Did you know that getting back to nature can provide a spiritual experience?
Updated: May 23
Meet Donna Dear and Paulette Greene, owners of Mt. Pleasant Acres Farms
“Divine intervention,” says farm owners Donna Dear and Paulette Greene when it comes to their investment and acquisition of Mt. Pleasant Acres Farms in Caroline County. Tucked away in Preston, the farm and forestland they’ve been stewards of for decades has special meaning and significance beyond its natural beauty and bounty.
Each took a circuitous route to get here. Ohio native Dear served 27 years in the military from Vietnam to the first Gulf War, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major. Greene went from New York City onto graduate school at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC then to Alabama, only to end up living on Eastern Shore farmland right beside what was her great grandparents’ land.
From ages 4 to 10, Greene grew up running around the land that sits next to Mt. Pleasant and where a working garden and greenhouse are now in progress. The woods that lie behind that farmland is where she explored nature with her cousins, eating everything in sight that she could get her hands on and watching her cousins climb trees. This wooded wonderland and farm was a mystical place Greene never wanted to leave.
Dear is no stranger to farm life herself having grown up on a 300-acre farm in Ohio, where her family raised cattle and pigs and grew corn among other crops. After serving our country so bravely for so many years, it was getting back to this landscape and nature that she wanted most. Growing up in a time when “all the community raised the children” and in an “environment where black children mattered,” Dear and Greene seek to use Mt. Pleasant Acres Farms as a way to help today’s disenfranchised youth learn about nature, from forest to farmland.
Twenty-seven must be their lucky number, with Dear serving that many years in the military and their ownership of Mt. Pleasant spanning the same exact same number of years. Over that time, the farm went from an investment to creating a space for education and empowerment of youth, encouraging disenfranchised communities to get involved in environmental issues and activism.
Weekend gatherings at the farm allow everyone to enjoy an “agro-ecology experience,” as Greene puts it. When seeing how “disassociated from realities” so many children are nowadays, she knows Mt. Pleasant is desperately needed. Greene has always been connected to youth, whether as a key part of a community center in New York City where the legendary Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would visit, or as District Commissioner for the Boy Scouts during her time spent in Alabama.
Mt. Pleasant reaches beyond just disenfranchised children, providing the same sort of opportunity for collaboration, education and empowerment for the community. Working with Black Dirt Farm Collective, Greene and Dear hosted a 4-day event with 100 people from as far away as Mississippi, holding workshops in the woods to look at the intersection of farm and forests with discussions of edible plants in the forest, what’s safe and not safe to eat.
There are even deeper life lessons to learn at Mt. Pleasant once visitors discover the forest’s ties to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Within this forest lies what is known as the Witness Tree, a towering tulip poplar with many stories to tell. Somewhere on this surrounding land that the Witness Tree looks over, as part of a larger 2,167-acre parcel, Harriet Tubman led her father, mother, and brothers to escape on the Underground Railroad. Dear and Greene say more than one group of visitors have described a warmth in the woods around this tree, a sense of “spirituality exuding from the tree."
Using Mt. Pleasant, Greene and Dear are able to bring this history to life and these efforts will only grow further in the years ahead. They have partnered with Morgan State University on a schematic master plan for the property to look at its place in a Harriet Tubman Byway plan. Also, MD Forests Association is assisting with future environmental education and outreach plans at the farm including an interpretive trail to be created through a timber harvest by Eastern Shore Forest Products, as well as an edible agroforestry planting in partnership with the MD Forest Service. The farm has already collaborated on planting projects with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Shore Rivers, as well as having input on local watershed health through Envision the Choptank.
Sharing the “mystique of the forest” and lessons of living off the land that great Americans like Harriet Tubman had to learn the hard way are what Dear and Greene are eager to offer to youth and the community at large. This special space can help “get away from the sirens and get out and into yourself,” says Dear. There’s no better place to witness all of this than Mt. Pleasant Acres Farms.
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Maryland Farm & Harvest: Help Ourselves Project
Mount Pleasant Acres in Caroline County is helping to give children in Philadelphia better access to healthy food through the Help Ourselves Project.
Black Dirt Farm Collective
Envision the Choptank
Experience Tubman’s story through the road trip known as the Tubman Byway, a self-guided, scenic driving tour.
Eastern Shore Forest Products
Taking Nature Black
Donna and Paulette shown discussing an agro-forestry project with Francis Smith, DNR Forest Service Natural Resource Planner.