Maryland Beginning Farmer Guidebook text with pictures of cherry tomatoes, basil, chickens, and grapes
Updated: May 2, 2021
By Ben Beale , Shannon Dill , Sarah Everhart , Shauna Henley , Neith Little , Ginger S. Myers , and Margaret Todd

A guidebook to help Beginning Farmers explore, refine, develop, and implement a successful farm in Maryland

Authors: 

  • Ben Beale, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension-St. Mary’s County
  • Shannon Dill, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension-Talbot County
  • Sarah Everhart, Managing Director, Agriculture Law Education Initiative, Maryland Carey Law
  • Shauna Henley, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension-Northern Cluster
  • Neith Little, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension - Urban Agriculture
  • Ginger Myers, Marketing Specialist, University of Maryland Extension
  • Margaret Todd, Law Fellow, Agriculture Law Education Initiative

Foreword

The Beginning Farmer Guidebook was developed as part of the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success program and is intended to be a resource for agricultural service providers and farmers in the region. The guide should be used as a companion to the Beginning Farmer Success website which contains additional resource material to support farmers in Maryland.

The Guidebook contains various publications often requested by beginning farmers. Each publication may be used as a standalone document or in conjunction with other material. Authorship of each publication is indicated on the actual document.

The Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success builds on existing University of Maryland Extension resources and partnerships with Future Harvest-CASA; Southern MD Agriculture Development Commission, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, regional nonprofits, agricultural organizations, and experienced farmers to provide beginning farmers with easily accessible tools and practical experience-based training on farm production, marketing, land management, business planning, and financial resources.

Suggestions, questions or comments regarding this publication may be sent to sdill@umd.edu.

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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number #2016-70017-25503.

University of Maryland Extension

University of Maryland Extension (UME) is part of the University of Maryland, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and extends non-formal, research based knowledge and resources from campus to each of the 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City and 5 research stations. There is an office in each county and Baltimore City. These offices offer a number of farm and community programs and would be a great resource to a new and beginning farmer getting started. Contact your local Extension office to get on their email list to find out about farm and educational programs in your area. 

UME Beginning Farmer Success Program - Established in 2012, the UME, Maryland Beginning Farmer Success Project provides new farmers with resources and contacts to be able to explore enterprise options, refine business ideas, develop strategies, and implement their farming practice. The goal is to increase the number of successful beginning farmers and the acreage farmed by them. This statewide program uses a number of education and outreach methods to connect new farmers with the information and tools they need to be successful. These include: field days, workshops, coaching, conferences, email blasts, online education. 

University of Maryland Crop/Livestock Production Information

Beginning Farmer Roadmap

Table of Contents

I. Farm Establishment

  • Considerations for Acquiring a Farm Property
  • Understanding Zoning For New Farm Enterprises
  • Understanding Soil and Soil Health
  • Overview of Farmland Preservation in Maryland
  • Resources and Web links
  • Farm Establishment Review

II. Enterprise Selection

  • Formulate a Farm Strategy
  • Organic Production and Certification
  • Understanding Farm Equipment Needs
  • Food Safety Overview
  • Resources and Web links
  • Enterprise Selection Review

III. Business Planning

  • Farm Business Planning
  • Financial Planning Considerations for Beginning Farmers
  • Master Marketing for New and Beginning Farmers
  • Resources and Web links
  • Business Planning Review

IV. Start Farming

  • Understanding Licenses, Permits and Certifications for your Farm
  • Human Resources Management and the Hiring Process Basics
  • Agricultural Labor Laws
  • Insurance Overview
  • Resources and Web links
  • Start Farming Review
Beginning Farmer Guidebook Conclusion

Congratulations on finishing this Guidebook for new and beginning farmers. If you return to our website where you may have found this guide, you’ll see four key words on our homepage’s banner. Those are ExploreRefineDevelop and Implement. This guide was meant to help you navigate the first three of those. Now it’s your turn to implement. We strongly encourage you to start some enterprise no matter how small to feed your desire to become a farmer. Raising a few chickens or growing some veggies in your garden is at least a start while you are honing skills and looking for suitable land.

One of my favorite books to recommend to new farmers is “Letters to a Young Farmer on Food, Farming, and Our Future.” It is a compilation from three dozen esteemed writers, farmers, activists and visionaries that addresses the highs and lows of farming life. Farming requires a wide variety of skills and rarely does anyone enter farming with all the innate skills necessary to be successful. You will need to become an accomplished generalist. These letters urge all new farmers to never stop learning and seeking help from others for the skill sets you don’t have. Keep this Guidebook close in your resource library and refer to it for clarification and links to the people and resources you need. Farming as a profession is constantly evolving. Continuing education and training will be necessary to succeed.

The list of chores and duties required to run a successful farming operation seem overwhelming. I know a farmer who says, “If you get behind a day on the farm, you’ll need three to catch up, if you’re lucky.” Don’t let the myriad of tasks to be done derail your farming efforts. Return to the “Roadmap for Success” presented in this Guidebook and get your farming dream back on track for success.

Farming; some are born to it, some self-select but, for sure it is a business that also becomes a lifestyle. That is why much of this Guidebook is about the business of farming. Neglect the business side of your farming enterprise at your own risk. We hope you found the information in this Guidebook useful on your journey of becoming a farmer but, remember that any journey is not just about the destination but our experiences, connections and colleagues we meet along the way.

- Ginger Myers, Marketing Specialist, University of Maryland Extension