- Agronomic: corn, soybeans
- Vegetables: asparagus
- Animals: poultry
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer
- Farm Business Management: marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
Agriculture is the leading industry in Maryland and especially on the Lower Eastern Shore (including Delaware and Virginia: Delmarva Peninsula). Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester Counties agricultural product sales total over $425 million in 2002, according to the most recent census of agriculture. The leading agricultural industry in the area, by far, is poultry with sales of over $440 million. Corn and soybeans dominate agricultural production mainly in support of the poultry industry. Agriculture in Maryland is changing. The amount of farmland decreased over 41% from 1965 to 2006. The majority of the land contributing to this decline comes from traditional crops like corn, soybeans, and small grain. With stagnant commodity prices, rising production and living costs, and high development pressure in many areas, farmers are looking for new ways to be more profitable. Nationally, the demand for organic products is growing about 20% per year, a rate unparalleled by almost any other segment of agriculture. In Maryland specifically, the Maryland Organic Certification Program (MCOP) certified 78 farms along with 12 handlers of organic products in 2004. The program also registered an additional 15 farms as organic that are exempt from the certification requirements. LESSON (Lower Eastern Shore Sustainable Organic Network, www.livingontheveg.org) is 501 (c)(3) volunteer based organization created by CSA members who wanted to share with others what they have learned about the value of sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices and buying locally. They seek partnerships and the support of other members of the community who share our concern about how and where our food is produced and reducing the use of harmful pesticides in food production. LESSON is working to create a network of farmers using sustainable and organic farming practices to supply a growing regional (Delmarva Peninsula) market with a safe, nutritious and complete diet. LESSON seeks continued support for its project of outreach to Delmarva farmers who are either presently utilizing sustainable and organic growing practices, or who wish to explore the potential on their farms. The overall goal is of this project is to increase the number of farmers on Delmarva using organic, sustainable farming practices. In doing so, the secondary goal is to provide marketing outlets for this increased network of farmers to sell their products locally.
Project objectives from proposal:
LESSON received a $30,000 grant in 2006 from the Town Creek Foundation, Easton, MD in order to begin creating a network of farmers who use sustainable and organic farming practices, to supply a growing regional (Delmarva Peninsula) market with a safe, nutritious and complete diet. This involves linking customers and producers. Outreach included Delmarva farmers presently utilizing sustainable and organic growing practices, or who wish to explore the potential on their farms. The goal is to increase the number of farmers and acreage on Delmarva dedicated to sustainable agriculture, reducing the toxic effects of conventional agriculture on soil, air, water and people.
By connecting with regional farmers who are interested in sustainable agriculture, we will continue to learn their needs and facilitate sale of their products to an expanding market. In 2007, four trainings were held for this “Network of Farmers” to assist them with their production and marketing (Organic Farming Expansion Meeting, Drip Irrigation Workshop, Variety Trial Twilight Tour, and Organic Certification: One-on-One with Inspector). A survey was sent to all participants to see what additional training they wanted to expand and secure their operation. From the responses, this program of developing a local foodshed was developed.
The situations of the ‘Network of Farmers’ have been wide-ranging, which makes providing technical assistance more complex: A beginning farmer in Whitehaven, a full time refrigeration and air conditioning serviceman with about 8 acres who would like to farm part time, is growing sweet potatoes; A Berlin farmer, currently growing soybeans conventionally, received help in selecting soup beans that could be compatibly grown to make a soup bean mix. He is transitioning 30 acres through the NRCS EQIP program; Another grower is interested in pursuing pastured poultry production; One new farmer is growing a wide variety of crops to market at his farm and at the Princess Anne farmers market; Another farmer intended to transition a portion of his 3.5 acres of his asparagus to organic and contracted out the balance. His sustainably-grown produce was purchased through the Provident Farm CSA and assistance was given to help him sell restaurants and at farmers markets.
Since the first meeting, 3 other potential growers have contacted LESSON. Jay Martin, Owner of Provident Organic Farm and CSA, has been able to market some of the crops for the growers through his CSA, farmers markets, and restaurant contacts. The CSA has contracted with three growers.
One of the biggest initial stumbling blocks for organic farmers and market gardeners is marketing. The market understands organic and non-organic, it does not understand transitional. This is part of the beauty of the CSA model for a start-up. Members are more likely to understand and accept “local, transitional” and support the farmer through the transition. Additionally, in order to allow this network to grow in the most efficient way possible, experts in co-op development will be brought in as consultants.
Other regions have worked successfully at creating farmer to farmer educational trainings (SARE Project Numbers LS07-195, LS88-004, LNE-89-014) using different methods and approaches. As we know this group of farmers and landowners want hands-on, practical training in small groups with intensive follow-up, that is the training approach we are taking.