By Scott T. Strait, LFC Class of 2015
Photos by Mary Kate McKenna, LFC Class of 2015
What profession brings together science, art, environmental conservation, economics, and technology into an all-encompassing career that completely consumes those who claim it? How many residents of Frederick County today would have immediately said “agriculture”? How many residents, that is, outside of those who have experienced Leadership Frederick County’s Ag Day?
On October 31, 2014 members of this year’s Leadership Frederick County class visited five sites that exemplify what’s working well in Frederick County agriculture. Each stop taught the class something new and unique about innovation, conversation, and the world of farming today. Along the way, the class was fortunate to hear Kelsey Maslen from Midatlantic Farm Credit (MAFC) explain her organization’s role in supporting agriculture in Frederick County and how agriculture has changed in the county over the past several years.
The day’s first stop was at Rocky Point Creamery in Point of Rocks. There, the class was treated to breakfast and to a presentation by the creamery’s founder Chuck Fry. Mr. Fry is also the president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. Rocky Point Creamery is located on a working dairy farm that also produces grains and other crops. In the past, the farm was a site of a large turkey operation as well. Within the first few minutes, it became obvious to the class Mr. Fry enjoys talking about the farm and educating visitors about where their food comes from. An excellent story-teller, Fry shared how the farm has changed over time and why they decided to tackle the ice cream business.
— conditions such as low milk prices or bad weather for crops. In addition to creating incredibly delicious ice cream (the class sampled the goods), the Fry farm milks nearly 180 cows and produces milk for the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers co-op. In managing farm waste in a useful way and by implementing technology, Fry, along with other successful farmers today, is able to lift his farm to an unprecedented level of productivity. This level of productivity, as Fry is quick to remind us, makes all other professions happen since only around 1.8% of the American workforce today is engaged in farming.
The day’s second stop was at Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue located near Mt. Airy. The dream of founder Christine Hajek, this rescue was formed to facilitate the rescue of draft and draft-cross horses from neglect, slaughter, and abuse. The class was treated to a tour of the facility by Jan Tyler, who is also the treasurer of the organization. Tyler shared that Gentle Giants is the only draft horse rescue in the world. The rescue works to educate the public through the use of brochures, pamphlets, and public presentations about horse slaughter and cruelty, the responsibilities of horse ownership, and over-population and over-breeding of horses and who these contribute to the horse slaughter industry. The rescue acquires their horses by outbidding the meat market at auctions. Currently, the rescue has a budget of $2.2 million with monthly expenses ranging from $70,000 to $80,000. This money goes right into the local economy as it is used to support the horses, the rescue, and educational efforts. There are currently 63 horses on site and the rescue enjoys sponsorship from all over the United States and from foreign countries as well. Riding lessons are offered as a way for the rescue to earn extra income and volunteer opportunities are available for those who want to help in their efforts to save and rehabilitate draft horses.
The next stop was at England Acres Farm and Market located near New Market. Proprietors Jeff and Judy England had much to offer the class when it came to farm operations, the farmers market on site, and their philosophy about productive farming and farm management. Once a dairy operation, the England farm today produces grains, corn, beef, sheep, hay, and products for the on site market. After a tour of the farm offered by Jeff, the class was treated to a fantastic lunch prepared by Judy and her staff. During lunch Judy explained the importance of not wasting resources and the importance of knowing your farmer and knowing where your food comes from.
The fourth stop of the day was at England Acres Farm and Market Black Ankle Vineyards located near Mr. Airy. Proprietors Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron left their previous careers in 2002 to pursue wine making in the Maryland foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Today, their successful estate wine operation boasts 42 acres with over 80,000 plants in the ground. The class was given a tour of the winemaking facility by Sarah who shared her passion and vision when it comes to sustainability and producing good wines in Maryland. In tasting six excellent wines from the estate’s offerings– all varietal blends– the class learned of how the winery grew from its beginnings in 2002 and how Black Ankle works with other wineries in the area to strengthen the local wine industry. The outdoor tasting, which was complemented by burning wood fire pits and the wondrous scene of a vineyard in prime autumn coloration, was most certainly a highlight of what already was a tremendous day of learning for the class.
Our final stop for the day was at Gaver Tree Farm, LLC, located near Mt. Airy. Mike and Lisa Gaver operate a diversified farming operation that began in 1978 when then 17-year old Michael started the Christmas tree farm. Today, the Gaver Farm is the site of a local fall attraction with their Fall Fun Festival. This successful ag-tourism effort includes a pumpkin patch, hayrides, corn mazes, and numerous educational and fun activities for families. Today, in addition to their ag-tourism efforts, the Gaver farm produces beef feeder steers, corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, straw, and of course, Christmas trees. There is also a farmers market on site. The Gaver Farm provides a unique and exemplary look at how efforts at how ag-tourism can boost a farmer’s bottom line while completing changing the dynamic of agri-business. The next generation in the Gaver family has returned from college to learn and manage the farm. Their experience provides us with a detailed look at what it takes to be successful farmers today. Daughter Laura Gaver House returned to the farm in 2009 with degrees in Dairy Science and Accounting from Virginia Tech. She and her husband Brian House, who owns a Masters Degree in Animal Science from Penn State, now work at the farm full time. Son Greg Gaver also works at the farm full time after earning his degree in Agriculture Economics in 2012 from the University of Maryland. Their knowledge and skill set far exceeds what was needed to successfully farm a generation or two ago. Their efforts and the efforts of Mike and Lisa are paying dividends. The Gaver Family was Frederick County Farm Family of the year in 2005, and they earned the Take Pride in America award in 2008 for outstanding practices in conservation and environmental stewardship. In 2011, the Gaver Farm was awarded the distinction of being a Certified Agricultural Conservation Steward for meeting the standards of the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program. The farm is the largest in Maryland to hold this honor.
Each of these experiences taught us that today’s farmers must be masters of conversation, resource management, biology, accounting, land use, and technology. The field of agriculture is far more complex than what could have been imagined a generation ago. Modern farmers are more productive, more innovative, and more knowledgeable than ever before. These are reasons why Frederick County residents should be proud of the county’s agricultural heritage and why they should support the county’s farmers when the opportunity arises.
For the past 14 years, Scott Strait has taught 8th grade Social Studies at Brunswick Middle School. He currently holds the positions of 8th grade Social Studies Instructor, 8th Grade Instructional Team Leader, and Social Studies Department Chair. He was named first runner up in the Teacher of the Year competition for Frederick County Public Schools in 2013.