A Look Back at Maryland Agriculture in 2017
By Joe Bartenfelder
Published in the December 23, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming.
When I was sworn-in as Secretary of Agriculture, I laid out three main goals to continue the growth of our industry and support our rural communities: diversify and expand agricultural businesses; serve as a resource to the agricultural community; and work directly with elected officials and legislators to promote the importance of agriculture. As 2017 comes to a close, this column will focus on some of the things we are doing at the department to help achieve these goals.
Diversify and expand agricultural businesses
The main driver behind our success in this area is our Maryland’s Best marketing program. We maintain a website at MarylandsBest.net that helps connect consumers with local producers across the state. The program also buys advertising and sponsors/hosts events to raise awareness of local goods.
A great example of this is the Maryland’s Best Buyer-Grower Expo – an annual event where growers and producers have the opportunity to showcase their products for buyers from grocery retailers, restaurants, schools, food distributors and other venues. In 2017, we had more than 60 farms participating with more than 300 buyers in attendance. The next expo will be held on January 24 and if you’re a grower or a buyer, we encourage you to attend.
Now in its 5th year, the Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail has become one of our most popular promotions. The trail includes nine on-farm creameries from Washington County to Ocean City. This year, we kicked off the season with events at Rocky Point Creamery and Woodbourne Creamery.
This year marked the 10th annual Governor’s Buy Local Cookout. We had 19 dishes prepared by teams of local chefs and producers, and wide range of local craft beverages. This event launches Buy Local Challenge Week, which challenges all Marylanders to include at least one local grown product in each meal.
In September, I visited Crellin Elementary School in Oakland (Garrett County) to celebrate Homegrown School Lunch Week. This great program not only helps farmers open new markets, but provides our kids with fresher, more nutritious options in the cafeteria. While I was at Crellin, I toured their on-site Sunshine Farm operation. It was great to see these young kids with so much knowledge and experience, and it really reinforces the importance of ag education.
Serving as a resource to the agricultural community
When Governor Hogan took office, he declared that the war on rural Maryland was over. We have been working with farmers to make sure they know that we appreciate their hard work and dedication. For the first time since 2007, the Governor hosted a Century Farm ceremony recognizing 34 families, including one Tri-centennial and two Bicentennial farms. Governor Hogan is continuing that tradition with a ceremony to honor the newest Century Farm families in January. I also had the pleasure of joining Governor Hogan as he inducted the Millburn family of Millburn Orchards farm family as the 48th members of the Governor’s Agriculture Hall of Fame.
An important part of my job as Secretary is being a resource to all farmers. I’ve learned something new about farming every day since I took this position, and the Maryland Agricultural Commission has been a big part of that. Back in the spring, we toured a variety of operation in Dorchester and Wicomico County including: J.M. Clayton Seafood Company (Cambridge), Double Trouble Farm (Rhodesdale), Marshall’s Riverbank Nurseries (Salisbury), and Wright’s Market (Mardela Springs). In the fall, we visited a handful of operations in Allegany & Garrett Counties: Working H Meats and Market (Friendsville), High Country Creamery & Market (Grantsville) and Walnut Ridge Farm (Flintstone). There’s no better way to learn about different operations than to get on out there and see them for yourself.
Keeping with the theme of education, it has been a priority of mine to promote agriculture education in schools—especially in areas that are often overlooked. Last year, I visited Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore for a ribbon cutting ceremony for their new hoophouses. This year, we returned to the school on National Ag Day with Lt. Governor Rutherford and Mayor Pugh to help the students plant flowers so each of them could take home for Mother’s Day.
To help promote MAEF’s Ag Literacy Campaign, I visited the third class at Beltsville Academy to read this year’s official book, Hatching Chicks in Room 6. There, I was joined by Director the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy.
Work directly with elected officials and legislators
The biggest hurdle facing us as farmers is the risk of harmful, restrictive legislation from our General Assembly. In an effort to prevent this, I have been engaging our legislators and promoting the importance of agriculture by showing them the real effects of bills that are passed in Annapolis. We continued our legislative tours this year, taking lawmakers to farm operations in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. This is our third year doing these tours, and I’ve found that it has helped legislators gain a better grasp of the issues facing Maryland agriculture.
Another thing we have found helpful is inviting legislators to visit our lab wing at the department’s headquarters. Our department regulates a variety of areas that most people may not realize – mosquito control, weights and measures, pesticide regulation, state chemist, and more. These tours help us emphasize the importance of work, especially as it relates to serving our agriculture industry.
In closing, I just want to highlight at couple of big events on the horizon. You should be receiving a survey for the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture. I cannot stress how important it is for all of us to participate in this survey—this is the most complete set of agricultural data available and is used as a baseline for decisions by lawmakers, businesses, financial institutions, etc. The other thing I want to emphasize is how important it is for all farmers to be active during the upcoming legislative session. It’s important for lawmakers to hear directly from you.
It’s an honor for me to serve as Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture. I wish you all the best this holiday season and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!