Hi everyone! As the Southern Maryland Representative for the Maryland Chapter of APA, I was excited to host my first APA event at Serenity Farms in Benedict, Maryland on May 18, 2018. The weather made it challenging but in spite of the torrential downpours and a few people having to detour to get there, it was a great turnout. Julie Oberg, the Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, gave an opening speech on the importance of agriculture for the state, the economic impacts and encouraged everyone to work together to promote all of the new opportunities that are developing.
Greg Bowen, the director of the American Chestnut Land Trust, gave a presentation that included valuable history on agriculture, how and why farming has changed over the last few decades and how regulations can be part of these changes. Part of that history showed the dramatic loss of farmland on the east coast and the measures put in place to preserve farms. Preserving is just one step and he went on to outline the many different and exciting changes in farming and agritourism and the importance of planners working with the agricultural community.
Shelby Watson-Hampton, director of Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC), reviewed some of the history but went into detail the changes taking place and the role that SMADC has working with existing and new farmers. She also stressed that planning departments need to work with providing regulations that will allow diversity and encourage new practices.
Jennifer Petkos was unable to be there so I read her summary of the creative changes that Calvert County is working on with the newest being a proposed hydroponics operation. This phased project is planned to include approximately 17,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses and a 4,500 sq. ft. farm/event building.
Bernie Fowler, Jr. gave a tour of the greenhouses on-site to show hydroponic growing, explain the process and let everyone see what was currently in production. He then went on to explain how Farm4Hunger started and that even though the organization grows and distributes over a million pounds of locally grown, fresh food each year, it provides so much more. It give inmates a chance to work and be productive, provides life coaching for them to become a valuable part of society upon their release, hosts school field trips tailored to each age group to educate them in agricultural practices and to show them how choices made in life can impact their future.
The speakers were so knowledgeable and the resounding message was that new farming practices don’t just provide ways for the farmers to keep the farmland but promotes overall tourism as well. They all spoke of the importance of planning and regulations to assist the many different and creative ideas for farming and the use of farms.
After a lunch break, everyone was divided into two groups for team building exercises. These were fun, frustrating, hilarious at times, heartwarming and showed everyone that you have to think outside the box, be willing to listen, work together and persevere. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. An interesting thing we learned was that when we were timed on one of the exercises, even after repeating it several times to get better, we STILL did not get our best time close to the best time that is held by a group of 5th graders. Things that make you go hmmm.
Due to the weather, the event ended early and we did not go to Running Hare Winery. It was more important that everyone had plenty of time to get home safely. I can’t express how much I enjoyed putting this event together and the feedback was all positive. I can’t wait to do it again, so this event is being planned for the fall of 2019. Same location and topic with updates and even more information, plus hoping for the same amazing speakers and a few new ones. The building is being renovated and by then will be insulated and have heating/air conditioning. I don’t anticipate the water being mopped out of the building or an umbrella being used to protect the laptop and projector next time (actually nobody else will probably ever get to make those claims for any APA event), but I encourage all to pencil your calendars and try to come next year. With good weather, you will have an enjoyable drive, learn the challenges and solutions facing the farming industry and the part planners need to play, be tested on your problem solving skills and hopefully relax after at an award winning winery.
Regardless of the challenges this time, it was a great day in southern Maryland and I thank all who participated!
Check out photos of the event on FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/230325987529725/?active_tab=discussion
And at our APA-MD Gallery: https://www.apamaryland.org/gallery/