Avalon’s Weekend Marquee Update

Editor’s Note: Each week, the Talbot Spy will be sharing with our readers the MCTV produced Weekend Marquee with Tim Weigand as host. We hope you enjoy this short two minute preview of what’s coming up over the next few days. 

Superman is Not Coming by Al Sikes

“No Child Left Behind” was first and then followed by “Race to the Top.” The top of what? How about the top of nothing. Oh I know, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama had grand hopes—they proved to be utopian.

In 1999, I started (with very talented collaborators) the Reading Excellence and Discovery Foundation (READ), a New York City-based organization that teaches young children to read using accomplished teenagers from their same neighborhoods to tutor them. READ provides most of the teenager tutors their first job.

READ is now Read Alliance and is led by an extraordinarily capable leader, Kelley Perkins. It began experimentally in two schools; it is now in 40 schools throughout New York City.

Kelley and I sat down last week and talked about where we started, where we are, and what we have learned. We spent most of our time talking about what we have learned and a promising new partnership with New York University (NYU) and Dr. Susan Neuman, Professor of Childhood and Literacy Education. By the end of the conversation, I was angry, and perhaps Kelley was as well.

Kelley said, very simply, that if we don’t work on a child’s emotional and social well-being as well as his/her reading skills, the chances of graduating accomplished students in low-income neighborhoods are frustratingly small. Certainly, many parents are ill-equipped to guide their child through educational and social challenges in school. Perhaps this is not a politically correct conclusion, but it is true.

President George W. Bush said it was unacceptable to leave children behind—he called the failure a form of bigotry and his educational initiative was “No Child Left Behind.” President Obama reflected the same attitude in his major education initiative called “Race to the Top.” Both programs were revealing, not in what they accomplished, but in their failure.

While there has undoubtedly been some progress, I know that it is true with READ, overall America lags internationally and especially in the low-income neighborhoods. A statistical profile is not needed to prove the point.

The nagging question is are we at the early stages of the reality of two Americas or at the beginning of doing something about it?

I was fortunate; my Mother was an English teacher, and my Dad made sure I had some level of discipline in my life. If my parents had not led me, if I had grown up in a culture where many of the incentives were perverse, I would not be penning this article.

A generation plus ago we frequently said in setting some goal of improving society, “if we can put a man on the moon” we can (you fill in the blank). Shame on our leadership for not understanding how relatively simple it is to put a man on the moon.

As it became clear what a difficult challenge America faced in giving underserved children a fighting chance, some good things began to happen. Some level of school choice was offered, although as “Waiting for Superman” dramatized, in reality, there is far too little choice. Also, the not-for-profit sector began to initiate complementary efforts.

I went to public school in a small rural Southeast Missouri town. Today families with economic means often choose a private school option. My parents made certain my teachers had my undivided attention, and when they didn’t have it, Mom was their de facto teacher’s assistant. Indeed, if we need more proof of the importance of the family setting, look no further than the number of accomplished children that are home-schooled.

Undoubtedly we need a new national goal, but as a society, we need to understand that a new set of government programs, regardless at what level, is not enough. We need to work on the emotional and social well-being of children as well. Kelley Perkins, in partnership with NYU, is working to find the right mix. Adam Green, the founder of Rocking the Boat, is working on the right mix in the Bronx and is showing measurable success.

But, let’s understand two things about time and how it works or doesn’t in the life of a child.

First, and most importantly, a child only knows today and the few days in their life that preceded it. They cannot look back or forward for wisdom. They will either get educated now or run a high risk of failing in life. So, while adults debate about what to do, kids are often the unintended victims of the default setting, the status quo.

We must also understand that a para-normal event is not going to happen. Superman is not going to fly in and make 2017 and the years that follow just fine.

We spent an enormous amount of money in intense research and development over a long period of time to get to the moon. We met a national goal and Americans greeted the moon landing with enormous pride.

Improving the chances for the children in the America where promise is often unattended by effective action will take much more. Thankfully there are leaders whose daily motivation is not to maintain the status quo, but to create a revolution. Nothing short of a societal revolution will assure that no child is left behind. Ask what you can do!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Out and About (Sort of): Major Events Still Resonate by Howard Freedlander

Some anniversaries are better than others. We humans never want to forget the good and bad.

Tomorrow, we observe the 75th anniversary of the horrifically effective bombing of the American naval fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. This surprise attack resulted in 2,467 military personnel killed, 1,178 wounded, 19 ships sunk or damaged or destroyed and 376 aircraft destroyed or damaged. On Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan.

Born in 1945, I’ve learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor through the movies, books and newspaper articles. “Pearl Harbor” became synonymous for a deadly surprise and incredible human and capital destruction. It became a standard by which Americans determined military readiness. It was a rallying cry against complacency in the national security arena. It was a 20th century disaster.

Until September 11, 2001. What we know simply as “9/11.” More about a 21st catastrophe in a few paragraphs.

This is what I know about the effect of Pearl Harbor. It spawned a wellspring of hatred against the Japanese. It drove paranoia about Japanese-
Americans, some of whom on the West Coast were interned by the U.S. government. In my lifetime, I’ve sensed and experienced outright bias against Japan, as in a refusal on the part of many in the World War generation to purchase Japanese cars. The inhumane Bataan Death March did little to produce a favorable opinion of our wartime adversaries.

Time and rational thinking have dissolved bias against Japan. And so have the influx of superbly efficient and well-built Japanese cars, beginning more than 40 years ago. While I’ve heard derogatory comments about Japanese cars and other products from the World War II generation, I’ve generally ignored them. Quality won over many skeptics.

Now, Japan is a reliable ally. American and Japanese industries are closely entwined. The attack on Pearl Harbor is meaningless in our current thinking. It’s as if the Battle of Pearl Harbor is a distant, maybe irrelevant memory.
Of course, it was relevant. It awakened Americans to threats posed by countries in Southeast Asia. It broadened our geo-political and global thinking.

For the 21st century, nothing can match the horror of the terrorist attack on United States territory on September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost from airplanes striking the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in northern Virginia and a crash in Shanksville, PA.
More than lives were lost. So was our sense of security. Our homeland was attacked with unimaginable efficiency and viciousness.

Though 15 years have passed since the shocking attacks on 9/11, the heartache and fear still exists. By necessity, our nation and its culture changed. Airports, equipped with strenuous and time-consuming security, precludes—but not altogether– the formerly typical mad dashes through airports by late-arriving passengers. Office buildings, both private and government, often seem like fortresses. Understandably so.

Many of us knew family and friends who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This brazen act of terrorism personally affected thousands and thousands of people in its aftermath. I lost a college friend and lacrosse teammate who worked for an investment firm, Sandler O’Neill, located in the second tower hit by a hijacked American aircraft. His family is still scarred. The hurt will never vanish.

Some might argue all anniversaries are beneficial and worth celebrating—if only to remind all of us of the destruction imposed by well-trained Japanese bomber pilots and the terrorism executed so dastardly by the fanatical Al Qaeda pilots on a September morning. I would agree.

As we enter a joyous holiday season, we shouldn’t forget the dark side of humanity and our chaotic world. “Pearl Harbor” and “9/11” remind us that we must live smartly and carefully—while still fully embracing the abundant goodness and grace that pervade our lives.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Building Kids by Building Boats: Take the Helm Begins

It was on the banks of the Bronx River in 2014, sandwiched between a massive recycling facility and of one of the largest food distribution facilities in the world, Talbot County community leaders Al and Marty Sikes and Richard Marks and Amy Haines discovered Adam Green and his not-for-profit organization Rocking the Boat. Focused on empowering young people from the South Bronx to develop self-confidence, at Rocking the Boat, students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways, revitalizing their community while creating better lives for themselves. Their motto, kids don’t just build boats at Rocking the Boat, boats build kids.


screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-9-16-51-amWondering if a similar program could be introduced in our community to benefit high school students here, Al Sikes invited Adam to visit and meet with other leaders of youth serving organizations. Encouraged by Adam’s response after visiting and YMCA of the Chesapeake’s offer to provide space and support, an advisory board was formed that included key personnel from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Talbot Mentors and Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy. The name Take the Helm was chosen and Robbie Gill, the CEO of the Y, organized a bus trip for members of the new advisory board, staff from the YMCA and a few students to see the program in the Bronx firsthand. Rocking the Boat Founder and Director Adam Green, retained as a consultant to Take The Helm, spoke about the new program in Talbot County. “ I’ve hosted plenty of people from different communities over the years hoping to create a program similar to our Program in the Bronx, Al and Richard and the team they’ve assembled in Talbot County is first class and I have no doubt, they’ll find success”.

Take the Helm is a boat-building program designed to engage high-school students in a hands-on, skill based enrichment program that utilizes the art of wooden boat building to strengthen student’s self-confidence, sense of community and teamwork, and to empower them to achieve their dreams. Take the Helm participants will build wooden boats from the ground up that will help them develop a range of technical skills that are highly transferable to both the academic and working worlds. From studying building plans to assembling, building and launching the boats into local waters, students will learn the ins and outs of wooden boat screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-9-17-01-ambuilding in a working, team environment.

While boat-building lies at the core of the program, it is also used as a vehicle to enhance the personal and professional lives of these students. Participants will climb a ladder of increasing responsibility and learn about current and future opportunities, including college and career paths; gain access to social and academic services; and both set and accomplish personal and educational goals.

Located at the Easton Family YMCA, The program will be open to all high school students (grades 9-12) in the Talbot County area, whether they are a YMCA member or not. The program will launch the week of January 9, 2017 and will run as an after school program. The program is free for all participants.

To learn more about Take the Helm and how to get involved, contact Adam Hollis at 410-822-0566 or email at ahollis@ymcachesapeake.org

Catching Up with the St. Michaels Community Center

It seems like every year around this time the St. Michaels Community Center has to go through the rather difficult exercise of reminding the community they serve what they do when seeking annual support. This is not because they do so little but because every year this unique nonprofit helps so many in so many different ways that it is hard to keep it all straight.

For twelve months a year, the Community Center does dozens of programs for kids, for families, for seniors and those seeking food. They also run the community garden, a music program, and sponsor town public concerts. Add free dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and you get a better picture of the depth and range of this charity.

The Spy caught up with the St. Michaels Community Center director Trish Payne, and youth program director Pam Phillips to talk about these programs, hear about the organization’s building plans, and the need for a few angels in town to make that happen.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the St. Michaels Community Center go here

ESLC “Food Fight” Transcript: Woodberry Kitchen’s Spike Gjerde

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy hosted an all-day seminar cleverly entitled “Food Fight” to discuss issues related to our food supply in the Chesapeake Bay region. One of the more interesting people that the ESLC brought in that day was the renowned chef and owner of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, Spike Gjerde. Gjerde is a greatly respected foodie in the mid-Atlantic region, and the Spy was interested in his thoughts about the local state of food, sustainability, and hopes for the future is what and how we eat.  While the Spy recorded Spike’s comments that day, the acoustics in the room and the placement of the loudspeakers produced unacceptable audio quality and we therefore made a decision to transcribe his remarks instead.  They are presented here, lightly edited (with some omissions due to the poor audio quality/inaudibility).

I had made a commitment to purchase from local growers. And the only thing that ever separated me and what we did at Woodberry is that I stuck with it. And the only thing that allowed me to stick with it is I came over time to understand why it was important. That’s it.

Farm to table came along … and became a trend and everybody put a pitchfork up in the corner of their restaurant … but we were first. … Over time, talking to writers, reading what I could read, talking to folks… I started to understand why this was important. And I started to ask a little more from the food I was serving our guests.

Spike Gjerde at ESLC Food Fight

Spike Gjerde at ESLC Food Fight

As chefs, for a long time, for years and years, we talked about how delicious food is. And among ourselves we talked about how cheap it needs to be. That was the sum total of our conversation about our food as chefs. And I was one of those guys for a long time. It took me a long time to understand that I could do it and why it was important.

Chefs are forever going to talk about making delicious food, how to make it delicious. I’m a chef and I can’t get away from that. I love serving delicious food to our guests. The other thing was how cheap could it be, how many pennies could we shave off what we were paying, and we would always talk about food cost. It’s an obsession and it’s how you’re able to make money and I get that.

But, I started to ask different questions about our food. After asking “is it delicious?” and “can we make the economic thing work?” I started asking “is it nutritious?” It’s astonishing to me that chefs don’t have much of a sense or care about how nutritious the food is they are feeding their guests. This started to mean a lot to me. The best example about that is we are moving our baking entirely to locally grown whole grains. That’s something taking us so far outside the norm of restaurants and the baking in this country but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. There are so many good reasons to do that, but health when it comes to grains, whole grains are the way to go. So, we’re trying to make our food healthier.

I think the most important question, what I truly started demanding of the food we served our guests, had to do with something that was entirely economic. I started understanding the role Woodberry is playing within our food system as an economic role. I’ve only come recently to understand that I stopped thinking like a chef, and started thinking about how much value can we return to others.

What I felt we needed to demand of our food is that farmers need good pay. If something we were putting on the table wasn’t paying farmers, it wasn’t good enough for us. And that is the definition of what good food is that I never heard before. And I never heard it in the context of a restaurant, or from a chef. That’s what took Woodberry from being a farm to table restaurant that could have ended up like any farm to table restaurant to what it is today.

In 2014 we returned 2.5 million dollars to our local agricultural alone. In 2015 we hit a couple speed bumps and returned 2.1 million to local agriculture. This isn’t total spending. This is the amount that went back to farmers. We measure it and talk about it because it’s important. Without these dollars, the small-scale farmers, the ones that grow produce, grains, all the meat and poultry, eggs, all the dairy, all the cheese, the salt, all of it, if those purchases are not returning value to growers, I won’t serve it. And that became our definition of what good food is.

One of the frustrations for me as I’ve talked about food with people about what they eat, people can’t speak or think clearly about food. (Spike Gjerde says to the audience: “you’re not them”). But, they’re out there. It’s hard to sit there and say to them: there’s nothing about that chicken sandwich you bought for lunch that’s good – not the bread, not the chicken itself, not the way it was cooked, not the way it got there, none of that. And, I think we’re making some amazing headway around these issues. I’m almost ready to close the circle and start thinking like a chef again. I don’t think I can do it unless I feel clear that everything we’re doing is returning value to growers. And ultimately we want to make meaningful, measureable change in our food system with the dollars we return to our agricultural economy.

I want to see small scale farmers that think about the things we’re thinking about in terms of our environment, our society, work, health. I want to see those guys stick around, get paid for what they do, get rewarded for what they do. …

We started out as one restaurant, we are going to add four… One of the things I’m proudest of is our coffee shops, which have soup, salads, cereal, it’s the same food we serve at Woodberry. Every last thing is from a little farm. …

We’re doing this in Baltimore. And I hope that someday, people can look to us to see how local food can happen, what it can mean to a community of eaters and farmers and growers that supply them, that people can look at Baltimore and say: it already happened there. …

I changed the menu to say: “We source from local farms.” Period! And I put in big letters, I just had to do it, I was fired up. That’s what our menu says now. I should have said it a long time ago, because the message needs to get out there. We’ve got to talk about this and push really, really hard if this is going to happen.

I’ve been told over and over again that what I do is not realistic for most people. I’ve heard it so often I almost started to believe it. … But, it’s happening in Baltimore. It may not be realistic, but it’s happening. And, we are going to go from 2.5 to past 3 million as we do things like this (picks up large can of tomatoes).

I got some tomatoes canned this year. … I would get these beautiful tomatoes and take them to universities and places and they looked at me like I brought uranium into their kitchens. They were like literally: “get that out of here.” They said they needed it canned, and at a certain price point, so we did it. … So, we got Maryland grown tomatoes in these cans with a lot of information, there’s too little transparency in our food system. So, farm of origin, harvest date, yield off of acres… and we paid our farmers five times the going rate of commodity tomatoes. And got em’ in a can. So now I’m a part-time chef, part-time tomato salesman!

I am here to tell you that amazing things can happen when you decide why it’s important. That’s one of the things that’s been lacking. For me, it’s the environment, it’s social, it’s cultural, it’s about soil and soil fertility, it’s about biodiversity, there’s a million good reasons to be doing this. I can’t choose just one. …

We love what we have here. Had I foreseen what we wanted to do… I couldn’t have picked a better place [than the Chesapeake Bay region] to try to do this with food. To work with great people in the restaurant and on the farms around us, in a region that has the Chesapeake for fish and shellfish, that has incredible farmland and growers that work the land. There’s no limit. I would love for us to be able to show the world what’s possible here. … Thank you guys for your attention.

For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy please go here. For Woodberry Kitchen, please click here.

Recording Easton and Beyond at Sweetfoot Studios

At first glance, Easton fits neatly into the iconic idea of small town America. Its main street’s architecture is welcoming and pleasing to the eye. You know all the shops well and perhaps the shop owners—you may even have gone to school with one of them or your kids are in school together. There’s a unique sense of camaraderie that comes from living among a lesser populous, of shared experiences and shared sorrows.

As typical as Easton is, it is also a town that holds surprises beneath its proverbial hat. In the nooks and crannies, one can find a culture that seems more suited to a big city, or at least, a bigger town.

I found myself in one of these crannies recently and to my surprise—and honestly delight—it was in the form of a full-scale recording studio located in downtown Easton.

Now I already knew—as most Eastontonians do—that our little berg has a great artistic community; there are talented musicians, gifted artists and writers. But, little did I know that one of these artists came together with a friend, and fellow musician, to open a recording studio called Sweetfoot Studios.

“Sweetfoot Studios was founded in April of 2012,” says Shea Springer, the studio’s owner and operator. “It was originally run by me and Kentavius Jones. We conceived it as kind of a joint project space.”

But as time passed, Springer was spending more time there, taking on much of the work that came in the door. At the same time, Jones was finding other projects that were taking his attention and time away from the studio. So it was that four years ago, they mutually agreed that Springer would take the reigns and be the sole manager of Sweetfoot Studios.

“I do a range of work here,” Springer goes on to say. “From full band recording; to singer-songwriter work where people bring me just a demo and I’ll help them put together a band of session musicians. I do a lot of live, location recording, where I’ll go and record concerts; and then I have people come to me to do voice over for video or soundtracks for movies.”

Over the course of Sweetfoot’s life, it has influenced young, burgeoning musicians, too. A few years ago, Springer and friend, Mike Elzey got together and formed a sort of music camp for area young people.

Elzey is a guitar instructor based in Cambridge with a studio in Easton, and after meeting Springer thought it might be a good idea to bring in some of his students to see the studio, so they could see all the steps that are involved in recording an album. “I thought Shea would be a great mentor for the kids,” Elzey explains. “So we arranged for a tour of the studio.”

Not long after the tour, Elzey and Springer teamed up and began meeting with the kids once a week. “The students would come in and they would learn how to play together as a band,” Springer says. “At the end they got together and recorded a song or two.” Out of that camp was born a few area bands that still play together today.

Springer grew up here, and as such, felt the weight of small town living. “In middle school and high school there wasn’t anywhere for kids my age to go,” he explains. “It was a constant source of lament for us.”

However, he and some of his friends found an outlet in a local music store that hosted concerts in the store. “That’s where everybody went when we were in high school,” he goes on to say. Around the same time a coffee shop in Easton began hosting open mic nights—creating another outlet for he and his friends to express their creative sides.

“Those two places made a huge impact on me and everybody my age who plays music today,” says Springer. “That is something that sticks in my mind and makes me want to contribute back into the community now that I am in a position to do so.”

Catching up with Talbot County Planning with Mary Kay Verdery

One of the more important outcomes that came with Talbot County’s efforts to update its 2005 Comprehensive Plan was the need for much more public input in the process. While the end result with the Comp Plan did eventually achieve general consensus, it was only after there had been significant community pushback to some suggested changes and concern about public’s limited involvement in the document’s revisions. As a result, everyone from County Council members to local citizens all agreed that there should be far greater opportunities for input.

And one group that has taken this recommendation very seriously has been the County’s Planning and Zoning staff. And as they begin to tackle another big job over the next few months to update the county’s zoning ordinances, they have moved aggressively to develop new ways to reach out to the community to seek their active engagement.

The Talbot Spy spoke a few weeks ago with Mary Kay Verdery, one of Talbot County’s planning officers, about these new initiatives, as well as the county’s recent, and very success, efforts to prepare for the development of solar panel farms, staff concerns on certain aspects of the Port Street Master Plan, and moving forward with “working waterfront” planning.

Mary Kay also talks about the County’s new initiative, called NextStep 190, referring to the update of chapter 190 the Talbot County code.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Next Step 190, please go here

Spy Recovery Urgent Message for Mid-Shore Heroin Addicts

With the news that the Talbot County Narcotics Task Force seized the largest heroin bust in county history this week, it is very likely than many of the estimated 400 to 600 active heroin users on the Mid-Shore will be facing a major shortage of the drug’s supply.  For those addicted to the substance, the anticipation of the shortage will undoubtedly cause severe and life threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The Spy and the Mid-Shore Recovery Community want to alert those individuals that it may be an ideal time to seek treatment for their addiction rather than face a painful withdrawal process. We are recommending that they contact Chesapeake Treatment Center in Easton as a starting point.

The CTS is a clinic located just off our Route 50 dedicated to the recovery of individuals struggling with opioid addiction. You can start the process for treatment here

We would also remind those suffering from addiction to go here to see a summary of resources on the Mid-Shore.


Chestertown, Camus and Otherness with Alice Kaplan

If it were not for the fact that Chestertown’s very own James M. Cain had penned The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934, Albert Camus’s classic novel, L’Étranger (The Stranger), would never have been written. That is one of the conclusions that Alice Kaplan, professor and former chair of the Department of French at Yale University, shared with Washington College students earlier this week during her brief stay on the Mid-Shore.

And also one of many insights that Kaplan provides in her latest book, Looking for The Stranger, on Camus, and the power and influence the novel has had on generations of young people around the world since it was published in 1942.

The novel tells the story of Meursault, an indifferent and remote French Algerian, who returns home to attend his mother’s funeral, only to find himself a few days later killing an Arab man during an unanticipated fight with a friend. The main character is then placed on trial, where he is regarded as a dangerous stranger to society, not becuae of his crime, but due to his perceived lack of grief over his mother’s passing.

While there has been an ongoing academic debate about Camus’ philosophy of the absurd with The Stranger, what Kaplan zeros in on is the intentional lack of interest or compassion Camus provides for the dead Arab, by never giving him a name nor a personal history. It is this sense of “otherness” that holds such a contemporary interest for her, even seventy-four years since it was published, as American politics and policies must deal directly with issues related to outsiders.

The Spy sat down with Professor Kaplan at the Custom House in Chestertown this week to discuss Albert Camus, The Stranger, and the true meaning of being on the outside.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Alice Kaplan’s book can be found at local bookstores or on Amazon here