In late 2016, Benny and Courtney Pino started a quest to move their farm operation, Loblolly Farm, closer to the markets of the Washington D.C. region. They opened a map and narrowed their search to any suitable farm site within a few hours of Washington D.C.
From their home in Southern Florida, they pulled up Google on their laptop, where FarmLINK websites from across the country popped-up. In the Washington D.C. region, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland all had FarmLINK websites which Benny and Courtney started perusing. They were looking for both land to buy or lease, and needed housing on the land they would be farming. The couple farms field crops, including produce and cut flowers, so they also knew they needed a certain number of tillable, flat acres, along with access to a deep well. Once on Maryland FarmLINK’s Property Exchange, they immediately found a few properties they were interested in.
As it turns out, the property they currently reside in and farm on in Brandywine, Maryland, was the first property listing to come up. “The farm listed that there was access to water, a barn with electricity, the number of tillable acres, and a house on the property. Listing all of the farms amenities up front, with pictures, helped us to make the decision from far away,” said Courtney. “The landowners responded right away and we went back and forth for a while, discussing the lease agreement,” said Courtney.
“We kept in contact with the landowners, writing every few weeks to check to see if the property was still available and when we would be able to move in,” said Courtney.
Benny and Courtney had plans to come up to the D.C. area that winter already, so they continued to research from afar and narrowed their online search to two farms, where they made appointments to stop at a farm in Virginia and then the Brandywine, MD farm. After touring the Brandywine farm, they knew it was the best fit.
Benny and Courtney felt that Maryland FarmLINK provided them almost all the information they needed to narrow down their search, all without having to make several trips north first. The land owners posted their phone numbers and a lot of information about the farm directly to the listing, answering many of the couples questions right up front. From their home in Florida they could check the proximity of the farm to D.C., where they would sell at markets.
They also used another FarmLINK resource to check the USDA soil survey website to review the fields and the soil maps of the farm they were interested in leasing. “It was great to access these online FarmLINK resources from so far away,” Benny commented. “We were able to use features like Google Maps to locate how close it would be to market and how we would get there,” said Courtney.
In addition, Maryland FarmLINK connected them to their Agriculture Marketing Specialist in Prince George’s County, Kim Rush-Lynch. After their site visit, Courtney and Benny learned about additional resources in the County and a variety of UMD Extension events to advance their farm business. Also, they were able to take advantage of the Fresh. Local. Fun. PGC website and social media platforms which promote farms in the County.
The Pino’s reached out to land trusts and public lands during the initial search too, but it was hard to find on-site housing with those leases, which was important to them. “It would be helpful if more of the properties to list if you can live on the property or not, or if there is the ability to build a house, or set up temporary housing, because that was the first thing we were looking for during our search,” said Courtney.
“We totally relied on Maryland FarmLINK during our move,” said Courtney. “It made for a much faster process, especially for people like us who moved from far away,” said Benny. “You can’t just pop over and check out the property.” “Having the price listed up front also helped us to narrow our options quickly,” said Benny.
Over the winter and through early Spring, Benny moved up to the farm and got situated, starting seedlings, and start working with the Maryland Farm Service Agency office on a farm loan. Courtney joined in the Spring, just in time for them to both start selling at markets. They are currently selling at FreshFarm markets in D.C. this summer.
And, most recently, the Pino’s went under contract to purchase land nearby where they are renting! Like many farms in this area, it is an old tobacco farm. The property includes a house that was built in 1945 by the same family that owns it now. They plan to continue working the farm they are currently leasing through the rest of this season, but have also worked out an agreement in their contract to start working the new land prior to the move. This is an important step, as they will continue growing for FreshFarm Markets in D.C. through the winter, and will need to start those field crops soon. They will be growing for the Dupont and Delray farmers markets over the winter, bringing greens and root vegetables. Learn more and keep up with Loblolly Farm on Facebook and Instagram.