Learning to bait the hook, part of the art of cane pole fishing. Source: SEEC.

Last week, I told you about discovering Turner’s Creek Park during the 2020 spring COVID-19 shutdown. This spring, I revisited the park and discovered another and different entity that I also knew nothing about–the Sassafras Environmental Education Center (SEEC), which turned out to be a real eye-opener.

SEEC is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “provide sequential, annual outdoor educational experiences for every student in Kent County.” Think about that–every student in Kent County–just under 2,000 students. At this time, the goals are being pursued by three dedicated young employees and far too few volunteers. The SEEC office is in the Knock’s Folly house, but you will seldom find employees or volunteers there–their work is done outdoors.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat on the porch of Knock’s Folly with the staff to find out more about SEEC and to tour their projects. Some of the information they provided me with was shocking, but emphasized the need for a program of this type.

Just a few quick facts I hope will get your attention:
– 55% of students in Kent County Public Schools are eligible for
free/reduced price meals.
– 40% of the county households are below the federal poverty level–the second highest percentage on the Eastern Shore.
– 26% of youths under the age of five are in poverty in the county.

In addition to working with the school system, SEEC partners with local organizations to provide programming to underserved populations, such as homeless shelters and children of incarcerated parents. By providing outdoor environmental education to these groups, they strive to instill a sense of place and the knowledge that nature does not discriminate. Kids from these organizations can bring the total number of students to 3,000 or more.

These are lofty goals full of big words, but how does it really work? Last year, it didn’t–COVID-19 shut the entire operation down. Think about your yard and if it were left unattended for a year. Remember, three or four employees without volunteers and hundreds of student helpers over the course of a summer can’t accomplish much.

This will be a catch-up year. The school system has approved visits to SEEC, and its projects begin soon.

There is a lot to learn about SEEC. I feel as though I have just scratched the surface, so come along with me and let’s learn together. From what I have learned, the two most obvious projects are the “garden” and, to support the garden, a composting program.

The garden in spring preparation. Source: SEEC.

The garden is a two-for-one undertaking. First, its purpose is to teach students about working with nature–planting, tending and growing organic vegetables. I would guess many students have never seen anything grow from a seed to a producing plant. Most have never pulled a carrot from the ground or picked a green bean. How about those McDonald’s French fries? Do they know potatoes grow underground?

There’s a solar-powered well for watering and compost to aid growth. The end result is the harvest, which goes to support the local food pantry.

By the way, the garden is open to individuals who want to have their own garden plot, but may not have a place for one at their home. You can contact SEEC for information–410-348-5214, or visit their website–Sassafras Environmental Education Center: SEEC–also a good place to find out about SEEC’s volunteer program. They could use your help.

The composting program is also interesting and an environmentally positive project. Food waste is being collected from local restaurants such as Molly’s and Barbara’s on the Bay. Washington College is also planning to join the program. There is a large concrete slab that was once the floor of a long-ago milking shed. This area is perfect for mixing the food waste with other organic materials to let it all decompose. Again two-for-one–less material going to the landfill, and, instead, becoming nutrient-rich soil for the garden.

The fun of discovering a fallen birch. Source: SEEC.

SEEC is not all work. Students also hike, fish, and canoe while learning about the environment.

So far, I have made an attempt at describing Turner’s Creek Park and only a bit about SEEC. There will be more to come on both, and I haven’t even touched on the Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area–another 12,000 acres yet to explore.

Things are looking up, but please, continue to play by the rules.

Bill Minus is a storyteller who lives in Chestertown and writes about observations and memories.