Farm products are the gifts that keep on giving!

holiday guide

2015 Farms for the Holidays guide is out (online and print)!

As the holiday season approaches Maryland’s farms offer a ‘home-grown’ alternative to the malls and stores. As you are busy getting ready, don’t forget to extend the gratitude and the bounty of the holiday season to local farmers. Creative gift giving takes many forms, but choosing items grown and created locally also gives a gift back to the community. Why not shop at a local farm or farm store for gifts, holiday meals, and festive gatherings? Not only will you eat flavorful meals and give unique gifts, but  it also regenerates dollars back into our local economy and helps keep Maryland’s farmland scenic and beautiful. And as Greg Bowen has said on this blog before, “many shoppers, despite this modern era of technology and internet sales, are looking for special gifts and family purchases that will promote family ties, honor local culture, and reflect the reason for the season. They can find lots of options in local stores, shops, and farms in the region.”

SMADC’s 2015 Farms for the Holidays Guide is now available. The guide highlights farms  and farm stores that offer a surprising array of locally grown products and services this time of year. View and share the online guide, here. And for a list of places you can find hard copies of the guide, click here. Buying local around the state? The Maryland’s Best website has a helpful search feature to help you find local fare, such as the turkey and Christmas tree farms nearest you.

Also, the holidays are a time where we find ourselves gathering around with loved ones to enjoy food. If you will be dining out, consider taking the family to eat at restaurant that source from Maryland farms. SMADC put together a list a list earlier this year, of those were sourcing from Maryland farms. Take a look, here. Gift cards to these places also make great stocking stuffers.

If you are a farm or farm store that is not on the list, and interested in the Farms for the Holidays mini-guide or you regularly supply a restaurant that is not on the Farm-to-Table Listing, contact Susan McQuilkin, SMADC, at

Consider taking your own twist to the Buy Local Challenge!  Susan put together the “Buy Local for the Holidays” campaign:

  • Meats, Seafood and Dairy products
    Create a holiday feast the whole family will love with farm fresh eggs, locally caught fish and oysters and flavorful farm raised meats for your festive table. Farm meats are easier to buy than ever before.
  • Trees and Trimmings
    Deck your halls with the natural beauty and fragrance of locally grown trees and festive greenery. Escape the holiday crowds and take a trip to one of the area’s Christmas tree farms, you’re sure to find the perfect tree and an array of fresh cut trimmings.
    The past few years I've purchased Thanksgiving turkey from Patuxent Harvest, just down the street from where I live. To keep the meal 100% regionally sourced, this year we visited local farmers markets for things like sage sausage for the stuffing from Monnett Farms, and Chesapeake's Bounty for mushrooms, flour, milk and cheese.
    The past few years I’ve purchased Thanksgiving turkey from Patuxent Harvest, just down the street from where I live. To keep the meal 100% regionally sourced this year, we visited local farmers markets for things like sage sausage for the stuffing from Monnett Farms, and Chesapeake’s Bounty for mushrooms, flour, milk and cheese.
  • Activities and Events
    Many farms host fun family events and workshops, including ‘how to’ classes for wreathes and table-top decorations, winter hayrides, live ‘nativity’ performances, Christmas open houses featuring live music and ‘Visits with Santa’.

If you are cooking over the holidays, consider purchasing you’re meal from one of the local shops listed in the Holiday guide or the Farm-to-Table Listing. I didn’t realize what has become available locally in the fall until recently. This year, we cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 15 people, and found that it has become possible again to source the entire traditional Thanksgiving meal, (not just the turkey  and a few root vegetables like we’d been doing) from our wonderful regional farms. Marylanders’ have a bounty of diversified regional farms to be thankful for.

As markets close for the winter, I enjoyed seeing farmers buy from fellow farmers (or trade) for their holiday meals, signifying, we’re  all in this together. Happy Thanksgiving!




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Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

SMADC is delighted to be part of the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success which received a three year grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. SMADC has supported the effort with enhanced resources on the Maryland FarmLINK website and managing the Mentor Match Program for beginning farmers.


This past Monday we held the annual Mentor Match meeting. Over 20 Maryland farmers came together around the table, farmers who are interested in helping one another grow the next generation of farmers. The Mentor Match program connects new farmers with experienced farmers in the region. The annual meeting is the one requirement that brings them all together to connect. The evening started with SMADC offering an overview of the program,  equipment available for rent, and the emergence of food hubs in the region. Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland Extension, followed with a presentation on farm labor issues, crop insurance and leasing laws in Maryland.

2015 mentees

Photo of some of the 2015 mentees! SMADC will be doing a similar set of stories of this group for the Tomorrow’s Harvest website in early 2016.

Most of the time however, was dedicated to the Mentees, who had the chance to network with each other (many for the first time) and share information about what they were up to on the farm, lessons learned and next steps. The mentors gave examples of how they worked with their mentors, and expressed appreciation for the ability to communicate with them as needed, and make connections that will last beyond the mentor program.

As the age of the average farmer continues to rise, programs like the Mentor Match are in place to keep farming not just alive, but thriving in our region. There are many barriers for new farmers, high cost of land and necessary infrastructure are at the top of the list, which prevent many new farmers (and especially young farmers) from being profitable. A mentor to lean on, someone with expert knowledge and wisdom, provides the new farmer with information that can prevent a costly mistake or two in those first few years.  This was echoed in the room at the meeting Monday night.mentor Match Food

Collectively, the group felt it was helpful to have someone to work with who has the same communication style, since farmers are constantly ‘on the go” during the season. One Mentor Match team told us they preferred to use texting and picture messaging while in the field. The mentee said he would send pictures of insect-ridden crops to his mentor, and the mentor said she would send the same photo right back, providing assurance that, “don’t worry, I’m dealing with it too! And here’s an idea of what you can do about it.” The mentee shared that these situations gave a quick and helpful solution, but also some encouragement. Others also mentioned that living close to each other was a bonus, allowing them to take advantage of bulk purchasing and shared equipment.


Menu featuring organic produce from Jug Bay (’15Mentor), Good Fortune (’14Mentor), and Prickly Pear (’15Mentor) farms, and local meat and cheese from P.A. Bowen farm and eggs from Locust farm.

And, I have to mention the catering for the event because, well it’s exactly what this meeting was about– helping local farmers. Pineapple Alley Catering made us chili (one veggie and one beef). The produce, meat, and cheese came from three of the farmers sitting in the room that very night, which the caterer could identify by first name. It stands to reason, that if we are going to be meeting to talk about the food we are growing, we should carefully consider the food we are consuming at that meeting too.

The feedback from the meeting was what we had hoped– many of the farmers had formed valuable connections through the program that now allows them to share community resources with each other. If that’s not one way of building a stable regional food system, I don’t know what is!

For more information on the Collaborative beginning farmer program led by University of Maryland Extension, and our other partners, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Future Harvest CASA, visit the Beginning Farmer Success website. The grant funding has come to an end; however SMADC is excited to be able to continue to fund the Mentor Match program in 2016 for farmers who are farming in the five counties of Southern Maryland. To apply to be a part of our Mentor Match Program in 2016 or just to learn more about it, click here.

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Initial dryland rice research in Maryland, proving to be promising & profitable

It is not uncommon for Maryland farmer Heinz Thomet to go against the grain and grow different and exciting produce for market. However, ever since he literally started growing organic grains for sale a few years ago, I have been curious. I became even more curious when he started growing and selling rice. In Maryland? And without paddies?

Research plot. Dryland rice growing in an organic system at Next Step farm in southern Maryland.

Carolina Gold rice growing in an organic system at Next Step farm in Southern Maryland (Oct. ’15).

What started as research has turned out to be an auspicious, marketable crop. 

Farmers in the region are still in the infant stages of understanding dryland rice production using natural systems, but thanks to a few key people, progress has been made. And they’re willing to share their knowledge with you.

Heinz Thomet, of Next Step Produce, is leading the way. In a 2013 WAPO article, Heinz mentions that he pioneered the risky endeavor simply because, well, he eats rice.

Heinz equipment for rice

Heinz speaks to a 15 young farmers who visit on a recent FH CASA tour.

But there’s more to it than that. Greg Bowen wrote about Heinz’s farm on this blog last year. On this recent trip, we were invited to learn about his effort to track and grow dryland rice varieties for the mid-Atlantic. The research is made possible in part through a SARE grant. On his team, and available for questions on the tour was farmhand Adam, and rice research partners, Amanda and Nazirahk. Nazirahk has been researching dryland rice with Heinz and through a local university.

The rice is grown without the use of a traditional flooding, in our climate, and in a biologically active organic system. Heinz walked the group through each step, from germination house to field, harvest equipment, all the way through to cleaning and storage. “Treat it like you would a vegetable,” Heinz shares to the young group of produce farmers. Rice is started from seed in the greenhouse, transplanted onto bare ground (or mounded black plastic) with drip tape and compost in spring, and harvested in late summer. Similar to many of the other crops he grows on the 86 acre farm.

Packaged rice. Click the picture for recipe.

Packaged rice. Click the picture for recipe.

Heinz mentions that rice, similar to other grains, should be kept in the hull until ready to bag and sell. “Hull it only as you need it,” he warns, because once hulled it’s stored in a walk in cooler below 55 degrees to retain its nutrients (it can remain at this state for months). There are other ways of storing rice, but this is the best method for his small scale operation. The equipment needed to plant, harvest, hull and store the rice is expensive for a farmer just starting out. Heinz offered the farmers on the tour to talk with him if they would like to consider working out a deal for processing their own rice after it’s grown.

Of course what is a well-grown crop without flavor and marketability? The rice, like a good wine, is rich with depiction. Heinz describes one Japanese short-grain brown rice variety called Kushihikari as a fresh, aromatic flavor that can’t be beat! And after several meals in my rice cooker, I agree the flavor is fantastic.

Based on yields, pest management, and flavor trials, Heinz and team have discovered a few varietiesheinz worthwhile to grow.  Out of last years research, the Koshihikari mentioned above and Hmong Sticky, a short grain Vietnamese variety, have responded well to the growing conditions and climate on the farm. Some Chinese varieties and one U.S. variety called Blue Bonnet have done well in the field this year, but the verdict is still out as to whether they hold up in hulling process and taste test trail.

Learn more about the objectives and methods of the research here. More in-depth analysis will be published at the end of the grant. Look out for another post about the final report and what’s in the works for rice, this winter.

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Stories from a few of the faces behind the future of farming in Maryland!


We asked a group of beginning farmers, participants in the initial year of Maryland FarmLINK’s Mentor Match Program,  to talk about the joys and challenges they faced (and continue to face) while gaining a foothold as a farmer in today’s economy/environment. Eight mentees of the inaugural program generously agreed to share their time and stories in hopes that their experiences will be useful to others just beginning the journey.

Cathy Tipper, of Roberts Roost Farm and 2014 Mentee, rinses a cluster of bright-green sorrel just picked from the field. click the photo for the full story.
Cathy Tipper, of Roberts Roost Farm and 2014 Mentee, rinses a cluster of bright-green sorrel just picked from the field. See Tomorrow’s Harvest website for the full story.

 SMADC released the stories on a new webpage, Tomorrow’s Harvest. The website consists of a series of stories written by Whitney Pipkin about beginning farmers in Maryland who signed up to work with mentor farmers and help grow the next generation of farming in the region.  Their backgrounds are varied: retirees exploring a new calling, middle-aged workers crossing over from former careers, young entrepreneurs building their first business.

“It has been such a joy to learn about and work with our farm mentees. They exhibit a passion for growing food and a quiet resolve to make a difference in their communities. Through the Mentor Match Program, mentees learn about tricks of the trade from a farmer experienced in their line of work, while mentors get to see farming through new eyes. The matches often form great relationships where both parties learn something.” -Greg Bowen,  former Maryland FarmLINK Director

jackson webb

“He [Mentor] helped me make sure I had everything straight to come to market,” says Webb, who was overwhelmed at first by the paperwork and licenses required to sell meat directly to customers.” -Jackson Webb, Swamp Fox Farm, ’14 Mentee. Click the photo for the full story.

The mentees in the program, farmers just beginning to farm or moving into new areas of farming, were carefully paired with experienced farmers (mentors) for one year. When the first year was complete, mentees and mentors were invited to a meeting to share their experiences as new farmers, touching on everything from finding land, navigation permits, funding, dealing with pests, choosing crops and more.

“My time with the mentors and mentees gave me renewed hope in the future of Maryland agriculture, said Greg.” We must continue to build the next generation of farmers in the region. Even as we face challenges, there are still many opportunities to build a better food system and create more farm jobs. Read the stories about dedicated beginning farmers in our region, here. And to become a mentor or a mentee farmer in 2016, visit the website for details and an online application form.


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Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty, Part 2, Mix’n’Match and Food Forests

As part of the weekly blog post series, Maryland FarmLINK occasionally features an interview with a local farmer or local food advocate. 

If we want to create a different food system, where regionally-based agricultural systems can thrive, my hope is that we value more models like Chesapeake’s Bounty. This interview is with Will Kreamer, owner and operator of Chesapeake’s Bounty in St. Leonard and North Beach. Highlighting the health, environmental, and economic benefits of local food, the Bounty sells a wide range of products year-round, all from local farmers and watermen. They seek new and innovative ways of connecting producers with steady markets, while considering the ecological consequences of food production. The St. Leonard location also operates a farm work-share program and community education workshops.

 This post is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to read part 1. 

Maryland FarmLINK: What is a project or result you are most proud of?


The three sizes available for Mix n Match

Will: I like the Mix and Match baskets we offer. Customers can choose from three different sized baskets, each with a set price, and then fill them with any produce from a “Mix and Match” section of produce in the store. Our customers love the baskets. The Mix & Match baskets are working at the new location in North Beach too. When we started at North beach this summer, we had to teach just about every customer, and now they bring their friends, and explain it to them.

I would also say that I am proud of our effort towards more sustainable farming and community education programs. I feel blessed to be able to have the staff and the resources to open up the farm up to provide those programs free of charge, and to try to heal the land here.

Maryland FarmLINK: Perfect transition! Let’s talk more about the work-share program and community workshops you offer at the St. Leonard location. What is this education important for you to offer?

Will: The PCSA, Participatory Community Supported Agriculture, and workshops are open to all ages, including children who seem to have a really good time coming out on the community work days. What we are doing here on the farm is providing an opportunity for people to come out and learn basic skills that we have forgotten over the past few generations, skills about how to grow food and to do so using minimal resources. Growing your own food is kind of like printing your own money. I like that we are supporting a lot of local farms, but people need to grow more of their own food too. It is not in our long-term financial interest, but we have to start looking beyond our own interests.


PCSA garden boxes growing summer tomato plants at the St. Leonard location.

The food we grow here is important for people who have a source of income, but it is very important for people who don’t. And that’s really where we are going to put our focus in the coming years, trying to get more folks out here who might barely be getting by and don’t have enough food to put on the table. If they can dedicate a half hour, an hour, or a couple hours on the farm and learn some things, they can harvest all the food they want to take home with them. The food is here waiting.

Maryland FarmLINK: Can you explain some of the farming methods you’ve researched and implemented at Chesapeake’s Bounty?

Will: We need to plant more food forests. We should focus on planting more trees that are harvest-grade variety, such as hickory, basswood, and butternut. We need to bring back other trees like the new hybrid American chestnuts that are disease resistant and almost 100% genetically identical to the original American chestnut. Our ecosystem has completely changed with the loss of the American chestnut, from the content of the soil to the health of wetlands. It has also changed the health of our human and animal populations, as it’s an important food source.

Down here, we could also grow the English walnut and harvest the syrup as a substitute for maple syrup, to have our own locally grown syrup. That would be great.

Maryland FarmLINK: People are busy, and don’t always stop to think about their food choices. What is the main take-away you hope people get when they leave your store?

Will: We have pictures and descriptions of all of our farms and farmers in the stores and online and we’re really hoping that people are looking at those and seeing fairly quickly that everything we sell is local.


PCSA plots utilizing straw for growing vegetables and fruits at the St. Leonard location.

Maryland FarmLINK: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

Will: Like guerilla gardener Ron Finley is famous for saying, “You want to hang with me, come to the garden, with your shovel,” but really– just show up! Come to the farm, if you can call it a farm, and come to the market and we will talk. There is a lot going on here.

Maryland FarmLINK: Is there anything else you want FarmLINK readers to know?

Will: We need more food forests– period. We need to get ahead of the game, and we have the land and the climate here to do so.





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Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty, Part 1

As part of the weekly blog post series, Maryland FarmLINK occasionally features an interview with a local farmer or local food advocate. 

If we want to create a different food system, where regionally-based agricultural systems can thrive, my hope is that we value more models like Chesapeake’s Bounty. This interview is with Will Kreamer, owner and operator of Chesapeake’s Bounty in St. Leonard and North Beach. Highlighting the health, environmental, and economic benefits of local food, the Bounty sells a wide range of products year-round, all from local farmers and watermen. They seek new and innovative ways of connecting producers with steady markets, while considering the ecological consequences of food production. The St. Leonard location also operates a farm work-share program and community education workshops.

Maryland FarmLINK: What motivated you to take ownership of Chesapeake’s Bounty?

Will:  To be honest, I reopened Chesapeake’s Bounty in September of 2007 after it had been closed for about a year. I needed some money, and I thought foolishly I could make a quick buck selling Christmas trees for one season.

Maryland FarmLINK: You often talk about moving toward a decentralized food system, and made the recent decision to source exclusively from growers and watermen in the Chesapeake Bay region. How does that influence the work you do?

Will: My position on food production might 10275925_10154766299740034_5079606529511402587_nbe considered radical, but I hope one day it is considered normal. I started this business because I needed some money, but I found out that if I couldn’t make money in this business, I could at least find happiness. In the few years leading up to the decision to source 100% local products, I started gaining more knowledge about the trouble our food systems are encountering all over the world. I realized that one of the most important solutions to these problems is to decentralize food production as much as possible. In other words, we should be able to feed ourselves from our own communities with enough food for minimum nutrition. I also realized it is fairly cheap and easy to do that. Our work here at Chesapeake’s Bounty will continue in that direction as long as I am able to.

Maryland FarmLINK: “Local” is a popular buzzword in the food sector, but it means something different to everyone. How do you define “local” for your business?

Will: The name of this business is Chesapeake’s Bounty, so our rule is that everything has to come from the Chesapeake region. However, if you are talking about something highly perishable then we want it to come from as close as possible to our stores in St. Leonard and North Beach. Almost all of our produce and dairy comes from Southern Maryland or Eastern Shore farms. Our seafood comes from the Chesapeake Bay exclusively, and 99% of it’s caught in Southern Maryland. When we get into storage crops, apples for example, we get them from further north, 1) because they don’t grow well down here and 2) because they have a long shelf life.

Another great example of how the term “local” depends on the product would be our cooking oils. They are certified organic, non-GMO cooking oils, but in order to get enough sunflower or canola seeds to make the oils, the processor has to buy from farms in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The whole process– from growing, to harvest, to processing, to distributing– is within our Chesapeake region, the closest we can source it.

11169809_10155441560205034_4237773088529844614_nAnother thing, let’s say it is our goal to eventually be St. Leonard’s Bounty instead of Chesapeake’s Bounty. We have to get to that point, and one of the ways to get there is to buy our apples and cooking oils out of Pennsylvania now, and create the market here. That way we know if we make a commitment to a local farmer or these products, the demand is already there.

That has worked successfully for meats. We used to have to buy meats from all over the state, and now our meats are exclusively from Southern Maryland. That was not possible three years ago. A lot of the meats we sell are coming from right here in St. Leonard now too.

Maryland FarmLINK: You have a unique opportunity to visit local farms to pick up food on a weekly basis, and to talk to many farmers every day. Farmers often find there are not enough hours in the day to farm and do marketing, and therefore appreciate you promoting them and offering their food 7 days of the week. What is your favorite part about this task?

Will: Two things, but they are very much connected. The first is being in touch with the farmers and the watermen. There is a lot of small talk and that’s the core of the relationship really, but in that small talk, valuable pieces of information are exchanged. Information about market prices, issues with a particular crop or harvest, information about the upcoming season, etc. All things that are important for me to be aware of so we can prepare here at the Bounty for that product, or sometimes, a shortage of that product. The second is that the farmers and watermen also glen information from me because I’m in touch with all the other ones. So without intending to gossip or reveal information, still exchanging useful information to help people out. There is the gab, and then within in the gab, the information about what’s going on in the local food scene around here. It’s fun! I like being aware of what’s going on.

Maryland FarmLINK: What unique products do you sell?

10926226_10155005657365034_1652215613439467169_nWill: We have the organic cooking oils, and organic non-GMO flour and grains from Southern Maryland. We sell a very special line of dairy products from a very small farm with 100% grass-fed cows and just a beautiful operation. We even have locally made health and beauty products like deodorant and balms for healing wounds and soothing pain made from locally grown herbs or wild harvested plants.

Maryland FarmLINK: What are some products you are still looking for, or looking for more of, from farmers?

Will: We just started an operation to grow mushrooms, as mushroom sales are steadily increasing.  Mushrooms are a product I hear more farmers getting into, and I think that’s a good way to go. Mushrooms are an important food source for the future. They feed on decaying matter that’s not useful for anything else, and they constantly rejuvenate.11950329_1215274578498165_5917398930030668558_o

I think we could use some more winter production too, such as with the use of high tunnels and hydroponics, although we have to be careful with the hydroponics because they are energy intensive.

We need to have more meat animals that are raised without feed or using non-GMO feed. Regardless of the personal beliefs of the farmers, the people are demanding it and we have to answer to the people.

 This post is part one of a two-part interview. Coming next week,  we talk about Will’s work-share program/community education components and creating resiliency with forest farming.

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Maryland FarmLINK continues to gain ground building connections for the region

As we move into fall, it marks a good time to look back and reflect, as Maryland FarmLINK just finished the year-end report. FarmLINK helps aspiring farmers locate farmland and find mentors and partners. FarmLINK provides a forum for all farmers to exchange and ask questions, and provides information such as where to find equipment for rent, workshops, land, and general farming news. The popularity of the website continues to grow with visits to the site increasing 134%, to 124,000 in FY’15 and we are thrilled to see so many farmers engaging. We believe that many farmers and local food producers are using FarmLINK as their main resource for updates and information in Maryland.

This is important because within the next 20 years, 75% of the Maryland’s farmland will change hands. The average age of a principal farmer in Maryland is 59 and the average age of the former tobacco farmers is well into the 70s. Add to that, less than 5% of Maryland farmers are under 35 years of age. If we want to continue to build upon local food systems, we must help to grow the growers.

Growing new farmers

Couple farmers, Ross and Leah, article about the mentor match program. (Click to view article)

Access to land remains a top concern, as land values in Maryland are nearly three times the national average. Also, most farmland offered for sale is sold through a realtor, but realtors are not always familiar with the unique characteristics of selling farmland, and may not be not aware that FarmLINK exists. Many beginning farmers consider leasing farmland to be the most feasible way to start. This past year, we were happy to see several new farmers make leasing arrangements through FarmLINK. Our hope is to connect all types of farms:  large-scale farm operators, hobby farmers and beginning farmers looking for their first farm to lease or own.

Furthermore, new farmers who did not grow up on a farm lack access to experienced farmers who can act as mentors. FarmLINK’s Mentor Match program pairs experienced farmers (mentors) with new or transitioning farm owners/operators (mentees) for one-on-one training, advice and interaction. To date, over 46 applications have been received and 17 matches have been formalized.

A recent example, is a couple who signed up for FarmLINK for the property exchange and mentor program. They stated their specifications and were then linked up with Yates Clagett, a Prince George’s County cattle grazier, who had a vacant tenant house and a few small fields that had been laying fallow since the days of growing tobacco.
The mentor program will continue for the southern Maryland region in 2016, you can sign up here. In efforts to foster continual learning, FarmLINK is excited to announce a developing series of mentee profiles, which will be showcased online in October.

Outreach to all Maryland farmers

FarmLINK maintains a current calendar of upcoming seminars, workshops and other educational opportunities around the region which averages 30-50 listings at any time.  in 2015 staff expanded on the resource section which provides tutorials on soil analysis, planning and zoning information, farm equipment for rent, a guide to acidified foods, a realtor guide (and list of realtors familiar with selling farmland), and others.

The blog continues to receive 3,000 to 9,000 views per month. The Facebook page is growing as a news source and a place for people to communicate real time (viewers increased 60% in 2015). The Twitter feed posts the top tweets per week on current farming stories and events around the state and country (increased by over 100 followers this year). The Weekly Roundup is sent by email on Friday morning and highlights the best of the week on FarmLINK (over 1500 subscribers, you can sign up here).


Maryland FarmLINK is gaining traction as a web tool and resource to help farmers get access to land or expand their operation. As we’ve mentioned before, a website is just a tool—but it can be an important vehicle that leads to one of the largest investments a farmer makes—his/her land and farm operation. The support of many has been critical to building the capacity of farmers in the region and strengthening networks to improve success. There is still much work to be done, but the future of farming has a chance in this region— we must keep it alive!


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Agricultural preservation in Southern Maryland


Fast-forward 14 years, and you see the outcomes from the quote above happening in Southern Maryland. The region has diversified and strengthened after tobacco. Today you see farmers trying new crops in our region, such as growing wine grapes and organic vegetables, and doing it on land that has been permanently preserved for agricultural use.

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was signed into law in 1998. Prior to the agreement, going back 350 years, Maryland farmers relied on the cash crop to be their driving source of income. Tobacco was what they knew how to grow, and it grew well in our soils. A three-pronged approach was laid out by the Governors Tobacco Crop Conversion Task Force:

Transition Maryland farmers out of tobacco production into more profitable and life-sustaining crops, while preserving rural agriculture in Southern Maryland.

Three priorities were outlined:1) buyout and transition; 2) land preservationpreservation and 3) infrastructure development.

The outcomes of those priorities can be found in a recent report, by freelance writer Jamie Tiralla. Jamie worked with SMADC to develop a report about the Buyout and the impact ag preservation has had on the region.

The report is titled, “Impact of SMADC’s Agricultural Preservation Programs”, and you can read it here (PDF).




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County fairs, an important reminder of agricultural roots

County fairs featuring local agriculture first came about in the U.S. in the 1800’s. Traditionally, farmers met at county fairs as an educational opportunity– to share their knowledge and learn how to raise better livestock and improve crop production.

Farmers tend to cattle in 1886 at Calvert’s first fair (photo: Calvert fair website)

As an important annual event, fairs gave farmers a chance to leave the farm for entertainment, to connect with other farmers and the community, and of course compete for a prized blue ribbon for the best jam, largest pumpkin, and more. They are still seen as a symbol of the growing season winding down to fall harvest, and a time when farmers gather to talk about that year’s crops, livestock, and other happenings on the farm. County fairs provide a chance for socializing, entertainment and relaxation.

Southern Maryland county fair schedules 

  • Anne Arundel September 16-20th, schedule (pdf)
  • Calvert September 30- October 4th, schedule
  • Charles September 17-20thschedule
  • Prince George’s September 10-13th, schedule
  • St. Mary’s September 24-27th, schedule (pdf)

The past few years I’ve made an effort to check out neighboring county fairs, and have enjoyed seeing the different traditions of each. From roasted peanuts to livestock shows, fairs today are still grounded by their roots in agriculture. I encourage you to check out the schedules and visit another county’s fair this year. You may be surprised! And stop in and say hi to the team at the SMADC booth while your there.

For additional history, check out the Maryland state fair interactive timeline and interesting history page here. A listing of all Maryland county fairs can be found here.

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Interview: Farmer, Susie Hance-Wells, Part 2

As part of the weekly blog post series, Maryland FarmLINK will begin to feature an interview with a farmer or local food advocate occasionally.

The first interview is with Susie Hance-Wells of Taney Place farm in Calvert County. The farm recently started a new retail venture called Battle Creek Beef. In Part 1, Susie discussed the farm operation, and tips for new and beginning farmers. In Part 2 below, she discusses her perspective on creating a better food system and the role of agriculture in local communities.

Maryland FarmLINK: How does your farm contribute to creating a better food system?

Susie: Those of us who were born and raised on farms ate natural foods, and I think we took that for granted. We had our mother and grandmother’s canning all summer long with no preservatives, additives or dyes in our food. We cured and smokeBCB15d our own meat. We were sustainable and ate very well. Today, you have so much packaged food, and I do believe that affects us. You are always going to need the large producers. They can do it in a more economical way than say we can here, but we need to be able to offer the natural foods that so many of us were once fortunate enough to grow up with. We need the packaging industry to do a better job by adding less preservatives and additives. Consumers are beginning to ask for change.

Maryland FarmLINK: You have had a significant role in the agriculture community as a whole. Can you tell us more about that experience?

Susie: I’ve participated in many boards and committees. My dad encouraged us to be community involved, especially where agriculture is concerned. Agriculture did not have a loud voice for a while, and it was getting softer as more kids left the farm and didn’t come back. Another thing he taught me, which I really appreciate, was to look for what is good for everybody, not just what is good for yourself. When you get involved (with boards and committees), and promote certain things, it is not necessarily what you or your farm can take advantage of, but what is important is agriculture as a whole and the community as a whole. We have a completely different type of farmer emerging now. People need another job to be able to make it on the farm which restricts them to go testify on bills and be involved in agricultural meetings. We need to find a way to make it work better for them too. It is hard sometimes for us traditional farmers to accept the new age farmer. However, I think if we sit down and talk, we could learn a lot from each other.

Maryland FarmLINK: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of as a farmer or as an agricultural advocate?

Susie: One of the big things I feel good about is from the very start, and still today, I have been involved in the agricultural preservation program in Calvert County.  I’m proud of my county for the support of the agriculture preservation program.  We also put our money where our mouth is and put our own farm into permanent preservation. Agriculture preservation in this area of the coCaptureuntry, and the East Coast, is important. If you don’t have the land to produce your food sources near your cities and near your towns you become very vulnerable. You don’t want to concentrate all your agricultural production in just certain areas of a country, or even within a state. It should be balanced. We are starting to see that happen more with the local food movement.

Maryland FarmLINK: If you could go back and start all over again, would you do anything differently? Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Susie: Ultimately, everything I did brought me to where I am now. And I’m in a good place right now. So I don’t think I would do anything differently. I learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and became a better manager because of those mistakes. I have loved being involved in regulations. Sometimes it is very frustrating, and recently it seems the farmer is the bad guy, but we’re not doing anything differently. The perception has been more negative that I have ever seen. However, the local food movement, buying local, is improving that.

If I was just starting out as a young farmer I would have the whole supply of a CSA- high tunnels and maybe have a greenhouse. People could come here and buy their sausage and eggs for their breakfast, vegetables, and whole wheat for their bread. Like an old McDonald farm. I get bored just doing one thing all the time and enjoy taking care of different types of livestock.





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