For most new Maryland farmers today, farming is a choice, not an expectation as it was in centuries past. There are many career options in this semi-urban state that typically has lower than average unemployment rates. New farmers are drawn to the land to grow healthy foods and to achieve the improbable. Passion is needed to overcome challenges.
On August 28th, I attended a workshop for beginning farmers held by Future Harvest CASA, where we visited two farms. The first stop was at Denzel Mitchell’s Five Seed Farm and Apiary in Sparks Maryland. In the spring of 2008, Denzel began farming in Baltimore City in the Belair-Edison neighborhood by growing on vacant lots and private yards. By the fall of 2011, the Five Seeds Farm owners decided to expand. With the help of FH Trainer Jack Gurley, they found farmland in Baltimore County to rent that had been in commodity crops.
With enthusiasm in his voice, Denzel explained that successful farmers are “never not farming.” He says that when he is not in the fields, he is trying to figure out what needs to be weeded next, who is going to harvest for the next market, etc. It is obvious that farming suits his energy, his desire to work independently and his marketing skills. As to the latter, Denzel noted that his goal is to “have it sold before you grow it.” He works closely with restaurants and has a good idea of what sells at the markets.
Farm Manager at their Baltimore County farm is Blain Snipstal. Blain had been working in the fields all day before the workshop began, but his enthusiasm for farming had not worn thin. He was happy to show his latest agronomic experiments in companion planting and weed management.
The tomatoes planted in early spring were nearly finished, but other tomatoes planted with basil in high tunnels would be starting soon. In the field, broccoli, arugula and other fall crops were in great condition.
Attendees next got a tour of Calvert’s Gift Farm, owned by Jack and Becky Gurley. The Gurley’s have a CSA and also sell at restaurants and a couple of farmers’ markets. They have been training beginning farmers for a number of years, and Jack says that each new group of trainees keeps farming interesting. He loves their energy and their questions.
Jack noted that he hates going to farmers markets, but that Becky is very good at markets. Farmers need to learn their talents and match up with others who have complimentary skills. He also emphasized that farmers need to find time for families.
One thing that was evident at both farms was the mutual respect and sense of community which is valued in all farm communities. Those on the giving and receiving ends of the exchange benefit!
Options to assist beginning farmers. The workshop ended with a potluck dinner and presentation of new training/resource options for beginning farmers. Andrea Rice, Beginning Farmer Educator, described the work underway as a result of a USDA grant to University of Maryland Extension and its partners entitled Beginning Farmer Success. The grant includes funding of Future Harvest CASA’s Beginning Farmer Training program and:
- Maryland FarmLINK’s Mentor Match Program,
- Institute of Applied Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Certificate Program and
- University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Small Farm Institute.
Finally, Alice Chalmers, Executive Director of FH CASA, said that a new program for the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. area called New Farmer Pathways would soon be underway.