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What do Southern Maryland Meats, Bourbon, and Alpacas all have in common?  

What do Southern Maryland Meats, Bourbon, and Alpacas all have in common?  

July 31st! SMADC is hosting an evening for the public to celebrate Maryland’s farms and food at the Buy Local Challenge 10th Anniversary Celebration Event – Southern Maryland Style!

The event is planned for July 31st in Brandywine, Md, and will feature tastings of local farm products , a locally sourced Southern Maryland style buffet dinner, live music, lawn games, clydesdales, and the opportunity to purchase from Maryland farmers, producers, artisans, and crafters.

Southern Maryland farms will be featured, and include sampling of fruits, vegetables, meats, wine, distilled spirits, ice cream, baked goods, and more.

Vendors such as Dicot Farm of Charles County will sample fresh produce from their farm, while you can taste wine and wine infused cupcakes from Romano Vineyard and Winery and others in Prince George’s county, and purchase local meats from R & H Farms in St. Mary’s County. Spider Hall farm will also join us from Calvert county with their famous ‘Miss Moo’s’ ice cream!

This is a ticketed event – tickets must be purchased in advance, so don’t delay!

  • $25 for 21 and over (those able to sample wines & spirits at the event. ID will be checked at the door as necessary and the appropriate armband issued)
  • $20 for youth under 20 and adults not sampling wine/spirits/beer
  • Kids 5 and under free
  • Locally Sourced Southern Maryland Style Buffet Dinner
  • Vendor Sampling Pass (Sample all vendors, then drop your completed pass into the raffle box for a chance to win local goodies!)
  • Commemorative Buy Local Insulated Tote Bag – to keep your tasty farm food purchases cool between farm and fridge.

A huge thank you to our event sponsors: Grow & Fortify, MARBIDCO, Maryland’s Best, Maryland Farm Bureau, the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundaiton, R&D Cross, and the Rural Maryland Council. Tickets are still available while supplies lasts. Purchase tickets here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SMADC debuts new logo!

SMADC debuts new logo!

There’s been a flurry of exciting updates at SMADC over the past month, including our latest announcement: the unveiling of a new logo!

The new logo brings together the origins of SMADC’s historic foundation in one colorful image. Showcasing the stewardship of our land and waterways– the iconic tobacco barn, the Chesapeake Bay, row crops, and that hot Maryland sun– all point to SMADC’s bright, new horizon!

The larger re-branding and marketing initiative we are currently undertaking, aims to increase awareness for our programs, making SMADC a household name for farmers, agribusiness and consumers. An important part of this
effort will be to update our website homepage to be more user-friendly; a one-stop-shop for farmers and consumers to find the resources they need.

And if you haven’t already noticed, we are increasing our marketing, promotions and outreach, and ramping up our social media presence. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with all things food and farming in Southern Maryland. Keep an eye out later this month too for our new monthly Newsletter: Farm Focus.

 

SMADC Announces New Director

SMADC Announces New Director

Shelby Watson Hampton-photocredit-EdwinRemsberg
Photo credit Edwin Remsberg

The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) is pleased to announce new Director, Shelby Watson-Hampton. Shelby is a Southern Maryland farmer, an Agricultural Marketing Specialist, and an active member of the Maryland farming community. In her previous position at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, she worked in the Marketing Department promoting and marketing Maryland products, farmers, and farmers markets, as well as running the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Shelby is an active member of many agricultural associations and committees. She also farms on her family farm in Brandywine, Maryland, where they grow wine grapes and host private events in their barn venue. Shelby is a 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a 2015 Graduate Fellow of the LEAD Maryland Class VIII.

When asked about her new position, she replied, “I am so honored, grateful, and excited to have this opportunity to work for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. As Director, my mission will be to work towards fostering a truly cohesive farming community in Southern Maryland, which brings out the best in all farmers and all production types. We need every farm we have; large, small, conventional, organic, traditional, niche, agritourism and value-added. It takes all agricultural types to have a diverse and successful farming economy.”

“As an individual with family farms in both Prince George’s and Charles Counties, ties to the Southern Maryland farming community across all five counties, and an affinity for promoting an inclusive and cooperative atmosphere, I will strive to continue and to expand the tradition of a strong and prosperous farming community in Southern Maryland.”

Shelby joins SMADC with a wealth of experience and commitment to the farming community in Southern Maryland. The Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland (TCCSMD) board, and the SMADC board and staff welcome Shelby as the newest manager of our Economic Development team. Shelby will start in her new position on March 6, 2017.

Setting the stage for a flourishing future by Christine Bergmark

Setting the stage for a flourishing future by Christine Bergmark

By: Christine Bergmark, Executive Director, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission

Looking back over 15 years of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, I am filled with pride. We, the farmers, consumers, SMADCvisionaries, staff and volunteers, have accomplished so much. Sixteen years ago, few could have envisioned Southern Maryland agriculture without tobacco. But the new crops, new markets, farm innovations, and consumer demand that followed gave hope with each fresh planting season that agriculture was and would continue to be vibrant in Southern Maryland.

New industries have flourished. Who could have imagined that our wineries would take hold?  That the Buy Local Challenge we created would have been picked up in so many other states? Who in 1999 could have seen that countless consumers would be willing to pay a little more for great locally produced meats? And that agritourism would teach a new generation of children about food and farms?

BLCWe at SMADC held fast to the vision, but never could we have imagined that the new markets would be so welcoming. With a staff of 4, sometimes 5, and volunteer commissioners numbering 17, we were nimble, responsive, forward-thinking and in some ways, a laboratory for innovation for the state.

Now, as SMADC enters a new era, I encourage you all, one last time, to realize how the choices that we make every day –as legislators, county officials, tax payers and consumers- impact the future of our farms. I urge you to continue the good work that has helped evolve our farms and agriculture towards a great future.

Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

wallacecenterreport

This blog is the second in a two-part series on selling farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs (read the first blog here). The Wallace Center recently released a new report on Maryland Food Hubs. The Wallace CUSdemandforlocalfood_wallacecenterreportenter partnered with SMADC on the report, looking at research SMADC has undertaken in the past few years on Maryland food hubs (existing and emerging), and the knowledge the Wallace Center has built around food hub and food system work at the national level. The report focuses on the opportunities and challenges for Maryland food hubs, both existing and emerging.

Listed, are five challenges facing Maryland Food Hubs, two and four are good for Maryland farmers to keep in mind:.

  1. Access to capital
  2. Access to adequate supply
  3. managing pricing, sales, and growth
  4. Food safety and regulated markets
  5. Balancing margin and mission

Farmers have an advantage on the market right now, there is more demand for local products in Maryland through food hubs than there is supply. Farmers are also being faced with more regulations with regards to food safety. The report outlines more information for Maryland farmers to take note of. Transparency is also important. Make sure your products are labeled/tracked through the whole distribution chain and that hubs are accurately promoting your farm and products.

Since food hubs are not “one size fits all” models, The report showcases Local Spotlight sections each highlighting the existing Maryland food hub models. Farmer owned cooperatives who serve a tight geographic region (Garrett Growers), a for profit business buying in from farms within a broader region (Friends and Farms), and a business connecting chefs and farmers through an online ordering system and delivery model (Chesapeake Farm to Table). We recently had the chance to tour to Friends andWallacecenterreportmarylandsector Farms and the nearby Maryland Food Center Authority, and we are hoping to tour of Chesapeake Farm to Table this summer. If you are interested in attending let us know (pwentworth@smadc.com) and we’ll be sure to put you on the mailing list for updates.

 

The full report and more information can be found on SMADC’s website here.

 

Farmer to Farmer Education: New podcast is an invaluable resource

Farmer to Farmer Education: New podcast is an invaluable resource

Uninterrupted downtime is difficult to find! Everything else usually gets shoved to the back-burner at the height of the season. However, a new podcast series called the Farmer to Farmer Podcast connects with farmers on the go. The show is for farmers, by farmers, and is hosted by Chris Blanchard, a veteran farmer and educator combining 25 years of experience to get at the big ideas and practical details that go into making a farm work.  Each week Chris interviews an experienced farmer on a new topic.SMADC

Wait, what’s a podcast?

Chris explains in detail here, but podcasts are basically an online radio program that can be listened to (and paused, rewound, replayed) anytime.  You can listen while working on the farm or while driving. You can listen directly from the website or subscribe to it from a mobile device through iTunes Podcasts or Stitcher (for Android users).

I’ve heard farmers say that they listen to it while on the tractor and during their commute to market or an off-farm job, and others say it’s helped pass the time while weeding. While we are always on the go or have our hands tied, it’s nice to be able to listen in without changing up our routine.

There’s something for everyone

SMADC blog

The podcast covers all aspects of farming, no matter what stage or scale you are at. Topics include managing employees,  leadership lessons, new approaches in farming, creating diversified markets, and reflection on things we can all relate to–it is a fresh and honest look at farming today.
One of my favorite episodes, Balancing Off-Farm Jobs with a Full-Time Farm, discusses feeling the pressure to keep and enjoy off-farm jobs, taking the time to scale up slowly as the market opportunities present themselves, things many farmers may relate to.

Tuning in

Work on the farm is usually unplugged from technology, and it seems that is what so many of us enjoy most.  But if you find yourself in need of a new approach or some encouragement, find some time for this podcast, and tune in with others in the farm community, which can be rewarding too.

Using resources and maximizing efficiency is important to profitability in this industry. So try out the podcast next time you’re alone on the tractor, weeding, or driving to market!

 

Consider Fermenting as a value-added way to grow your market

Consider Fermenting as a value-added way to grow your market

Touted for its historical health benefits across the globe, fermented foods have been on the hot list recently, especially in the Maryland region. In part, due to Rachael Armstead and her husband who have pioneered them back from ancient history, into value-added products for farmers markets and wholesale outlets through their work with the local and state health departments. Rachel worked on farms in the region before starting The Sweet Farm four short years ago, and noticed the abundance of fresh produce that could be grown in the region. Produce perfect for making her favorite foods, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and cultured sweetfarm2mustard.

This week we had the privilege of learning from Rachel, who worked tirelessly with the state health department to create a set of standard operating producers (SOPs) that were non-existent four years ago. She became the first certified in the state to sell raw fermented goods at market and wholesale, paving the way for others to follow. Unlike some surrounding states, the Maryland Department of Health does require the use of a commercial kitchen facility.

Fermenters are adamant that ferments be from the freshest produce, great news for local farmers. Because the fermentation process is not as forgiving as pickling with vinegar, it is imperative that the produce used is freshly harvested and fermented right away.  When cabbage is fermented long after harvest, it becomes too dried out. Cucumbers need to head straight to the walk-in cooler or directly into a wash tank to get the field heat off. Cabbage grown for fermenting is preferably grown in the fall in our region for best results. We’ve heard from Rachel and other commercial fermenters across the state, who are in need of more local produce– cucumbers and cabbage in particular.

SMADC workshop with The Sweet Farm. Click to enlarge photos.
SMADC workshop with The Sweet Farm.

Though the most common, fermenting is not just for cabbage and cucumbers. In addition, produce that grows well in our region and makes for good fermented products include: beets, carrots, turnips (try hakureis!), and radishes. Apples are great too, but need to be used sparingly as the sugars create yeast in process. In smaller quantities, locally grown onions, garlic, ginger, celeriac, dill and fennel are also sought after. Interestingly, juniper berries (found locally from wild cedar trees) can be used in place of caraway or mustard seed.

If you grow any of the produce mentioned, consider connecting to one of  the local retailers, such as the Sweet Farm, Oksanas Produce, or HEX, as a wholesaler. Or test the waters yourself. Fermented products are a relatively easy to prepare, healthful, and trendy. They have a long shelf-life.

Additionally, think about this marketing opportunity. Consider selling a 1/2 or whole bushel box of cucumbers or cabbage to your market or to CSA customers when abundant. Provide a recipe, benefits, tools on your website for making ferments at home. From my eVAPG-Guide-Cover-768x963experience in canning tomatoes and fermenting sauerkraut, canning is more labor intensive.

If you are considering adding any kind of value-added products to your farm entity, now is a good time. USDA Rural Development grants are currently open (through June), with matching funds available to Maryland producers through MARBIDCO. Read the 2016 Value Added Producer Grant Program for details. A new guide (click photo on right to view) was released this week to help farmers navigate the application.

 

 

 

 

Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

What better way to kick off the New Year than brushing up on farm skills, and collaborating with other food system innovators. Last week was the annual Cultivate the Chesapeake Conference, hosted by Future Harvest- Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) – and as usual, it did not disappoint!

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Session on turning farm food seconds into value-added products.

Although there are many winter conferences and meetings, I always return home from this one with my farm knowledge acutely sharpened. It’s a good time to meet with people you don’t see often, drawing upwards of 500 attendees from all over the food system spectrum. While the focus is on sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake, I find the diversity it pulls from incredible– from first-year to seasoned farmers, beekeepers to livestock producers, cut flower and organic growers (hosting workshops together), local food producers to public health workers, seed companies and agriculture organizations.

The real key to success, I heard noted during the workshops, was collaboration and honest feedback with other farmers. Speakers were willing to share books, articles, and lessons learned in the field. In talking with a fellow new farmer, Karyn Owens, after a session on seed varieties, she said, “it was inspiring to see farmers come together and discuss varieties that work for them, either producing large yields or having little disease pressure, while another farmer down the road or the next county over may have different soil or type of growing condition and they prefer another crop variety. But I took away the value of knowledge sharing and being open to trying new things, because you just never know!”

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Mike Liker discussing ways to finding the optimal scale for your farm.

The high energy some of the farmers spread while sharing their knowledge was also notable. That can quickly become contagious in a room full of farmers, especially beginning farmers who are just starting out, and trying to make it through initial setbacks. Dave Liker of Gorman Farm, shared his experience with growing too fast. “Don’t take on too much too fast”, he stated, “instead keep gung-hoe working hard in the areas where you’re most passionate.” Listening is key. I heard a lot of, “I’ve been there, trust me, don’t do this, instead try this…” talk at the conference.

Sessions on composting with the ever-inspiring, young farmers of Moon Valley farm helped to consider the economic differences in making compost onsite and trucking it in, and a session on cover cropping provided effective ways to build better soil. I even sat in on a session with a food producer who is taking seconds from local farms and turning them into value-added products, while providing meaningful jobs to women re-entering the job market after incarceration. We heard from powerful keynote speakers, such as Dr. Ricardo Salvador, about leveling the field for farmers success and healthy food. Another Keynote (who considers the Chesapeake region home), Natasha Bowens, spoke about diversity in farming throughout history in America, which she wrote about in her new book, “The Color of Food.”

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Young Farmer Meet-up.

Although insightful in itself, I was not just there to listen, but also co-host an interest gathering with the Wallace Center on food hub research, and the potential for Maryland. Maryland food hubs (new and emerging) attended, as well as farmers thinking about selling to food hubs, and farmers who currently sell to food hubs through Tuscarora Organic Growers cooperative, who also happened to be in the room. The discussion focused on where we are as a sector, food hub challenges, and how to keep the momentum going. The gathering provided feedback and information that will help shape a report due out in the spring on the market potential for Maryland food hubs.

Despite all this, I may have been most excited to help organize a young farmer meet-up during the conference with the Maryland Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and the Maryland Young Farmers Coalition (a new chapter of the NYFC). Leaders and members of each group, along with other young farmers, came together to learn about how to get engaged and involved. Young farmer groups like these are important to the future of farming in this region that is losing farmers, and farm knowledge, at too fast a pace.

It seems evident (in this day in age) to network and share with peers. Remember to check Maryland FarmLINK and Friday’s Weekly Round-up email which includes upcoming conferences, events, properties, and news relevant to Maryland and regional farming.

 

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

photo5 (2)This week sure is the week of farm conferences and events!  We will report on some of them in the coming weeks, but this week we’ve revived a series of posts on “Saving family farms in Maryland”. The series addresses many of the challenges and opportunities we face in farming in Maryland, and will likely continue to face. Perhaps with a look back at them we can charge ourselves with a few new tasks as we make our way into the new year.

  1. Saving family farms in Maryland – access to land This post includes information about FarmLINK’s Property Exchange and other free resources like zoning maps and land preservation easements, as well as improving communication between young and beginning farmers and retired farm owners.
  2. Saving family farms in Maryland – infrastructure solutions Beginning farmers often have difficulty finding land that also has the infrastructure amenities they need. In this post common infrastructure needs are covered like water, fencing, housing (tiny house information included), and lease agreements.
  3. Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment To dispel any hope of simplicity, no county zoning regulations are the same. Each is patterned to address citizen concerns, etc. but a table and links are offered in this post to help farmers sell value-added farm products and with agri-tourism uses.
  4. Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets How to create a level access to markets is the topic of this last blog which offers why consumers are demanding more local food and helpful solutions to obtaining access for farmers to sell in more places.

 

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

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

Chances are you’ve heard about USDA GroupGap, which was recently created by USDA to help farmers and buyers meet the increasing demand for local food while maintaining strong food safety standards.

groupgap2I was curious about learning more, so I did some research. Here is a quick rundown.

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

To qualify, a group of farmers must come together and sign up. A group Coordinator is selected and creates standard operating procedures (SOPs), a quality management system (first year a bit rigorous), keeps grower members in compliance, serves as a point of contact with USDA, and ensure the groups audit readiness.

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

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

For more information, I found this webinar by USDA helpful. (If you can’t watch the webinar, here is an informative fact sheet.)

Enhancing Wholesale Produce Distribution in So. Maryland

On December 14th SMADC is hosting a meeting for wholesale farmers to discuss the potential for enhancing the wholesale distribution of Southern Maryland produce. We will discuss GroupGAp as part of the meeting too. We would value your voices at the table as strategic thinkers and invite your frank comments and insight, where our main topic will be to discuss/explore potential to grow and enhance wholesale distribution. Detailed can be found here. If you cannot make the December meeting, we will host another in January, details coming soon.

 

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