Church-Community Partnership Funded for Pollinator Garden at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School

by Dick Williams, LEED AP BD+C, Memorial Episcopal Church

The idea grew out of fear.

The fear was that the Chesapeake Bay Trust would decline the Mt. Royal PTO’s 2017 Watershed Assistance Grant request for $75,000 for a major de-pave/greening of the Mount Royal Elementary/ Middle Schoolyard in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood. (More on that later.)

At stake was the momentum that began building last summer with stakeholder formation meetings—community members and organizations, institutions and other non-profits, parents, teachers and school principal—for big schoolyard changes.

One Saturday last October, my wife and I, Bolton Hill residents and Memorial Episcopal Church parishioners, visited with friends the beautiful Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.

Inspired by the visit, and especially the Butterfly House, I put in a call for Ladew’s outreach coordinator—if and whoever that might be.  Happily, Rachelle Rogers called back.

Rachelle told me that Ladew had partnered with a Harford County Title One School in a pilot outreach program in 2016 that introduced native pollinator plants to its school entrance area and educates students about the plants’ and pollinators’ roles in a healthy biosphere.  She said Ladew would consider Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School as its second Title One School partner.

I immediately called Kimberly Canale, Mt. Royal PTO President, so we could flesh out a pollinator micro-habitat and garden classroom on the schoolyard with big help from talented Mahan Rykiel landscape architect JoAnn Trach Tongson.

In a meeting several weeks later with school Principal Job Grotsky and others, Rachelle spoke for Ladew’s President in formally offering to teach several classes this winter about pollinators and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to Mount Royal’s 2nd grade classes.  Included in the offer is an all-expenses paid visit by the entire 2nd grade class of more than 60 students to Ladew’s many gardens this fall when the pollinators are most aflutter. (Since then, Ladew has extended its offer to the incoming 2nd grade classes this fall.)

In late November, a MICA professor who led an architectural ceramics tour of historic Bolton Hill building stock last summer, agreed to convene with Kimberly and me to discuss our request that he and his students guide some Mount Royal 2nd graders in designing and kiln-firing ceramic stepping stones for the garden.  At that meeting, he told us of observing nature on his grandfather’s farm during his growing up years in Canada.  Yes, he said, he and his students would be willing to shepherd such a project for Mount Royal students.

Now a financial partner has at long last come into view.  Under its Environmental Education Mini-Grant program, the CBT just announced its award of $5,000 (the maximum amount) to the Mt. Royal PTO project.  Another grant request of $5,000 from a different funder to defray the remaining project costs will be decided in May.

Before the grant award notice was received, two actions were taken last month. First was the “Sheet Mulching Event” to suppress the regrowth of the grass monoculture at the site.  (That windy day frustrated our efforts, but we prevailed.)

A week later the site prep was completed by adding a 3 in. layer of tanbark mulch as the permanent garden surface.  These actions addressed “O ye, of little faith” that kept arising in my mind.

The construction phase of the pollinator micro-habitat/garden classroom will begin early this month when Mount Royal Middle School art students start painting a design of their choosing onto the nearly 130 pickets of a fence to be constructed on Saturdays in May, plus a Little Library, also to be installed in the garden with pollinator plants, shrubs and sub-canopy trees.

On-going is work with Mount Royal’s 2nd-graders in designing and making the ceramic stepping stones.

The educational objectives for Mount Royal students are geared to STEM learning about the support offered by a micro-habitat for pollinators and other wildlife in watershed restoration; and a healthier cityscape.

The partners of this Mt. Royal PTO pollinator/garden classroom project who have helped allay our fears are Ladew Topiary Gardens, Mahan Rykiel Landscape Architects, MICA, the Creation Care Team of Memorial Episcopal Church, DW-GREEN Associates, my green infrastructure consulting firm, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust which sells Bay license plates to support its programs.

The CBT WAG request was declined, but one of its grant administrators encouraged us to apply again this September after re-tuning the application to better suit the reviewing style of the judges.


A state powered by the Sun: The Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative

A grassroots campaign, the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative is working to enact legislation to ensure that 50 percent of Maryland’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030. Check out the video below featuring our own Bishop Eugene Sutton.

Current law requires that Maryland’s utilities buy 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative drives a quicker transition from dirty fossil fuel electricity to clean renewable energy.

The campaign is building a growing coalition of community, labor, faith, and business groups that will create the support needed to pass this legislation in the 2018 Maryland General Assembly.

This goal of the campaign is to advance legislation that will accomplish four things:

  1. Expand renewable energy in Maryland to 50 percent by 2030.
  2. Fund clean energy businesses owned by women and people of color to ensure that this growing economy is inclusive.
  3. Create solar job training programs for Maryland residents by funding clean energy workforce development to establish career pathways for more Maryland workers to fill this growing industry.
  4. Phase out incentives for trash incineration in the Renewable Portfolio Standard to move Maryland closer toward being a state powered by the sun.

The So-What for Maryland:

Maryland is one of the most vulnerable states in the nation to the effects of sea-level rise and climate change. With more than 3,000 miles of coastline and 265,000 acres that are less than five feet above sea level, the effects of climate change could be dramatic in Maryland.

Maryland generates more than half of its electricity from fossil fuel sources. Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) produce most of our electricity and they produce the vast majority of carbon emissions by releasing toxic chemicals that pollute our air and water. Renewable energy generates electricity from sustainable sources like wind, solar and geothermal power with little or no pollution.

The good news is that the Maryland’s geography lends itself easily to renewable energy industries.

Start Today and Make a Difference!

  • Support the campaign – Signing the Pledge: Over 600 organizations in Maryland have endorsed the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative to date, including the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, other faith organizations and congregations. If your parish would like to sign, you can get a copy of the resolution here
  • Learn more about climate change here:
  • Switch to a clean energy supplier for your home, business or parish. Here’s everything you need to know. 
  • Know your carbon footprint by visiting our carbon footprint page

It doesn’t matter what the federal government does. In the end, it’s people making individual decisions (that make a difference): “I want to reduce my energy costs. I want to be more environmentally friendly. I want to spend my money on something else because I want my kids to breath cleaner air, or I want to drink purer water… MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

If you or your parish is interested in joining the initiative, please visit Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative for more information.