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

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

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

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

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


The three sizes available for Mix n Match

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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





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Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maryland FarmLINK: What unique products do you sell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maryland FarmLINK continues to gain ground building connections for the region

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

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

Growing new farmers

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

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

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

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

Outreach to all Maryland farmers

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

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


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


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Agricultural preservation in Southern Maryland


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

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

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

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

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

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




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County fairs, an important reminder of agricultural roots

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

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

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

Southern Maryland county fair schedules 

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

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

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

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Interview: Farmer, Susie Hance-Wells, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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Interview: Farmer, Susie Hance-Wells, Part 1

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

The first interview is with Susie Hance-Wells of Taney Place farm in Calvert County. The farm recently started a new retail venture called Battle Creek Beef.

Maryland FarmLINK: Will you tell us about yourself?

Susie: The farm has been in the family since 1800. I was born and raised here on the farm. I am the 8th generation and my son just had a little boy who is the 10th generation on this farm. We are vested in this land and want to make it as sustainable as possible so that it can support each generation with fulltime farmers. I always wanted to be outside and farm with my dad since being a young girl. Susie Hance-WellsWhen it was time for me to go to school I decided to go to University of Delaware and study agriculture. It was 1973, and I was the only girl in a lot of my classes. My advisor told me women could not be farmers and I had to pick a career that woman could do. So I started in agriculture journalism, which was very interesting, but I quickly realized that it was not for me. I switched over to focus on livestock management and agriculture education.

I came home to the farm in 1977. My dad was the Maryland secretary of agriculture at the time so he wasn’t always available to be on the farm and the farm manager here was leaving. My dad asked if I could stay through the summer to manage the farm until he could find somebody else. I said that was fine and turned down the job offers that I had. One month led to the next, I started getting my own cattle, my own tobacco crop. I started vesting myself into the farm and then I didn’t want to leave. It was not a conscious decision at that time that I was going to stay home and be a farmer. It just happened.

Maryland FarmLINK: Will you tell us about your new venture, Battle Creek Beef, and what you grow and produce on the farm?

Susie: We own 320 acres here and we lease another 400 acres. The farm has traditionally been a tobacco and livestock farm, but the main source of income was always tobacco. We transitioned from tobacco before the buyout, and came up with new ways to keep the farm sustained. I have done cattle, sheep, feeder hogs, all of which were sold to specialty markets or individual consumers. We have also boarded horses over the years, up to 35 at a time, and built an indoor arena. We boarded horses for 18 years, which gave us that cash flow to do some innovative things on the farm, like upgrade our equipment.BCB16

Recently, my son came home to farm and we made the decision to transition away from horses. We looked at a range of different options, but the one we were most set up for was cattle. We already had our fields fenced, automatic waters, feeders, the silo and our cattle barns were established. We decided that cattle seemed to have the least amount of investment to start the new enterprise, Battle Creek Beef. We sell beef by the cut now and at a farmers market. We sold our first cuts this past July. We also purchase from a farm we have a close relationship with in Southwest Virginia. He supplies what we cannot yet produce. We are up to 20 cows here on the farm and we hope to get up to about 35 cows. Anything over that we need, we plan to buy through our friend who will sell us his weened calves. We do this because it is important for us to have the same genetics, but we realize that it will take us anywhere from five to ten years to get to that scale on our own. Lastly, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Soy beans, wheat, hay and corn are currently raised here on the farm. We also breed Labrador retrievers.

Maryland FarmLINK: Do you have any tips or advice for new and beginning farmers?

I used to be a young and beginning farmer [laughs]. Dad and I farmed together for a while but then he stepped back. He was good about letting me try new things. When I came home, I thought I knew it all. I had been to school for 4 years, I was going to tell him how to farm! And I quickly realized that what was in the books has to be mixed with practical experience. I realized that by listening to the older farmers, and learning from their experiences, that is ultimately where you really gain as a farmer.

I think that would be the advice to new and beginning farmers. Do your research, but use the knowledge that the seasoned farmers have. Seek advice from them, it can save you a lot of heartache and money. The new ideas are great, and combined, the two can make a very progressive farm. I have made a lot of mistakes, and farmers can learn from those. They can also learn from the successes that I have made from making those mistakes. BCB2It is very important to be educated and keep up with the newest innovations, but then to also go and talk to people. If you are going into chickens, go talk to those chicken farmers and see what they have done. More than likely, if they are still in business, they are doing something right.

You also ask me about advice to young farmers. If you have an idea, do not give up! Anything is possible if you are willing to put the hard work in. A lot of times the older generation will say, and my father was no different, “that’ll never work” or “you don’t want to get into that”. If you really believe that it could work, and you can do a business plan and show that you can make this happen, you can make that dream come true.

This post is part of a two-part interview. Coming next week, Susie’s perspective on creating a better food system and the role of agriculture in local communities.

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Wildlife. If you can’t beat them, join them

By Priscilla Wentworth and Susan McQuilkin, SMADC

Increasingly, farmers come up against wildlife management for both crop damage and food safety. No matter what we do, it seems these pesky creatures remain just as motivated as we are.

As buyers began asking growers to clear wildlife habitat areas near production fields, dramatically changing farming landscape across the U.S., researchers are now realizing that eradicating habitat around farm fields is not necessarily making food safer from pathogens. For example it has been noted that farms which cleared away wildlife habitat, after the west coast spinach scare contamination, E. Coli becquote.wildlife.on.farmsame more common.

There seems to be value in living with the natural vegetation of the land and using it to your advantage in farming. For a while it seemed agriculture moved away from this model and we still see buyers demanding unrealistic food safety standards.

Perhaps, finding ways to coexist might ultimately be the best way to preserve wildlife and ensure farming practices that promote stewardship of the land. How might we best coexist with the true owners of the land, the creatures of the wild?

A few promising practices to deter wildlife

  • planting low-risk crops between leafy green vegetables and pathogen sources (e.g., grazeable lands)
  • buffering farm fields with noncrop vegetation to filter pathogens from runoff
  • attracting livestock away from upstream waterways with water troughs, food supplements, and feed
  • creating secondary treatment wetlands and high-intensity grazing operations
  • exposing compost heaps to high temperatures through regular turning to enhance soil fertility without compromising food safety
  • maintaining diverse wildlife communities with fewer competent disease hosts (For these tips and more from this source see here and here.)

Producers of vegetables and fruits may also consider planting low-risk crops (requiring cooking before consumption) like corn and sweet potatoes as buffers along perimeters where wildlife graze and enter the fields. And reserve the middle sections of the fields for the high-risk crops (most commonly consumed raw) like tomatoes or textured surface vegetables such as broccoli that can host harmful bacteria. More information about high-risk and low-risk crops from Maryland Department of Agriculture can be found here.deer

Additionally, fencing, hoop houses, high tunnels, and greenhouses – although not the perfect solution – can help to minimize exposure of crops to pests and wildlife. Additionally, a landowner or agricultural lessee of a farm, may request that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) investigate damage caused by deer for the purpose of having the Department reduce the deer population in the area. Factors such as time of year and deer population are considered for crop damage permits.


For many farmers keeping food safe is a precarious balance between realistic, achievable safe agricultural practices and the need to be profitable, or at least break even! Producers of vegetables, fruits, and livestock are not the only farmers experiencing profit loss from wildlife damage.  Some in the Maryland agritourism industry are intentionally planting food “sacrifice areas” or “food plots” for deer to protect their corn mazes and agricultural education plots. Many farms depend on these seasonal sales for year-round survival.

Where we seek to upset the balance of nature we often create bigger problems as a result, so it behooves us to find ways to live alongside the wildlife while keeping our food safe and farms profitable.

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Feeding the Foodshed


It’s August and it’s hot, and this year in particular there has been a lot of rain. Yet many of our local farmers, from vegetable and fruit producers to meat and dairy farms, are working hard to bring enough to market. Last week was National Farmers Market week, and Maryland farmers showed up to share the fruits of their labor with the locals. And locals showed up to purchase it! The bounty, spread out in vast array this time of year, is not only a symbol of how we can live healthier lives and eat a variety of food close to home- it’s a symbol of community. Community coming together to produce for each other and community coming together to purchase from each other.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Anne L. Alonzo recently announced the results of the 2014 Farmers Market Manager Survey. 8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshedApproximately 1,400 farmers market managers nationwide were surveyed and the results show that farmers markets are growing. “There are over 8,400 farmers markets in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and this survey shows that they are thriving and expanding as they provide healthy, local fresh fruit and vegetables to America’s families,” said Alonzo. “The survey will help market managers continue to succeed by giving them a better understanding of the local foods marketplace.” The national survey identified some compelling trends such as increased customer traffic, market managers looking for more vendors, a strong organic presence, and more.

What’s Happening Locally?

In Maryland it seems the farmers markets are seeing similar trends. Shelby Watson Hampton, Agricultural Marketing Specialist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture stated that, “Maryland is diverse, and every market is different, but this year what we’ve seen is that overall attendance is the same if not a little bit more.” She also said there has been a steady number of Maryland Department of Agriculture recognized farmers markets for the past three to four years. “Maryland currently has over 140 vibrant and flourishing farmers markets that are spread out over all 23 counties and Baltimore City.”


A recent summer morning at the California Farmers Market in St. Mary’s County.

“These local markets are beneficial to their communities in may ways: they provide consumers with the opportunity to purchase fresh and local products, they increase communication between farmers and customers which helps develop a bond of trust between producer and consumer, and they serve as an important community gathering place where urban, suburban, and rural communities come together,” said Shelby.

And it sounds like the overall farmers market trends tend to be up in Southern Maryland too. Stacy Wilkerson, market manager for North Beach farmers market in Calvert County, said the market is seeing an increase in customers, an increase in vendors (with 20 farmers this season), and phone calls daily from interested new vendors. Stacy also noted that many restaurants have formed relationships with the vendors. In St. Mary’s County, the California Farmers Market manager and local produce farmer David Paulk reported something similar.  “The market is seeing a steady customer base that comes each week April through November”, said David. He also mentioned that number of farm vendors is growing.


At the Riverdale Park farmers market last week folks filled out market surveys at SMADC tent.

Cia Morey, administrator at SMADC, attended the evening Riverdale Park Farmers Market in Prince George’s County last week to survey vendors and consumers and reported back that it’s a wonderful weekday evening market in an urban setting that has several farm vendors. The market also has prepared food vendors to take advantage of patrons picking up dinner as they shop for their weekly supply of local vegetables. Over 84% of the respondents of the survey indicated that they were specifically coming out to shop at the market that evening, and the average amount spent per buyer was just under $20. The market has excellent community and town support as they have provided a dedicated market manager and over many years this market has become a strong pillar of the town.

We have heard that sales tend to fluctuate at farmers markets, but that farmers still find markets to be important to meeting new customers, building relationships with them, and helping customers understand what it takes to grow the food they are feeding their families with. And working at a market myself, I see how getting together at the markets builds stronger communities.

For more information on regional farmers markets, or to get in touch about becoming a vendor, visit the Washington Post’s listing of regional farmers markets.

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Final word- “It all turns on affection!”

After working at Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) for almost four years, I am heading back to Calvert County to serve as executive director of the American Chestnut Land Trust. I use my last blog post to provide my perspective on farming in Maryland.

First, I will confess that I was wrong about farming when I was involved in land preservation in Calvert for 32 years. I used to say that if you preserve land, then there will be farmers who step up and use it. I have since learned that food business trends, production surpluses and global trade agreements in the 20th century eliminated most profitable farming options on the East Coast.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 8.45.34 AMI have concluded that if there is going to be farming in Maryland by the end of the 21st century, our citizens will have to care about and support farmers. The local food movement matters for jobs creation, food security and food safety and it should expand into other farming and forestry products if we care about our working landscapes and the Bay.

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My next observation is that the tobacco buyout was the greatest thing that happened to Southern Maryland farmers. It enabled them to move out of an industry that was slowly dying and to look into other farming opportunities. More importantly, it created SMADC, with its dedicated, hardworking staff. The Commission, formed primarily of farmers but also Extension, economists and elected officials, has created farmer opportunities, branding and outreach that simply would not have happened otherwise. The successes are pretty amazing.

Speaking of amazing, I am so pleased to have been able to get to know beginning farmers in the state through Maryland FarmLINK and the Mentor Match Program.

Local food products randomly pulled from the Bowen refrigerator and shelves

Local food products randomly pulled from the Bowen refrigerator and cupboard!

Obviously, none are going into farming to get rich. They care about food, they want to do something that is real and they are either fearless, or they simply want to raise food despite their fears. I have always been impressed by the resourcefulness of farmers and our newest farmers show just as much grit and resolve. And they are successful.

Through it all, I am convinced that with effective community support we can promote and maintain a successful agricultural economy, promote and maintain a strong, safe, and just society, and be good stewards of the earth.

The SMADC blog will be providing fresh new perspectives as Priscilla Wentworth takes the reins, working with other staffers to generate insight into trends affecting Maryland farmers. A masters degree in Communications from Georgetown University, experience working on farms and marketing for farmers and a native Southern Marylander, Priscilla brings passion and skills to the job!

Meanwhile, I will continue to consume food from Maryland’s bounty and support our working landscapes, while working to protect its rural resources. Borrowing Wendell Berry’s quote, “it all turns on affection.” If we have affection for our communities, the Bay ecosystem, our next generation and own health, we will all continue to support the kind of work that SMADC is doing to advance Maryland agriculture.

Posted in Farmlink, food security, Maryland Farmlink, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, Southern Maryland agriculture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off