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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

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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).

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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!”

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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.

 

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“What is USDA GroupGAP and how could it help my farm?”

If you are a farmer growing fruits and vegetables in the region, chances are you’ve heard about USDA GroupGap, an innovative solution to help farmers and buyers meet the increasing consumer demand for local food while maintaining strong food safety standards.

groupgap2I was curious about it, so I did some research. Here is a quick rundown, to help you decide if it is right for you.

Group GAP makes the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) process for food safety more accessible to small and medium size farmers by allowing multiple growers to work together to obtain a single certification (as a group) and a cost-effective means to adhere to ongoing GAP requirements from buyers. Now is the time to learn about the certification, as it will be available for fruit and vegetables growers in the U.S. April 3, 2016. Most may follow Maryland GAP. GroupGAP is intended to complement the Maryland version.

I recently watched an informative webinar by USDA on the GroupGAP update. Listen to the webinar here. (If you can’t watch the webinar, check out the fact sheet.)

In a nutshell, to qualify, a group of farmers must come together to sign up. A Group Coordinator is needed to create standard operating procedures (SOPs), a quality management system (first year a bit rigorous), keep grower members in compliance, serve as a point of contact with USDA, and ensure the groups audit readiness.

Group GAPFarmer members and the associated auditing paperwork are updated yearly (the better the group performs over the years, the less likely the USDA will review). The first year will likely be more rigorous than the later years, while the group gets going and performs their first group audit. There is no limitation on farmer group size and it’s up to the group to determine what they can manage under their quality management system (QMS). (There are QMS examples for farmer groups available through the Wallace Center’s website and other organizations).

Many of Maryland’s farmers are small to medium, so it might make sense for a group of local farms to work together toward one certification, rather than spend the time and money doing it on their own. Food hubs and Ag groups around the country are looking at or offering GroupGap as a way to offer technical assistance to growers. For instance, a coordinator within the food hub can take on the responsibility of obtaining the USDA audit training, handling the paperwork, working with the growers to be in compliance throughout the year, and working as the liaison with the USDA. Ideally, the farmer can farm, while buyers rest assured they are receiving the best food safety compliance as a guarantee to their consumers.

Enhancing Wholesale Produce Distribution in So. Maryland

On December 14th SMADC is hosting a meeting for wholesale farmers to discuss the potential for enhancing the wholesale distribution of Southern Maryland produce. We will discuss GroupGAp as part of the meeting too. We would value your voices at the table as strategic thinkers and invite your frank comments and insight, where our main topic will be to discuss/explore potential to grow and enhance wholesale distribution.

Event Details: Monday, December 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, 15045 Burnt Store Road, Hughesville 20637. For additional details and to register, click here.

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Farm products are the gifts that keep on giving!

holiday guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

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

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

2015 mentees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heinz equipment for rice

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

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

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

Packaged rice. Click the picture for recipe.

Packaged rice. Click the picture for recipe.

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

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

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

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

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