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Do you know where your food comes from? Probably not from Montgomery County, even if you shop at one of the County’s 14 farm markets, and even though nearly one third of the County’s land is in the Agricultural Reserve.

At last night’s 3rd Rethink event, the panel of two longtime farmers, Wade Butler and Ben Allnut; the County’s Agricultural Services Division Manager, Jeremy Criss; and community garden activist, Gordon Clark, discussed the difficulty of farming in Montgomery County.

Soil health is a challenge, but one that an experienced farmer will learn to deal with. More challenging are the regulations that require an expensive special exception for facilities that allow on-farm food processing. So, local meat and dairy are hard to get.

The cost of land is another challenge. It’s easier and more cost-effective to grow townhouses rather than food. And as nearly every County resident can tell you, the increasing deer population loves local food too.

There were also some challenging ideas addressed, including addressing farm needs in the current Zoning Rewrite, expanding community garden opportunities down-County, and reversing MCPS’s decision to not allow gardens on school property.

Both Butler and Allnut talked about educating their customers about the seasonality of their produce, but we also need to educate ourselves about local farming. Why not take a drive (or a bike ride) out to the Agricultural Reserve this spring and see another side of Montgomery County.

3 Responses to “Rethink Food”

  1. Dan

    Here’s a novice question. What exactly is produced on the 1/3 of the county that is reserved for agriculture? There are a few pick-your-own farms, and I’ve seen a few small places where agriculture is a secondary source of income. How much of the agricultural land in the county is actually used as farms that are supposed to earn a profit selling their goods?

  2. Casey Anderson

    I would be interested in some data on agricultural production in MoCo, too. I have been on bike rides through the ag reserve, but it is hard to tell what is being grown or how much land is devoted to farming.

  3. claudia

    That actually came up last night. There are commodity farmers in the County–corn and soybeans–and Jeremy Criss noted that horticultural farming and horse operations are also signficant.

    But you’re right, many Ag Reserve landowners are there for the view and would not be crazy about a neighboring farm operation. That’s what part of the discussion was last night and will be in the future. What should the Ag Reserve be and what will farming be in the future.

    It seems like there is increasing interest from a new generation of farmers. Both Butler and Allnut mentioned their kids want to farm and Criss is working on a program to set up long term leases for interested farmers who don’t have land.