New farm­ers tell their sto­ries

Agri­cul­tural com­mis­sion’s pro­gram matches men­tors with mentees

Maryland Independent - - News -

The South­ern Mary­land Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion re­cently launched To­mor­row’s Har­vest, a new web­page that show­cases sto­ries about farm­ers in SMADC’s Men­tor Match pro­gram. Eight mentee farm­ers of the in­au­gu­ral pro­gram agreed to share their sto­ries in hopes that their ex­pe­ri­ences will be use­ful to oth­ers just be­gin­ning the jour­ney.

As the age of the av­er­age farmer con­tin­ues to rise, pro­grams like the Men­tor Match are in place to keep farm­ing alive in the re­gion. High cost of land and nec­es­sary in­fras­truc­ture to get started pre­vent many new farm­ers — es­pe­cially young farm­ers — from be­ing prof­itable.

Dur­ing their time in the pro­gram, mentees work with an ex­pe­ri­enced men­tor who agreed to help grow the next gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers in the re­gion. The mentee vis­its the men­tor’s farm and vice versa. They are en­cour­aged to call their men­tor with ques­tions, and men­tors oc­ca­sion­ally con­tact mentees to see how things are go­ing.

“I was try­ing to find more ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple so I don’t make the same mis­takes, es­pe­cially as I’m scal­ing up … That’s one of the rea­sons to have some­one in your re­gion ver­sus the in­ter­net. The in­ter­net doesn’t ask you how you’re do­ing. It doesn’t em­pathize,” Emma Jagoz of Moon Val­ley Farm said of her ex­pe­ri­ence with the Men­tor Match. “I wanted to be in the pro­gram for­ever.”

Jack­son Webb, who farms chick­ens at his Swamp Fox Farm in Val­ley Lee, said he’s had to learn about li­censes, lawns and how chick­ens think.

Af­ter study­ing an­thro­pol­ogy at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land, Webb got into food af­ter an eye-open­ing sum­mer in Africa.

“I hadn’t re­ally asked ques­tions about food be­fore I went,” said Webb, who did a stint with Amer­iCorps af­ter grad­u­at­ing col­lege in 2011. “Ev­ery­one was say­ing, ‘You’re go­ing to have a hard time with their food and wa­ter.’ But the week I got back here, I thought I was go­ing to keel over from our food.”

The Mary­land Far­mLINK Men­tor Match Pro­gram in­tro­duced Webb and his fa­ther, Chuck Webb, last year to David Paulk, who runs Sas­safras Creek Farm.

Be­sides run­ning an or­ganic veg­etable farm, Paulk and his wife, Jen­nifer, also man­age the Cal­i­for­nia Farm­ers Mar­ket.

“He helped me make sure I had ev­ery­thing straight to come to mar­ket,” said Jack­son Webb, who was over­whelmed at first by the pa­per­work and li­censes re­quired to sell meat di­rectly to cus­tomers. Hav­ing the Paulks as men­tors helped him re­al­ize he could go to mar­ket and make a suc­cess­ful busi­ness out of grow­ing birds.

Gen­er­a­tions ago, a par­ent or neigh­bor who lived on the ad­ja­cent farm could an­swer the ques­tions of a new farmer. Today, the par­ent of a new farmer may not have farmed, the clos­est farm might be miles away — and a farmer with ex­pe­ri­ence in a spe­cific crop might be sev­eral coun­ties away. A mentee can lean on some­one with ex­pert knowl­edge and wis­dom, pro­vid­ing the new farmer with in­for­ma­tion that can pre­vent costly mis­takes.

“It has been such a joy to learn about and work with our farm mentees. They ex­hibit a pas­sion for grow­ing food and a quiet re­solve to make a dif­fer­ence in their com­mu­ni­ties. Through the Men­tor Match Pro­gram, mentees learn about tricks of the trade from a farmer ex­pe­ri­enced in their line of work, while men­tors get to see farm­ing through new eyes. The matches of­ten form great re­la­tion­ships where both par­ties learn some­thing,” said Greg Bowen, for­mer Mary­land Far­mLINK di­rec­tor at SMADC.

The be­gin­ning farmer sto­ries are avail­able on­line at­to­ries. The next round of sto­ries will be added in the fall.

The Men­tor Match pro­gram is cur­rently ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for be­gin­ning farm­ers. Con­tact SMADC at info@mary­land­farm­link. com or call 301-274-1922, ext. 1, to find out more.


Jack­son Webb of Swamp Fox Farm in Val­ley Lee tells his story of start­ing a small chicken farm on the South­ern Mary­land Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment’s To­mor­row’s Har­vest web se­ries.

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