keeps track of their conservation needs, and connects them with Alliance staff if there is potential for a project. The Doody’s, who supply milk for MDVA, indicated a need for a calf barn, which would improve efficiency on their farm, as well as address an erosion problem. So, I joined MDVA staff for a site visit to discuss how we could help them move forward with their project. The calf barn was an approved practice according to the local Soil Conservation District, however, they were unable to complete the design, because they were short-staffed and had a backlog of higher-priority projects that they had to focus on.

This barrier, which was not the fault of the Soil Conservation District, was preventing an agricultural practice from being constructed, which would have improved water quality in the stream near the farm, and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. However, we had additional partners that we could bring to the table in order to continue with the Doody’s proposed project. Our work with MDVA connected us with Giant Food, a regional grocery store chain that sells MDVA milk products.

A sign reading "Join us to Clean Streams and Plant Trees" in a grocery store aisle.

The Alliance participates in Giant’s roundup campaign this spring. Photo: Kate Fritz

Each year, Giant holds a roundup campaign in their stores and donates the proceeds to the Alliance so we can direct that money to farms that supply Giant. This money was designated by the Alliance to be used to pay for designing projects that local Soil Conservation Districts did not have the capacity to complete. The Alliance then contacted another partner, TeamAg, to design the Doody’s calf barn and submit it to the local Soil Conservation District for approval. At the time of writing this, construction of the calf barn is expected to start in June. Additionally, the barn will be paid for in part by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant, which was awarded to the Alliance to implement on MDVA farms.

As a part of our partnership with Giant, we provide volunteer planting opportunities for Giant staff and recently completed a volunteer planting at the Doody farm. The planting, which was a requirement of the NFWF grant, took place on an unforested portion of a stream that borders the Doody farm. Before the volunteers started planting, I had the opportunity to talk to them and give context for why we were planting on the Doody farm and how our partnerships brought them there.

A group of volunteers watching a planting demonstration

Volunteers learn planting techniques from the Alliance’s Ryan Davis.

Had the Alliance not partnered with MDVA and Giant, the Doody’s would not have been able to get designs for their project. Funding for the calf barn was made possible by the NFWF grant, which is paired with funding from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. All this work is guided by the local Soil Conservation Districts to ensure compliance with established guidelines for conservation practices. Bringing folks from Giant to the farm to help with the planting was the icing on the cake, as we were able to bring everyone together to help the Doody family improve operations on their farm to protect water quality and ensure the milk supplied to Giant is produced in a sustainable way. We at the Alliance are excited to continue this “group work” by building upon our established partnerships, like the ones with MDVA and Giant, and building new partnerships so we can continue moving forward with much-needed conservation projects for farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

People in raincoats planting a tree

Giant Associates braved the rainy weather to help install the Doody’s new tree buffer.