Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

wallacecenterreportThis blog is the second in a two-part series on selling farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs (read the first blog here). The Wallace Center recently released a new report on Maryland Food Hubs. The Wallace CUSdemandforlocalfood_wallacecenterreportenter partnered with SMADC on the report, looking at research SMADC has undertaken in the past few years on Maryland food hubs (existing and emerging), and the knowledge the Wallace Center has built around food hub and food system work at the national level. The report focuses on the opportunities and challenges for Maryland food hubs, both existing and emerging.

Listed, are five challenges facing Maryland Food Hubs, two and four are good for Maryland farmers to keep in mind:.

  1. Access to capital
  2. Access to adequate supply
  3. managing pricing, sales, and growth
  4. Food safety and regulated markets
  5. Balancing margin and mission

Farmers have an advantage on the market right now, there is more demand for local products in Maryland through food hubs than there is supply. Farmers are also being faced with more regulations with regards to food safety. The report outlines more information for Maryland farmers to take note of. Transparency is also important. Make sure your products are labeled/tracked through the whole distribution chain and that hubs are accurately promoting your farm and products.

Since food hubs are not “one size fits all” models, The report showcases Local Spotlight sections each highlighting the existing Maryland food hub models. Farmer owned cooperatives who serve a tight geographic region (Garrett Growers), a for profit business buying in from farms within a broader region (Friends and Farms), and a business connecting chefs and farmers through an online ordering system and delivery model (Chesapeake Farm to Table). We recently had the chance to tour to Friends andWallacecenterreportmarylandsector Farms and the nearby Maryland Food Center Authority, and we are hoping to tour of Chesapeake Farm to Table this summer. If you are interested in attending let us know ( and we’ll be sure to put you on the mailing list for updates.


The full report and more information can be found on SMADC’s website here.


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Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report


This blog is the first in a two-part series on selling local farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs. This week, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, along with The Wallace Center, released the 2015 National Food Hub Survey findings, which indicates that the food hub model can be financially successful across a variety of legal structures and geographic or customer markets.national_food_hub_survey_2015

Food hubs are businesses that aggregate and distribute source-identified food products, i.e. food that carries it’s farm name through the supply chain. As consumer interest in local and regional foods grows, the market for food hub services also grows. The findings of this report, together with the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, are the beginning of a data set that tracks what food hubs look like and what impacts they are having across the United States. What I found of most importance in the findings is that, 90% of food hubs who responded are increasing market access for small and medium farms as part of their daily operations. With many small farms judgling off-farm jobs and limited budgets, this is good news for those who are trying to be a farmer, a marketer, and a distributor.

National Food Hub Findings

Snapshot of key findings. Click to expand text.

“Food hubs bring great opportunity, but they face unique challenges that will require investment and innovation to overcome,” said Dr. John Fisk, Director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Some challenges food hubs face include: 1) securing capital, 2) securing more products, and 3) responding to opportunity to grow. More than 50% of hubs are concerned about securing more supply – and growth could be a liability for at least 40% of hubs because of barriers to adequate capital and limited delivery, warehouse and staff capacity. The full report is available online, as well as a webinar recording of key findings.

We will cover the challenges and opportunities specific to the Maryland region (based on a second new report!) in the next two posts for this series.

If you’re interested in learning more about food hubs and how they are operating in Maryland, I encourage you to join us next week at Friends and Farms in Columbia, Maryland for a tour of their food hub, and a short discussion with the Wallace Center. Email me at to learn more.

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Farmer to Farmer Education: New podcast is an invaluable resource

Uninterrupted downtime is difficult to find for farmers! Everything else usually gets shoved to the back-burner at the height of the season. However, a fantastic new podcast series called the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, connects with farmers on the go. The show is for farmers, by farmers, and is hosted by Chris Blanchard, a veteran farmer and educator combining 25 years of experience to get at the big ideas and practical details that go into making a farm work.  Each week Chris interviews an experienced farmer on a new topic.__6220263_orig

Wait, what’s a podcast?

Chris explains in detail here, but podcasts are basically an online radio program that can be listened to (and paused, rewound, replayed) anytime.  You can listen while working on the farm or while driving. You can listen directly from the website or subscribe to it from a mobile device through iTunes Podcasts or Stitcher (for Android users).

I’ve heard farmers who say that listen to it while on the tractor, during their commute to market or an off-farm job, and others say it’s helped pass the time while weeding. While we are always on the go or have our hands tied, it’s nice to be able to listen in without changing up our routine.

There’s something for everyone


The podcast covers all aspects of farming, no matter what stage or scale you are at. Topics include managing employees,  leadership lessons, new approaches in farming, creating diversified markets, and reflection on things we can all relate to–it is a fresh and honest look at farming today.
One of my favorite episodes, Balancing Off-Farm Jobs with a Full-Time Farm, discusses feeling the pressure to scale up quickly (or to keep and enjoy off-farm jobs) taking the time to scale up slowly, year-to-year as the market opportunities present themselves, something I think many of us relate to.  Plus, a Maryland farmer has been featured too!

Tuning in

Work on the farm is therapeutic, quiet, and unplugged, and it seems that is what so many of us enjoy most.  But if you find yourself in need of a new approach or some encouragement, find some time for this podcast to tune in with others in the farm community, as that can sometimes be very rewarding too.

Using our resources and maximizing efficiency is important in this industry. It’s also about embracing the times. So put in those ear buds next time you’re alone on the tractor, weeding, or driving to market!


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Consider Fermenting as a value-added way to grow your market

Touted for its historical health benefits across the globe, fermented foods have been on the hot list recently, especially in the Maryland region. In part, due to Rachael Armstead and her husband who have pioneered them back from ancient history, into value-added products for farmers markets and wholesale outlets through their work with the local and state health departments. Rachel worked on farms in the region before starting The Sweet Farm four short years ago, and noticed the abundance of fresh produce that could be grown in the region. Produce perfect for making her favorite foods, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and cultured sweetfarm2mustard.

This week we had the privilege of learning from Rachel, who worked tirelessly with the state health department to create a set of standard operating producers (SOPs) that were non-existent four years ago. She became the first certified in the state to sell raw fermented goods at market and wholesale, paving the way for others to follow. Unlike some surrounding states, the Maryland Department of Health does require the use of a commercial kitchen facility.

The fermenting movement is hot. And fermenters are adamant that ferments be from the freshest produce, great news for local farmers. Because the fermentation process is not as forgiving as pickling with vinegar, it is imperative that the produce used is freshly harvested and fermented right away.  When cabbage is fermented long after harvest, it becomes too dried out. Cucumbers need to head straight to the walk-in cooler or directly into a wash tank to get the field heat off. Cabbage grown for fermenting is preferably grown in the fall in our region for best results. We’ve heard from Rachel and other commercial fermenters across the state, who are in need of more local produce– cucumbers and cabbage in particular.

SMADC workshop with The Sweet Farm. Click to enlarge photos.

SMADC workshop with The Sweet Farm.

Though the most common, fermenting is not just for cabbage and cucumbers. In addition, produce that grows well in our region and makes for good fermented products include: beets, carrots, turnips (try hakureis!), and radishes. Apples are great too, but need to be used sparingly as the sugars create yeast in process. In smaller quantities, locally grown onions, garlic, ginger, celeriac, dill and fennel are also sought after. Interestingly, juniper berries (found locally from wild cedar trees) can be used in place of caraway or mustard seed.

If you grow any of the produce mentioned, consider connecting to one of  the local retailers, such as the Sweet Farm, Oksanas Produce, or HEX, as a wholesaler.

Or test the waters yourself. Fermented products are a relatively easy to prepare, healthful, and trendy. They have a long shelf-life in the fridge. It is also hard to go terribly wrong (unlike acidified foods with botulism which is odor and tasteless). At worst, you could develop a little mold on the top, which can be skimmed off, or prevented using a weight in the jar or tucking an extra cabbage leaf on top to keep oxygen out.

Additionally, think about this marketing opportunity. Consider selling a 1/2 or whole bushel box of cucumbers or cabbage to your market or to CSA customers when abundant. Provide a recipe, benefits, tools on your website for making ferments at home. From my eVAPG-Guide-Cover-768x963experience in canning tomatoes and fermenting sauerkraut, canning is more labor intensive.

If you are considering adding any kind of value-added products to your farm entity, now is a good time. USDA Rural Development grants are currently open (through June), with matching funds available to Maryland producers through MARBIDCO. Read the 2016 Value Added Producer Grant Program for details. A new guide (click photo on right to view) was released this week to help farmers navigate the application.





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Young Farmers Create Maryland Chapter of the NYFC

Maryland FarmLINK posted a blog last year about an initial meet-up to identify interests from young farmers in thefl1 region. The meeting was to discuss forming a state-wide chapter of the  National Young Farmers Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting practices and policies that will sustain young farmers now and in the future. There was much interest and enthusiasm, so, following the event, the Maryland Young Farmers Coalition (MD-YFC) was born.

The Maryland Chapter is a networking and support group made up of young and beginning farmers in the region. To date, they have engaged with over 100 of their peer farmers from across the state. Founded to provide structure

young farmer mixer

The Maryland Chapter hosts Mixer events at local farms. The next mixer is Sunday, May 1st at Monnett Farms.

for social engagement, and knowledge sharing between members, the group is focused on online and offline collaboration. They host events, set up networking sessions at local conferences and meetings, and send updates via newsletters and social media about young farmer happenings. The first mixer was hosted last fall in Mt. Airy at Milkhouse brewery and StillPoint farm. The next mixer will be May 1st at Monnett farms followed by a farmer social at Running Hare winery next door.

Additionally, the Coalition raises awareness about young farmers through their weekly Featured Maryland Young Farmer posts using the hashtag #mdyoungfarmer.

A new initiative the Coalition plans to engage in this year are Crop Mobs! Crops mobs are fun, hands-on, educational experiences that help a grower complete larger projects. Farmers and community members come together on a specific day to tackle a specific labor-intensive project, whether it be reclaiming a field from weeds, harvesting sweet potatoes, or tying up garlic.  In part, it’s about community and camaraderie. Basically, a pay it forward event to help fellow farmers.


MD-YFC leadership team, Barbara and Meredith, at Rooting DC in March.

These workshops provide an opportunity to join together and support fellow growers while learning valuable skills from experienced farmers.

The Chapter is still formalizing their structure and membership, as it continues to evolve. They may undertake policy and advocacy work, focusing on initiatives that make it difficult for young farmers to succeed. Already members have been a voice for federal legislation and advocacy by representing the National Young Farmers Coalition campaigns, such as those focused on student loan debt, access to land, and food safety/FSMA rules. Learn more about this new group here.



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Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Across the country there is momentum to bring more local food to restaurants. Recently we wrote a blog on upcoming trends for restaurants where locally-sourced foods topped the charts for yet another year. Innovate solutions are popping up everywhere in the Chesapeake region too. However, farmers and chefs are busy people who are usually running in two separate directions. So how do local restaurants find all these wonderful farms, and how do farmers make connections to new chefs?

Southern Maryland Chef and Farmer Events

Over the winter of 2015, local catering company Herrington on the Bay, invited chefs and farmers from the Herring Bay region to come together over lunch in order to tackle this question. Herrington organized the meeting, reaching out to local agriculture organizations like SMADC and AAEDC for lists of farmers in their area who sell wholesale and chefs who are interested in local products. Ideas were shared, new connections were made, and a Facebook group was created to allow for transactions to begin to take place. As the year went on, both parties realized that more had to happen to take this concept to the next level.

Herrington Purpose, Mission, Vision for the group

Guiding  principles for the group.

Over the winter of 2016, just a few weeks ago, Herrington hosted a second event, expanding to include a wider reach of producers (including meat, dairy, and produce) and chefs. Around 50 attendees showed up to hear from Anna Chaney, owner and operator of Herrington and Honey’s Harvest Farm, about plans to get more local food on to more local plates. Chefs and farmers are busy people so to have them in the room together was an accomplishment in itself!

Additionally, Chesapeake Farm 2 Table (CF2T) was invited to demonstrate the distribution model they’ve come up with for Baltimore. Becky (owner and operator) and Audrey (general manager) of CF2T laid out for the group what was needed to start their operation:

  • A network of member farmers and chefs wiling to participate
  • An online ordering system that handles multiple farms products and chefs payments (additionally farmers and chefs can do payment offline)
  • A coordinator to receive food to one location (the Hub). Farmers drop the food off in clear plastic bags (vs. crates or other materials) since they will not be returned
  • A vehicle and a driver to deliver to Baltimore restaurants

What’s next for Southern Maryland?

The conversation was buzzing as people mingled, many meeting for the first time, learning about each other and exchanging contact information. Relationship and trust building, from year to year, and a networking group is invaluable!

Local Food Featured At MD Chef/Farmer Event

The kinds of meals we were conspiring to create were also in supply at the event.

The group concurred that this was something needed to benefit the region. There are still many pieces of the puzzle to solve. Who will run it? Can it be run as a pilot program for the region? The intent is to get better food on the table, but it also has to pay the bills for both sides. The group must be willing to work together in some capacity so that a 50 mile transportation radius (likely for our rural area)  isn’t so onerous (for example, maybe a farmer brings product to a central drop point where the van can pick it up). In essence, have more people driving 15 miles vs. 50. And as Anna said during the meeting, “if we all give a little, we can get a lot.” And there are some leaders who’ve already stepped up to the plate to put these pieces together!

Keeping a Regional Perspective

It is imperative that we create synergies across the region to increase local food supply, and profitability for farmers. That’s why it was fantastic that CF2T came down to meet the group, and why SMADC has been happy to lead the efforts to bring the Maryland food hubs (emerging and established) together a few times a year. CF2T said they enjoyed getting to know their neighbors to the south and they were excited to see what’s next for local food sourcing in southern Maryland! We are too!

If you are interested learning more about these ongoing efforts, email us anytime at


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Farmers Market vendors – an opportunity to grow your customers

By: Cia Morey and Priscilla Wentworth, SMADC

Farmers market season kicks into full gear soon in Maryland.
8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshedOver the past few years farmers markets have increased the ability to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Not only does this allow low-income participants the opportunity of adding fresh local fruits and vegetables to their diet, it allows farmers to increase their customer base too.

SNAP redemption generated $18.8 million in Fiscal Year 2014 – “a nearly six-fold increase since 2008.” Since 2008 SNAP authorized farmers and farmers markets grew to 753 to 6,400. (USDA Report)

SNAP is now available for individual farms and farm stands.

The program was recently expanded to include individual direct marketing farms at markets and farm stands. This means that if a farmers market as a whole does not accept SNAP, a vendor now has the opportunity to apply for SNAP.localmarkets  Interested farmers can apply at the SNAP EBT Sign-Up Event at the Annual Maryland Farmers Market Conference on March 15, 2016.  More information and registration can be found here. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will be there to help. Make sure you bring a picture ID (driver’s license or passport), Social Security Card (or other official document with your name and SSN) and a copy of a voided check for bank account you will use to deposit funds.

Three electronic payment options. Click to expand and for more information.

There is also a grant currently available that may allow you to receive free Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) equipment necessary to process SNAP payments. There are three devices to choose from. Remember, you can use these devices to accept plastic payment from customers, giving your customers another option for payment at markets, and you one device to serve both. I have used the MarketLink product extensively now (pictured on right) working at market, and it works very well.

With Spring around the corner, I know many are making sure the tent is sturdy, price signs are ready, and chalk boards cleaned. Consider too the upcoming event and EBT grant, to help you increase your customer base and provide fresh local products to those in need in your community.






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Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds


MDA Secretary Joeseph Bartenfelder in attendance.

Every year Maryland Department of Agriculture holds a Buyer Grower Expo in Annapolis, providing a forum for farms and value-added producers to meet new potential buyers. In the last few years that SMADC has been going, we’ve seen the numbers in attendance continually rise- with now over 60 growers, processors,  watermen, and small food businesses attending from Maryland.

What was most impressive this year was the sheer variety of products available. Both from the farms that are growing them and from the producers who are processing Maryland grown food into an array of value-added products.

Creative Packaging

Especially appealing, was all the creative packaging. Selling, marketing and experiencing the Chesapeake grown oyster, for example, has reached new levels of refinement.  No longer distributed in boring boxes, they included bright and bold statements with catchy phasing like, “come unhinged!” (Madhouse Oysters) and “get cultured!” (Black Horse Oysters). Even the language used to describe the flavor of each oyster sounds like a wine tasting, “…Madhouse oysters start with salt…subtle, enough to enhance, not dominate…clean, firm meat yields a beautiful sweetness, like a first kiss. Memorable.”


Photo by @hexferments getting ready for the Local Fair Fare in January where I had the chance to sample a bright purple kombucha drink, which I thought was colored with food dye but turned out to be a natural herbal flower.

This trendy, creative marketing is a common thread among the progressive food businesses showcased at the Expo. Popularity of fermented foods is increasing, once only for health food stores, is now becoming more widely available in the mainstream market. Farm Marketing has reached a new level of sophistication. With colorful branding, and appealing tag-lines to excite the taste buds.
Value-added fermented foods like sauerkrauts, kimchis, and kombuchas (in varrying flavors and pops of colors) come in brightly colored packaging that jumps out at you from the stand. Speaking not just from the health perspective but also a delicious food and condiment option, these producers are taking fresh Maryland-grown produce and transforming it into value-added products to spice up everyday dishes.


Michelle’s Microgreens on display for chefs.

Produce farmers differentiate themselves

From hydroponics to farms specializing in gourmet garlic only, and sprouts, with great attention paid to the detail of presenting the product in an attractive and appealing way, like Michelle’s Mircogreens (pictured left) with 8 different types of sprouts, a shelf life of 2 weeks, and ready to be used as needed to decorate and maintain the flavor of fresh dishes by chefs. Several young wholesale farmers were in attendance, stepping up to the family plate, including Miller, Shlagel, and Swann farms. They represent the next generation of farmers who are increasing their outreach to larger wholesale markets such as major grocery chains and schools.

Locally cured meats & quail eggs

Meats were also well represented with small farm enterprises such as Cabin Creek Heritage Farm, who recently diversified into quail production for quail eggs. And meat and poultry producers seeking larger clients.  The American palate has had a longstanding love affair with Charcuterie. It has been difficult however, to find locally produced processed meats in Maryland. Enter: Meat Crafters, a new start-up in Landover, Maryland producing a full line line of specialty hand-made charcuterie meats in small batches. They offer an opportunity to custom pack for the local farmer, and they are USDA inspected for beef pork and poultry.


Meat Crafters Charcuterie Display at the Expo

A good bang for your buck!

The average cost of an expo table at a big event is usually $100 or more, but for $20 a table, the Maryland Buyer-Grower Expo is well worth the fee if you are are a farm or value-added business looking for new buyers. Maryland and regional buyers are well represented, and many have the Expo on their calendars well in advance, year after year. We commend the publication MDA produces for the event, which is also available online. The directory includes names and addresses of buyers represented at the Expo for contact throughout the year. We’ve already heard of some new follow-up connections that were made after the Expo. Onward and upward!




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Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

What better way to kick off the New Year than brushing up on farm skills, and collaborating with other food system innovators. Last week was the annual Cultivate the Chesapeake Conference, hosted by Future Harvest- Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) – and as usual, it did not disappoint!

IMG_1006 (1)

Session on turning farm food seconds into value-added products.

Although there are many winter conferences and meetings, I always return home from this one with my farm knowledge acutely sharpened. It’s a good time to meet with people you don’t see often, drawing upwards of 500 attendees from all over the food system spectrum. While the focus is on sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake, I find the diversity it pulls from incredible– from first-year to seasoned farmers, beekeepers to livestock producers, cut flower and organic growers (hosting workshops together), local food producers to public health workers, seed companies and agriculture organizations.

The real key to success, I heard noted during the workshops, was collaboration and honest feedback with other farmers. Speakers were willing to share books, articles, and lessons learned in the field. In talking with a fellow new farmer, Karyn Owens, after a session on seed varieties, she said, “it was inspiring to see farmers come together and discuss varieties that work for them, either producing large yields or having little disease pressure, while another farmer down the road or the next county over may have different soil or type of growing condition and they prefer another crop variety. But I took away the value of knowledge sharing and being open to trying new things, because you just never know!”


Mike Liker discussing ways to finding the optimal scale for your farm.

The high energy some of the farmers spread while sharing their knowledge was also notable. That can quickly become contagious in a room full of farmers, especially beginning farmers who are just starting out, and trying to make it through initial setbacks. Dave Liker of Gorman Farm, shared his experience with growing too fast. “Don’t take on too much too fast”, he stated, “instead keep gung-hoe working hard in the areas where you’re most passionate.” Listening is key. I heard a lot of, “I’ve been there, trust me, don’t do this, instead try this…” talk at the conference.

Sessions on composting with the ever-inspiring, young farmers of Moon Valley farm helped to consider the economic differences in making compost onsite and trucking it in, and a session on cover cropping provided effective ways to build better soil. I even sat in on a session with a food producer who is taking seconds from local farms and turning them into value-added products, while providing meaningful jobs to women re-entering the job market after incarceration. We heard from powerful keynote speakers, such as Dr. Ricardo Salvador, about leveling the field for farmers success and healthy food. Another Keynote (who considers the Chesapeake region home), Natasha Bowens, spoke about diversity in farming throughout history in America, which she wrote about in her new book, “The Color of Food.”


Young Farmer Meet-up.

Although insightful in itself, I was not just there to listen, but also co-host an interest gathering with the Wallace Center on food hub research, and the potential for Maryland. Maryland food hubs (new and emerging) attended, as well as farmers thinking about selling to food hubs, and farmers who currently sell to food hubs through Tuscarora Organic Growers cooperative, who also happened to be in the room. The discussion focused on where we are as a sector, food hub challenges, and how to keep the momentum going. The gathering provided feedback and information that will help shape a report due out in the spring on the market potential for Maryland food hubs.

Despite all this, I may have been most excited to help organize a young farmer meet-up during the conference with the Maryland Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and the Maryland Young Farmers Coalition (a new chapter of the NYFC). Leaders and members of each group, along with other young farmers, came together to learn about how to get engaged and involved. Young farmer groups like these are important to the future of farming in this region that is losing farmers, and farm knowledge, at too fast a pace.

It seems evident (in this day in age) to network and share with peers. Remember to check Maryland FarmLINK and Friday’s Weekly Round-up email which includes upcoming conferences, events, properties, and news relevant to Maryland and regional farming.


Posted in beginning farmers, compost, farm enterprises, Farmlink, food hubs, food waste, healthy soil, locally sourced food | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

photo5 (2)This week sure is the week of farm conferences and events!  We will report on some of them in the coming weeks, but this week we’ve revived a series of posts on “Saving family farms in Maryland”. The series addresses many of the challenges and opportunities we face in farming in Maryland, and will likely continue to face. Perhaps with a look back at them we can charge ourselves with a few new tasks as we make our way into the new year.

  1. Saving family farms in Maryland – access to land This post includes information about FarmLINK’s Property Exchange and other free resources like zoning maps and land preservation easements, as well as improving communication between young and beginning farmers and retired farm owners.
  2. Saving family farms in Maryland – infrastructure solutions Beginning farmers often have difficulty finding land that also has the infrastructure amenities they need. In this post common infrastructure needs are covered like water, fencing, housing (tiny house information included), and lease agreements.
  3. Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment To dispel any hope of simplicity, no county zoning regulations are the same. Each is patterned to address citizen concerns, etc. but a table and links are offered in this post to help farmers sell value-added farm products and with agri-tourism uses.
  4. Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets How to create a level access to markets is the topic of this last blog which offers why consumers are demanding more local food and helpful solutions to obtaining access for farmers to sell in more places.


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