The Accokeek Foundation Knows How to Find – and Farm – Piscataway Park
“Our vision is to showcase the future of sustainability with the world’s largest permaculture food forest.” To those unfamiliar with the work of the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park, it may seem like Dr. Lisa Hayes, President/CEO, is describing rural farmland in the middle of the country – not a national park just outside the boundaries of our nation’s capital. But that is what makes the Accokeek Foundation’s National Food Forest (NFF) such an exciting project; at over 200 acres on national park land, it is the most ambitious permaculture project ever undertaken in a national park in the United States.
To take on such a historic project at Piscataway Park is a natural progression of Accokeek’s work. The mission of the park and the foundation has always been rooted in the value of place, and motivated by preserving the integrity of important land. Beyond its many native cultural and natural resources, the land was once also the view enjoyed by George and Martha Washington from the back porch of their Mount Vernon Estate. In the middle of the 20th century, that landscape along the Maryland shore of the Potomac River became vulnerable to the growing development around Washington, DC.
To protect the view of the Potomac from Mount Vernon from being developed as an oil tank farm, Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton purchased a 485-acre farm on the Maryland shore in 1955. The Accokeek Foundation was established two years later, with Mrs. Bolton serving as its first president.
In the years since its founding, the Accokeek Foundation has been the preeminent philanthropic, interpretive, and conservation partner to Piscataway Park. Through the living history museum at the National Colonial Farm, thousands of school-aged children visit the park each year and experience 18th century agriculture, including rare, native animals and crops.
The National Food Forest is an extension of Accokeek’s mission to “[cultivate] passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability.” “In the tradition of Piscataway Park’s original and enduring inhabitants, our goal is to transform these invasive-choked woodlands into a forest of food that will serve as a living case study in a different kind of working farmscape,” says Dr. Hayes. “We see this as an opportunity to engage local, regional, and national communities in hands-on learning to create and manage permaculture landscapes.”
A key component of the NFF is that Accokeek is raising a number of heritage breeds like Hog Island sheep and Milking Devon cattle, which were imported to the United States at the time of colonial settlement but have since become endangered. The livestock graze openly on the invasive-prone pastures and woodlands of the park, which maintains a natural environment for these species, but also helps to restore the natural biodiversity of the park without the need for modern agricultural machinery.
The ultimate goal of the NFF is to restore a forest of food on the park’s land that produces, on average, over five million calories per acre – roughly the amount of calories produced by an acre of engineered corn – and create a working farmscape that could plausibly feed a local population. Accokeek aims to reach that goal by 2030; in the meantime, its proving that one great way to #FindYourPark is to farm your park.
To learn more about the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park’s programs and events or to support their work, visit their site at accokeekfoundation.org.