Food Council Members Tour the Montgomery County Ag Reserve

On a breezy, sunny day in May, Food Council Members enjoyed an informative tour of the Montgomery County Ag Reserve led by the Office of Agriculture Director, Jeremy Criss. The tour followed a route from the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood to six farms throughout the 93,000-acre reserve, during which attendees learned about the history of the reserve, the products grown there, and the contribution of the agricultural community to the County’s economy.

Montgomery County’s strong agricultural heritage and commitment to farmland preservation provides a diverse business community and a strong economic base for the County. Approximately one-third of Montgomery County’s land area is used for agricultural activities and the County currently boasts 540 farms. Of these farms, cash grain farms are the predominant agricultural use, covering over 45,000 acres. 40% of the farms in the Ag Reserve produce table food crops for human consumption. Horticulture is one of the largest sectors on the Ag Reserve, employing more than 7,000 people in 350 horticultural businesses. In total, the agricultural sector contributes almost $300 million to the economy of Montgomery County. (Source: Montgomery County MD Office of Agriculture)

The first stop on our tour was the Pleasant Valley Farm (www.pleasantvalleyfarmmd.com), a grain and cattle operation that operates on 4,000 acres of land on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. This family-owned farm grows corn, soybeans, and wheat and has a herd of about 150 cows. The farm also operates the Pleasant Valley Farm Stand, which is open every year from July through September. At the farm market, shoppers can purchase sweet corn and other seasonal produce, beef, pork and sunflowers. Food Council Members had the chance to meet and visit with two of the general partners of Pleasant Valley Farm, Bob Stabler and his son Randy, as well as Randy’s daughters Kelsey and Shelby, who both work on the farm. Bob and Randy have dedicated their entire lives to production agriculture, and they make it a priority to pass on their true love of agriculture to the next generation.

Rock Hill Orchard (www.rockhillorchard.com) is a fun family experience, offering pick your own flowers, pick your own peaches, pick your own apples, and pick your own vegetables. Visitors can also purchase pre-picked fruits, vegetables, and hand-scooped ice cream from neighboring Woodbourne Creamery at their farm market. In the fall, Rock Hill offers a corn maze, pumpkin picking and a pumpkin cannon. Woodbourne Creamery (www.rockhillorchard.com/woodbourne-creamery) is the only dairy within forty miles of Washington D.C. bottling its own milk and making their own ice cream right on the farm. In addition, they are the first all pasture robotic milking facility in North America. Their cows are grass fed and come in to be milked when they want, typically between two to three times per day. Food Council members were lucky enough to sample Woodbourne Creamery’s chocolate milk, which is smooth, creamy and delicious!

Jamison Ag and Turf (jamisonagandturf.com/about/) is a family farm in Poolesville that grows corn, soybeans, wheat and turf grass. The farm was started by Jamie and Kathy Jamison in 1970, and has grown to include their sons Joseph, Patrick and Michael, each of whom has a particular area of expertise on the farm. Joseph manages the day-to-day operations, Patrick is the turf expert and field agronomist, and Michael manages the grain marketing and technology.

Our final visit was with Courtney at From the Earth Foods (www.facebook.com/fromtheearthfoodsllc/). A native of Minnesota, Courtney relocated to Maryland in 2013, where she grows certified organic vegetables, flowers and fruit. A participant of the The New Farmer Project, From the Earth Foods received mentoring and specialized business training like marketing, accounting, business planning and advanced sustainable farm practices from the Office of Agriculture and was paired with a private, long-term leased site on Sugarland Road in Poolesville.
Food Council Members greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to visit these amazing farms and to learn more about the agricultural richness of the Montgomery County Ag Reserve.