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Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

msu

This blog is the first in a two-part series on selling local farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs. This week, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, along with The Wallace Center, released the 2015 National Food Hub Survey findings, which indicates that the food hub model can be financially successful across a variety of legal structures and geographic or customer markets.national_food_hub_survey_2015

Food hubs are businesses that aggregate and distribute source-identified food products, i.e. food that carries it’s farm name through the supply chain. As consumer interest in local and regional foods grows, the market for food hub services also grows. The findings of this report, together with the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, are the beginning of a data set that tracks what food hubs look like and what impacts they are having across the United States. What I found of most importance in the findings is that, 90% of food hubs who responded are increasing market access for small and medium farms as part of their daily operations. With many small farms judgling off-farm jobs and limited budgets, this is good news for those who are trying to be a farmer, a marketer, and a distributor.

National Food Hub Findings
Snapshot of key findings. Click to expand text.

“Food hubs bring great opportunity, but they face unique challenges that will require investment and innovation to overcome,” said Dr. John Fisk, Director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Some challenges food hubs face include: 1) securing capital, 2) securing more products, and 3) responding to opportunity to grow. More than 50% of hubs are concerned about securing more supply – and growth could be a liability for at least 40% of hubs because of barriers to adequate capital and limited delivery, warehouse and staff capacity. The full report is available online, as well as a webinar recording of key findings.

We will cover the challenges and opportunities specific to the Maryland region (based on a second new report!) in the next two posts for this series.

If you’re interested in learning more about food hubs and how they are operating in Maryland, I encourage you to join us next week at Friends and Farms in Columbia, Maryland for a tour of their food hub, and a short discussion with the Wallace Center. Email me at pwentworth@smadc.com to learn more.

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Across the country there is momentum to bring more local food to restaurants. Recently we wrote a blog on upcoming trends for restaurants where locally-sourced foods topped the charts for yet another year. Innovate solutions are popping up everywhere in the Chesapeake region too. However, farmers and chefs are busy people who are usually running in two separate directions. So how do local restaurants find all these wonderful farms, and how do farmers make connections to new chefs?

Southern Maryland Chef and Farmer Events

Over the winter of 2015, local catering company Herrington on the Bay, invited chefs and farmers from the Herring Bay region to come together over lunch in order to tackle this question. Herrington organized the meeting, reaching out to local agriculture organizations like SMADC and AAEDC for lists of farmers in their area who sell wholesale and chefs who are interested in local products. Ideas were shared, new connections were made, and a Facebook group was created to allow for transactions to begin to take place. As the year went on, both parties realized that more had to happen to take this concept to the next level.

Herrington Purpose, Mission, Vision for the group
Guiding  principles for the group.

Over the winter of 2016, just a few weeks ago, Herrington hosted a second event, expanding to include a wider reach of producers (including meat, dairy, and produce) and chefs. Around 50 attendees showed up to hear from Anna Chaney, owner and operator of Herrington and Honey’s Harvest Farm, about plans to get more local food on to more local plates. Chefs and farmers are busy people so to have them in the room together was an accomplishment in itself!

Additionally, Chesapeake Farm 2 Table (CF2T) was invited to demonstrate the distribution model they’ve come up with for Baltimore. Becky (owner and operator) and Audrey (general manager) of CF2T laid out for the group what was needed to start their operation:

  • A network of member farmers and chefs wiling to participate
  • An online ordering system that handles multiple farms products and chefs payments (additionally farmers and chefs can do payment offline)
  • A coordinator to receive food to one location (the Hub). Farmers drop the food off in clear plastic bags (vs. crates or other materials) since they will not be returned
  • A vehicle and a driver to deliver to Baltimore restaurants

What’s next for Southern Maryland?

The conversation was buzzing as people mingled, many meeting for the first time, learning about each other and exchanging contact information. Relationship and trust building, from year to year, and a networking group is invaluable!

Local Food Featured At MD Chef/Farmer Event
The kinds of meals we were conspiring to create were also in supply at the event.

The group concurred that this was something needed to benefit the region. There are still many pieces of the puzzle to solve. Who will run it? Can it be run as a pilot program for the region? The intent is to get better food on the table, but it also has to pay the bills for both sides. The group must be willing to work together in some capacity so that a 50 mile transportation radius (likely for our rural area)  isn’t so onerous (for example, maybe a farmer brings product to a central drop point where the van can pick it up). In essence, have more people driving 15 miles vs. 50. And as Anna said during the meeting, “if we all give a little, we can get a lot.” And there are some leaders who’ve already stepped up to the plate to put these pieces together!

Keeping a Regional Perspective

It is imperative that we create synergies across the region to increase local food supply, and profitability for farmers. That’s why it was fantastic that CF2T came down to meet the group, and why SMADC has been happy to lead the efforts to bring the Maryland food hubs (emerging and established) together a few times a year. CF2T said they enjoyed getting to know their neighbors to the south and they were excited to see what’s next for local food sourcing in southern Maryland! We are too!

If you are interested learning more about these ongoing efforts, email us anytime at info@marylandfarmlink.com.

 

Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power

Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power

Earlier this week, I attended a listening session for a new business that recently formed, Grow and Fortify. Their motive is to help farmers around the state understand and conquer the barriers that make it difficult for Maryland farms to grow and expand their enterprises. They are tackling topics like value-added agriculture, and defining the ambiguous definition of agritourism in effort to help farms grow and expand. The legislative and regulatory process at the national, state and local levels prove to be complex, and not always defined for agriculture and food enterprises. Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have provided their support to Grow and Fortify, as they see this is an area of need.growandfortify

The small team (bios), though new to working together under Grow and Fortify, have had many years of combined experience and have worked at the local, state, and federal level on agriculture, food, and beverage issues. They are now making their rounds about the state, hearing from farmers, ag agencies, nonprofits, and counties, to gauge the need and interest in their expertise.

At the Southern Maryland meeting, attendees brought up the need for changes to more uniform codes in local county departments, and with fire marshalls, and health permitting laws at the state level. Examples were provided about counties that have successfully changed some regulations, such as St. Mary’s county who worked with the health department and SMADC to implement guidelines for meat, jams, and jellies (value-added products) to help expand farm business offerings. Attendees felt that sharing and replicating the changes one county makes into other counties would be helpful. Food sampling at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs was also brought to light as a challenge. For example, an aquaculture farm in St. Mary’s county could not sell his oysters at a recent Baltimore County festival because he only had a permit from St. Mary’s County, even though the counties pull from the same state code. In this instance, it would be less time consuming and costly for the fargrowandfortify1m to receive one license from the state for food sampling.

What is needed at the state level? What are good examples of success? Who out there is having trouble, and what are the unique challenges you’re facing? 

The standalone service sounds like it is already making headway at answering some of these questions.

If you are interested in more information, Grow and Fortify has additional listening sessions scheduled around the state in December and January, including one in Annapolis next week. They have made themselves easily accessible, as they want to hear from as many Maryland farms as possible on their specific needs for value-added agriculture.

 

Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

SMADC is delighted to be part of the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success which received a three year grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. SMADC has supported the effort with enhanced resources on the Maryland FarmLINK website and managing the Mentor Match Program for beginning farmers.

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This past Monday we held the annual Mentor Match meeting. Over 20 Maryland farmers came together around the table, farmers who are interested in helping one another grow the next generation of farmers. The Mentor Match program connects new farmers with experienced farmers in the region. The annual meeting is the one time of year that brings them all together to connect. The evening started with SMADC offering an overview of the program,  equipment available for rent, and the emergence of food hubs in the region. Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland Extension, followed with a presentation on farm labor issues, crop insurance and leasing laws in Maryland.

2015 mentees
Photo of some of the 2015 mentees! SMADC will be doing a similar set of stories of this group for the Tomorrow’s Harvest website in early 2016.

Most of the time was dedicated to the Mentees, who had the chance to network with each other (many for the first time) and share information about what they were up to on the farm. The mentees gave examples of how they worked with their mentors, and expressed appreciation for the ability to communicate with them often, and make connections that will last beyond the mentor program.

As the age of the average farmer continues to rise, programs like the Mentor Match are in place to keep farming– not just alive– but thriving in our region. There are many barriers for new farmers, such as high cost of land and having access to necessary infrastructure, which prevent many new farmers (and especially young farmers) from being profitable. A mentor to lean on, someone with expert knowledge and wisdom, provides the new farmer with information that can prevent a costly mistake or two in those first few years.  This was echoed around the room.mentor Match Food

Collectively, the group felt it was helpful to have someone to work with who has the same communication style, since farmers are constantly ‘on the go” during the season. One Mentor Match team told us they preferred to use texting and picture messaging while in the field. The mentee said he would send pictures of insect-ridden crops to his mentor, and the mentor said she would send the same photo right back, providing assurance that, “don’t worry, I’m dealing with it too! And here’s an idea of what you can do about it.” The mentee shared that these situations gave a quick and helpful solution, but also some encouragement. Others also mentioned that living close to each other was a bonus, allowing them to take advantage of bulk purchasing and shared equipment.

IMG_0038
Menu featuring organic produce from Jug Bay (’15Mentor), Good Fortune (’14Mentor), and Prickly Pear (’15Mentor) farms, and local meat and cheese from P.A. Bowen farm and eggs from Locust farm.

And, I have to mention the catering for the event because, well it’s exactly what this meeting was about– helping local farmers. Pineapple Alley Catering made us chili (one veggie and one beef). The produce, meat, and cheese came from three of the farmers sitting in the room that very night, which the caterer could identify by first name. It stands to reason, that if we are going to be meeting to talk about the food we are growing, we should carefully consider the food we are consuming at that meeting too.

The feedback from the meeting was what we had hoped– many of the farmers had formed valuable connections through the program that now allows them to share community resources with each other. If that’s not one way of building a stable regional food system, I don’t know what is!

For more information on the Collaborative beginning farmer program led by University of Maryland Extension, and our other partners, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Future Harvest CASA, visit the Beginning Farmer Success website. The grant funding has come to an end; however SMADC is excited to be able to continue to fund the Mentor Match program in 2016 for farmers who are farming in the five counties of Southern Maryland. To apply to be a part of our Mentor Match Program in 2016 or just to learn more about it, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The three sizes available for Mix n Match

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

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

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: Perfect transition. Let’s talk more about the work-share program and community workshops you offer at the St. Leonard location. Why is this type of education important to you to offer?

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

PCSA2015
Chesapeake’s Bounty garden boxes growing summer tomato plants at the St. Leonard location.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: How can individuals become more involved?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 1, Sourcing Regional Foods

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 1, Sourcing Regional Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: What unique products do you sell?

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

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

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

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

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

 This post is part one of a two-part interview. Coming next week,  we talk about Will’s work-share program/community education components and creating resiliency with forest farming. Read part 2 here

Is America ready for “share-farm”?

Is America ready for “share-farm”?

We have all seen the trend toward larger farms, especially for commodity crops, dairy and tractorlarge-scale poultry operations. Closely related to that trend is the loss of younger farmers, particularly in the types of farm sectors that require major investments to start. Simply said, if you don’t inherit a large-scale operation, you can’t afford to buy the farm, or even the equipment to farm. The logical, long-term outcome of those trends is either corporate ownership of all such farms or the end of the industry, especially in places like Maryland with high land values.

bfsWith a grant from USDA, University of Maryland Extension initiated a Beginning Farmer Success program in 2012 to help new farmers get started. Extension also collaborated with two non-profits: Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission which initiated a Mentor Match Program and Future Harvest CASA, which utilized the funds to enhance its Beginning Farmer Training Program.  These programs have been successful, particularly for vegetable, fruit and small-scale poultry producers. Both non-profits hope to continue to assist beginning farmers even after the grant period ends August 31st.

http://freshstartlandenterprise.org.uk/
http://freshstartlandenterprise.org.uk/

However, neither program has been able to help beginning commodity farmers or large-scale livestock farmers to get their start.

In the UK, a new program is getting started called  share-farm, a national “matching service’ to bring retiring farmers together with aspiring new entrants. The goal is to create a pilot farm business matching service for young or new entrepreneurs seeking land and joint ventures with owners who have land to offer.

Such a program would be very useful in the U.S.! Who is ready to take the lead?

 

 

Working to expand opportunities for Maryland farmers

Working to expand opportunities for Maryland farmers

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Tracy Ward presenting plans for the new Chesapeake Harvest Food Hub

In the past six months, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission’s Rural Economies Workgroup has been exploring how Maryland can advance a wide variety of rural business ventures. On June 4th, the focus was on food production, aggregation and distribution.

The hope of many Maryland farmers is to gain more access to institutional, restaurant and retail markets. Members of the Food and Food Production subcommittee, including representatives of state departments, Maryland Farm Bureau, MARBIDCO and others, assembled at the Coastal Sunbelt facility in Savage Maryland to learn more about plans to scale up farm food aggregation and distribution. The discussion revolved around the nuts and bolts needed to turn the dream of a more complete local food movement into a reality.

Tracy Ward was the first speaker and she discussed the new Chesapeake Harvest food hub in development on the Eastern Shore, one of about a half-dozen in development around the state. She indicated that produce farmers wanted to grow food year round and that interested farmers are hoping to build 72 high tunnels to extend production beyond the regular growing season. The Food Hub is interested in contract purchasing to provide assurance that there would be markets for what is grown. Tracy outlined the opportunities and challenges for a local food hub.

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Overlooking a Coastal Sunbelt work area during the tour of the facility in Savage, MD

She was followed by Jason Lambros, Vice President of Purchasing at Coastal Sunbelt Produce. He said that his company aggregates a million cases of food regionally and he believes that there is a market demand for triple that number. He noted that his company runs 200 trucks and most come back empty. Most of their produce still comes from California. He would be happy to work with local food hubs to aggregate and distribute food to larger markets.

The Company is also processing a dozen types of salsa on site and food processing will be a  significant part of the new expanded facility to open next year.

Participants left with a clearer picture of the opportunities and challenges to increase food aggregation and distribution from local farms in Maryland. The Food and Food Production subcommittee is expected to forward its recommendations to the Rural Economies Workgroup this summer. Ultimately, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission will consider recommendations for legislation and policy changes to be forwarded to the General Assembly.

 

Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets

Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 7.10.19 AMThis blog is the last in a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In the first blog, I highlighted the need for beginning farmers. In the second and third blogs, I addressed access to land and infrastructure needs. In this blog, I discuss how to create a level access to markets.

The local food movement has given us hope that we can maintain family farms in Maryland. For decades, I have heard of farmers telling their children that there is no future in farming. That attitude is changing. Now more farm children are returning to farms. And clearly, more people care about family farms and want to know how their food is grown.

However, the playing field is not level. Recently, National Public Radio covered an 18-month investigation by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times which described working conditions on mega-farms in Mexico.  According to the reporter, the mega-farms are mistreating workers and paying them $8 to $12 per day, hardly on par with regulations and expectations in the U.S. The story also noted that major U.S. food chains are purchasing from these farms.

Farmers in Maryland face additional challenges in trying to provide more locally-sourced food.  In the 19th century, and early 20th century, most grain, canning and food processing operations left the state and local health regulations were not designed for small scale food processing operations. Meanwhile, chain stores out-competed local food markets in the 20th century. Few locally owned stores still exist and local farmers have a tough time negotiating square deals with most chain stores.

Without local food stores, farmers selling retail were literally kicked to the curb. If farmersScreen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.32.12 AM wanted to sell the food themselves, they had to sell at roadside stands or in farmers markets, where local zoning would permit them. In commercial shopping centers, chain grocery stores typically would require landlords to impose covenants restricting local farm sales. To take advantage of the local food movement, some chains have established local market sections in their stores, but “local” can be as much as a 300-400 mile radius and farmers are  subject to their terms and whims. Many farmers have stories about working with chains. After the picture of the farm went up in the food isle, the produce orders would disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.39.33 AMHere are possible solutions to help farmers get level access to markets.

1. Encourage counties to include goals that promote local food systems in their comprehensive plans and adopt zoning ordinances that permit value-added production on farms.

2. Insist that our legislators oppose trade agreements that create unfair competition for our farmers. They should not have to compete with food from countries with weak environment, labor and food safety standards.

3. Work with businesses and government to rebuild local food aggregation systems and distribution systems, such as

  • -More local food transport systems.
  • -More indoor and year-around markets.
  • -Better market sites in towns, such as around village squares and other activity centers.

4. Tell the stories of farmers who provide great local farm products.

5. Support a food system that is sustainable and treats everyone in the food system fairly.

Giving farmers level access to markets will build the local economy, create jobs and help insure that our food is fresh and safe.

 

Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment

Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment

This blog is one of a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In my last post, I covered some of the typical infrastructure needs of beginning farmers. In this post, I discuss possible regulatory challenges for new agricultural entrepreneurs.

As I mentioned in a previous post, when Maryland’s health and zoning regulations were wineryfirst adopted, direct sales of farm products, value-added farm products and agri-tourism uses (such as farm weddings, corn mazes, and wine tastings) were not a significant part of the agricultural landscape and regulations were not written to allow them. The local food movement has created many new opportunities for farmers, but some counties have not updated their regulations to specifically allow the new uses.

Before you sign on the dotted line for leasing or purchasing a farm, I recommend that you visit our Zoning Tutorial, which describes the reasons for regulations, how they relate to adopted plans, and who to contact with questions and for clarifications. There are also links to county zoning regulations that are posted on the web.

To dispel any hope of simplicity, no county zoning regulations are the same. Each is patterned to address plan goals, citizen concerns, etc. The names of zoning districts differ, the definitions differ, and the review processes differ.  In addition to verifying that their farm uses are allowed by zoning, farmers should ask their attorney if there are any preservation or conservation easements that would restrict their farming activities.

Even if they pass these hurdles, farmers can face tough, expensive legal challenges if they propose a farm project that is perceived by neighbors to have an adverse impact on the use of their properties. A case in point is the Bellevale Farms Inc., an organic dairy farm on 199 acres in the Long Green Valley area of Baltimore County. The Long Green Valley Association had sued when the dairy sought and received approval to construct a creamery.

Maryland farmers can benefit from two Maryland Department of Agriculture programs if nuisance claims arise. First, most Maryland counties have adopted a Right-to-Farm law. Second, the state has a Maryland Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service to help resolve disputes with neighbors.

When a farmer is ready to undertake a new project, it pays to visit the local permit offices. I put together a simple table of the types of permits that may be needed and the agencies that may be involved.

Typical regulations only. Check with your jurisdiction to determine what regulations are required
Typical regulations only. Check with your jurisdiction to determine what regulations are required

Fortunately, there are people to help. At the Beginning Farmer Success website, they have collected contact information by county. You may also want to see if there is an Agricultural Marketing Professional in your county to help guide you through the permitting process.

Some counties have made great progress in clarifying zoning regulations that apply to

Source: The Atlantic "Why a Denver Suburb Has  Gone All-In for Farming"
Source: The Atlantic “Why a Denver Suburb Has Gone All-In for Farming”

farm enterprises. Earlier this year, I wrote about Montgomery County’s new zoning ordinance which allows agricultural uses in practically every part of the county, scaled to the development in each particular zone. I think that Calvert County does a good job of allowing a wide variety of agricultural uses in its agriculture districts (full disclosure, I helped to write it). Farm entrepreneurs can find farm use definitions, the zones where the use is allowed and the conditions that will be imposed.

More can be done if we are to save family farms in Maryland. I just read an article from The Atlantic CITYLAB about how a Denver suburb actively encourages urban farming and has streamlined its regulations. As the article states, they are experiencing an “agricultural renaissance.”

Lets hope that we are on the cusp of the same! Next week, gaining level access to markets.

 

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