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

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DANDAN ZOU

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.

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