The Maryland Agricultural Commission kicked off its fall 2015 tour at Miller Farmsin Clinton on the crisp autumn morning of October 14. The advisors to the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Commission gather for farm tours in two counties each spring and fall to learn more about the issues and policies affecting agriculture in those counties. This year's fall tour focused on farms in both Prince George’s and Charles counties.
After consuming a breakfast of champions, including the bakery’s signature homemade donuts and both apple and pumpkin ice cream, the Commission hopped on a wagon and toured this 200 year old farm’s brassica fields adorned with clever scarecrows, a pick-your-own kale section and corn maze. The 30 member commission and the Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary, Joe Bartenfelder, also enjoyed the farm store stocked with local goodies and colorful mums before heading to three diverse operations in Charles County.
During the Charles County portion of the tour, members visited Bunker Hill Farm (corn), Hancock Farms (beef and grain) and Farming 4 Hunger at Serenity Farm (table crops). After learning how Farming 4 Hunger supports the hunger community, families who have lost their loved ones to suicide, and the incarcerated with job training, the Commission headed to Brandywine where they toured P.A. Bowen Farmstead and Romano Vineyard and Winery.
P.A. Bowen, Prince George’s County’s only dairy, sells award winning raw cheeses from the milk of their grass-fed Jersey cows. In addition to touring their milking parlor, which includes a unique self-massaging brush for the “girls,” the group observed the heritage breed hogs rooting in one of their nearby pastures. Farm Managers Brian Wort and Amy McCurdy use the hogs not only for meat, but also to clear some of overgrown forested areas on the property. They explained how the farm’s different animal species work symbiotically to build optimal soil health and produce high quality food. The Commission also toured the chicken tractors, turkey barn and the outdoor poultry processing facility where proprietor, Sally Fallon, spoke about some of the challenges her farm faces in the State, one of which is the distance her animals must travel to be processed for sale. She also commented on the need to pass the recently introduced PRIME Act (H.R. 3187) which would give states the power to legalize the sale of custom meat in intrastate commerce.
After loading up on cheeses, meats, kombucha, eggs and other goodies at the farm store, the Commission ventured over to Romano Vineyard and Winery where they were greeted by Jo-Ann Romano who strolled them through the vineyard and spoke about the successes and challenges of starting a winery in Prince George’s County in addition to the nuances of growing particular grape varietals. Joe Romano then took eager members through the winery where they learned how the Romano’s turn their Chambourcin, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Cayuga White grapes into award winning wines. After the tour, the Commission enjoyed a delicious catered dinner in the Romano’s new tasting room.
Secretary Bartenfelder introduced the new Deputy Secretary, James Eichhorst, and commented on the richness and diversity of agriculture in Maryland and the inspirational businesses he witnessed throughout the day.
The tour concluded with a public meeting held at the Baden Firehouse in Brandywine. In addition to the Commission members representing commodities and organizations across the state, over 40 producers and “agvocates” from Southern Maryland were in attendance. The main issue of discussion was the need for an animal processing facility in Southern Maryland. All of the livestock producers the Commission visited earlier in the day spoke about how a processing facility would greatly benefit their businesses and expand livestock production in the Southern Maryland region. For a synopsis of the meeting and other issues raised, see Jamie Tiralla’s recent article in Lancaster Farming.
Overall, the Maryland Ag Commission members were impressed by the resilience of Southern Maryland farmers since the tobacco buyout of the late 90s. They were also struck by Prince George’s and Charles counties’ proximity to Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets, making them well positioned to expand sales in a variety of venues in the future. Here’s to a bright food and ag future, Prince George’s County!