Sometimes You Just Have to Plant That Seed

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Intuitively, we all know that the food we eat comes from the labor of farmers, but that truth was never so apparent as during Agriculture Day. Thanks to the energy, knowledge, and guidance of Kelsey Maslen and Mary Jane Roop (Farm Credit Bureau), we had an opportunity to visit 5 farms. Not only did we get to see the land, crops, animals, and technology, but we heard the inside scoop (and poop) about what it really takes to put food on the table.

Let me start by saying that there’s no such thing as a “typical farm,” and that Green Acres (1960’s sitcom, for those of you too young to know) seldom exists. Behind every farm there’s a story and Ag Day was certainly a day for stories. There’s an old adage that to get into farming, “you have to marry it or bury it”. That’s often true, because for many farmers, like Theresa Summers (Summers Farm) and Chuck Fry (Rocky Point Creamery), it’s the love and passion passed down from generation-to-generation that keeps them on the land. For a few, like Jon Sewell (Sewell’s Farm), Eddie Mercer (Mercer Agri-Service), and Tom Barse (Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm), it’s simply in their soul and sooner or later (possibly after other careers) they find their true calling in farming. It can be a difficult life, especially for small farmers, made even more so by weather and pricing which impacts the ability to sustain their dreams. A farmer is no longer just a guy or gal in overalls, milking cows and tilling the land. He or she has to be creative, passionate, a life-long learner, and willing to take risks…in short, a true leader. The folks we met were committed to their vision and ready to adapt to an ever-changing lifestyle. To quote, Chuck Fry, “Farmers are like cockroaches”. …they learn how to survive. Farmers today don’t just need to diversify their crops or livestock; they need to be entrepreneurs and community leaders.

As we listened to their stories, I was awed by the way each of these farmers used their grit, experience, and knowledge to adapt to changing times. Now in its 20th season, Theresa Summers created a farm-themed family playground on her family’s 100+ acre farm. Sadly, the land will be sold to a developer, but Theresa plans to replicate this farming wonderland just a few miles up the road. Talk about grit! Kimba, Alex, Kelly, Max, Jason, and Peter had lots of fun jumping on the huge inflated pillows. That was until, Michael called out, “OK, kids , we gotta go”.

As we drove around in the “Mama Cow,” Chuck Fry’s tour bus, he shared his story. As a 4th generation farmer, his commitment to the family’s 1500 acre dairy farm meant taking the risk of opening a “farm stand”. This risky business, suggested by his wife meant marketing their products, including the best ice cream I’ve ever had, in a charming “barn” at the edge of their land. And, boy did it work! Yum, yum, thanks to the Farm Credit Bureau we all lined up for our favorite flavors. Yes, the ice cream is certainly worth the drive, but there are many challenges ahead and Chuck needs to consider his path forward.

Chuck took us to meet his neighbor, Jon Sewell who “grows” 26,000 turkeys. Jon’s grandfather was a farmer, so I guess it was in his blood. He left his career in business and took up farming in 2005. Like Chuck, technology has been a key component in helping to sustain his farming business. When asked why he chose this life, Jon said it was “rewarding” and that he was “born to like it”. For Chuck, it’s “the smell of the dirt…nothing like seeing a newborn calf”. Sound romantic? Not really, it’s darn hard work and passion that drives these extraordinary people.

Next, it was onto Eddie Mercer’s Agri-Services farm. Started in 1976 as a dairy farm, Eddie grew this “farm” into a full-service operation processing and selling fertilizer, grain, seed, and ice melt for farmers and landscapers in Frederick and beyond…very impressive to see the technology and equipment necessary to sustain an operation of this size. Like I said, not “Green Acres”.

Our last stop was to meet Tom Barse, a retired lawyer and true visionary who found his calling as Maryland’s first farm brewery. Tom shared the story of his efforts to not only grow his own hops and learn to brew beer, but how he worked to craft House Bill 579. This historic effort paved the way for the establishment of the Class 8 Farm Brewing license, which allowed farmers to brew and sell their farm-crafted beer. Tom is a true leader in his field. Needless to say, the day was topped off with a tasting.

All-in-all, it was an eye-opening day. Think breakfast comes from the grocery? Think again.

-Hermine Bernstein

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