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Orchard Point Oyster Company founder Scott Budden, right, and members of his team at work on the Chester River.

Maryland Farm and Harvest

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Imani Black working to involve Minorities in Aquaculture

CAMBRIDGE — While African Americans have a long and rich history in the evolution of the Chesapeake Bay’s seafood industry, most of their stories, hardships, and accomplishments were scarcely recorded by white society. Queen Anne's County native Imani Black is working to change that narrative.

A graduate of Queen Anne's County High School, Black received her four-year degree in Marine Biology from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Now she is working as a Faculty Research Assistant (FRA) at University of Maryland's Environmental Science Center's Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, MD. Since May of 2020, Black has been primarily working on her nonprofit Minorities In Aquaculture (MIA), an organization dedicated to bringing more women specifically African American women into the male dominated field of aquaculture. Now in addition to running the organization, in Fall 2021, she will be starting the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences Graduate Program also at Horn Point.

To say Black is immersed in her task would be an understatement. She is incredibly passionate about her field and continually strives to learn as many facets of the aquaculture industry as she can.

When Black first began this journey, she said she didn't know it would look quite like this. Using the skills she has acquired she is using her connections and relationships within the aquaculture industry to cultivate partnerships to aid in her mission to create hands on aquaculture programs, mentorships and internships opportunities for women of color to promote diversity and inclusion as an essential to this industry.

“We believe that by educating minority women about the restorative and sustainability benefits provided by local and global aquaculture, we can create a more diverse, inclusive aquaculture industry,” Black said.

Black’s journey in the field began as an intern at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s oyster restoration program. While interning at CBF, she found her passion, realizing she loved oyster restoration. Black knew she wanted to pursue a career that allowed her to work on the water. The spring semester of her senior year at ODU, Black completed Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Oyster Aquaculture Training Program (OAT) which is a six-month hands-on program about the various stages of shellfish production and Virginia's seafood industry. This program was the true kickstart to her career in shellfish aquaculture. Over her career, Black has worked for oyster hatcheries and farms along the eastern shores of Virginia and Maryland. From 2018 to May of 2020 she was the Assistant Hatchery Manager for the Hoopers Island Oyster Company's (HIOC) hatchery facility and assisted with their nursery and farm as well during peak seasons.

Oyster farming is Black's niche — Her organization Minorities In Aquaculture (MIA)'s mission is to identify, mentor and support other women of color that are interested in the commercial aquaculture industry — so far she may be the only identified active African American female oyster farmer from Maryland to Texas, and she doesn't take that lightly.

Black's interests are vast and multidimensional. In college, she began studying tropical biology specifically working with sea urchins. Recently, in her quest to learn all facets of the aquaculture industry, Black journeyed to Hudson, NY where she interned for Hudson Valley Fish Farms, the largest steelhead fish farm operation on the East Coast in preparation for the proposed salmon farm coming to Caroline County. Black said, "It's not only important to me to be knowledgeable and understand the various facets of commercial aquaculture, but the salmon farm has the ability to present numerous opportunities for minorities. I never want to limited my organization's efforts or reach based on my own experiences and career path. MIA is space for women to step into door of this field and have the opportunity to explore something different whiling have support and resources to cultivate success in aquaculture on their own terms." “There are a lot of possibilities out there – the sky is the limit on the spaces that minorities can impact and contribute to. I want to be knowledgeable of the many opportunities for us in different sectors,” she said.

Black said having grown up in a coastal community and having her family but especially her father who is really into fishing in addition to friends who boated help lead to her marine interest. “In third grade I went to a marine science camp at Horn Point, and knew that's what I wanted to do,” Black said. In college she thought her focus would be tropical biology, but her internship in Virginia solidified her love for the bay. “That group of bosses, leaders — all women — who were really knowledgeable of oysters and bay restoration,” are what affirmed Black's belief this is exactly what she was meant to do and where she could do the most good for the environment.

Her main focus is now continuing to grow her organization by connecting with her local community and younger women of color to expose them to aquaculture, oyster farming specifically — which is so critical to the bay — not only as a sector of revenue, but also to the replenishment of wild oyster population, Black said.

I'm just trying to create an empowering and supportive space so black students can have the opportunity to explore this area and know that aquaculture and working on the Bay is a possible career choice , she said. In marine science, especially in aquaculture there is very limited presence of people of color in most sectors.

Giving kids options is a great thing, Black said, it is a misfortune to allow 17-year-olds to decide their whole life at that age, without knowing fully what their choices are. Black credits having to navigate through the Division 1 lacrosse recruiting process with giving her opportunities she would not have otherwise been offered and is supportive of giving high school and even younger students education of trades and different industries early on, with representation and role models of other people of color in those fields.

Black's nonprofit Minorities in Aquaculture was inspired by other organizations also striving to bring diversity into their respected areas of marine sciences. Organizations like Minorities in Shark Science, Black by Nature, Blacks in Marine Sciences, Outdoor Afro and many more she said, have encouraged her to take affirmative action to close that gap in her field.

“I'm honored to be able to participate [in closing the gap], and I have this sense of responsibility to not only be an educator, but also the biggest advocate and protector of this space,” Black said, “I don't want diversity and inclusion to be just buzzwords anymore. The issue of diversity in environmental/marine spaces has been a topic of discussion for decades and yet, there are still fields and opportunities that lack diversity and minority presence. The environment and our efforts to persevere, conserve and restore it are far too important for all members of our community, regardless of race not to be involved. I want it to be real in practice, not something we keep discussing but something we're actively trying to correct. ”

The field isn't limited to only the scientific aspect, but also needs people who are good at consulting and building hatcheries, or oyster cages, or even marketing — things that are needed to push shellfish growth forward in this era, she said.

Black spoke appreciatively of the faculty of UMCES's Horn Point Laboratory. Her advisor Dr. Matt Gray, President Mike Roman, Alyssa O'prey (Hatchery Manager of the Shellfish Aquaculture Innovation Lab (SAIL)) and other faculty members, have been incredibly supportive of the nonprofit and have made a space for her organization, and have been very open to exploring programs to incorporate Black's ideas into future projects for minority students.

Next on the horizon, Black is pursuing her captain's license. She recently learned from Admiral Vince Leggett and Captain Lamont Wright there are only ten African American active boat captains on the Chesapeake Bay, ranging from 50 to 93 years of age. When she acquires her license that will likely make her the youngest African American captain on the bay in present time.

Some students return to school in-person, many for the first time since last March

CENTREVILLE — Students returned Tuesday to schools in Queen Anne’s County — many of them for the first time since March of last year. Everyone was excited to see students back in the building, Superintendent Andrea Kane said.

Teachers were prepared and students were a little sleepy getting into the new routine, Kane said, but transportation flowed well and so did food services. About 70 percent of over 5100 students made the return, although Kane noted, 20 percent of those whose parents indicated they would be participating in-person did not attend.

In a briefing to the Board of Education Wednesday evening, Kane said lunches to take home are available to every student that wants one and that cost is to be reimbursed through the federal program.

We do ask parents to call in if their student is not showing in-person, so the teacher can look for that child on line as they are teaching both online and in-person at same time., Kane said, and she reported they had been able to keep most students with their same teacher and continue to coordinate in as much as possible with principals to ensure that is the case.

Staffing has been adjusted to fill those gaps where there might be coverage needed, but there is still a need for substitutes, she said. And while in some instances, such as Sudlersville teachers have made accommodations to allow students to have a full-day experience by eating lunch in class with the teacher, that is a gracious act by faculty and a reflection on the student body size.

With the question of returning students to a full seven hours of instruction part of the issue still revolves around lunch, as teachers are required to have a duty-free lunch and planning period. To provide a lunch aide at certain schools, it is an added expense, Kane said. She has tasked principals with examining solutions and they are still working to look for creative solutions, she said, there may be schools where it is just not feasible.

It would be ideal, said board member Michele Morrissette, if the state would lift social distancing restrictions and leave mask guidance in place. That would make it much easier. Kane had said she will update the board if and when solutions present themselves.

Amy's Army sends love and sweet treats to seniors for Valentine's

CENTREVILLE — Amy’s Army, created in the memory of the late Amy Stoops Rhodes, 30, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage just a few days after her wedding, October 10, 2015, and died Christmas Eve 2015, has continued to live up to the memory of Amy’s life and her passion for loving those she served and cared for. Last month, the organization of just over 20 members, decided to tackle raising the spirits of individuals who have possibly suffered most during the pandemic over the past year — seniors living at long term facilities. Those cut off from family members and grandchildren they’d love to see and give hugs to.

Event organizer Melissa Dodd credited board member Staci Ostrowski with the idea of doing this for seniors. The group decided to make those seniors in such facilities Valentine’s Day truly special, delivering special items they asked the community to donate. Those items included snacks, sweets, Valentine’s Day cards, fragrant body wash and lotions, throw blankets, non-slip socks, simple bird feeders to be placed outside their windows, word search and puzzle books, and nail polish.

“The response from the community has been amazing!” said Dodd. “We’re truly grateful for what was donated. This group of seniors have been facing loneliness like I can’t imagine.”

The response was so great, Amy’s Army was able to add another senior care location to their list. The plan was to provide these items to seniors at Peake Healthcare at the Pines in Easton, and Corsica Senior Center in Centreville. The donations surpassed that plan, and Autumn Lakes Healthcare in Chestertown was added. The donations were presented to the activities directors at each location prior to Valentine’s Day.

A letter to the residents accompanied the gifts, stating “First and foremost, on behalf of Amy’s Army and our entire community, we want to thank each of you — the residents, for enduring the challenges and loneliness of 2020 and 2021.” The letter also thanked the care workers and support staff.

The letter continued, “We know the past few months have seemed endless, and have left so many of us with heavy hearts. However, we have also witnessed the magic that can happen when people are brought together to overcome these challenges. . . In that spirit of community, perseverance, and giving, the idea to “Share a Smile with a Senior” was born. We hope that these items bring many smiles, a glimmer of hope, and the promise of a much better year to come.”

Dodd indicated some donations have been mailed and probably will arrive late. She wants to assure everyone who has contributed that their donations will still go to the facilities where they were intended, and enjoyed by the seniors, late or not.

Ostrowski added, “This event came together as a way to that we could provide light to what has otherwise been a dark series of months for many, especially in our long term facilities.”

Several groups made noteworthy donations including students from local elementary schools who made over 500 Valentine’s Day cards. This effort was organized by local Queen Anne’s County Public Schools educator Megan Borga, whose grandmother, Irene Day is currently of the Corsica facility. Bridgetown United Methodist Church made donations in memory of the late Connie Shortall, aunt of Amy. Also, Shore Riders 4-H Club and Dream Riders 4-H Club, both donated a large numbers of sweet treats.

The employees at Dixon Valve in Chestertown contributed, and Ostrowski gave a special thanks to Callahan Gas, Inc., Queenstown Pizzeria, Eastern Shore Performance Center, and Doc’s Downtown Grille for serving as drop-off points for donations from the public.

The next sponsored activity for Amy’s Army is their annual Blood Drive, Sunday, March 7, at American Legion Post 296, inside their pavilion at 6200 Main Street, Queenstown, beginning at 10 a.m. Schedule an appointment online at https://donate.bbd.org/donor’schedules/drive_schedule/6262 or call 1-888-8-BLOOD-8 and use reference code “Army”.

Amy’s Army is a 100% volunteer fund component of Chesapeake Charities, Inc., a registered 501(c)3 charity, so donations are tax deductible. Financial donations can be made out to Amy’s Army, and mailed to P.O. Box 171, Queenstown, MD, 21658.

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