This is the first in a three-part series about recruiting new farmers.
Maryland has great farm marketing potential for farm-to-table producers. In the real estate community, the three strategies for success have always been “Location, location, location”. For farmers whose market approach is direct or secondary sales, the mantra should be the same. Farms closest to the consumer have the greatest advantage. The fastest growing agricultural markets in America have been direct-to-consumer food marketing, including locally sourced vegetables, fruits, eggs, meats, and dairy. According to the USDA report Local Food Systems, Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, direct-to-consumer sales of vegetables and melons grew 69% from 2002 to 2007. Direct-to-consumer sales of fruit and nuts grew 75% and direct-to-consumer meat sales grew 84% over the same period.
Farmers in Maryland are within or near the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country with the highest median income and highest level of education attainment. According to a 2010 Policy Choices Survey by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy, 78% of Marylanders are more likely to buy produce that is identified as having been grown by a Maryland farmer.
Farmers benefit from being close to their customers in two ways. First, transportation costs are lower, and the advantage will increase in significance as fuel costs rise. Second, farmers who have a compelling story and who are known for raising healthy flavorful food delivered fresh to consumers can build a loyal clientele.
Soils and Climate
Maryland farmers also benefit from a temperate climate and average rainfall of 40+ inches and deep aquifers, particularly along the coastal plain. Soils types in most areas are suited to growing a wide variety of crops and many farmers are using high tunnels to stretch the seasons and available varieties even further.
Maryland is also a state of hundreds of micro-climates. From the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, from rolling pastures and fields in Western Maryland to the coastal plain in Southern Maryland and Eastern Shore, from the thousands of streams, creeks and rivers that bifurcate the piedmont and delta soils come little ecosystems that are warmer, cooler, wetter, and drier than those in the rest of the region. For this reason, one can find the most northerly stands of cypress trees and the most southerly stands of hemlock trees in one county. One can find grapes, ginger, hops, bison, ostrich, maple syrup, and alpaca all grown commercially in Maryland.
So Maryland farmers have great proximity to markets and good soils, access to water, and climate conditions for growing a wide variety of crops. Next week, we will discuss the regulatory climate and and farmer support in Maryland.