Farm Bureau takes a tour for ‘Farm to Fork’ initiative
Farm to Fork tour highlights local food production
A group of approximately 30 business leaders, Charles County officials, school system representatives and others were treated to a tour of local farms Monday in an effort to help promote local agriculture and educate the public about the source of locally-grown food.
The “Farm to Fork” farm tour, organized by the Charles County Farm Bureau Young Farmers, toured three local farms: the Hancock Family Farm and FALO Food in La Plata and Persistence Creek Farm in Faulkner.
“Today is about having a conversation among a broad set of folks and see if we can generate some good ideas and lay some steps for the foundation of conversations we might have,” said Kevin Warring, owner of Persistence Creek Farm in Faulkner and chairman of the Young Farmers Committee.
Hancock Family Farms is the oldest of the three; Farm Bureau president David Hancock Jr. said the farm has been in his family since his great-grandfather purchased it in 1940. Like many other farms in the region, Hancock Farm primarily produced tobacco, but took the voluntary Maryland buyout to not grow tobacco in 2001.
“In 2008, we began to see the local food movement start to take place,” Hancock said.
Hancock said that four years ago, the farm got into the livestock business, and currently has 85 head of cattle and 60 hogs. One goal, Hancock said, is to produce meat for two local restaurants, as well as through the farm’s food stand.
“Our next goal is to continue to expand into local restaurants. You can’t get the price that you can selling directly to the public, but you can sell much larger quantities,” Hancock said.
Hancock said there is a huge demand for locally-sourced meat and produce.
“I really don’t think it’s a movement anymore; it’s kind of become a way of life,” Hancock said.
The difficulty, Hancock said, is in getting the meat prepared. To sell portions of meat, Hancock said the cattle must go to a USDA-approved butcher for slaughter, and the nearest one is on the Eastern Shore.
“It’s a great butcher shop, but it’s a long way,” Hancock said. “We’d love to see something closer, something here in Southern Maryland.”
Charles County Commissioner Debra Davis (D) said the Southern Mar yland Agricultural Development Commission is close to issuing a request for proposals, or RFP, for a meat processing facility in Southern Maryland, Davis said.
“The challenge is going to be finding business people who are willing to partner with SMADC [Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission] to invest in this facility,” Davis said. “But it can happen, and we are answering the farmers’ demands to get a meat processing facility here, so keep your eyes open.”
FALO Food is an organic chicken and produce farm in La Plata. It was bought three years ago by Wes Valcarcel.
“We are wholeheartedly, unequivocally committed to farming,” Valcarcel said.
Valcarcel said he uses his tree removal business to fund his farming operation.
“I make more money cutting down trees two days a week than I do in two weeks of farming. So we’re trying to change that dynamic, and we’re trying to change it on a small scale.”
Valcarcel said his farm is able to process the chicken onsite.
He said most of his orders are done through weekly order forms on the farm’s website, www.falofood.com, and chicken and eggs are prepared to order.
He said he’d like to see more effort in the county towards promoting local agriculture.
“It’s a business, you have to make money at it, otherwise it doesn’t justify all the work, all the money that goes into it,” Valcarcel said.
Warring, who grew up with a family farm before finding other work during the tobacco buyout, founded Persistence Creek Farm in 2009.
“When I graduated high school in 1999, the story at that time was that tobacco was dying, and so was farming. And so, I’m here today as one of many people in the community who disagree with that, and want to bring farming back,” Warring said.
He said the farm primarily produces hay and grain, but is gearing up to produce more fruits and vegetables, as well as blue crabs and farm raised oysters.
Warring said he would like to see increased educational opportunities for students through partnerships with local schools.
“I would love to have 30 school kids right now so I could tell them what we do here,” he said.
Warring said another goal of the tour is to highlight the environmental aspects of local agriculture. Working with the Charles County Soil Conservation District, he created a stream buffer to reduce runoff and planted over 100 willow trees, and created two ponds as habitat for local wildlife.
“Agriculture and environmentalism go together,” Warring said. “We are the original stewards of the land.”
Pigs grazing in a pen at Hancock Family Farms, one of three farms visited on the “Farm to Fork” tour Monday.
Wes Valcarcel discusses poultry processing at FALO Food farm, one of three farms on the “Farm to Fork” tour Monday.