Governor’s Buy-Local-Cookout is a highlight of the Challenge week

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This has got to be my favorite time of the year! My garden is in peak performance mode, my favorite fruit (blueberries) are still in abundance and I get to participate in the Buy-Local-Challenge week. There are lots of stories throughout … Continue reading

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Food Hubs are sprouting up in Maryland!

As reported earlier in this blog, direct sales of food for human consumption grew 32% in Maryland between 2007 and 2012. However, sales of local food to grocery stores and institutions in Maryland has not been as robust because the channels for local food aggregation and distribution are not yet well-formed. That may be changing.

Vermont's Intervale Food Hub

Vermont’s Intervale Food Hub

Vermont is the country’s leader in sourcing local food. According to the 2012 ag census, their consumers purchased twice as much food from farmers as the next highest state. And despite having only 11% of Maryland’s population, Vermont has 12 food hubs vs. three in Maryland, according to the USDA Food Compass Map. Those food hubs in Vermont aggregate and distribute food to grocery stores and institutions.

The National Good Food Network defines a regional food hub as “A business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” In short, food hubs create the food chain between small and mid-scale farmers and secondary markets.

Food hubs foodvaluechainsMost food hubs provide many other services beside aggregation and distribution, merging good business principles and social mission objectives, such as good nutrition training, food for the hungry, etc. Quoting a 2013 USDA ERS publication, these services are creating “food value chains or business arrangements distinguished by their commitment to transparency, collaborative business planning and exchange of market intelligence and business know how among chain partners, and their interest in developing business strategies and solutions that yield tangible benefits to each participant in the system.”


from the 2013 Food Hub Survey

The National Good Food Network reports that over 400 food hubs have been formed in the U.S. and that most are making profits. They are also making a difference in their communities.

New food hubs are being actively pursued  in Howard County, Baltimore City and Easton, in addition to the Hub and Spoke project now operating in Southern Maryland. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has been asked to coordinate efforts on behalf of the state.

I hope to be reporting on lots of news about Maryland’s new food hubs in the next year!

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Do you really know what you are eating? July is the month to take control!


As a teen, I was an occasional viewer of the Star Trek television series created by Gene Roddenberry. I was intrigued by the moral/philosophical issues posed in many of the shows, but was not that interested in future technology. And I was disturbed by a scene where they made a meal with machines and not real food. That image of ingesting food produced from a computer just violated my agrarian sensibilities, even if it looked like real food!

As an adult, I am a bit more accepting of technology, but am even more disturbed by processed “fake food.” If you disagree with my assessment of processed food, just try to read the labels on most processed food cans and containers. Is it sane to blithely accept that the combination of non-food ingredients are always safe for us? History would say otherwise.

FDA image of transfat food

FDA image of foods containing trans fat

As one  example, trans fats were introduced into our diets early in the 20th century, according to the American Heart Association. These were the first man-made fats introduced into our diets. Even though scientists began to prove 20 years ago that trans fats are harmful to our health, there are many products still containing trans fats on the shelves of your grocery store.

If you still feel entirely comfortable about that list of words on the label that you can’t read, take a look at the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which states that its own list of Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS) only “contains ingredients added directly to food that FDA has either approved as food additives or listed or affirmed as GRAS [Generally Recognized As Safe]. Nevertheless, it contains only a partial list of all food ingredients that may in fact be lawfully added to food, because under federal law some ingredients may be added to food under a GRAS determination made independently from the FDA. The list contains many, but not all, of the substances subject to independent GRAS determinations.” In short, there is no way that a consumer can know for sure what has been added to processed food.

July is a great month to make a change in your dietary habits and get a better idea of what is in your food. Maryland has a bountiful supply of local food. Check out sources at Maryland’s Best website, invest in a share of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm or visit a farmers market.


July 19-27 also happens to be the week to Take the Buy Local Challenge. This year’s twist is to “Take the Challenge to the EXTREME”. Join me in eating something local every meal. Now that takes planning which is why I am posting this blog 9 days in advance.

No excuses! You can even practice ahead of time!

Don’t be a Star Trek foodie. Be in more control of what you eat by eating local food from farmers you trust and help build our local economy at the same time.



Posted in Buy Local Challenge, locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Ideas in Farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maryland’s big ag experiment seems to be working – up to a point

What happens when a region loses its “money crop?”

tobacco barn

Tobacco barn

Maryland was one of 46 states to win the “Master Settlement Agreement” with the major tobacco companies in 1998. At issue was the cost of health care borne by the states due to smoking. In Maryland, a Cigarette Restitution Fund was established to “implement strategies to reduce the burden of tobacco related disease . . . with a specific emphasis on tobacco use prevention and cessation and cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.”

Governor Glendenning also wished to end tobacco production in Maryland. He proposed a “tobacco buyout” program to be funded by up to 5% of the state’s share of the 25-year settlement agreement to support Southern Maryland’s Regional Strategy for Agriculture. Thus, in Southern Maryland, we became the guinea pigs for a big experiment to replace a region’s #1 crop with other farm products.

Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) was formed to “administer the buyout and to create a new infrastructure to support viable kinds of farming in the region.” The 17-member Commission  consisted of a broad cross-section of the community including farmers, elected officials, and representatives from local government, business, and finance.

It is difficult to describe the mood associated with the loss of tobacco to the farming community. In Southern Maryland, the size of farms, the type of barns and even the formation of communities had been heavily influenced by tobacco production. By 1998, most acknowledged that tobacco was harmful to human health. However, tobacco farmers had always been proud of their ability to bring a good crop to market, the same as generations before them. Most tobacco farmers reluctantly supported the buyout, but the future of farming was in peril. Many older farmers could not see themselves trying something new and others had a steep learning curve.

The opportunity to sign up for the Tobacco Buyout began in 2001 and ended in 2005. Tobacco total ag saleswas always the “money crop” in Southern Maryland. Farmers raised other products but most relied on tobacco to  remain in business. By 2002, 63% had taken the buyout. Ultimately, 83% of all tobacco farmers (producing 92% of total lbs) signed up. Between 1997 and 2002, the USDA ag census reported a 38% drop in agricultural sales (see figure 1).

Meanwhile, the Commission explored opportunities for new farm enterprises and staff held seminars, workshops and training programs to help farmers explore ways to diversify and market new products. SMADC developed the So Md So Good brand in 2002 and initiated the Buy Local Challenge in 2007. It provided small grants to start or expand farmers’ markets. As farms began to diversify, SMADC prepared and published the So. Maryland So Good Farm Guide. As agritourism businesses began to take off, it created the Trails Guide. As each new specialty emerged, SMADC supported it with a new guide.


figure 2

It takes time to learn how to grow new products and develop new markets, but progress has been made, as reflected in the 2012 ag census. Recognizing the huge consumer market and the potential of the local food movement, existing farmers and new farmers began selling directly to consumers. This data is captured in the census as the Value of Ag Products Sold Directly in Individuals for Human Consumption. Processed items such as cheese, jams, and wine are not included in this category.

From 2007 to 2012, the value of ag products sold directly to individuals for human consumption grew 58% in Southern Maryland, versus 32% in the state and all five counties experienced growth in sales (see figure 2). Direct sales grew by $1.6 million in Southern Maryland.

As mentioned earlier, a number of farmers in Southern Maryland also

figure 3

figure 3

experimented with agri-tourism following the tobacco buyout, such as farm and winery tours, hay rides, and corn mazes, and SMADC supported the effort with workshops and trails guides. This effort has provided a new revenue source for farmers and Southern Maryland’s tourism industry as a whole.

Between 2007 and 2012, agritourism sales grew 142% in Southern Maryland vs. -1% for Maryland as a whole. Total agri-tourism sales grew by $586,000 over the period for the four counties and this does not include the other economic benefits associated with agri-tourism such as overnight stays and dining. Calvert data was not included to avoid disclosing data for individual farms.

Other advances

The USDA ag census does not provide the same level of data for wine sales, so we don’t know the progress made there. However, it does report that the number of acres in grape production increased 78%, from 77 acres to 137 acres, between 2007 and 2012.

Also, the Southern Maryland Meats program is too new to report progress but we expect significant gains by the 2017 ag census.

Has Southern Maryland Agriculture Rebounded? Yes and No

The good news is that it has finally rebounded to pre-tobacco buyout numbers as a result of innovation, diversification, and support from the counties, the Tri-County Council and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (see figure 4).

figure 4

figure 4

However, total Maryland agriculture sales almost doubled over the same period that Southern Maryland was just trying to recover. In 1997, total Southern Maryland agriculture sales represented 5.6% of total Maryland agriculture sales. As of 2012, total Southern Maryland sales were 3.6% of total Maryland agriculture sales.

Southern Maryland has some catching up to do with the rest of the state to fully recover from the big ag experiment to end tobacco production.


Posted in Ag census, Buy Local Challenge, locally sourced food, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized, USDA Census of Agriculture | Leave a comment

2012 Ag Census – measuring the local food movement

As mentioned previously in this blog, both the National Restaurant Association and the National Grocers Association have identified the desire for local food as one of the strongest consumer trends.

How is Maryland doing?

The short answer is that we are making progress. One of the questions in the Ag Census asks farmers to report the Value of agricultural products sold directly to individuals for human consumption (referred to in this post as ‘direct sales’). The localmarkets2012 USDA Ag Census for Maryland reported that direct sales increased by 32% over the 2007 Census figure to $28,038,000. Nationwide, direct sales grew a modest 8.1% between census years. Farmers were instructed not to include the direct sales of value-added products such as jams, cheese, and wine. Also, the Census question does not capture intermediated sales arranged by food hubs or other food aggregators, which is another way that consumers get access to local food.

Of course, growth in direct sales was not even across the state. Most counties experienced increases, but some had a reduction in value of direct sales.


How does the direct sales number relate to total food purchases per capita in Maryland?

As per the 2012 Maryland Quick Facts from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 5,884,868 residents in Maryland in 2012. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the food-at-home spending was $2,273 per person in the U.S. in 2012.  Dividing the total direct sales in 2012 by the Census Bureau’s population estimate we find that $4.76 per capita was spent on food for human consumption in Maryland. That represents just 0.2% of the average U.S. per capita food-at-home spending in 2012. How does that compare with other states?

States sales human consumption

Vermont is the clear leader in the U.S. Its residents spent $43.80 per capita on ag products for human consumption. Maine is second at $18.60 per capita and New Hampshire is third at $15.40 per capita. Maryland is roughly in the middle.

In the future, it would be nice if the Ag Census would be able to capture data from the sales of value-added products such as jams, cheese and wine by county. We also hope to be able to find more data on intermediated sales of local food by food hubs and other aggregators.

Through direct sales, farmers retain a much higher percentage of the value of a product produced on the farm. Direct sales also help to create jobs and build the local economy. Maryland is moving in the right direction and there is more room to grow.

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Put a cherry on it!

lake2Vacationing here near Lake Michigan, it is easy to eat local. Grocery stores sell milk from local farms (grass fed and antibiotic free). Bread is locally sourced, some of it from organic grain farms. There are lots of greens in the local stores and farmers markets. Practically every restaurant we have visited has featured locally sourced foods. I have not seen a national chain grocery store or restaurant.

This region near Traverse City Michigan has a signature crop – cherries! Though cherrytrees2the fruit is not yet ripe for 2014, you can still find dozens of food products using dried or frozen cherries. We’ve had cherry pie, cherry rhubarb crisp, cherry salad dressing, cherry jam, etc. Yesterday, I had cherry chocolate coffee!

Approximately 70% of all tart cherries and 20% of all sweet cherries that grow in the U.S. come from this region. Farmers and local businesses are taking advantage of their signature crop by branding and processing the cherries and using them for tourism purposes. The National Cherry Festival is held each July in Traverse City.

cherry capital foodsTraverse City’s Cherry Capital Foods is also home to one of the most effective food hubs in the country.  It aggregates food from more than 150 small farms and distributes to food services, grocery stores and high-end restaurants.

Michigan’s total ag sales grew 51%, from 2007 to 2012, according to the ag census. Agritourism, processing, value-added sales, and effective marketing of the signature crop all contribute to total ag sales in Michigan!

Posted in Farmers Markets, food hubs, locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized, USDA Census of Agriculture | Leave a comment

A Farmer Friendly Agricultural Law Conference!

Since the botched Hudson case, good things have been happening with ag law in Maryland. Over the decades,  farmers across the nation have seen a steady increase in regulatory requirements  pertaining to environmental protection, food safety, labor and so on. However, family farms don’t have legal teams to analyze new laws and the impacts on their operations. They focus on growing things.

As published in the Maryland Reporter, Governor O’Malley and the legislature were angry at the way the University of Maryland Law Clinic handled the case. The state  budgeted $250,000 for the University of Maryland system to create an agriculture law clinic.

A new direction in supporting Maryland farmers was evident as the 2014

Valerie Connelly and Sophia Kruszewsky

Valerie Connelly and Sophia Kruszewsky

American Agricultural Law Association Northeast Regional Conference opened on June 6th at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore. The first session featured Valerie Connelly, Executive Director of the Maryland Farm Bureau and Sophia Kruszewski, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in the Legislative and Case Law Update.  Valerie provided a Maryland legislative update and Sophia highlighted the features of the 2014 Farm Bill for the attorneys in attendance who specialize in agricultural law in the region.

Session 2 was titled TMDLs and CAFOs: What is happening in the Northeast. It covered the outcome of the Hudson case and related cases resulting from enforcement of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) of pollutants and other nutrient runoff issues.


Karen Eichman and Arthur Reed

Session 3 was an Overview of Employment and Labor Law for the Farm and Agri-Business.  Attorneys Karen E. Eichman and Arthur N. Reed have extensive experience in labor law cases and they advised the attorneys in the room as to how to protect their farm clients from claims in labor law.

Session 4 was Keeping Our COOL: How is COOL being Implemented. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) gets complicated when livestock is grown in one country and slaughtered and processed in others. Deborah Shuff led the attorneys through the changes in the law over the last few years. USDA published a proposed rule May 13th that would require the products to be documented at each stage of the life of the animal.

Session 5 was Impact of Government Regulations On Farming Operations. Attorney John Dillard led attendees through a wide variety of farm issues, including drones, food labeling and the first amendment, the renewable fuels standard, and Osha and grain bins.

Paul Goeringer, an attorney with the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland, chaired the committee that organized the conference. He also authored Lease Agreements and recently started the Maryland Agriculture Law Blog, an outreach project by the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics to “provide readers updates on court decisions, regulations, and other legal news important to the Maryland agriculture community.”  He also works with the Agricultural Law Education Initiative, which just published A Guide to Agricultural Labor Laws: How Best to Comply with the Relevant Federal and Maryland State Standards. Meanwhile, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Special Committee on Agriculture Law has established a 2014 Legal Services Directory.

These are all great steps toward better informing and assisting Maryland’s farmers!


Posted in ag law, agricultural law, National Ag News, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Organic farming in Maryland– is the trend going up or down?

o1The 2012 Ag Census gives us a blurry vision of trends in organic production. National media has been reporting steady increases in consumer demand for organic. Are producers as excited about growing food organically?

As reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the definition of an organic farm changed between 2007 and 2012, so it is hard determine the accuracy of the comparison between census years. The 2012 census reported $3.12 billion in sales from organic farms, up 84% from the 2007 census estimate of $1.7 billion. The number of organic farms decreased from 18,211 to 14,326.

Next Step Produce, Organic Farm in Charles County

Next Step Produce, Organic Farm in Charles County

In Maryland, the 2012 census reported $11.8 million in sales,   up 118% from $5.4 million in 2007. However the number of organic farms decreased from 146 in 2007 to 91 in 2012. With the increase in sales and the decrease in number of farms, the average value of organic product sales per farm jumped from $37,003 to $129,646 per farm.


Five Seeds Farm, Organic Farm in Baltimore County

One could argue that organic agriculture is maturing. Farmers have experimented with organic agriculture and those who have stuck with it are averaging higher sales per farm. However, organic agriculture is also going through regulatory changes and some farmers are opting to use the Certified Naturally Grown label rather than deal with the paperwork involved with USDA  Organic Standards. Certified Naturally Grown  (CNG) uses organic principles in food production, but it minimizes paperwork and certification fees and utilizes a peer-inspection process. As per the CNG website. “They’re typically a better fit for small-scale producers who sell locally.”

New definitions, maturity of the industry and variations in branding make it hard to draw conclusions about trends in organic farming. However, with growing consumer interest in organic, it is not a market trend that is going away. As long as farmers get an adequate premium for growing organic, there will be producers.

Posted in Ag census, locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, USDA Census of Agriculture | Leave a comment

Which states are doing well in the local food movement?

Farmers Market in Williamsburg, Virginia

Farmers Market in Williamsburg, Virginia

In the U.S., the local food movement still represents a tiny percentage of total agricultural sales. However, it has been growing rapidly and it has captured the attention of the media. The USDA Census of Agriculture has begun to track the trend. How do states compare?

A census of agriculture is a five year snapshot of farming and its accuracy is impacted by an 80% return by farmers, by weather variability across the nation and by economic cycles. That said, some trends and conclusions can be drawn from the data about the local food movement.

In the 2007 and 2012 censuses, USDA asked the question, did you produce, raise, market.wbor grow any crops, livestock, poultry, or agriculture products that were sold directly to individual consumers for human consumption? Farmers were to include sales from roadside stands, farmers markets, pick your own, door to door, and Community Supported Agriculture. Not to be included were craft items, processed foods such as cheese and butter, jellies, sausages and hams, wine and cider. Sales of these value-added goods is a part of the local food movement, and I would like to see these counted in the future.

Nationwide, direct sales grew 8.1% between 2007 and 2012, hardly an explosive growth rate. However, direct sales grew without much federal assistance, as opposed to some other segments of the farming industry. More funding will be available as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. Despite the lack of support, in five years, Nevada’s direct sales grew 298%, South Carolina’s grew 116%, Utah’s grew 57% and West Virginia’s grew 53%. Maryland’s direct sales grew a very respectable 32%. On the other hand, many states saw a significant decline in direct sales, including Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Texas.

Another way to measure the local food movement is to look at annual per capita

Understanding Vermont Report: Local Food for Healthy Communities

Local Food for Healthy Communities: Bringing Food Security to all Vermonters

sales. Nationwide, the undisputed leader is Vermont, where residents spent roughly $44 in direct purchase of goods for human consumption in 2012. The next highest is Maine, at $18 per person per year. New England states New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts also ranked high in this category. Maryland’s direct sales per capita figure of approx. $5 is 24th highest. Florida and Texas are at the bottom, with approximately $1 per capita.

Nationwide, the local food movement is generating $1.3 billion in direct sales of farm products for human consumption, not including value-added sales or indirect sales to consumers via food hubs or other aggregators. Why the wide disparities between the states?

It is clear that New England is a leader in direct sales. In my last blog, I mentioned how land preservation movements originated in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. The motivation may be food security and economic security, in addition to the desire to purchase fresh local food directly from a farmer, as highlighted in Vermont’s publication Local Food for Healthy Communities: Bring Food Security to all Vermonters.  It may also be that state and local programs and policies are helping to facilitate direct sales.

Over time, I expect that the USDA will do more research into why farmers in some states are doing much better than others with direct sales. Meanwhile, we will be continuing with our review of this treasure trove of data of the next few months.


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The link between food security and land preservation

barncloudsIt had been 8 years since the last national land preservation conference. I was happy to attend the most recent one in Hershey, PA last week, entitled Saving America’s Farms and Farmland: celebrating 40 Years of Farmland PreservationIt was a chance to recognize the amazing accomplishments in land preservation, to acknowledge some of the movement’s founders and to identify future needs and strategies.

Agricultural land preservation programs are a relatively recent public initiative, with the first county program occurring in 1975. The programs were in response to a land use development pattern, now called residential sprawl, that emerged at the end of World War II. As the troops returned from the war, they needed a place to live. The combination of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (that established Veterans Affairs or VA Home Loans)  and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (creating the Interstate Highway System) gave land developers the market and high speed road access to vast rural areas with relatively cheap farmland to develop. In a few decades, the farm belts that had fed the metro areas for centuries began to be paved over.

In a global food economy, why should we care if the farms around us are developed?

I was reminded at the conference that interest in land preservation arose after teamster strikes in the 1960s caused empty shelves in the grocery stores in New England. Elected officials and citizens realized that our emerging global food chain could easily be disrupted by natural or human-made events. Folks were again reminded how precarious our food chain is on September 11, 2001. After the terrorists attacks, planes stopped flying and other transportation systems  stopped moving. Elected officials and policy analysts realized consumers in places like New York City are just about 36 hours from a real food crisis.

It was no mistake that the first land preservation program in the nation was in Suffolk County, New York and that the first statewide land preservation program was in Maryland. These are areas with huge population centers, surrounded by declining farming areas that have historically supplied most of the food to the urban areas.

The land preservation programs have helped to maintain the farmland base being used to fuel the local food movement. Without that land base in New England  and the Mid-Atlantic regions, we would not be seeing the resurgence farming today.

Have land preservation efforts been effective?

agsignnjEach session that I attended reinforced my opinion that the efforts were paying dividends. There were representatives from eighteen states and I heard presentations from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont. While none of the state programs had met its ultimate acreage goals, a significant amount of land has been preserved. As previously reported, Maryland has already preserved approximately 800,000 acres via state, county and private land preservation programs, a significant portion of the 2 million acres of farmland remaining in Maryland.


from “Do Agricultural Land Preservation Programs Reduce Overall Farmland Loss?”

Dr. Lori Lynch, University of Maryland, has conducted a study of land preservation programs in six states and reported in 2009 that they:

  • are slowing the rate of farmland loss and
  • are reducing the rate of farmland loss by 3 -4 percent per year or 40-50% over a ten year period and even more over a longer period as indicated in the graph to the right.

Over the years, some critics have raised the concern that land preservation programs would raise public costs and stymie economic development. A New Jersey study did a comprehensive analysis of the state’s 565 municipalities (all state lands are in municipalities in New Jersey). Ralph Siegel, Executive Director of the Garden State Preservation Trust, reported that they found no correlation between land preservation and a suppression of growth in the tax base. They also found that in every instance, municipalities which had preserved farmland had lower tax rates.

Esseks McGrath Musselman

Award recipients Esseks, McGrath and Musselman

Debra Bowers wrote a more thorough report on the conference in her Farmland Preservation Report. It includes a description of many of the state programs and a description of the work by award recipients J. Dixon “Dick” Esseks, Michael McGrath, and Alan Musselman. Most of the presentations will be posted on the conference page of the Rutgers website by June 2nd.

Of course, the work in land preservation is not done. There are fewer public dollars available today and most farmland has not been preserved. And there are challenges in enforcing the easements and maintaining affordable farmland, even if it has been preserved. However, without the efforts of the attendees, food security would be much more tenuous.

Posted in locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Ideas in Farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers | 3 Comments