Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Depart­ment sup­ports county’s agri­cul­ture in­dus­try

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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