Meet Our Interns
The Russ Brinsfield Internship Program is a collaboration between the Hughes Center and the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative. The internship program, which began in 2017, engages an undergraduate student from the University of Maryland College of AGNR and a law student enrolled at the Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, who work together to develop viable solutions to a variety of complex environmental, agricultural and forestry-related issues.
2023 Brinsfield Interns
Marisa Koontz, Beverly Bolster and Olivia Scuderi, the 2023 Russell Brinsfield Interns, present the findings from the projects they completed over the course of the summer. The Brinsfield Internship Program is a partnership between the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology and is made possible with funding from the MPower Maryland program
Together with the UMD Agriculture Law Education Intiative, the Hughes Center is pleased to welcome three interns to the Russell Brinsfield Internship Program. Founded in 2017, the Brinsfield Internship Program engages law students from the Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).
Named in honor of the late Dr. Russell Brinsfield, who was a leader in agricultural science at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Hughes Center, the program invites students to work together to develop viable solutions to a variety of complex environmental, agricultural and forestry-related issues. The 2023 interns are Marisa Koontz, Beverly Bolster and Olivia Scuderi.
Marisa Koontz is a rising second-year law student at the Carey School of Law at UMB, where she is pursuing her law degree alongside a Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School. Her interests lie in the areas of food, agriculture and environmental law, and their implications for public health. Prior to entering law school, Koontz served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kosovo and worked as the Home Delivery Coordinator for a local food pantry in her home state of Iowa. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and roller skating.
“As a law student, the Brinsfield Internship has exposed me to many areas where legal research can be used to improve agriculture and food systems. The projects I've been working on tackle a range of agriculture and food issues, such as expanding SNAP access for consumers and farmers, land access issues for Maryland's aquaculture industry, promotion of urban agriculture, and much more,” Koontz said. “This internship has exposed me to the many wonderful and dedicated people working throughout Maryland to tackle some of the most pressing challenges regarding agriculture, food access, nutrition, and climate change, and I'm feeling so grateful to be inspired by their work every day of this internship.”
Beverly Bolster is an undergraduate student studying Geospatial Data Science and Sociology at UMCP. She is passionate about understanding how people interact with their environment, and promoting environmental health and food security. Outside of classes and student organizations, Bolster enjoys reading, baking, running and hiking.
“I am enjoying my time as a Brinsfield intern and have learned so much already. My favorite projects so far are researching agrivoltaics, which is the co-location of solar panels and agriculture on the same land (something I did not even know existed before starting this project), as well as another project in which we are researching how farmers in each county can engage in urban agriculture,” Bolster said. “I look forward to continuing research this summer to assist urban farmers, promote food security, and encourage sustainable agriculture practices in Maryland.”
Olivia Scuderi is a junior at UMCP, studying Animal Science with a minor in Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy. She aspires to be involved with the growing field of agricultural research policy and hopes to one day take over her family’s farm in Montgomery County, Maryland. Olivia was the winner of the 2022 Maryland Farm Bureau Collegiate Discussion Meet and is the School of Agriculture and National Resources Student Council President.
"As a Brinsfield intern, I am researching current agricultural issues throughout the state with emphasis on nutritional assistance programs, urban agriculture, and the new and upcoming discoveries surrounding agrivoltaics. So far, I have been diving into the various perspectives on solar and getting a better grasp on the challenges in implementing this technology on productive farmland along with evaluating potential urban ag spaces on the Eastern Shore,” Scuderi said. “It feels good to know that my projects are benefiting the agricultural community and I cannot wait to see what work our team produces."
The Brinsfield Internship Program is supported with funding from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower). A collaboration between the State of Maryland’s two most powerful public research institutions: UMB and UMCP, MPower seeks to strengthen and serve the State of Maryland and its citizens.
Mariah Campbell studies agricultural and natural resource economics at the University of Maryland, College Park. She considers herself a horticulturist because she enjoys cultivating plants and fungi in her garden. She also enjoys skateboarding, reading and sketching, and spends as much time as possible at concerts or traveling.
She is excited about this internship because all her projects involve sustainability. The project she is most intrigued by is Urban Agricultural Leasing. Urban agriculture is an increasingly utilized form of agriculture about which she wants to learn more. She will also be working with agritourism zoning and value-added product protocols.
Sam Fairbanks is a rising second-year (2L) law student at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. She is focusing her legal education on environmental and agricultural law. As an undergraduate, Sam studied geology and environmental management at James Madison University in Virginia. Sam's background is in agricultural nutrient management, and she has enjoyed getting involved in the local farming communities. Outside of law school, Sam enjoys photography and traveling.
"I am excited to have the opportunity to meet new people and learn about the many niches outside of nutrient management! I look forward to building upon background knowledge and expanding into food systems law," she said.
Sam is working on projects related to food liability, conservation leases, value-added food regulations and the upcoming Farm Bill.
Nathan McMullen is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland at College Park pursuing a degree in Agricultural and Resource Economics. In his career, McMullen hopes to impact food security and access to nutrition through policy, private sector and public interest advocacy. The Brinsfield Internship aligns strongly with McMullen's goals of engaging with food systems stakeholders and understanding the policy environment that shapes our food system.
"I am so excited to be a part of the Brinsfield team. Working with the Hughes Center and ALEI is the first step towards my goal of an impactful career in food systems," he said.
McMullen is working on several projects this summer, including cost/benefit assessments for oyster aquaculture, food safety liability for school gardens, conservation agriculture lease builder, and blog posts for the farm bill law enterprise. For McMullen, the diversity of subject matter is one of the most engaging and challenging aspects of the Russell Brinsfield Internship Program.
Alex Sadzewicz is a rising second-year (2L) student at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law on the environmental law track. Her interests lie in environmental and agricultural law. She was a biology major and history and chemistry minor at Butler University as an undergraduate. She has worked in a variety of labs with projects related to agricultural and public health issues. Outside of law, Sadzewicz is interested in painting and writing.
Sadzewicz was interested in becoming a Brinsfield intern because of the intersection between prior research experience and interest in law school. "Agriculture has been a theme in the work that I did during undergraduate. There are a lot of different ways that law impacts agriculture, and looking at the work by past interns, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities to familiarize myself with agricultural law and participate in an array of projects," she said.
She is working on projects related to urban agriculture leasing, aquaculture, and the upcoming Farm Bill.
In 2022, the Brinsfield interns worked on:
Agritourism and Zoning:
Maryland's zoning laws differ by county. Agritourism has gained popularity in recent years with the oncoming of activities like corn mazes, "glamping" or websites like Hipcamp, or using farms for event venues, for example. However, there is no uniform definition used by counties across the state for agritourism, and each county may interpret policies or a definition's intention differently. This can lead to uncertainty for owners of agriculture operations seeking to diversify their income.
In response and in partnership with Grow and Fortify, the Brinsfield interns worked to understand relevant zoning definitions across Maryland and create a comprehensive zoning matrix related to agritourism and on-farm manufacturing.
"This was a really cool experience to understand how zoning impacts everything and agriculture in Maryland and understanding the importance of expanding agritourism so we can keep a thriving agricultural industry," said intern Sam Fairbanks, a Maryland Carey Law student with a bachelor's degree in geology and environmental management from James Madison University.
2023 Farm Bill Analysis
Working with the Farm Bill Law Enterprise program (FBLE) and other interns at institutions like Vermont Law School and Harvard, the Brinsfield interns condensed lengthy Congressional hearings on the 2023 Farm Bill into easily digestible law posts for the general public. They then co-wrote blog posts for the FBLE to include in its report on ways to improve the upcoming Farm Bill in support of aspects of climate and conservation.
"The Farm Bill is so important not just because it is a huge piece of legislation that affects every aspect of the food and agricultural system, but also because while it may be delayed in the legislative process, it will eventually pass and have effects moving forward," said intern Alex Sadzewicz, a Maryland Carey Law student with a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Butler University.
"This project has given me much more understanding of the legislative process," Sadzewicz said. "Coming into this, I didn't really have a background where we discussed anything like this and being able to actually sit in on the hearings and see what's going on in the House and the Senate when we're talking about making this type of legislation was really impactful."
Oyster Aquaculture Substrate
The Brinsfield interns also provided research findings on alternative materials that could potentially be used as a base for planting aquaculture oysters.
Current Maryland law states that, without permission from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, shells are the only substrate allowable for any oyster plantings, including aquaculture oysters. Oyster shells and other types of shells can be expensive for oyster growers because there is a finite amount available.
Their research followed alternative bottom substrates used in other areas beyond Maryland, the successes and challenges of those alternatives, and the cost-benefits of using them compared to shell. Federal and state permitting laws were considered in the comparisons.
"This project connected the science and the law with the business and cost aspect of this problem in a really interesting way," Sadzewicz said.
The Brinsfield interns also produced research that looks at liability issues surrounding school gardens.
While schools are potentially interested in using the produce grown by their garden programs, there are numerous issues to consider including food safety, quantity produced, and processing requirements.
"In general, this was a really great project to work on, really rewarding for me personally — I'm familiar with the impact that these school-to-garden programs can have," said intern Nathan McMullen, an undergraduate student at the UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UMD AGNR).
"When I was in elementary school, we had a couple of raised beds where we grew tomatoes and peppers, and it was a great experience, and I definitely ate a lot more vegetables because of that, so just getting to contribute to a project that's advancing the goals of access to nutrition and having a real impact through this project in my community was really exciting," he said.
Interest in urban agriculture around Maryland has been spreading as one way to meet the demand of the regional food system in an ever-urbanizing landscape with rising populations. But resources are still limited when it comes to leasing urban land for agricultural purposes.
The Brinsfield interns created a guide for urban farmers looking at Maryland's policies. The guide answers many questions farmers in urban areas might have about the leasing process, as well as a compilation of sample leases, legal research, and plausible considerations specific to urban agriculture, such as waste disposal.
"Urban agriculture is an emerging sustainable practice transforming urban communities across the U.S. Locally grown food from urban farms provides nourishment and food security to areas that don't have access to traditional agriculture. It also promotes community bonding and agricultural education for all generations," said intern Mariah Campbell, an undergraduate at the UMD AGNR.
"Leasing is essential for progressing urban ag in Maryland. I hope that the resources we created will ease the process and encourage individuals and communities to get involved in urban agriculture," she said.
In this video, the 2022 Brinsfield Interns discuss their projects completed over the course of the internship.
Maeve Kessler is a rising senior environmental science and policy major specializing in environmental geosciences and restoration at the University of Maryland. She is also pre-law with a particular interest in environmental law. On campus, she works as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which involves recruiting and supporting new incoming students. Kessler is also the vice president of the campus geology club and an undergraduate student researcher at the Soil Quality Lab under Dr. Ray Weil. Originally from Yardley, Pa., Kessler is looking forward to working on issues related to nutrient management for the Chesapeake Bay, an issue she is passionate about, and the opportunity to meet and work with other environmental professionals, especially environmental lawyers, as she prepares to apply to law school in the fall.
Codi Coulter is a rising second-year law student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She has an undergraduate degree in agricultural communications from Texas Tech University. Before law school, Coulter held several communications positions in the restaurant and agriculture industries and an agency working with a federal government client. Coulter has a lifelong interest in agriculture and its role in feeding a growing world. Coulter intends to use her legal education to advocate for farmers and ranchers and help them find sustainable solutions to the challenges they face. According to Coulter, “[t]he Brinsfield internship is a great opportunity to bridge my agricultural communications background with my ongoing legal education. I’m looking forward to learning about agriculture and sustainability in Maryland and applying the knowledge and skills I gain from this internship to my future legal career.”
2021 Russ Brinsfield interns Maeve Kessler and Codi Coulter present the projects they worked on during the summer.
Harry is entering his last undergraduate semester at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources as a double major in economics and agricultural science.
He is a Baltimore City native. He has experience in agriculture policy, having worked for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry where he prepped briefings and reports and conducted research to inform policymakers using data. He also works as a field manager at the University of Maryland Weil Research Lab, giving him practical experience with agricultural best management practices.
Harry will continue in his role with the Hughes Center through December 2020. After graduation, Harry desires to work in agricultural policy.
“I came into this hoping to learn more about Maryland agriculture and policy. What I realized was I got to learn about Maryland people — all the people working in agriculture and ag policy in Maryland have made this incredibly impactful,” he said. “What I realized is this really is just a small community that we are now a part of, and getting to be introduced into that community, getting to meet these smart people who have been so dedicated and working on these issues for so long and getting to make those connections has truly been the most important thing I’m taking away from this internship.”
Liz Johnson joined the program as she enters her second year at the Francis King Carey School of Law.
Liz grew up in College Park and is currently enrolled at the Francis King Carey School of Law. She became interested in plant science in high school and continued that passion through the undergraduate program at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where she was a member of the academic agricultural sorority Sigma Alpha.
“Agriculture is where my heart is and I want to make sure my career is closely tied to that love,” Liz said. “I connected with the mission of the Hughes Center of using solid research to help farmers make environmentally sound uses of their land that are also economically viable. As someone who came from a science background, I felt that the internship would be a good job for helping me tie together my past experience with my new career.”
Liz said she applied to be the law student in the Russ Brinsfield Internship Program in order to get a first-hand look at the problems facing the agricultural world.
“As a person who came from a science background, I was really glad that my first legal internship was a good blend of science and law. I really got to blend the things that I loved,” Liz said of her experience with the internship. “I think that this experience is going to be really helpful with my career path both because of the skills that I've gained, but because of the connections that I’ve made.”
Over the summer of 2020, our interns worked on the following projects.
- An educational resource and a model contract for nutrient trades between a farmer and an urban stormwater permit holder.
- Created a research bank to quantify economic benefits of seven specific best management practices for the Maryland Soil Health Advisory Committee.
- Continued previous years’ interns’ work on a guide to forest mitigation banking in Maryland.
- Produced a memo to the Maryland Food to Maryland Institutions Task Force on common issues in the Chesapeake foodshed in order to determine potential solutions to improve the food system’s equity and resilience to exogenous shocks.
- Created a FAQ tool linking to Extension resources that answers new farmers’ business and legal questions.
- Produce a blog post that can help farmers interested in hemp understand the new regulations and potentially start growing.
- Produced a document on marketing honey in Maryland.
The Russ Brinsfield Interns, Harry Huntley and Liz Johnson, present on their accomplishments throughout the summer of 2020.
Over the summer of 2019, our interns, rising UMD junior Michael Marinelli and second-year law student Victoria Long (pictured left), worked on the following projects:
Detailed the findings of three regional food reports commissioned by the Hughes Center for consideration into Maryland’s upcoming strategic plan for agriculture.
Finalized a report on current regulations and penalties relating to the theft of aquaculture oysters and presented it to the Maryland Aquaculture Coordinating Council.
Developed and presented to the Maryland Department of Agriculture a report on Virginia’s best management practice tax credit program.
Followed up with attendees of the 2019 Conservation Leasing Guide workshops and collected data on the implementation of best management practices on leased farmland.
Initiated the creation of a legal guide on direct marketing for specialty crop producers in Maryland.
Gathered data on forest mitigation banking in Maryland, including details on varying strategies in each county.
Researched urban agriculture tax credit programs across the country with a goal to improve Baltimore City’s urban agriculture program.
2019 Russ Brinsfield Interns Michael Marinelli and Victoria Long give their end-of-summer presentation on Aug. 1 at the Wye Research and Education Center.