- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Boat captains shown around other end of the watershed

MOUNT CRAWFORD, Va. — The cows didn’t seem to mind the company in the milk parlor. They shuffled in and out just as they do everyday twice a day at the Will farm.

“We’ve got about 67 cows,” says Kenny Will, dressed in overalls, knee-high boots and a dirtied cap. “We start about 5 a.m. and get them done within an hour or so.”

But on this day, Mr. Will and his son, Jeremy, have some extra help.



Eric Marshall and Wes Bradshaw, boat captains for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, are learning what it’s like on the farmer’s end of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Growing up on Smith Island, Md., which is near the middle of the Bay, about a 20-minute boat ride from Tangier Island, the two have seen the struggle watermen have had over the past few decades. High nutrient loads and sediment pollution have killed off underwater grasses and taken its toll on the blue crab population.

In the past, environmentalists, reporters and politicians have blamed agriculture runoff as the primary culprit of the Bay’s decline.

But these watermen aren’t blaming farmers. In fact, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Bradshaw are two of six watermen-turned-boat-captains who spent last week in Rockingham County learning about farm practices and how farmers are working to protect natural resources.

“We know we’ve got to make some changes down on the Bay,” said Charles Parks, 51, of Tangier Island. “You can’t just blame the farmer. You get out here and you see what they’re doing, and they’re doing a lot — more than they can do.”

Farmers and watermen aren’t that different.

The two trades are hard on the body. Rising early, working long hours, enduring the elements — they’re not jobs you go into unless you love it or are born to it.

Secondly, watermen are essentially farmers. They work the water harvesting crab, oysters and fish, while farmers work the land harvesting beans, corn and squash.

The only place the two trades differ is with livestock, but it didn’t take long for the watermen to warm up to some of the dairy cows.

“I think it’s neat being on a dairy farm,” said Mr. Bradshaw, 60, a former waterman who happily helped the Wills milk cows. “I’ve never actually seen it done before. It’s kind of the same as crab potting in that it’s hands on.”

Not too far away, Mr. Parks and fellow retired waterman-turned-boat-captain Lonnie Moore walk the grounds of Kevin Craun’s farm. Mr. Craun, whose dairy farm is just south of Bridgewater, has taken several steps to preserve his land and protect the area’s natural resources.

Cattle “travel ways” keep the cows from destroying the land and field rotation assures an even spread of manure, so Mr. Craun doesn’t overfertilize.

“We want people to realize that we are making an effort to preserve [natural resources] and save the Bay,” Mr. Craun told Mr. Parks and Mr. Moore. “And it’s not just for the Bay’s benefit. We live here. We drink the ground water. Our kids play in the streams. It’s up to us to improve and take care of these things so it will be here for generations to come.”

The coming together of the two cultures is significant because by 2010, waterways, including the Bay, must meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for water quality.

If they don’t, the federal government can impose sanctions and force state agencies to follow a strict plan, which state officials say could be difficult on locals.

Farmers such as Mr. Craun and Mr. Will are doing their part, and they say others in the Shenandoah Valley are catching on, too.

“The importance of water quality is catching on,” says Mr. Will, 47, who fenced his cattle out of North River. “People need to use their heads a little bit and try and do a good job. We need to take initiative.

“Most people in the Valley trying to farm aren’t overfertilizing — it costs too much” said Mr. Will, who has worked on his farm for 21 years. “I still think the main cause of the Bay’s problems is overpopulation in the watershed. There’s too many people.”

Jeremy Will, 21, went one step further, saying fertilizer runoff can be attributed to homeowners dumping tons nutrients on their lawns trying to green them.

“Everybody’s got to do their part,” he said “It’s more than just the farmer correcting his practices, it has to be everybody.”

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