If you want to learn about colonial era plantations, visit a centuries-old mansion or listen to American history as told by a man dressed in tall stockings and a cap, you are not without options in the Chesapeake Bay region.
But, if you want that colonial farmer to tell you why you shouldn't waste your food — “How will you make it through the winter?” — consider an upcoming event being presented by the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park.
For several months now, the small nonprofit that manages 200 acres along the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, MD, has been quietly rebranding its approach to the past so that it can instruct visitors to live more sustainably in the present. They call it “green history,” explained Andrea Jones, director of programs and visitor experience, during a recent visit to the foundation’s farm.
This new approach to liven up history will be on full display at the foundation’s second annual Food for Thought Festival 12-5 p.m. Sept. 26, which will bring national and local speakers to the farm to tackle an issue that has ballooned in Jones’ lifetime: food waste.
Americans living in the colonial era, Jones said, wouldn’t have wasted their food. “The Boltons would have valued every morsel of food, because it’s survival,” said Jones, who has seen food waste in this country increase by 50 percent in her lifetime. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how recent a problem it is.”
This week, food waste reduction got a boon when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first ever national target for food waste — to reduce it by 50 percent by the year 2030.
"It’s always 1770 at the farm,” so the fictitious Bolton family that lives there (played by historical interpreters) doesn’t talk about the Revolutionary War. This month, they’re talking to visitors about drying apples in the sun and beans on strings to get them through the winter. Last month it was equitable farm labor and, the month before, soil quality.
“The Boltons would have valued every morsel of food, because it’s survival,” said Jones, who has seen food waste in this country increase by 50 percent in her lifetime. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how recent a problem it is.”
The foundation was started more than 50 years ago to preserve from development the land located across the river from George Washington’s Mount Vernon from development — because Washington didn’t look at condos so visitors to his home shouldn’t either. The land trust has broadened its charge to consider how it might help visitors consider the past’s influence on their present day actions.
Food waste is a key example.
During a preview of the upcoming event, I visited a compost station set up between the visitor’s center and the back-in-time farm. There, I was asked to decide whether I’d toss, compost or reuse expired food items, earning points for the most sustainable decisions. I could then hop on a bike that helped turn an attached compost bin, hastening the rate that my banana peels and apple cores would turn back into soil.
At the colonial farm, we met up with Mr. and Mrs. Bolton, who were turning the farm’s sweet potatoes, pawpaws and apples into preserved products for the winter.
“Even though it’s hard not to sit down and eat them in one sitting,” said Mr. Bolton — portrayed by Paul Lovelace, who plays the role of Mr. Bolton and manages the foundation’s National Colonial Farm, said in character. “I know that I’ll thank myself this winter.”
He said the same of the dried sweet potato coins and green beans that will be added to soups in the winter. The pair explained how they use nearly everything they grow and find on the land, with the exception of the thin pawpaw skins that they compost because the pigs don’t seem to like them.
“It’s a shame that there could be need amid the bounty,” Lovelace said in his character accent, alluding to the modern day dichotomy of hunger and food waste that will be one of the subjects up for discussion at the upcoming event.
Along with thought provoking speeches and food preservation demos from the Boltons, the Food for Thought Festival will include games for children, workshops and a panel discussion focused on food waste and recovery.
The panel will include the author of “American Wasteland,” Jonathan Bloom; DC Central Kitchen’s chief development officer Alexander Justice Moore; and a local woman named Mary Louise Webb who, at 90 years old, has been preserving food for generations, among others.
Learn more about the event, which is $5 for adults and free for children, visit accokeekfoundation.org.