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A Conversation with Dr. Christine Bergmark - Part Two
CALIFORNIA - 8/14/2008
By Pete Hurrey
Author’s Note: Considering Southern Maryland’s agriculturally intensive history, the approaching end of the tobacco buyout program, and a growing interest in environmental restoration and preservation, TheBAYNET.com sought out the Executive Director of The Agricultural Development Commission of the Tri-County Council to get her views on the state of agriculture in Southern Maryland. Yesterday, TheBAYNET.com published Part One of the interview. What follows is Part two. The subjects covered are: farmers’ markets, land use, management and preservation and marketing alternatives for non-tobacco crops.
Bergmark reported that the number of farmers’ markets selling is also growing by leaps and bounds. “When we started the So. Maryland, So Good program, there were very few farmers’ markets selling local produce. Now we have 22 featuring Southern Maryland farm products.”
The So. Maryland, So Good program is fast becoming the best way to ensure produce, fruits and vegetables are locally grown. Buying locally is a proven method to improve the local economy, but also is a way to help improve the environment.
According to the So. Maryland, So Good Farmers’ Market Guide, The average distance that food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. By buying locally, consumers can get food faster and fresher, conserving transportation fuel and hydrocarbon discharge into the air.
“The So. Maryland, So Good logo is the way that consumers are assured that the food they are buying is locally grown,” said Bergmark.
Land Use, Management and Preservation
The Agricultural Development Commission also has as one of its goals preserving land and working with other agencies to help manage existing lands better. An example is the effort coordinating and hosting the Nuffield Scholars when they visited this past June. According to Sarah Taylor-Rogers of the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, “The Agricultural Development Commission and particularly, Christine Bergmark are very dedicated to the effort to preserve farms and forests. They are doing a great job.”
It was through the efforts of the Harry Hughes Center that the idea of cover crops was introduced to Maryland farmers. The idea is catching on here through the efforts of the local commission.
Marketing Alternative, Non-Tobacco Crops
“One of the biggest concerns for farmers making the conversion from tobacco-based revenues to other crop revenues was marketing,” said Bergmark. Helping farmers market their goods is the reason behind the So. Maryland, So Good program and the hugely successful Buy Local Challenge were both designed by Bergmark and the commission as a way to assist farmers market and sell their products.
“The So. Maryland, So Good program works well for farmers that use the materials and apply the practices we have created for them,” said Bergmark. She explained that the marketing kit costs farmers and merchants wishing to enter the program on $35 and is proven to work.
When asked about how farmers switching from tobacco could replace the amount of revenue, Bergmark remarked that there are many alternatives to tobacco that produce even more money for farmers. One example given by Bergmark was cut flowers. “It takes a lot of farming work, but cut flower farmers can generate up to $19,000 per acre as opposed to the average yield of $6,000 to $7,000 per acre for tobacco.”
Considering the topics covered in this brief look at the Agricultural Development Commission – Alternative Energy, Tobacco Buyout, Agri-Tourism, Farmers’ Markets, Land Use, Management and Preservation, Marketing Alternative, Non-Tobacco Crops – it quite impressive considering the fact that the commission only has a few full-time staffers and reliable freelancers working day and day out to preserve the bucolic way of live that has been a mainstay in Southern Maryland since its founding 375 years ago.
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