Caption:  Volunteers from Stevenson's Public History, Biology, and Environmental Science Programs join together at the Baxter Farm front porch before the BioBlitz.

In a unique effort aimed at creating a natural and cultural "biography" of a historic farm in southern Frederick County,  students from Stevenson University's School of Humanities and its School of the Sciences recently engaged in a "life" inventory of the 6 1/2 acre Baxter Farm.   Leaving Owings Mills in the dark, many of the volunteers braved a chilly morning to head west to Frederick, eat breakfast, and be ready to start their effort at 9:00 AM.  A second shift of volunteers arrived in the afternoon and continued the survey until approximately 3:30.  By the end of the day, over 40 volunteers had made nearly 750 observations, and had identified over 160 species.


Caption: Individual observations (photos of living things) are clustered over a Google map of Baxter Farm.  This is made possible by the iNaturalist smartphone app. (Photo reproduced from the iNaturalist Baxter Farm Project web site.)

The idea of the "BioBlitz" was pioneered by the National Park Service as a way of engaging the public in surveying all of the living things within a specified area in a 24 hour period.  Since the first time the method was used in 1996, nearly 100,000 community members have participated in a BioBlitz event and have identified over 7,000 species. 

Caption:  A team of Stevenson volunteers search the intersection of farm field and pasture to find out what species find that environment particularly attractive.

The BioBlitz at Baxter Farm had as its focus accomplishing an inventory of plants and animals on the farm’s property.  The inventory, largely conducted using smartphone technology and crowdsourcing, is crucial to understanding the natural history of the farm’s past as well as its current position in the landscape.  Stevenson’s event was open to the public and was a service learning opportunity for Stevenson’s students in support of the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s historic property Resident Curatorship program.  

Caption: Smartphone technology allows participants to capture observations and upload them to an international database.  Unidentified observations can be crowdsourced for expert identifications.

The BioBlitz at Baxter Farm came about because Stevenson’s Public History Program has been engaged in an intensive study of the 6 ½ acre historic farm for nearly a year and has tied the farm and its residents to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War of Texas Independence, the Civil War, and WWI.  With ties to land speculation, Westward expansion, disruption of Native American culture, slavery, and agricultural change, the farm—which traces its history to 1721-- is indicative of agricultural life in the small farming community of southern Frederick County in the 18th-20th centuries. 

Caption: Maize, a crop with roots deep in the history of Native Americans, was grown on the farm as a staple crop as reflected in the 1850 US Census Agricultural Schedule for the farm.

The "biography of place" concept, as developed by Stevenson University's Public History Program, presupposes that human behavior is often associated with natural environment.  The question of why humans originally came to the Monocacy Valley is tied to soil, fresh water, food, shelter, the limestone prevalent throughout the region, forested uplands, and transportation.  All of those factors were also attractive to the European settlers in the 1700-1800s.  While many of those characteristics are today heavily affected by technology, in the past they were entirely a product of nature.  Hence, to discover the natural past of an area is to begin to understand its attractiveness to humans.  The BioBlitz is part of our attempt to examine the man-land relationship in southern Frederick County.  How did nature affect our lives as well as how have our lives affected nature? 

Caption: As in all activities, situational awareness and safety are important components.  Neon vests are a necessity during bow hunting season.

The BioBlitz at Baxter Farm is a crucial example of the importance of interdisciplinary research in the 21st century.  No longer can a single discipline claim ownership of anything with wide application to the public.  Instead, teams of disciplinary experts work together to interpret research results in a holistic fashion across multiple disciplines.  Stevenson University provides multiple opportunities for its students to engage in those interdisciplinary teams.  What could be a better experience than the one above?  Interdisciplinary, experiential, tied directly to classroom learning, and performed in service to the community.  An authentic experience.

Unless otherwise noted, the photos in this week's blog were provided by SU student Mark Moody.  Thank you, Mark.  What would we do without you?