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 smoked 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 country, 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.