Soon after we gathered, Jennifer and David Paulk explained their unlikely transition into farming. Since David was career U.S. Navy, they have lived all over the country. However, gardening has always been a hobby that both enjoyed. His last assignment brought the couple to Southern Maryland and they purchased a house with a 1-acre field to enjoy their hobby. Approaching retirement, David said that his work inside the beltway was particularly stressful and he realized that when he would get to the garden, his troubles melted away.
The garden kept getting bigger and then they both decided to try selling their surplus at a farmers’ market. David noted that they sold $56 in produce at their first market. However, more importantly, Jennifer felt that the customers really appreciated their offerings and that encouraged them to continue.
When David retired from the Navy, he started farming full-time. Growing a garden is not the same as having a market farm. David participated in the Beginning Farmer Training Program, driving to Baltimore County once a week to learn from Jack and Becky Gurley of Calvert’s Gift Farm about producing vegetables organically for commercial production.
Jennifer still works on the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, but evenings and weekends, she farms as well. She also maintains the books and all the paperwork for organic certification. Once they made the decision that this was the best place to farm, they started looking for a larger piece of land. They were very happy to find an 80 acre farm near Leonardtown with 46 tillable acres, mostly prime soils for growing vegetables. However, they needed to build a house, so in the meantime, before they moved to the farm, they started working with USDA NRCS to improve the soils. They obtained a 3-year grant for organic cover cropping and they have made the most of it, with the purpose of building the soils for organic farming.
Their focus is always on the soil, trying to make it more productive. Most of the tillable acreage is not growing vegetables but is planted in cover crops year-round. In the fall, they plant cover crops (such as rye and crimson clover) and in the spring they mow that down and no-till plant a summer cover crop, to include Sun Hemp, cowpeas, sunflowers, and sorghum-sudan grass. In addition, cover crops follow market crops as soon as the ground can be prepared.
Both are very happy with the decision to install a high tunnel. The plants looked lush and healthy, even the tomatoes that were planted in March. They pointed out that the rainfall on tomato plants can spread fungal and bacterial diseases. Since the plants in the high tunnel are watered with drip irrigation and are not rained on, they think this is why the plants show little evidence of disease. They noted that a farmer can grow year-round and gross over $10,000 in produce from this 3o’ x 95′ structure. However, even in this valuable structure, they plant cover crops to maintain soil health and fertility.
Marketing is a huge part of the success of the farm. Most of their sales occur at the California Farmers Market in the BAE parking lot. In the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) they sell at the Home Grown Farm Market in Lexington Park. They also sell to the Good Earth Natural Foods Store in Leonardtown, four restaurants in Baltimore, Chesapeake’s Bounty in Calvert County and just started selling to MOM’s in Waldorf.
They are convinced that a market farmer can make a comfortable living selling direct-to-consumer, especially in this region!