For farm sales, no web page is like . . .no phone!

Those who know Ginger Myers know that she is engaging and knowledgeable, but

Ginger Myers

Ginger Myers

no nonsense. At the Producer’s Digital Toolbox class in Prince Frederick on April 15th, she noted that farmers who sell a product directly to consumers really need a website, and that “if you don’t have a webpage, it is like you don’t have a phone.” She said that you can have all the social media you want, but it works best if it directs consumers to your farm business website.

She and Shannon Dill are an effective tag team with a broad knowledge of farming and what farm businesses need to succeed. Ginger staffs the UM Extension Maryland Agricultural Marketing Program and Shannon is an Extension Agent with Talbot County UM Extension. Shannon assists producers of Talbot and surrounding counties in farm business, small farm enterprises, marketing and equine management. Both are lead team members on the Beginning Farmer Success Collaborative.

shannon

Shannon Dill

Farmers from Southern Maryland came to learn more about the variety of social media tools, but the class provided even more. The attendees came with a wide range of computer experience and many will need to upgrade their hardware. Shannon began with a summary of trends in customer hardware use from desktops to laptops, tablets and smart phones. Producers will need to identify their social media goals, as part of their business plan development. Then they will need to be mindful of web utilization trends and upgrade their hardware to handle the software they need.

Ginger provided real life farmer experiences on the use of the many social media options, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, blogs, etc. Co-0wner of Evermore Farm in Carroll County, she knows from personal experience the benefits of social media.

At the end of the session, attendees had more questions about how to create their own website. Shannon and Ginger gave them the options. Then Ginger cautioned attendees that for the next generation, not having a website will be like you don’t even exist!

Time to get busy!

 

 

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Saving Farming, not just farmland – Part 2

frederick1

City of Frederick

Last week, I wrote that I would be attending the 2014 Maryland Land Preservation Conference and I promised to write a followup as a result of the session. The trip gave me the opportunity to visit one of my favorite Maryland towns (Frederick) and to accept an invitation to visit the Fox Haven Organic Farm and Learning Center.

Frederick boasts some excellent restaurants, many of which use locally-sourced food. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but Frederick also has the most organic farms in the state, many which sell directly to consumers and restaurants.

I arrived at Fox Haven Organic Farm at 7:15 a.m. to meet with the staff. I wanted to know more about their operation and they wanted to know more about Maryland FarmLINK, the Mentor Match Program and other opportunities to expand the local food movement. Fox Haven Organic Farms raises organic hay and vegetables, has planted over 75,000 indigenous trees to restore riparian buffer zones and create wildlife habitat and leases land for rotational grazing on 600 acres near Jefferson Maryland.

Event at Fox Haven Farms, photo excerpted from Fox Haven Farms website

Event at Fox Haven Farms, photo excerpted from Fox Haven Farms website

The Learning Center has youth programs, classes, workshops, and events for the public, as well as facilities to rent for weddings and overnight stays. We had a lively discussion about how they could help more aspiring farmers to get started.

Also, I learned that Frederick County already has organizations that aggregate and distribute local food. Hometown Harvest delivers local farm products door-to-door.  South Mountain Creamery processes its own milk and uses 25 drivers to deliver milk and eggs and other goods to 8,500 homes throughout the region. They also source items from other farmers to expand the offerings that they take door-to-door. These types of secondary, or intermediated, sales really expand the reach of farmers and opportunities for more farmers to take part.

By 9:30 a.m., I was at the Claggett Center in Adamstown, where the Maryland Environmental Trust hosted conf.3approximately 200 Maryland land preservation experts from county governments, local land trusts and national land trusts. My session, Helping the Next Generation of Farmers Get Access to Farmland, was well attended. Ike Wilson, a reporter from the Frederick News Post attended the session and turned in this article: Land Preservation Conference Highlights the Need for Affordable Farmland and More Farmers.

At least partially because of the high price of land and equipment, most beginning farmers are attracted to small-scale vegetable, poultry or livestock operations. While such operations require less land, they have special needs many commodity farmers don’t have, such as access to water and housing.

We discussed the following ways that land trusts can help beginning farmers to get established, some of which a few land trusts are already doing:

  • Sell or lease land trust lands to farmers, particularly beginning farmers,
  • Consider using existing trust land for community CSAs or incubator farms,
  • Be advocates for beginning farmers
    • Help them identify farms with land suited for their farming needs
    • Work with realtors to post properties suited for farming
  • Be a part of the Maryland FarmLINK Team by helping to identify properties that may be suited for posting on the site for sale or lease.

Maryland Environmental Trust and the other attendees should be proud of their efforts to preserve nearly 800,000 acres of farmland in Maryland. A vision of Rand Wentworth, President of the Land Trust Alliance, includes, “We are all working for the day when . . .we have fresh, local food and strong rural economies. .”  The work continues!

Posted in food hubs, land trusts, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, saving farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Saving farming, not just farmland

On Friday, I will be speaking at the 2014 Maryland Land Conservation Conference. Preparing for the talk: Helping the Next Generation of Farmers Get Access to Farmland, I began to think about how we got to a place where beginning farmers need help getting started.

CFTWhen I first got involved in land preservation programs in the 1970s, I thought that preserving farming just required preserving farmland. It turns out that is not the case. While I was fortunate to oversee a very successful land preservation program in Calvert County, it took me a long time to notice that we were not doing a good job at helping farmers succeed.

This was not the fault of the farmers. They are generally hard working, resourceful, and dedicated people who know what they are doing. However, more farms were being sold for development and more farm families were leasing their land, rather than farming the land itself. What happened?

Two trends that rocked farming in the 20th century.

The first was specialization and capitalization of farms. As a result of research into fertilizers and pesticides and new and bigger equipment, the green revolution took off. Yields went through the roof and food prices plummeted. Commodity crop payments gave farmers more ability to invest and grow. On the other hand, small to mid-size diversified farms were not able to compete. Either they faded away or they began to specialize and lease land as well.

004The second trend affected farming areas close to metropolitan areas the most. In those areas, farms offered for sale were purchased for residential development. Land values increased beyond the ability of farmers to compete for the land. Land preservation programs sprung up but farmers were still impacted by the first trend. A few months ago, the National Young Farmers Coalition released a report entitled Farmland Conservation 2.0: How Land Trusts Can Protect America’s Working Farms. In that report, the authors note that even preserved lands may not be working farms. They cite a survey of 233 land trusts, where 24% of the survey participants had seen protected farms taken out of production. Preserved properties near metropolitan areas tend to have farmland values which are much higher than farmers can afford.

Farmers who have remained in the business are justifiably proud of their efforts to reduce food costs and to feed the world, but many are saddened by the loss of diversity of farms, the loss of farm neighbors and their inability to successfully pass on their trade to a next generation of farmers.

localmarketsMaryland is now blessed with a local food movement that is giving new life to farming in Maryland. It has produced new markets and agritourism opportunities which have allowed many farmers to retool and become more profitable. Agricultural Marketing Professionals are leading the way in many counties. However, the movement has not yet helped many beginning farmers who are actively seeking access to land.

Maryland has 46 land trusts, plus the Maryland Environmental Trust. Together they played a major role in the preservation of the nearly 800,000 acres of farmland in Maryland. At Friday’s meeting, I will be raising the concern that only 5% of all Maryland farm operators (2012 ag census) are 34 and younger. A recent survey by the American Farm Bureaus Federation reported that the biggest challenge for beginning farmers is gaining access to land. We will be talking about how to make that happen.

I will report on the results of the meeting!

 

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Several states show how to attract new farmers!

In previous posts, we have talked about the advantages of a strong, local food system, the need for new farmers and the challenges of attracting new farmers. These challenges may be the reason why there are six times more farmers 65 and older than there are farmers 34 and under in the U.S.

Billipp Farm, photo from

Billipp Farm, photo by John Woike/Harford Courant

The final 2012 ag census won’t be released until May, but we are already learning about some  states with success stories in attracting new farmers based on the preliminary census results. In a recent article, Let It Grow: Connecticut Leads Farm Growth in New England,  Steve Grant wrote that “the latest U. S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture shows that the number of farms nationwide declined by 4 percent between 2007 and 2012 — while New England states, including Connecticut, saw significant increases in the number of farms.”

In fact, Connecticut saw a 22% increase in the number of farms and an 8% increase in farmland acreage. Even more impressive, there was a 52% increase in farmers 34 and under. Of course, one reason for the growth in young farmers is the strong market for local food. Grant quoted one  new Connecticut farmer, Haley Billipp, who said, “This is a very good time to get into farming if this is something you can do, and want to do, because there are so many people who are interested in local produce and organic produce and want to know the place where their food is coming from.”

CTNOFA

Beginning farmers of Connecticut

However, beginning Connecticut farmers are also assisted by the CTNOFA program, a program supported by an agreement with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc. and a Journeyperson Program, which is based on The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s successful journeyperson program. Back in their home states, these programs are working as well. New York saw a 14% increase in farmers 34 and under and Maine saw a 39% increase!

Nebraska also witnessed a significant growth in farmers 34 and under, registering a 42% increase from 2007 to 2012. In addition, the number of farms in Nebraska jumped by 5%. Neighboring states did not experience a similar kind of growth in beginning farmers.

vetnebraska

Veterans “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” Program, go to www.groundoperations.net

Beginning farmers in Nebraska benefit from tax breaks for land owners who lease to new farmers.  In his article, Nebraska Sets the Standard for New Farmers, Philip Brasher notes that “the refundable tax credit for landowners is intended to help aspiring farmers overcome the daunting challenge of acquiring acreage, which has become even more difficult to afford as land values have soared in recent years. The tax credit is worth 10% of the cash rent or 15% of the crop share rent for each of three years.” Nebraska also has a “100-cow” and a “100-acre” program at the two-year Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture which links students with farmers. The students agree to work for the farmer in return for being able to use part of the farmer’s land. Finally, Nebraska has a “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” program to help returning veterans.

Across the country, there appears to be a new generation of young people eager to try their hand at farming. Several states seem to be finding a way to help them overcome the challenges, such as gaining access to land and acquiring the skills to succeed. As you may know, Maryland already has a number of programs for beginning farmers, such as Beginning Farmer Success, Future Harvest CASA’s Beginning Farmer Training Program, UMES Small Farm Institute and our own Maryland FarmLINK. We will keep looking for new ideas as we try to help Maryland’s beginning farmers to gain a foothold in agriculture.

 

 

 

Posted in Farm Finance, locally sourced food, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

St. Mary’s County — Say Cheese!

by Greg Bowen and Susan McQuilkin

According to The Impact of Agriculture on Maryland’s Economy, published last summer,  Maryland’s dairy sector generates over $1 Billion in total annual economic impact, second only to the poultry sector. However, it is hard to find a dairy in rural Southern Maryland.  In fact, none of the five counties in Southern Maryland had a dairy until farm owners Geoffrey Morell and Sally Fallon Morell of P.A. Bowen Farmstead,  and co-founders of the Weston A. Price Foundation, opened one in Prince George’s County just a few years back. The vast majority of Maryland’s remaining dairies are in Western and Central Maryland.

clover HillThis time, the Amish community took the lead in creating Southern Maryland’s second dairy, expressing interest in building one at 27925 Woodburn Hill Road, Mechanicsville Maryland. Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) has been working with members of the Amish to assist them in establishing a Manufacture Grade dairy (Clover Hill Dairy) for cheese and butter. The milk for pasteurized cheese will be sourced from more than 11 local dairy farms.

clover hill

Pasteurization Room

SMADC staff facilitated meetings with the Maryland Center for Milk Control to speed up communications and navigate regulatory issues concerning the approval of the Cheese House pasteurization  equipment and timing pump which will be operated using non-standard 24 volt direct current. SMADC staff, with the assistance of Senator ‘Mac’ Middleton, hosted a meeting between Clover Hill Dairy, the Center of Milk Control and dairy engineer Bill Rowlands, of Rowlands Sales Company Inc., to approve the dairy power source, operating equipment and facility plans.

Assistance was particularly needed to navigate the regulatory process for a dairy processing system that would not be connected to the electrical grid but would have to comply with rigorous state performance standards. SMADC staff person Susan McQuilkin facilitated communications and navigation of regulatory issues concerning the construction and operation of dairy production equipment. She worked closely with the Maryland Center of Milk Control and the dairy board on all aspects of permitting and certification for the development of a Standard Operating Procedures manual. She arranged and participated in numerous meetings on this endeavor with the dairy board and Maryland regulatory offices.

Clover Hill Dairy received its Manufacture Grade temporary permit on March 6th. which allows for the manufacture and sale of pasteurized milk cheeses and butter. Approved recipes for production include Jack, Cheddar and Latin American Curd Cheese.

Local dairies like Clover Hill are a real boost to the local economy and they help keep our food dollars here too! Success in this endeavor has been due the farmers of Clover Hill Dairy and Cheese House, Maryland Division of  Milk Control, DHMH Office of Food Protection, Rowlands Engineering, Harbor Designs Engineering, St. Mary’s County Government (especially Donna Sasscer), and Maryland Department of Agriculture. Successful coordination of communication between entities has been due to our own Susan McQuilkin!

The Dairy will be open to the general public this week, Wednesday through Saturday during daylight hours.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Dairy, food safety regulations, locally sourced food, New Farmers, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers | 1 Comment

Is Montgomery County’s new zoning ordinance a model for farming regs?

MHTbarn

Maryland Historic Trust — White-Carlin Barn in Montgomery County

Last week, I might have been one of a few people excited to see that  Montgomery County had adopted new zoning regulations. I realize that ordinances are not fun to read. However, I see them as a window into the future land use patterns of a jurisdiction. Like them or not, zoning ordinances determine how communities are built or adapted to meet citizen needs and interests.

Long overdue, Montgomery County’s last full restructuring of the Ordinance was 50 years ago. While some viewed this update as a chance modernize the regulations and  to attract more millennials (people between the ages 18 and 34), I was interested in how a county with such a successful land preservation program would address agriculture and, more particularly, how it would accommodate our region’s local food movement.

mont.In general, the response to the ordinance has been positive. Some have expressed pleasure that more than 120 zoning classifications have been greatly reduced, Some have noted the  simplified land use tables with land use definitions and conditions clearly described. Others are praising the county’s reduction of parking spaces required for offices, restaurants, etc. that will reduce impervious surfaces and stimulate reuse of buildings.

Of course, I turned straight to the land use tables to see how the county would address agricultural uses in rural and urban areas. I am very pleased to find that agriculture is allowed . . .everywhere! Farming, the practice of agriculture, is allowed in Ag, Rural Residential, and Single-Family Detached zones. The full definition is broad and clear, and includes processing and agritourism.

Young farmer brigade 2 (2)Urban Farming, the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants, as well as the limited keeping and raising of fowl or bees and the practice of aquaculture,  is allowed in the Residential Townhouse, Residential Multi-unit,  Residential/Commercial, Employment, and Industrial zones.  Community gardens are a conditional use in all zoning districts.

The vast majority of agricultural uses enhance, not detract from, rural and urban landscapes. They help to built community and a sense of place. They create economies for those not inclined to sit behind a desk.  These uses are also needed in a region where people want to know more about how their food is being produced and how far it travels. 

However, in a state with small farm sizes and lots of suburban sprawl, regulations are needed to address land uses that can have an adverse impact on the use and enjoyment of adjacent properties.  As Maryland communities continue to evolve, it is important for farmers and their neighbors to have a clear understanding of what each can and cannot do. Like good fences, good zoning regulations make good neighbors.

Montgomery County’s new zoning ordinance is a model for farming regs, especially for counties with rural and urban lands.

 

 

Posted in Maryland zoning regulation, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2012 ag census – what are the preliminary results for Maryland?

Eastern shore.03A couple of weeks ago, the USDA released preliminary ag census data for the states. Since 1840, the U.S. government has been conducting censuses of agriculture.  For the purposes of the ag census, a farm is any agricultural operation that “had $1,000 in sales in the census year or had the potential to have $1,000 in sales in the census year.”

Though not perfect, the census is a good indicator of trends. What does the census tell us about the condition of Maryland agriculture?

Some good news.

 From an economic standpoint, the value of agricultural products sold increased 24 percent to $2.27 billion, with an average per farm increase of 30 percent to $185,329. Of course, this is a good sign, but all farmers know that on a specific year weather and market conditions can influence these numbers more than the overall well-being of the agriculture industry.

A better sign of ag’s vitality and staying power is acreage of farmland and the latest figures confirm that the rate of farmland loss is slowing in Maryland. Between 1959 and 2002, Maryland lost roughly 1 million acres (1/3rd) of its farmland. Between 2007 and 2012, farmland acreage dropped 21,011 to 2,030,745 acres, a 2.2% decrease in farmland in 10 years. As a comparison, Maryland lost 6.6% of its farmland between 1992 and 2002 and 13.1% of its farmland between 1982 and 1992. Of course, credit should also be given to county and state land preservation programs that have protected nearly 800,000 acres of farmland in Maryland since the 1980s. Southern MD Agricultural Development Commission has been a partner in land preservation, helping the five Southern Maryland counties to preserve 14,766 acres.

Not good news

The Number of Young Farmers have Declined Significantly in Maryland Since 1959

The number of young farmers  in Maryland have declined significantly since 1959

What about young farmers in Maryland? Preliminary results from the 2012 ag census reveal that only about 5% of all principal farm operators are 34 years old and younger, while 35% are age 65 or older. Nationwide, those numbers are similar, 5.6% and 33.2% respectively. In Maryland, the average age of farmers increased 1.7 years to 59, while in the nation, it increased 1.2 years to 58.3.

In 1959, farm operators under 34 represented 11% of the Maryland farmers, compared to 5% today. Most states have experienced similar declines in young farmers, but there are exceptions. For example, New York saw a 14.4% increase in farm operators under 34 and  Maine saw a whopping 39% increase since 2007. New York is home base to the maineNational Young Farmers Coalition and a recent article entitled USDA farming census: Maine has more young farmers, more land in farms  which credits Maine’s rise young farmers to lower farmland costs, a good market for their produce and the new farmer programs provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

The full 2012 ag census report is expected in May. We look forward to seeing what trends have emerged in agricultural production and which parts of the state seem to be making the most progress.

Meanwhile, be sure to encourage young people to get into farming. According to the USDA, half of all current farmers in the U.S. are likely to retire in the next decade. As stated on the USDA  New Farmer website,  ”Enlisting and supporting new farmers is essential to the future of family farms, the farm economy and healthy rural communities.”  There will be shoes to fill!

 

 

 

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Not only the ‘Bear’ Facts at Garrett County Ag Workshops

Maryland State highway wildlife warning signs are different in Western Maryland than most Garrett County 009of the rest of the state. There is a bear symbol next to the deer symbol! And of course I knew that farmers there have to deal with more snow and a shorter growing season, but was a little surprised to learn at the Agronomy meeting last weekend that mysterious circles in corn fields may be caused by bears!

I did enjoy the mountain views, the quaint farms quilting the valleys and talking with folks from this part of the state who seem to harken back to a gentler time. History is present whenever you turn onto Route 40.

willie

Extension Agent Willie Lantz

Agriculture is a major industry in Garrett County with 95,000 acres of farmland and 677 farms according to the 2007 census and a total value of sales that would embarrass a number of flatter counties east of the mountains. As with most of the Agronomy meetings in the state this year, presenters warned of lower commodity crop prices. Extension agent Willie Lantz discussed ways for corn farmers to maintain profitability during challenging times.

At the Mountain Top Fruit and Vegetable Growers Meeting the following day, I got a chance to talk with a number of producers about the Beginning Farmer Success Program, Maryland FarmLINK, Mentor Match Program, Future Harvest CASA Training Program, etc. According to Willie, number of attendees was up from previous years. One of the display tables held resource information from the  Garrett Growers Cooperative, a food hub supplying restaurants in the County. Participating farmers hope that the Coop will be an effective way to improve profitability by aggregating and distributing food to reach broader markets without leaving the farm.

Garrett Growers

Maryland is America in miniature, from the sandy beaches and coastal areas in the East to the mountains in the West. With the thick coat of snow and ice, I didn’t get a chance to see the famous Deep Creek Lake in its full splendor. However, I did get to see a mountain region with an agriculture community that seems to be doing OK.

 

 

 

 

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Despite the snow and cold temperatures, MOFFA members convene, cogitate, and consume!

GMO/Food Safety Panel Discussion at the MOFFA Winter Meeting

GMO/Food Safety Panel Discussion at the MOFFA Winter Meeting

A farmer from Carroll County noted that there were still 26″ of snow on the ground at his farm, but he still made the trek from Carroll County on Feb. 15 to the Maryland Organic Food & Farming Association’s Winter Meeting. Throughout the day, the skies spit snow and a mist. Still, many organic farmers and their supporters gathered to learn the latest in organic research, food handling and food policy.

Dr. Shirley Micallef  led off the research presentations. She gave an update on Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) research on microbials in tomato and leafy greens production in the Mid-Atlantic.  She and her team have studied produce from 24 tomato farms and 32 leafy greens farms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Her team collected 999 samples  and considered the impact of various cropping practices on the levels of harmful microbial activity. Some of the preliminary conclusions:

-No difference in microbial activity between the farming systems- organic or conventional though there were lower levels of e.coli on organic than conventional.

-Tomatoes touching the ground had the highest coliform counts.

-No greater presence of harmful microbes at post-harvest.

Dr. Amanda Buchanan reported on the results of her team’s study using cover crops for pest

Striped cucumber beetles

Cucumber beetles

suppression in crookneck squash. I reported on this following my attendance at the Organic Vegetable Twilight Tour last summer. Having more time to compile the results, Amanda has drawn further conclusions and recommendations:

-Crimson clover is effective for weed suppression, soil nutrients, plant growth and yield.

-Barley is potentially effective for pests and beneficials.

-Grass + legume cover crops can complement each other.

-Sufficient cover crop biomass is important for crop yield.

Cover crops in late April

Cover crops in late April

For those considering the use of cover crops in organic vegetable productions, Dr. Guihua Chen‘s presentation should be of interest. The team she worked with investigated the influences of different tillage systems for organic vegetable production on soil moisture and temperature, soil mineral nitrogen dynamics, weed suppression, crop establishment and growth, and crop yield and quality. Their study was also conducted at the Upper Marlboro Experimental Station  in fine loamy Annapolis series soils and using mixed cover crops planted in mid-September 2012. They compared four ground treatments: Bare ground, black plastic, no-till and strip till and compared these in the production of sweet corn and squash.  My simple summary doesn’t begin to highlight all the great graphs and analysis, but here it is:

-Bare ground had moderate to high N mineralization, not efficient weed suppression, good plant establishment, moderate plant growth, high to moderate marketable yield, high insect damage, and high N2O -N emission.

-Black Plastic had  high N mineralization, better weed suppression, moderate plant establishment, better plant growth, moderate marketable yield, high insect damage, and high N2O -N emission.

-No-Till had low N mineralization, best weed suppression, moderate to low plant establishment, moderate to low plant growth, moderate marketable yield, least insect damage, and least N2O -N emission.

-Strip Till had moderate N mineralization, better weed suppression, good to moderate plant establishment, best plant growth, high marketable yield, moderate insect damage, and moderate N2O -N emission.

For me, Strip Till was the winner, but I realize that means getting your crop in the ground a little later.

Too much was covered to present in a blog. Of course, one of the many highlights of the day was the potluck lunch. If you didn’t attend, you missed my local organic wheat bread (flour from Next Step Produce) and local organic sweet potato spread (sweet potatoes from Sassafras Creek Farm.) After all, great healthy food is an objective of MOFFA and the proof is in the pudding. . .and bread! Great meal, great discussions and a great way to spend a snowy February day.

 

 

Posted in food hubs, food safety regulations, Grass-Fed Meats, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, Organic farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

As California’s green glow is fading, will the Mid-Atlantic pick up the slack?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how climate change is predicted to impact agriculture, caldroughtaccording to USDA’s climatologists. The short answer for us is a longer growing season, more rain (with heavier rain events) and hotter summers. The short answer for California and the Southwest is much hotter with more drought conditions.

Those thoughts were on my mind when I read two articles this week about drought conditions in California. Alex Park and Julia Lurie reported in Beyond a reasonable drought: California’s dry spell could be the worst in 500 years annual crop farmers are cutting back production. Fruit production farmers are hoping their trees will survive the year and realize that next year’s crop will be hurt too. California’s ranchers are selling off more of their livestock.

Last minute rains might still save this year’s crops, but the long range view is bleak. Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle’s somber article, The Dust Bowl Returns, noted ironically that it was a Dust Bowl that drove many Midwest farmers to California. However, since the 1930′s, the water supply system that fueled the agricultural boom in California’s Central Valley is being tapped by many more cities. The snow caps that supplied the water are much thinner these years. Soils in part of the valley are laden with salt from too much irrigation over the decades.

Even if the rains return, a farmer noted that the ground has already been sinking as the aquifers have been collapsing from the rapid water withdrawal. That aquifer capacity will not return. The authors note that “Our behavior here in the valley feels untenable and self-destructive, and for much of it, we are to blame. But we also find support among an enthusiastic group of enablers: tens of millions of American shoppers who devour the lettuce and raisins, carrots and tomatoes, almonds and pistachios in our fields.”

No doubt, wealthy Americans won’t do without. With some of the largest population centersf4hpot2 here in the Mid-Atlantic, there is the possibility that our region could source much of our food. Our climate can produce most of the same crops (sorry, no oranges). We have more rainfall. There are still millions of acres of farmland and our region used to feed itself. As previously reported, if we were able to tap just 10% of the  $26 Billion Northern Virginia/Washington, DC/Baltimore food budget, we could increase the local economy substantially and provide fresh local food.

If we are not successful, more of our food will be imported. It is time to find our own “enthusiastic group of enablers”!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Buy Local Challenge, food hubs, National Ag News, New Farmers, New Ideas in Farming, So. Maryland Topics, Sustainable Farmers | 1 Comment