Forrest Hall Farm joins Maryland’s century club
St. Mary’s boasts 13 operations that have remained as one-family businesses for more than 100 years
Earlier this year, Forrest Hall Farm in Mechanicsville became the most recent to be recognized as a Century Farm in St. Mary’s.
Out of 12,300 farms in Maryland, about 1.5 percent — or 183 farms — have received the recognition as a Century Farm, a statewide program created in 1994. In Maryland, the 360-year-old Hermitage farm in Queen Anne’s County is the oldest on record.
Bought in 1917 by Joe Wood’s grandfather, Harry Wood, Forrest Hall Farm has stayed in their family for more than 100 consecutive years, which is one of the criteria required by the program. The other requirement is that the farm must have at least 10 acres of the original holding and more than $2,500 in annual income from the sale of farm products.
In January, the Wood family was invited to attend a ceremony at the Maryland State House in Annapolis and received a certificate from Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
“It’s quite an accomplishment. This is an elite group,” Hogan said during the designation ceremony, according to a Jan. 19 article that appeared in The Delmarva Farmer.
“By passing down farming as a way of life from generation to generation, each of our nine honorees has played a significant role in making agriculture a leading industry in Maryland, continuing to be such an important part of our
history and our culture as well,” Hogan said, referring to the nine farms added to the Century Farm program this year.
Before Forrest Hall Farm, 12 St. Mary’s farms were recognized as Century Farms, and the Mattaponi farm in Bushwood is one of the them. The farm was purchased by James Henry Bailey at a price of $12.57 for 162 acres in 1886.
Jamie Raley, James Henry Bailey’s great-grandson, now runs the farm that is about half of its original size. Raley is also the president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau.
“It’s a nice recognition that we’ve been able to maintain our family business for over 100 years,” Raley said in a phone in- terview Wednesday. His family farm received the title in 1997.
Over the years, the number of farms has decreased overall, and Raley said farmers have diversified their business port- folios.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he said. “It needs to be profitable.”
Since the tobacco buyout in the early 2000s, Forrest Hall Farm has transitioned from tobacco farming to growing vegetables, fruits, flowers and wine grapes. Several agritourism attractions have also been added to the farm as well.
Mary Wood, Joe Wood’s wife, said the farm has welcomed families, church groups and school field trips, mixing a little fun and some knowledge about agriculture for its visitors. They also grow and operate a corn maze at the farm each fall.
“In our days, most people have some direct connection to a farm,” Mary said in an April interview on the farm. “For today’s children, that’s not true.”
Once, Mary said a father came to the farm with his children. He had grown up on a farm and wanted to show his children what his experience was like when he was a child.
For some visitors, Mary said they may not have a yard, and some children don’t know where their food come from.
“We want to help grow a new generation of agri-literate consumers,” she said.
The early years that followed the buyout were not easy, Mary said. Over time, the Woods learned how to adjust their daily routine from working around tobacco to tending to vegetables and fruits, which is a production that is more time-sensitive and demands more care. They also sell meats now. And, in addition to production changes, they learned about tourism and direct marketing.
The Woods said they like “making our own end results and working at our own pace.”
Joe Wood particularly likes the evening time at the farm.
“People leave. Everything quiets down,” he said. “All you can hear is animals, birds.”
Mary Wood, left, and Joe Wood stand next to a Century Farm sign on April 26 at Forrest Hall Farm in Mechanicsville. Their family farm received the recognition in January, becoming the 13th farm in St. Mary’s to receive the title.