Farm Bureau takes a tour for ‘Farm to Fork’ ini­tia­tive

Farm to Fork tour high­lights lo­cal food pro­duc­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews

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.

STAFF PHOTOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Wes Val­car­cel dis­cusses poul­try pro­cess­ing at FALO Food farm, one of three farms on the “Farm to Fork” tour Mon­day.

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