The Importance of Bringing State and County Lawmakers to the Farm
Published in the October 28, 2017 issue of Lancaster Farming.
By Secretary Joe Bartenfelder
Since being appointed by Governor Hogan as the Secretary of Agriculture, I have made it a priority to advocate and educate our policy makers about the wide range of issues our farmers encounter on their farming operations. With the 2018 General Assembly right around the corner, we held our third round of legislative farm tours before the 2,000 or more bills are introduced in Annapolis. I want to ensure that when bills affecting farmers and the agricultural sector are introduced, our lawmakers understand their impact. I want them to see firsthand the effects that current regulations are having on farming operations.
This year, we partnered with Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s county governments to highlight the diverse agriculture operations in each county and invited local and state officials to join us. The focus of the tours was on how Maryland farmers continue to place conservation practices and diversify their operations to either keep the farm in production and viable for the next generation. These farm tours offered a great opportunity for dialogue between lawmakers, regulators, farmers and advocates to discuss a number of issues and concerns and how to address problems and find possible solutions.
I’m proud to say that agriculture is still the number one industry in our state. Yet, with each generation, our nation is growing further from its agricultural roots. Many people today – including our elected officials – have never been on a farm, do not know a farmer, or know where their food originates. That is why it is critical to inform our lawmakers on how potential laws or burdening regulations can harm businesses and not allow farms to be viable. Our farmers face many challenges that are out of their hands from the weather and other economic pressures; they need to have assurance that their elected officials understand their livelihood.
During the tours, we visited 10 farms that offered a broad range of size, type, growing methods and means of selling their products. Showcasing the agricultural economy at a county level with a local point of view for our legislators highlights the importance of our farmers. Some key facts we shared on the tours included that 73 percent of the Prince George’s County is zoned for agriculture for a variety of rural and small urban farms. Also, agriculture contributes over $287 million to the Montgomery County economy. And with the newly-passed agritourism bill in Anne Arundel County, businesses like En-Tice-Ment Meats may now sell their products directly on their operation. The facts of our farmers doing more for their community and the environment are too countless to mention, but showcasing them is very important.
I think it is fair to say that everyone who joined the tours not only enjoyed a first-hand look at Maryland farming but also learned more about the difficulties and challenges facing our farmers and the great successes farmers have every day. They understood even more the diversity, the breadth and the critical importance of the agricultural industry to our state’s overall economic health.
My thanks to all the legislators and staff members, as well as local county representatives who spent their valuable time with us. I hope that more lawmakers will be able to join us next time.
And, of course, my deep thanks to the farms who opened their doors to our tours and showed the group how they do business and shared their thoughts about this industry, including: Waters Orchard, Sunny Ridge Farm LLC, Waredaca Brewing and Equestrian Facility, Hopewell Farm, Greenstreet Gardens, En-Tice-Ment Meats, the Vineyards at Dodon, Edgewood Farm, Villa De Alpacas Farm and Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards.
My thanks also to the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO), Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, Maryland Farm Bureau, Maryland Grain Producers, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), University of Maryland Extension, Maryland Soil Conservation Districts, Grow and Fortify, Rural Maryland Council, Eco-City Farms, Prince George’s Food Equity Council, Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, Honey Harvest Farm, and Skipper’s Pier Restaurant.
To see some photos of the tour, visit the Department’s Flickr page at: https://www.flickr.com/MdAgDept