Saving family farms in Maryland

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.34.32 AMFarming in the U.S. has gone through an incredible transformation in the last century, from highly diversified to highly specialized. Over that period, we’ve gone from 6.4 million farms to 2.1 million farms. Meanwhile, average farm size in the U.S. has increased from 148 acres in 1920 to 434 acres in 2012. Over the same period, Maryland went from 47,908 farms to 12,256 farms and average farm size has increased from 100 acres to 166.

From 1997 to 2012, the number of Maryland farmers age 65 and older increased by 12 percent farmoperatorswhile the number under age 35 decreased by nearly 25 percent.

It is interesting to note that in 1920 there were roughly the same number of farm owners 65+ in Maryland as there are farm operators now. However, there were 4,081 farm owner/operators <35 in Maryland in 1920 vs 603 farm operators <35 in 2012. This raises the question- who will replace our older farmers when they retire?

farmoperators.compareIn 2008, the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) reported that 70% of U.S. farmland would change hands by 2028. Without adequate succession planning, CSREES reports that farms are more likely to go out of business, be absorbed by larger neighboring farms, or be converted for non-farm use. Studies have shown that family farms are only passed down successfully to the next generation about 30% of the time.

The next decade or so will be critical if we are to keep land in the families and/or create opportunities for others to farm.  I have been in this job as Director of Maryland FarmLINK for three years. I had hoped that by pointing out the challenges for beginning farmers, and helping them to identify farms for sale or lease, we would make great progress. We have not.

If we don’t succeed it would be a huge missed opportunity. Our region is home to the Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.30.03 AMwealthiest population in the country and those residents are spending roughly $26 billion on food. We have good soils, a climate suited to produce most crops and better than average rain fall.

Either our region can benefit from those food expenditures or some other region will. But this is not just an economic issue. Great local food chains, from seed to servings, give us control over the quality of our food, food security and food safety.

The main challenges for farmers are getting access to land, having the infrastructure to farm, having the right regulatory environment and getting level access to the markets. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss the challenges and the solutions.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Are you on the right side of farming trends?

shoreshotAs we live our busy lives, we tend to miss the signals that markets are changing. Of course, we know that change is happening quickly. We only need to monitor how technology improvements continue to accelerate. Facebook began just 10 years ago and Google – 15. And today, roughly half of all internet users get their information from mobile devices.

Farming is always changing too, and some of the changes are a result of technology. Of course, the seasonality of most types of farming makes change occur a little more slowly. But change, it does. If you are farming, is your style of farming and your farm product on the upswing or downswing? Are you taking advantage of technology? As we wind up the year 2014, we find that Maryland agriculture is witnessing several long-term trends, and a few emerging trends.

grapesComparing the 2007 and 2012 ag census figures, there are a few obvious long-term trends. For example, direct sales to consumers grew 32% between 2007 and 2012 and organic sales grew 118%. However, it is interesting to note that total acres of vegetables harvested declined 13% over the same period, while the total sales increased 25%. Are we seeing an increase in direct sales and a decrease in wholesale?

Acres of most specified fruits declined. Grape production is an exception, as the number of acres increased 33% between census years, reflecting the continued growth in wineries. Acres of land planted in corn dropped 5% between census years, while acres in soybeans increased 23%. Acres of land irrigated grew 13% to 104,910 acres, part of a long trend.

Sales of livestock, poultry and their products remained virtually unchanged in Maryland between 2007 and 2012. However, a huge drought in the west in 2012 has created several opportunities for meat producers in Maryland. According to an article in Agrimoney.com, the U.S. cattle herd is the smallest in 61 years and it will take until the end of the decade to rebuild the herd says Donnie Smith of Tyson Foods. Meanwhile beef and poultry producers are benefiting from the shortage of meat.

Direct sales of local beef and poultry is too new to show up as a trend to track through AMPS tour 037several ag censuses. However, in my travels around the state, I find that it is certainly an emerging trend. Another emerging trend is aquaculture. Sales grew from $4 million to $9 million between 2007 and 2012. With all of the new state permits for shellfish leases issued in the last few years, production is bound to increase.

It is important that farmers are aware of how their markets are trending. At Maryland FarmLINK we monitor social media and USDA data to try to keep you informed about trends affecting Maryland farmers through our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, and, of course, this blog.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Presentations on “scaling up” highlighted the Annual Mentor Match Meeting

We are delighted to be part of the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success that received a grant from the USDA’s Beginning FarScreen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.33.05 AMmer and Rancher Development Program. SMADC supports the effort with enhanced resources on the Maryland FarmLINK website and managing the Mentor Match Program for beginning farmers.

On November 20th, we held the first annual meeting to discuss accomplishments and how we can improve the program. However, prior to the meeting, I had asked mentors and mentees what they might want to learn more about. Learning more about “scaling up” was the the most requested item, so two of our partners in the Collaborative, Shannon Dill and Paul Goeringer, stepped up to provide great information on the use of social media for marketing, dealing with farm labor issues and expanded crop insurance for vegetable and fruit operations under the new Farm Bill.luke2

However, the most attention was centered around Luke Howard’s presentation “Experiences in Scaling Up: Successes and Failures.” Luke and Alison Howard own and operate Homestead Farms, Inc. located in Millington, MD. Luke said that their initial goals for the 77 acre farm when they purchased it in 2002 were to “live the farm life, grow some vegetables and have a few animals for fun.” My sense is that neither would be satisfied with that for long. They seem to love a challenge. Both were familiar with farming, but neither had operated an organic vegetable farm.

LukeHoward

Photo by Luke Howard

Luke balanced humor and honesty in his talk in a way that kept attendees riveted as he described both successes and failures as their operation grew. In a short 11-year span, they scaled up from a 10-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation with some sales at a farmers market and a restaurant, to a 250 member CSA with 60 acres of vegetables and 400 acres of grains (on rented land) and a number of wholesale contracts to popular retail stores and restaurants.

Luke and Alison have focused on diversifying as they scaled up and they are careful, prudent business planners. Luke’s Take Home Message:

  1. Talk to buyers and get an understanding of the market
  2. Be fiscally conservative. Don’t risk it all.
  3. Make sure you have the experience to grow and package.
  4. Make sure labor is in place.
  5. Don’t be in a rush. Take it in steps.
  6. Write out your plan and review with other experts.

As we wrapped up a successful first year in the Mentor Match Program, attendees had lots of good suggestions to ponder. For more information on the Collaborative’s beginning farmer program led by University of Maryland Extension, and our other partners University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Future Harvest CASA,  go to the Beginning Farmer Success website. To apply to be a part of our Mentor Match Program, click here.

 

Posted in beginning farmers, Extension, Farmlink, Maryland Farmlink, New Farmers, Organic farming, scaling up in farming | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

One-Acre and Ayers-Elliott at the Small Farm Conference!

Why do we need small farms?

Richard A. Henson Center at UMES

Richard A. Henson Center at UMES

The world-wide trend in agriculture has been to specialize and scale-up. Bigger operations can be more efficient and reduce the cost of agriculture products. So why have a whole conference about small-scale agriculture? Should we even be promoting small farms?

During the Opening Remarks, speakers made it clear that small farms have their place in U.S. agriculture. University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) was established as an 1890s college. As mentioned in a previous blog, the 1890s land-grant colleges were established to provide education in several careers deemed critical to the country’s future and agriculture was one of them. Then, the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 helped bring land-grant agriculture programs to those who could not come to the classroom.

In 2011, the National Young Farmers Coalition released a report Building a Future with

2011 NYFC Survey

2011 NYFC Survey

Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed. The authors conducted a national survey of young and beginning farmers and the results of the survey helped to form the basis of the Coalition’s recommendations for addressing the challenges that they face. It is significant that 78% of all beginning farmers surveyed did not grow up on a farm.

It is impossible to cover all of the Conference sessions in this blog so I will just focus on a few.

Small is profitable. The 43,560 Challenge from the Virginia State University is all about how to earn a dollar per square foot on one-acre of land. Not all farms are high earners and some farms have both on-farm and off-farm incomes to pay the bills. The University project reported on its efforts to show the income potential of small farms.

cindyblogSmall builds community. Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliott was the keynote speaker. With the financial acumen of a New York City investment banker (which she was) and the heart of a community builder, she has created Foot Print Farms in her hometown of Jackson Mississippi. The farm comprises not only her goat herd and vegetable fields. She is also making land available for others to begin farming.  Her main message is about farming, but it is also about building and transforming communities, which drew her an invitation on the Katie Couric show and also a nice feature story on the USDA blog.

One suggestion that she had for beginning farmers in the audience was to make use of the vast array of USDA programs.

Small farms are incubators for beginning farmers. They are especially important for those who did not grow up on a farm and cannot buy or lease large tracts of farmland. Small farms are places to experiment, to learn how to grow, to learn about labor issues, to learn how to use equipment, to learn how to market, to learn how to be good neighbors and to reach out to communities.

Big farms, like the ones you see so often on the Eastern Shore, are important engines of our ag economy, but small farms have their place too. For beginning farmers, the Small Farm Conference was a great place to learn where and how to begin.

 

 

Posted in beginning farmers, Extension, locally sourced food, Small Farm Conference, small farms, University of Maryland Eastern Shore | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

We want our food money back!

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 8.34.51 PM

Panelists: Micah Martin, Brett Grohsgal, Will Kreamer, Bernie Fowler, Jr, Doug Hill, and Jason Smith

By the middle of the 20th century, we had lost the capacity to feed ourselves. As the century progressed, we had become increasingly enamored with everything shiny and new. By the 1960s, people were even walking on the moon! Innovation seemed limitless. Everything new  and from the grocery store was better than “home grown,”  or so we thought. Grocery stores became our source of food and major corporations became our aggregators, processors and distributors.

Today, we’ve become like the little kids who went to school and the bullies stole our lunch money and gave us something barely edible to eat. . . .literally.

However, in the last twenty years, some consumers have begun to rebel, not liking the “freshness” and taste of store-purchased food, and not happy with the dozens of indecipherable ingredients on the labels of processed food. More recently, the desire for local food has emerged as the number one  trend in grocery stores and restaurants.

Agriculture still generates $8 billion for Maryland’s economy, but most local food that we grow here is processed out of state and sold by a third party. Without the ability to aggregate, distribute, process, and sell our own food, we give up freshness, taste, and economic benefit. On average, the USDA estimates that farmers only keep about 7% of the total food dollar.  That is beginning to change.

On November 5th, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission hosted a Buyer Grower Workshop–Production and Sales to Retail/Wholesale Markets.

Growth in Direct sales has been steady in Maryland. Between 2007 and 2012 it grew 32%. In Southern Maryland, it grew 58%.

Growth in Direct Sales for Human Consumption has been steady in Maryland. Between 2007 and 2012 it grew 32%. In Southern Maryland, it grew 58%.

We invited attendees to discuss how to rebuild the local food system. Christine Bergmark, Executive Director, noted the incredible growth of direct sales to consumers in the region and in the state. However, she encouraged the audience to think beyond the direct sales from farm to consumer. The workshop began with a panel discussion including two buyers, two farmers, and two food hubs representatives:

  • Micah Martin – Woodberry Kitchen
  • Jason M. Smith – Wegmans
  • Brett Grohsgal – Even’ Star Organic Farm
  • Doug Hill – Cabin Creek Heritage Farm
  • William Kreamer – Chesapeake’s Bounty
  • Bernie Fowler, Jr. – Farming 4 Hunger

Each speaker was asked to respond to a series of questions about business practices and challenges. Afterward there was a Q and A from the audience.

The 50+ farmers, chefs, and fishermen peppered the panel members with questions and were eager to learn more about their operations. Discussions continued on into the break. Attendees seemed passionate about exploring the relationship between locally sourced food and a healthy community.

More to come on this topic in the next few months!

 

 

Posted in food hubs, locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Ideas in Farming, So. Maryland Topics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Extension- the first step on the path to farm success

I have been associated with Extension folks for 40 years, but this week I was

Ben Beale (standing) and Hanna Sheer presenting the Beginning Farmer Success website

Ben Beale (standing) and Hanna Sheer presenting the Beginning Farmer Success website

immersed! I was one of a half-dozen speakers participating in two workshops to provide Extension personnel and other ag professionals with resources for assisting beginning farmers.

Training is the life of an extension agent – both receiving and disseminating the latest information for farmers. This year, Extension is celebrating its 100th year anniversary with the signing of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and now it is rolling out new resources for beginning farmers which I will describe at the end of this post.

How did Extension get started?

Extension is an outgrowth of the Morrill Act, signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. The Morrill Act gave authority for the federal government to provide land for colleges, at least one for each state, where a leading objective of the college included teaching agriculture. The University of Maryland is an example of a land-grant college.

In 1890, a second Morrill Act was passed to increase federal support for land-grant colleges and Congress added a “Separate but Equal” provision for the establishment of colleges for African-Americans. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is an example of a college established as a result of the Morrill Act of 1890, with a mission targeted to diverse audiences with special emphasis on those with limited resources to help them improve their quality of life.

Of course, a classroom setting is an effective approach to teach agriculture, but it

2013 Organic Vegetable Tour at the Upper Marlboro Experimental Station

2013 Organic Vegetable Tour at the Upper Marlboro Experimental Station

does not reach all those who are already farming and those who can not afford to attend college. In the late 19th century, Seaman Knapp became convinced that demonstrations carried out by farmers were the most effective way to disseminate good farming methods. He is considered the father of Extension and believed that “What a man hears, he may doubt; what he sees he may also doubt; but what he does, he cannot doubt.” He helped create the establishment of experimental research stations across the nation.

Extension is part of the University of Maryland system. The University shares agricultural research and provides training in its Extension offices throughout the state. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is home to the Small Farm Institute which “coordinates research and Extension outreach for evaluation and development of alternative agriculture technologies and marketing strategies that help maintain small family farm operations.” Next week, it is holding its 11th Annual Small Farm Conference.

Beginning Farmer Success 

Beginning Farmer Success

Beginning Farmer Success

In the last 30 years, the percentage of farmers 34 and younger has dropped from 16% of all farmers to 6% and the farming community has become increasingly alarmed that there will not be enough farmers in the future. Therefore the USDA provided monies for states to apply to initiate Beginning Farmer and Rancher programs. The University of Maryland Extension received a grant in 2012 and staff held two workshops this week to inform extension agents and other ag professionals about the resources that have been developed. Extension has put together an impressive website of beginning farmer resources on its new webpage.

Extension staff also introduced the other members of the Beginner Farmer grant team: Future Harvest CASA (Beginning Farmer Training Program) and Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (Maryland FarmLINK and Mentor Match Program). Finally, staff recognized the Extension Agents who have set up their own beginning farmer training programs over the years and they shared their experiences and suggestions for running successful programs.

Of course, farmers have many diverse interests and philosophies as to proper agricultural methods. However, all will benefit by starting out using the resources of Maryland Extension.

 

Posted in beginning farmers, Extension, Uncategorized, University of Maryland Extension | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

We will have “made it” when there are locally sourced bakeries!

I LOVE bread. I am not very good in the kitchen, but years ago, I had grown weary of bread 010store-bought bread with a list of chemicals I did not recognize and I resolved to make my own. For a number of years (I won’t say how many), I tortured the family with my attempts at yeast breads that were barely edible. Then about two years ago, two transformative events occurred. First, my wife found a recipe that I could follow successfully, almost without fail. Second, local farmer Wilson Freeland found a hard red winter wheat (with the help of county extension agent Herb Reed),  that would grow well on his White Cliff Farm in Southern Maryland.

Hard red wheat is used to make bread. Most wheat grown in Maryland is soft red winter wheat and it is used for making cakes, pastries, flat breads, and crackers. Mr. Freeland bought his own stone-ground mill and I was one of his first customers.

Rice at Next Step Produce

Rice at Next Step Produce

Then last year I had another local supplier when Next Step Produce began raising rice, buckwheat, rye and wheat organically. They purchased equipment to thresh, winnow and mill the grain. I now alternate between both sources!

A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds. The market price for wheat has ranged from $5.00 to $8.00 per bushel in the last few years, or roughly 11 cents a pound. In 2012, Maryland farmers raised 14 million bushels of wheat or 840 million pounds, with a market value of $87 million dollars.

According to the USDA Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, per capita consumption wheatof wheat flour has hovered around 134.5 pounds in the last few years. With a population of nearly 6 million residents, Maryland consumes roughly 800 million pounds of wheat product and, since most Maryland wheat is not processed in Maryland, our state’s economy gets very little of that income. The milled price for wheat flour would retail for at least $1 per pound to several dollars per pound for organic flour, many times more than the price per bushel from wholesale markets.

There used to be hundreds of mills in Maryland – dozens in my home  county –Calvert. The creek behind my house powered a mill. You can still see the dam formed in the stream bed used to funnel the stream that turned the mill. Mill Creek is a common name for streams. There is only one large mill in Maryland according to a Baltimore Sun article published last year. The Wilkins Rogers mill is located in Ellicott City and its headquarters is in Halethorpe, Pennsylania. The Ellicott City mill operations may be consolidated to Halethorpe within 10 years.

But according to the Sun article, the long-term trend might mean the return of more local mills to Maryland. “Where it once made sense to mill wheat where it was grown and ship flour across the nation, it is now more cost effective to haul trainloads of grain to the country’s population centers on the coasts and produce flour there,” said James A. Bair, vice president of the North American Millers Association.

I am loving my locally sourced flour and make a loaf or two every week. I encourage more Marylanders to find their local source and help keep our dollars local. But I realize that most people don’t make bread. Therefore, I believe that we will have made it when we have locally-sourced bakeries throughout the state!

My Bread Recipe (prep takes about 20 minutes and bread in a total of 90 minutes)

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat)
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups warm water

Method

Add yeast and honey into 1/2 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Stir and let sit a few minutes until yeast begins to work. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt and then stir in the yeast mixture. Then add remaining warm water (about 1 1/2 cups) until all ingredients are moist.

Butter a 9″ x 5″ pan and add moistened ingredients. Set aside to rise in warm place for 12 to 18 minutes until mixture rises to fill the pan. Heat oven to 390 degrees and bake for about 33 minutes.

Note: Maryland Farm and Harvest will be presenting a story on November 11th about Aunt Annie’s pretzels, produced in Maryland using Maryland produced wheat flour. Aunt Annie’s headquarters are in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (just 80 miles from Baltimore) and it has store locations throughout the country.

Posted in locally sourced food, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Townies, it is time to get back in the dirt!

‘Agri’ came before ‘culture’

Before agriculture, humans were nomads by necessity. They could not store food for long periods, so they were in constant search for food. Through the use of crude tools to turn the soil and the accidental or intentional interbreeding of grasses, they began to produce enough grain to store. As their farming processes improved, fewer family members had to be devoted to food production and more people could come together for mutual protection and communication. From those interactions, cultures developed.Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 4.37.04 AM

According to Charles Mann, author of 1491, “In these suddenly more populous societies, ideas could be more readily exchanged, and rates of technological and social innovation soared. Religion and art—the hallmarks of civilization—flourished.”

Maryland towns were located based on their potential to aggregate (and sometimes process) farm and other land base resources. Those which were the most successful grew the largest. And in those towns, culture usually flourished.

After the Industrial Revolution, towns lost much of their resource-based commerce

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 6.13.36 AMThe Industrial Revolution affected the economies of rural towns in several ways. First, workers were drawn to cities with manufacturing jobs, and away from rural areas. Then large food processing facilities out-competed smaller processing facilities so that local food and resource-based jobs were no longer local. Finally, large agricultural operations out-competed smaller ones so that the smaller towns were left surrounded by commodity farms with products that they could not directly utilize. No doubt, industrialized food have reduced our food budget as a percentage of our incomes, but at what cost?

Globalization has only made the situation crazier, with chickens being raised in the U.S., shipped to China for processing and returned to the U.S. for sale. Does anyone else feel that this is crazy?

When we separate ourselves from our food sources, we become disconnected with nature and uninformed about the social and environmental methods used to produce our food.  We also lose a key opportunity to connect with others in our community over an product that we all obviously need.

With the local food movement, some towns are finding new life.

Harwick Vermont has seen hard times, as highlighted in Ben Hewitt’s book The Town thathardwick Food Saved. Established to mine granite from a neighboring mountain, the town began to dry up with the market demand for granite. In the last decade or so, there has been a resolve to establish the town as a mecca for local food. A food co-op is a main retail operation in the little town. The town has created a food incubator, the Vermont Food Venture Center, for start-up businesses using local food. They have a community vegetable garden known as Atkins Field. And, of course, it is surrounded by entrepreneurial farmers who provide and amazing variety of goods from a rocky Northern state. All of this has happened in a town the size of Chesapeake Beach.

It did not happen in a vacuum. Many of the good things happening in Hardwick are the result of The Center for an Agricultural Economy, comprised of community leaders.

north beach farmers market 008North Beach, Maryland took the initiative to establish a farmers’ market several years ago, in the belief that it would bring more life to the town. They closed a street, advertised widely, and brought in entertainment to support the market kickoff.  The efforts were very effective and now stores and restaurants stay open longer, acknowledging the crowds coming to the markets.

Agriculture came before culture. Communities need economic activity to prosper. We should not allow corporate activities and globalization to take away our economic potential. In figuring out where to start, we only need to look down at our plates. Now where did that food come from?

 

 

Posted in locally sourced food, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Stewardship is a top priority at Next Step Produce

Nineteen of us traveled to Newburg, Md to participate in the START Farmer’s Network tour of Next Step Produce.  Heinz Thomet  and Gabrielle Lajoie purchased the farm in 1999 after carefully looking for the best place to grow organic produce for direct sale to consumers.  I covered some of the reasons why they purchased the Charles County farm in a blog post last year.

Heinz Thomet

Heinz Thomet

A number of the farm guests participated in this START Farmer’s Network tour for the first time, intrigued by the reputation of the farmers who grow a wide variety of vegetables year around, plus a wide selection of small grains and specialty fruits. Prior to touring the farm, Heinz took a few minutes to discuss the mission of Next Step Produce — We specialize in seasonal organic vegetables, grains, herbs, flowers, and fruits, grown in harmony with nature — and share his concerns about  agriculture’s impact on the earth. He has devoted a great deal of time to the study of climate change and noted that when organic matter decreases in the soil, it releases carbon. He also expressed concerns about monocultures and the decrease in bees. The farmers at Next Step Produce give careful consideration to how their farming practices impact nature.

Electric Work Cart

Electric Work Cart

Next Step Produce is certified organic. The farmers use compost and cover crops to build organic matter in the soils. The cover crops also provide flowers for bees throughout the growing season.

They use solar panels to reduce the farm’s energy dependence on fossil fuels and added a solar panel to power their electric work cart. They installed a high efficiency wood burning stove to heat their greenhouses in the winter.

2014 Rice Crop

2014 Rice Crop

They are also not afraid to take on new crops, constantly looking for products not sold elsewhere. One of their biggest experiments is small grains, producing hard wheat, soft wheat, buckwheat, barley, oats, rye and even rice (as reported in a Washington Post article last year).

In addition to showing us the crops currently in production, Heinz passed on a few suggestions for beginning farmers.

  1. Think ahead when seeking a farm. Other than great soil quality and access to markets (mentioned in a previous post), Heinz believes that a farmer should find enough farmland to set land aside each year for cover crops, in addition to the land needed for farming. If possible, a farmer should also seek a farm that will accommodate  more than one family. He added that it often takes more than one family (there are three full-time farmers assisting Heinz and Gabrielle) to produce a crop and it is helpful to have housing when you are trying to attract good farm labor.
  2. Take good care of your soil. In addition to the environmental and global benefits of high organic matter in your soil, Heinz discussed how healthy soil can help a farm survive a major storm. As an example, a few years ago, they experienced a heavy rain event. During a break in the storm he noticed that the soils had absorbed 5 inches without excessive ponding or erosion. Most farm fields cannot handle such a heavy rainfall. Of course, that ability to absorb water also helps farmland to “weather” dry spells.
  3. Look for ways to fill niche markets where you can sell at retail price. Heinz pointed out that a small farm needs to sell for a reasonable retail price as much as possible. Otherwise, the farm is not viable financially. He focuses on one major farmer’s market and he tries to sell unique products that don’t compete with those already being offered. Therefore, he is always experimenting with new crops and varieties.

Next Step Produce is a not only a productive working farm. It is a great agricultural experiment in stewardship and farm profitability!

 

 

 

Posted in beginning farmers, healthy soil, locally sourced food, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Realtor’s class in Maryland’s biggest farm county was a success!

Frederick County, Maryland is blessed with a pleasant climate and productive farmland soils.

Historic barn near Urbana

Historic barn near Urbana

Frederick had 181,512 acres of farmland in 2012, according to USDA Ag census figures, the most farmland  of any county in the state. The market value of agricultural products was $150 million. However the county lost 20,500 acres of farmland between 2007 and 2012, the greatest loss of farmland in the state.

Paul Goeringer, legal specialist at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland, and I held a class at the Frederick County Association of Realtors to equip 26 realtors with the tools and information necessary to help their clients identify, analyze and purchase or lease farmland.

Paul Goeringer speaking to the class

Paul Goeringer speaking to the class

The future of agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers being able to get access to of farmland. Being so close to Washington D.C., Frederick could help feed the huge metropolitan area or it could become a victim of suburban sprawl.  I was happy to see so many Frederick County realtors interested in selling and leasing farmland and wanting to know about the tools and resources available to help farmers in the land selection process.

Their names names and contact information will be added to the List of Realtor Graduates on Maryland FarmLINK’s Realtor Resources pages. Maryland FarmLINK is a free resource and there is no charge to post a property for sale or lease.

 

Posted in access to farmland, Ag census, Maryland Farmlink, New Farmers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off