On January 25-27th, dozens of young farmers braved cold temperatures and fresh breezes in Southern Maryland to participate in a farm tour which was part of the Maryland Farm Bureau Young Farmers’ Leadership Conference. I was fortunate to join them when they reached Joe and Mary Wood’s farm (Forrest Hall Farm & Orchard) in Mechanicsville, Maryland. Not only did I get the chance to talk with the Young Farmers about Maryland FarmLINK’s new mentoring program, I had the opportunity to visit a truly diversified farm.
The Young Farmers were first greeted by Mary Wood in their farm market where she explained how the farm took the tobacco buyout 13 years ago and then used the funding to help create multiple revenue sources for the farm. Prior to that, Forrest Hall Farm had been like most Southern Maryland farms–while it had raised some other crops, tobacco had been the money crop. Replacing tobacco would be a major challenge. And in this conversion, they were committed to creating a sustainable operation that was family-oriented and community minded.
Many farmers are looking at ways to diversify their revenue stream to deal with the crazy weather patterns and price fluctuations of commodity crops, as well as meat and dairy prices. The Woods decided to try a wide variety of farm enterprises, beginning with a corn maze. She noted that while you can make good money raising field corn, you can make a good deal more from a corn maze. And after the crowds have left, you can still harvest the corn!
The maze was also a major attraction to bring in customers for their retail farm stand. Customers were not just interested in a few farm items; they wanted to see a wide variety of goods to fill their weekly food basket. So the Woods began more fruit production on the farm, like strawberries and peaches, and they began selling local beef raised on their farm.
Also, shortly after they took the buy-out, Bell Nurseries approached Southern Maryland farmers about an opportunity to grow annuals and perennials in greenhouses for the Home Depot. The Woods signed up, along with a half dozen other farmers. They have about a half acre of greenhouses devoted to production in the spring. Joe Wood took the Young Farmers on a tour of the greenhouses to show them how the process works.
The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC)has supported many initiatives, including vineyards for wine production. The Woods jumped into this as well and were one of the founding members of the Leonardtown winery. As Joe escorted the Young Farmers from the greenhouses, he showed them the latest planting while he pruned a few of the new vines.
Trying new farm enterprises does not mean they will succeed. It takes patience, teamwork, careful research, planning, and passion for the job. Listening to either Mary or Joe, it doesn’t take long to realize that they love the farm and what they have made of it. The joy of their work also shows in the way that the farm looks. Even on a cold January day, the buildings were trim and painted. The fields were clean and equipment was put away. I am sure that it is satisfying for them to know that the next two generations of Woods are also working on the farm and that they may be the part of its future. Perhaps, Joe and Mary have been thinking diversity AND farm succession!