At the Rural Coalition workshop Transitioning to Organics held on September 24th,
Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman wove a colorful tale of the history of his family farm in Upper Marlboro. He pointed to a “hanging tree” where legend has it that a 19th century sheriff would invoke his own “justice” on alleged perpetrators.
That was before the land was purchased by his great-grandfather, a man whose light skin may have helped him fit into white society, but whose opportunities were limited due to discrimination against those with light skin who married others with darker skin. His great-grandfather also felt stymied from success by having only daughters. The daughters tell a different story. According to Fred, they worked very hard and basically ran the farm, raising cotton, tobacco, and vegetables. And they complained about spending way too much time working at the wrong end of a mule!
As a child, Fred worked on the farm along with other family members when tobacco was still king. When tobacco was no longer grown, a commodity farmer leased the land. It is currently in soybeans.
Today, Fred’s parents and sister have control over 30+ acres of the 190 acres that remain from his great-grandfather’s purchase. The Tutman property has a new name and a new mission. It is managed as EarthReports Demonstration Farm and it is transitioning to organic. The family hopes that it will support several organic farmers dedicated to supplying local foods sustainably with minimal impact on the Patuxent River. Obviously the latter is very important to Fred, who serves as the Patuxent Riverkeeper.
The former is the reason that Rural Coalition/Coalición arranged a visit. Rural Coalition is “an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond working together toward a new society that values unity, hope, people, and land.” The Coalition has a grant from the USDA to hold farmers and ranchers workshops to help beginning farmers. Attendees were very interested in how the transition to organic might work and how the farm could serve a an incubator for local farmers.
Incubator farms are a relatively new concept in the U.S. North Carolina’s Center
for Environmental Farming Systems just formed its Incubator Farm Project in January, 2013. In Pennsylvania, an incubator farm is seeking beginning farmers for its first growing year. Perhaps the oldest incubator farm in the U.S. is the Intervale Center near Burlington Vermont. Established in 1990, one to three new farms is initiated each year. Graduates of the program move on to other leased or purchased lands.
For a beginning farmer, an incubator farm can be a place to learn the trade and/or prove to land owners or mortgage companies that they know the trade well enough to deserve a chance with their own farm operation. A few nonprofits in Maryland are looking into creating incubator farms. The Tutman family’s commitment to the land and the community might create one of the first farm incubator opportunities.
An unspoken thought probably shared by all at the workshop was that a new form of “justice” will emerge at EarthReports Demonstration Farm, one based on social equity, environmental sustainability, and sound economic principals to assure new farmer success.