UMES Small Farm Conference celebrates 20 years of helping farmers

By Gail Stephens
Posted 11/8/23

PRINCESS ANNE — Nearly 200 agricultural producers and stakeholders across the Mid-Atlantic descended on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from Nov. 2-4 for the 20 th anniversary of its …

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UMES Small Farm Conference celebrates 20 years of helping farmers


PRINCESS ANNE — Nearly 200 agricultural producers and stakeholders across the Mid-Atlantic descended on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from Nov. 2-4 for the 20th anniversary of its Small Farm Conference.

“Positioning Farmers for Success,” this year’s theme, has been at the forefront of the annual event for two decades.

“Agriculture and aquaculture are our (Delmarva’s) largest economic drivers,” said Roxanne Wolf, of the Shore Gourmet Market which focuses on farm-to-table and resources as a business incubator on the Upper Shore. “Everything is about the environment, sustainability and economics — keeping everything local and diversifying in a changing world. That’s what this conference allows farmers to see.”

Wolf led a popular session on repurposing poultry houses for controlled environmental agriculture such as aquaponics, aeroponics and raised beds.

The 2023 edition featured a pre-conference with half-day workshops on raising sheep and goats and preventive health care, propagating fruit trees and a session aimed at helping Maryland’s farmers apply to be able to accept payment from federal nutrition assistance programs for their farm products. Some of the hot topics addressed during the following days included the high-value niche crop baby ginger, agritourism for small farms, quinoa cultivation for the U.S., tax considerations for small farms, growing grapes, marketing for farms and new initiatives by the Maryland Department of Agriculture to support agricultural producers.

Hanna Collins of Laurel, Delaware, and her son, Liam, returned to the conference for the second year to network with other farmers to see what they are doing toward “diversifying their farming practices.” The pair also learned about research studies from professors and extension professionals and “how to incorporate it on your farm.”

Victoria Cooper of Prince George’s County made the trek to the conference, having enjoyed her experience this past summer on UMES’ Small Farm Bus Tour.

“I own some property and am looking for ideas, guidance and the next steps for developing it,” she said.

Likewise, Shayne Meyer, who lives near the Maryland-Delaware line between Federalsburg and Bridgeville, found interest in the summer bus tour stops imparting information on growing mushrooms and garlic. She looked to the Small Farm Conference as a follow-up.

“I’m a beginning farmer with wildflowers, expanding to Christmas trees. I’m here to obtain all the information UMES Extension provides —it’s inspirational,” Meyer said.

Worcester County resident John Skawski took advantage of the close proximity of the university and its agricultural research and extension offerings.

“This is the perfect resource for us,” he said. “Where better to start (getting farming resources) than an agricultural school?”

In August, Skawski and his wife attended UMES’ Ag Showcase where they connected with a specialist with the Small Farm Program about soil amendment. The couple purchased 4 open acres, 8 wooded acres and have 14 acres in conservation. They are interested in building sustainable pasture, small farming and gardening for local consumption.

Notable speakers (Tope Balogun of Dodo Farms and Michelle Hughes of the National Young Farmers Coalition), bus tours (BayBees Honey LLC, Layton’s Chance Vineyard & Winery, and Tallawah and Wood Duck Landing farms in Somerset County) and agricultural vendor exhibits rounded out the event.

“Our goal with the conference is developing program content to meet the interest and needs of our farmers,” said Dr. Moses T. Kairo, dean of UMES’ School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences and director of UMES Extension.

“We ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing our job?’ This year’s 20th installment of the conference says something. It would not have lasted this long if we were not bringing topics that are of interest to you, the audience.”

Having come from the World Food Prize meeting in Iowa, Kairo was keen to the “challenges of producing the right kind of food for the people” of the nation and world. “What we eat is valuable to our health and issues affecting a declining life expectancy in the U.S. We want to support you (agricultural producers) by providing solutions for you to be able to do what you do — provide safe, nutritious food.”

Gail Stephens is a communications specialist for the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, UMES Extension.

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