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An Eastern Shore Home to Environmental Justice
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An Eastern Shore Home to Environmental Justice

When University of Maryland Anthropology Research Professor Barbara Paca looks at the tiny, Talbot County waterfront town of Oxford, she sees the Eastern Shore’s most prominent nexus between environmental justice and climate change -- two issues of paramount concern to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

More than a decade ago, Paca, an internationally recognized expert on landscape design, and her husband were looking for an ideal place for a second home to complement their careers in New York City. Friends recommended Oxford, once a bustling port for Eastern Shore trade.

Barbara PacaPaca quickly fell in love with its culture of African Americans, watermen, and intellectuals from other places wanting to get away from it all.

The couple bought two adjoining properties on Mill Street, relocated a historic home atop raised earth and started renovating a building that had been a former jazz club. Using local workers left unemployed after the recession of 2008 and 2009, the building was transformed into a LEED gold structure with a green roof, solar panels, rainwater capture ducts and extensive use of reclaimed materials. The rainwater capture was part of Oxford’s effort to reduce polluted stormwater runoff into Town Creek, the Tred Avon River and the Chesapeake Bay.

The building also has a number of interesting historical items like tile stoves, doors from as far back as the 18th Century, and part of the floor removed from Read’s Drug Store in Baltimore City, the site of the nation’s first lunch counter sit-in strike in the early days of the civil rights movement.

After Paca realized her desire of also building a greenhouse and walkway at the site, it became known as the Oxford Think Tank and Preservation Green Design and Horticultural Research Center.

Now, Paca is on to bigger dreams. She says she wants to devote the 10 rooms and a conference room in the center for free use to researchers, artists, scientists and others involved in environmental justice and climate change issues and the culture of the Eastern Shore.

“If you need a space, we have it for you in a very creative setting,” Paca said. “I want to help the work being done by the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I also want it to be used by those involved in African American research, art and equity issues. Another issue of major importance is making the Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad trail a world heritage site because it is disappearing along with so many other things in this region due to climate change and rising sea levels,” Paca said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State honored Paca in October with an award for her work internationally and in Maryland in preserving the history and culture of communities of color. She also had an acclaimed art show recently at Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College that celebrated the work of artists from Antigua and Barbuda involved in environmental justice themes.

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