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

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

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

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

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

SMADC workshop with The Sweet Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Posted in Farm Finance, MARBIDCO, Value-Added Producer Grant | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Consider Fermenting as a value-added way to grow your market

Young Farmers Create Maryland Chapter of the NYFC

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

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

young farmer mixer

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

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

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

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

Capture

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

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

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

 

 

Posted in access to farmland, National Young Farmers Coalition, Young farmers | Tagged , | Comments Off on Young Farmers Create Maryland Chapter of the NYFC

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

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

Southern Maryland Chef and Farmer Events

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

Herrington Purpose, Mission, Vision for the group

Guiding  principles for the group.

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

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

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

What’s next for Southern Maryland?

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

Local Food Featured At MD Chef/Farmer Event

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

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

Keeping a Regional Perspective

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

If you are interested learning more about these ongoing efforts, email us anytime at info@marylandfarmlink.com.

 

Posted in Chesapeake Farm 2 Table, food hubs, locally sourced food, Maryland Farmlink, Maryland farms, New Ideas in Farming | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Farmers Market vendors – an opportunity to grow your customers

By: Cia Morey and Priscilla Wentworth, SMADC

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

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

SNAP is now available for individual farms and farm stands.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Farmers Markets, Maryland farms | Tagged , | Comments Off on Farmers Market vendors – an opportunity to grow your customers

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

IMG_2228

MDA Secretary Joeseph Bartenfelder in attendance.

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

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

Creative Packaging

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

hexferments

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

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

IMG_2233

Michelle’s Microgreens on display for chefs.

Produce farmers differentiate themselves

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

Locally cured meats & quail eggs

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

meat

Meat Crafters Charcuterie Display at the Expo

A good bang for your buck!

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

 

 

 

Posted in Agricultural Marketing Professionals, Farm to Table, local food movement, locally sourced food, Value-added | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds

Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

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

IMG_1006 (1)

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

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

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

IMG_1004

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

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

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

IMG_1003

Young Farmer Meet-up.

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

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

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

 

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

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

photo5 (2)This week sure is the week of farm conferences and events!  We will report on some of them in the coming weeks, but this week we’ve revived a Series of posts on “Saving family farms in Maryland”, written by Greg Bowen around this time last year.

The series addresses many of the challenges and opportunities we face in farming in Maryland, and will continue to face. Perhaps with a look back at them we can charge ourselves with a few new tasks as we make our way through the new year.

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

 

Posted in access to farmland, farm succession, land link, Maryland farms, Maryland zoning regulation, New Farmers | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Saving Family Farms in Maryland

Chefs Predict Menu Trends for 2016: Local Sourcing of Meat and Produce TOPS the Charts

“American diners increasingly crave food grown in their own region, rather than delicacies trucked or flown in from far-off locales.”  –The National Restaurant Association

Over the years, the National Restaurant Association has researched trends in the restaurant arena. Local food and source-identified meats and seafood have spiked the charts in recent years. And after seeing the 2016 results this week, I don’t see this as a fad– I see this as a long-term movement. As Greg mentioned in his post last year, “Many people have dismissed the local food movement as a fad that will soon pass, saying that there are too many challenges for small and medium sized Maryland farmers to compete in the global economy. That opinion might change as more local, regional, and national institutions get involved in the local food movement.”

WhatsHot2016_Top10Food_1200x1200

“Top 10”. Click to zoom in.

Fresh vegetables and less of the “weird stuff” (unpronounceable additives and processed foods) are what consumers are asking for again in 2016. Add to that wanting more locally sourced food and humanely raised meats and seafood, and the results for this year, provide more opportunities for farmers to take advantage of.

Check out the “Top 10” in the 2016 National Restaurant Association Survey Results, 4 out of the ten apply to many Maryland farmers: locally sourced meats and seafood (#1!), locally grown produce, hyper-local sourcing, and natural ingredients/minimally processed food. Look a little lower on the list and you see phrases like “ancient grains”, making it to the “Top 20”. Add to that, the “Movers and Shakers” list (below): hyper-local sourcing (again), locally produced beer/wine/spirits, artisanal butchery, and non-traditional eggs (duck, quail, emu) are on the list.

the most

Local souring has grown the most over 10 years. Click to zoom in.

It doesn’t look like the demand for local food is going anywhere soon, reporting that it is at the top of the chart and it will remain a perennial favorite.

Many Maryland farmers are ahead of the curve. In Maryland, we are fortunate to have farmers creatively catering to consumer demands with a wide variety of meats available in different cuts. Most meats, individually cut or “snout-to-tail” order, are available year-round.

A “root-to-stalk” mentality is also catching on. Chefs are using the beet greens to the beets, and the whole cabbage down to the core, in effort to reduce waste and maximize the crop.

Our regions farmers are in a good position to get more of the food they produce into restaurants, with over 90 varieties of  produce grown in our soils and climate year-round.  Add to that local cheese, milk, and ice cream products; flours, rice, and Chesapeake Bay seafood products- all produced right here by local farmers and watermen- and you have a full diet of foods. We are lucky to live in a state that affords us fertile land and ample water supply to produce such variety and quality of products. We are also fortunate to live within close proximity to highly touted and busy restaurants.

Points to Ponder

Though farmers seem to be brimming with product, sourcing from local farms still seems to be difficult for Maryland restaurants. Those restaurants that are doing it well have it closely linked to the ethos of their restaurant.

"Movers and Shakers" Click to zoom in.

“Movers and Shakers” Click to zoom in.

  • Sourcing local is still a difficult thing to find in Maryland outside of the major cities and towns. Restaurant pioneers, such as  Waterfront Kitchen (Baltimore), Preserve Eats (Annapolis), and Volt (Frederick) are walking-the-walk though.
  • There is growing demand for value-added agriculture products, and businesses such as, HEX Ferments and Millstone Cidery, are committed to working direct with Maryland farmers. Attend the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s annual Buyer-Grower Expo on January 20, 2015 in Annapolis, MD, designed for growers and processors to connect with buyers (grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc.).
  • There has been a growing interest in local meats in Maryland too. Sales are up for Southern Maryland Meats. Having the right tools in your tool belt to market your meats is important to this success, and there is a great resource available through University of Maryland to assist farmers.
  • Check out the SMSG Buyer Grower Facebook Page. This new page is engaging chefs and farmers online and offline (through periodic gatherings), who have or need fresh farm food. If you are a farmer in the region looking for new markets or if you are a chef looking for local food, consider joining the page.

I have hopefully provided some trending information and ways you might be able to connect (or prepare yourself to connect) with new outlets. If you are a farmer reading this right now, what do you need to help take advantage of this opportunity to get your product to the chef? What are the obstacles you face? Chefs, what do you need from local farmers? Let us know and let’s keep this conversation going, share your thoughts with us on the Maryland FarmLINK Facebook page.

 

 

Posted in local food movement, Maryland farms | Comments Off on Chefs Predict Menu Trends for 2016: Local Sourcing of Meat and Produce TOPS the Charts

Closing the loop on waste in Maryland – cafeteria food scraps turned farm-ready compost

LeafGro Gold

Sample bag of LeafGro Gold

In Prince George’s County, food scraps from local cafeterias bypass the landfill and end up next door in the Yard Waste Facility where they are combined with other materials like grass clippings and leaves and turned into compost. The compost is used for things like growing fruits and vegetables on the University of Maryland’s Terp farm.

Heaps of black compost sitting like sandcastle rows as I pulled up to the yard waste facility. When I stepped out of the car, I was surprised that the facility (52 open acres) smelled anything like it did. The sweet smell of fermenting fruits hit my nose, and for a moment, I wondered could they also be making mead at this facility too!

Maryland has owned and run the Prince George’s County Organics Composting, Yard Waste Facility, off 301 in Upper Marlboro for years. The county has an inter-government agreement with the Maryland Environmental Services to process yard waste into a sellable product most of us are familiar with, LeafGro. They started a pilot program to incorporate food scraps in the mix, adding a new product line they’re calling LeafGro Gold. This was where the sweet smell was coming from, piles of food from leftover from cafeterias and local homes, turning itself back into soil, where it once came from.

compost

Steven Burchfield with a handful of compost, showing me where that sweet golden smell was coming from!

I was meeting with Steven Birchfield, site operations supervisor of food composting. Steven defined the food scraps for me (I had pondered about how inefficient must be to sort out each banana peel and corn husk)– but indeed this system goes a step further– handling meat bones, sour milk, coffee grounds, egg shells, greasy pizza boxes, and more (see a full list of acceptable materials here). The system is called, Sustainable Generation LLC SG Mini system utilizing GORE covers (read more about system specs in the link in the picture below).

Maryland_FarmLINK.vcf

Article featuring the project in Biocycle Magazine, May 2015

Use On Farms

LeafGro takes about 8 months to process, but with the new system and the addition of  food scraps that make the LeafGro Gold, there is an 8 week turnaround (including lab tests), and a reduced footprint. Steven commented that LeafGro Gold holds the soil together better and shows higher levels of Nitrogen. LeafGro Gold can be applied to vegetable and fruit fields. Read the lab analysis, listing the ph, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and more, here.

There’s gold in them thar hills

University of Maryland’s Terp Farm uses LeafGro Gold and, farmer, Guy Kilpatric, says its proven to be a superior compost for agricultural use. “The quality of the material is superb—it is super stable and has a great consistency as a soil amendment. It would be difficult for me to say exactly how much it benefits as a fertility amendment, but the contribution it provides in aiding the development of soil structure probably has a significant impact on the capacity of the soil to retain nutrients for a longer period of time, meaning we can rely less on fertilizer inputs.We use it every time we turn the beds over for the next crop. Initial soil test results showed a baseline of 2.1% organic matter, which now currently exceeds 5% in only 1.5 years. There are also indications of much higher populations of soil organisms, especially earthworms and fungi. LeafGro Gold is definitely an improvement over the regular LeafGro, and certainly has at least some increased nutritional benefits. Our high tunnel produces crops from virtually every major vegetable crop plant family and the performance has been positive across the board,” noted Guy.

terp.umd.edu

terp.umd.edu

“I know the product is topnotch and with a farm just up the road (Terp Farm) it’s easy for me as the composter to both see the product at work, and understand what farmers need out of the compost,” said Steven.

Once the compost is applied and crops are harvested, they find a home right back in the cafeteria where it all started. “We are closing the loop,” Allison Lily, sustainability coordinator at the University of Maryland mentioned over a phone conversation.

“Pay Dirt”

The group is still in the pilot phase, so they don’t produce a large volume of compost like the LeafGro side of the operation (most of the site and personnel is dedicated to LeafGro). Steven is currently the only personnel onsite dedicated to producing the Gold version. Organizations who have food scraps in plentiful supply are knocking at the door, but due to limited staffing and space, they’re on a long waiting list. Just imagine how much more food waste could be processed into healthy compost with a full facility, or unify several satellites in other counties around the state. Hopefully the conversation will continue around food waste in Maryland and addressing models like this for farmers to make use of too.

Steven mentioned that they have a wait list of buyers. See this link for a list of current retailers that regularly buy LeafGro, and sometimes receive the Gold. In closing, Steven noted, “a composters dream– a large market and a constant short supply!”

Posted in compost, food waste, soil | Tagged | Comments Off on Closing the loop on waste in Maryland – cafeteria food scraps turned farm-ready compost

Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power

Earlier this week, I attended a listening session for a new business that has started up in Maryland, Grow and Fortify. Their motive is to help farmers around the state understand and conquer the barriers that make it difficult for Maryland farms to grow and expand their enterprises. They are tackling things like value-added agriculture products, and defining further the ambiguous definition of agritourism in effort to help farms grow and expand. The legislative and regulatory process at the national, state and local levels prove to be complex, and not always defined for agriculture and food enterprises. Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have provided their support to Grow and Fortify, as they see this is an area of need as well.growandfortify

The small team (read their bios here), though new to working together under Grow and Fortify, have many years of combined experience and have worked at the local, state, and federal level on agriculture, food, and beverage issues. They are now making their rounds about the state, hearing from farmers, ag agencies, nonprofits, and counties, to gauge the need and interest in their services.

Many in the audience at the Southern Maryland meeting brought up the need for changes and more uniform codes in local county departments, with fire marshalls, and health permitting laws at the state level. Examples were provided about counties that have successfully changed regulations, such as St. Mary’s county who worked with the health department to implement guidelines for meat, jams, and jellies (value-added products) to help expand farm business offerings. Replicating the changes one county makes into other counties would be helpful. Food sampling at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs was also brought to light. For example, an aquaculture farm in St. Mary’s county could not sell his oysters at a recent Baltimore County festival because he only had a permit from St. Mary’s County, even though the counties pull from the same state code. In this instance, wouldn’t it make more sense, and be less time consuming and costly for the fargrowandfortify1m, to receive one license from the state for food sampling?

Some closing questions for the group to ponder where things like, what is needed at the state level? What are good examples of success? Who out there is having trouble, and what are the unique challenges you’re facing? 

The standalone service sounds like it is already making headway, and will be helpful to Maryland farms trying to navigate their agricultural enterprises. Before even exiting the door, I could think of three farms currently in unique situations that could use their expertise.

If you are interested in more information, Grow and Fortify has additional listening sessions scheduled around the state in December and January, including one in Annapolis next week. They have made themselves very approachable they want to hear from as many Maryland farms as possible on their specific needs for value-added agriculture.

 

Posted in farm enterprises, Maryland farms, Value-added, zoning regulations for farms | Tagged , | Comments Off on Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power