Economic Development Department supports county’s agriculture industry
Charles County has 382 farms spread across approximately 46,000 acres that contribute to the local economy and culture. To help meet their business needs, last year, the Charles County Board of Commissioners provided funding for the Economic Development Department’s agriculture business development manager position. The Economic Development Department has established and expanded partnerships with stakeholders locally and regionally to better connect county businesses in the industry to appropriate resources.
With three farmers markets, multiple agritourism operations, and several farm stands, both county government and residents have many opportunities to locate and support the local farms and producers. Several local farmers markets stretch across Charles County with seasonal operations in the Town of La Plata, Town of Indian Head and Waldorf.
Since the tobacco buyout that began in 2000, the production of Charles County farms has changed significantly. Now, field crops (mostly soybeans and feed grains) account for more than half of the total farmland and approximately 90 percent of farm revenue. However, the landscape of agriculture is evolving beyond raw product. The industry is growing and developing as agritourism operations and value-added processing become viable business.
The production of craft beverages is an example of this growth. The recent popularity of local breweries and wineries boosts tourism, celebrates our local culture, and provides farmers with more markets for specialty products. To create a stable environment for this industry in Charles County, the Economic Development Department prepared a zoning text amendment that will enhance and streamline regulations for locating and operating craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries in the county. On Sept. 11, the commissioners adopted the craft beverages legislation, Bill #2018-04, as amended to clarify that the 10-acre minimum for a production facility can be associated, adjoining, or related parcels, rather than contiguous parcels.
Medical cannabis operations are a recent addition to the local agriculture industry. More than four years after the state legislature voted to legalize medical cannabis, growers, processors and dispensaries are beginning to open throughout the state. Charles County is home to three medical cannabis dispensaries — Chesapeake Apothecary LLC and Dispensary Works in White Plains, as well as Zen Leaf in Waldorf. FGM, a medical cannabis processor, is located in White Plains, and support efforts are underway to bring a grower to Charles County.
The Economic Development Department works tirelessly to determine how best to differentiate Charles County’s agricultural offerings in the eyes of consumers and potential business partners. This involves being attuned to popular trends and supporting the pipeline that helps farmers get their products to market.
For more information or to learn more about the programs available to new and existing agricultural businesses, sign up for our Agriculture E-News or go to www.MeetCharlesCounty.com/ farms-and-agriculture. For additional questions, contact agriculture business development manager Martin Proulx at 301-885-1340, or ProulxM@ MeetCharlesCounty.com.
Darréll Brown is the director of the Charles County Economic Development Department.