Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 7.10.19 AMThis blog is the last in a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In the first blog, I highlighted the need for beginning farmers. In the second and third blogs, I addressed access to land and infrastructure needs. In this blog, I discuss how to create a level access to markets.

The local food movement has given us hope that we can maintain family farms in Maryland. For decades, I have heard of farmers telling their children that there is no future in farming. That attitude is changing. Now more farm children are returning to farms. And clearly, more people care about family farms and want to know how their food is grown.

However, the playing field is not level. Recently, National Public Radio covered an 18-month investigation by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times which described working conditions on mega-farms in Mexico.  According to the reporter, the mega-farms are mistreating workers and paying them $8 to $12 per day, hardly on par with regulations and expectations in the U.S. The story also noted that major U.S. food chains are purchasing from these farms.

Farmers in Maryland face additional challenges in trying to provide more locally-sourced food.  In the 19th century, and early 20th century, most grain, canning and food processing operations left the state and local health regulations were not designed for small scale food processing operations. Meanwhile, chain stores out-competed local food markets in the 20th century. Few locally owned stores still exist and local farmers have a tough time negotiating square deals with most chain stores.

Without local food stores, farmers selling retail were literally kicked to the curb. If farmersScreen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.32.12 AM wanted to sell the food themselves, they had to sell at roadside stands or in farmers markets, where local zoning would permit them. In commercial shopping centers, chain grocery stores typically would require landlords to impose covenants restricting local farm sales. To take advantage of the local food movement, some chains have established local market sections in their stores, but “local” can be as much as a 300-400 mile radius and farmers are  subject to their terms and whims. Many farmers have stories about working with chains. After the picture of the farm went up in the food isle, the produce orders would disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.39.33 AMHere are possible solutions to help farmers get level access to markets.

1. Encourage counties to include goals that promote local food systems in their comprehensive plans and adopt zoning ordinances that permit value-added production on farms.

2. Insist that our legislators oppose trade agreements that create unfair competition for our farmers. They should not have to compete with food from countries with weak environment, labor and food safety standards.

3. Work with businesses and government to rebuild local food aggregation systems and distribution systems, such as

  • -More local food transport systems.
  • -More indoor and year-around markets.
  • -Better market sites in towns, such as around village squares and other activity centers.

4. Tell the stories of farmers who provide great local farm products.

5. Support a food system that is sustainable and treats everyone in the food system fairly.

Giving farmers level access to markets will build the local economy, create jobs and help insure that our food is fresh and safe.


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Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment

This blog is one of a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In my last post, I covered some of the typical infrastructure needs of beginning farmers. In this post, I discuss possible regulatory challenges for new agricultural entrepreneurs.

As I mentioned in a previous post, when Maryland’s health and zoning regulations were wineryfirst adopted, direct sales of farm products, value-added farm products and agri-tourism uses (such as farm weddings, corn mazes, and wine tastings) were not a significant part of the agricultural landscape and regulations were not written to allow them. The local food movement has created many new opportunities for farmers, but some counties have not updated their regulations to specifically allow the new uses.

Before you sign on the dotted line for leasing or purchasing a farm, I recommend that you visit our Zoning Tutorial, which describes the reasons for regulations, how they relate to adopted plans, and who to contact with questions and for clarifications. There are also links to county zoning regulations that are posted on the web.

To dispel any hope of simplicity, no county zoning regulations are the same. Each is patterned to address plan goals, citizen concerns, etc. The names of zoning districts differ, the definitions differ, and the review processes differ.  In addition to verifying that their farm uses are allowed by zoning, farmers should ask their attorney if there are any preservation or conservation easements that would restrict their farming activities.

Even if they pass these hurdles, farmers can face tough, expensive legal challenges if they propose a farm project that is perceived by neighbors to have an adverse impact on the use of their properties. A case in point is the Bellevale Farms Inc., an organic dairy farm on 199 acres in the Long Green Valley area of Baltimore County. The Long Green Valley Association had sued when the dairy sought and received approval to construct a creamery.

Maryland farmers can benefit from two Maryland Department of Agriculture programs if nuisance claims arise. First, most Maryland counties have adopted a Right-to-Farm law. Second, the state has a Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service to help resolve disputes with neighbors.

When a farmer is ready to undertake a new project, it pays to visit the local permit offices. I put together a simple table of the types of permits that may be needed and the agencies that may be involved.

Typical regulations only. Check with your jurisdiction to determine what regulations are required

Typical regulations only. Check with your jurisdiction to determine what regulations are required

Fortunately, there are people to help. At the Beginning Farmer Success website, they have collected contact information by county. You may also want to see if there is an Agricultural Marketing Professional in your county to help guide you through the permitting process.

Some counties have made great progress in clarifying zoning regulations that apply to

Source: The Atlantic "Why a Denver Suburb Has  Gone All-In for Farming"

Source: The Atlantic “Why a Denver Suburb Has Gone All-In for Farming”

farm enterprises. Earlier this year, I wrote about Montgomery County’s new zoning ordinance which allows agricultural uses in practically every part of the county, scaled to the development in each particular zone. I think that Calvert County does a good job of allowing a wide variety of agricultural uses in its agriculture districts (full disclosure, I helped to write it). Farm entrepreneurs can find farm use definitions, the zones where the use is allowed and the conditions that will be imposed.

More can be done if we are to save family farms in Maryland. I just read an article from The Atlantic CITYLAB about how a Denver suburb actively encourages urban farming and has streamlined its regulations. As the article states, they are experiencing an “agricultural renaissance.”

Lets hope that we are on the cusp of the same! Next week, gaining level access to markets.


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Saving family farms in Maryland – Infrastructure solutions

This blog is one of a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In my last post, I noted that young and beginning farmers often have difficulty finding land that also has the infrastructure amenities they need. In this post I cover some of the common infrastructure needs.

Access to water

Most commodity crops are not irrigated. However, just about every other crop is irrigated and livestock operations require water too. A good production well for irrigation can easily cost up to $20,000 and these wells require a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Some small-scale vegetable, fruit and livestock farmers use their house well for agricultural purposes, especially if they are using drip irrigation or just watering a few animals. However, many house wells are not suited for even that level of water use.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 7.42.46 PM

An example of a dug well from Durham Ca

There are other solutions. For example, if the farm happens to have a pond, it might be a source of irrigation water, but be sure to discuss this with the farm owner,  if you are leasing, and include it in your lease agreement. There are other options  but they are not well-tested  (pardon the pun!) for production. For example, most farmers are not aware that “dug” wells and “driven” wells are still permitted in Maryland. In the coastal plain, it is often possible to find a high water table and both options are much cheaper than “artesian wells. The first well for my house was a “dug” well, which consists of a stack of 3 – 4 ft. diameter concrete well curbs usually hand dug into the ground until you reach water. It took me less than a day to dig mine and then my plumber hooked up the pump. Dug wells are no longer permitted for household use but they are allowed for irrigation purposes.

For more thoughts about access to water and more about the permitting process, read our blog – Water Supply options for farmers in Maryland. 

Good fences and the right equipment

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 6.56.46 AMThe old adage is “Good fences make good neighbors.” When it comes to livestock operations and fruit and vegetable production in Maryland, the adage should be amended to say “good fences make successful farms.” Of course, good fences keep livestock on the farm and protected from foxes, coyotes and such. However, vegetable and fruit producers need good fences to keep a gentle four-legged animal out. Deer populations across the state are at such a level of overpopulation that they will even eat landscaping materials next to a house in urban/suburban areas. In most parts of the state, it may be futile to grow certain vegetables and fruits without a fence. Before putting in that first crop, be sure to either get assurances from neighbors that there is no deer problem, or be sure to put fencing in your farm budget and include it in your lease agreement, if leasing.

Portable electric fences have become a popular solution for “pasture-rotation” livestock producers, Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.21.19 AMincluding cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry. These portable fences can be quickly set up. However, some of your pasture may need to be more permanent and secure, especially if you leave the farm often. Extension has a nice webpage about fencing options and costs.

As to farm equipment, many experts recommend caution. Don’t buy more than you are sure that you can afford or more than you really need. And “used” may be the best way to get started. To learn more, check out Extension’s Beginning Farmer Success page on equipment.

Good Road Access

This will mean different things to different farmers. For grain farmers, wholesale producers and large livestock producers, it means a road that will support heavy trucks and is virtually “weather proof.” For small-scale fruit and vegetable producers and agri-tourism ventures, it may mean access to a road with substantial traffic volumes for customers/visitors and/or a suitable location for a roadside stand.

Be sure that you have legal access to the road if you lease the property and be sure that you can get permission from the county or state if you plan to have a roadside stand and/or plan to invite customers or visitors to the site.

A House

Nearly all non-commodity farmers need a place to live on or near the land that they are farming, to provide security and the near constant maintenance of the land and its products. If the farm operator is not the owner, then it is great if there is a tenant house available for the beginning farmer.

If not, farm mobile homes are an option in some counties. However, you will need permits and, once they are purchased, they may be difficult to sell later. Currently, state and local regulations may make it difficult to provide any secondary residential accommodations on farms for beginning farm operators. Excise taxes and new septic systems can add tens of thousands dollars to the cost of housing.

An interestinScreen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.07.27 AMg option that the state should consider would be allow mini-homes on farms as a temporary use as long as a farmer is leasing a farm. The Bridge Foundation has some interesting examples, including the one posted to the left. That is an idea that I hope to pursue with county and state officials in the next year.

A Good Lease Helps to Maintain Relationships

My friend Paul Goeringer always says that Marilu Henner is one of only a few people in the world who remembers every conversation she ever had. She has what is called a “highly superior autobiographical memory.” Everyone else forgets. If you are not one of the few, put your agreements in writing. Paul has authored a sample lease agreement that serves as a great guide for Maryland farmers.

Next week, we will talk about the right regulatory environment needed to save family farms in Maryland.

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Saving family farms in Maryland – access to land

In my last post, I noted that we do not have enough young and beginning farmers to replace those who will retiring or otherwise changing control or ownership of their farms. In this post, I will cover why they have trouble getting access to land.


Excerpt from Voice of Agriculture post on March 11, 2014

It is ironic that  young farmers who grew up on a farm listed their top challenge is securing adequate access to land, according to an American Farm Bureau Federation survey in 2014. However, if your parents are raising a thousand acres of corn or running a 300-acre dairy, they need all of that land in order to make a living.

For those who did not grow up on a farm, getting started in Maryland is more daunting. Maryland’s farmland values are roughly three times the national average, and much higher around the lucrative urban centers. It simply does not make financial sense to buy the property to farm unless one has other income sources and can consider the land as an investment to resell.

Leasing is not necessarily the go-to solution either. Farm families who no longer can farm their properties tend to reach out to other farmers that they know to lease their land. There is comfort in knowing another farmer’s history and trustworthiness and commodity farmers impose the least conditions on use of the land. They do not require fencing or irrigation to water their corn, soybeans or wheat. Since they do not need to make major investments in the land, they will accept shorter lease terms. However, most young farmers and beginning farmers (who did not grow up on a farm) cannot afford the huge tractors, combines and tractor trailers needed to produce commodity crops.

small farm posted on Maryland FarmLINK

Small farm posted on Maryland FarmLINK

Despite all of these challenges, some young farmers and beginning farmers are finding properties to farm. The reason is what I call the “affection factor.” That is, the young and beginning farmers’ affection for farming that overcomes obstacles and/or the farmland owners’ affection for these young or beginning farmers, such that make accommodations for them despite the reasons stated above. In Maryland, 603 farmers under 35 were farming as of the 2012 census, which is great, but only a fraction of the number needed to manage the Maryland farms as the older generations retire.

Some of the beginning farmers are farming properties that are not suited to large-scale agriculture, such as a three-acre lot with a field and a house, but may be perfect for a young or beginning farmer wanting to try market vegetable farming. Others have found generous farmers who have a few acres to spare. At Maryland FarmLINK, we are working with land owners and realtors throughout the state to identify those properties and post them on the Property Exchange, a free service. We provide free online resources about  zoning, land preservation easements, leasing documents, etc.  But as a society, we need to do more. We need to improve communication between young and beginning farmers and farm owners who have retired or who bought a farm but do not farm it. If you have suggestions, please email me at or 301-274-1922 ext. 1.

Meanwhile, if they find land to purchase or lease, will young and beginning farmers have the needed infrastructure to succeed? We will cover that in the next post.




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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.


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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, 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.




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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.


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.


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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.



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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!



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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.


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