Editorial: Suburban Farm Conundrum

3/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

In many ways, the business of farming is full of contradictions. Farmers like the rain, but then they have to worry about taking care of all of those pesky bugs and diseases out in the field.

Getting the most milk out of a cow is a top priority, but they can’t produce too much or they’ll saturate the market and depress the price they’re paid.

And more and more these days, they have to deal with consumers’ contradictory views of farming.

Take the situation involving Edwin and Marian Fry of Gambrills, Md. They are farming a 570-acre plot of land that used to be a dairy farm run by the U.S. Naval Academy.

It is one of the last farms in an area dominated by urban and suburban development, and was saved from becoming a horse park and arena in 2005 after area residents stood up to oppose the plan.

The county signed a 30-year lease agreement with the U.S. Navy in 2007 and subleases the land to the Frys. But it seems the farmers’ efforts to stay financially solvent is running contrary to what their neighbors want, and it appears the county might be considering terminating its lease agreement with the family.

The Frys have been certified organic ever since taking over the farm in the mid-2000s. But they are giving up their organic certification in an effort, they say, to remain in business. And that’s ruffled a lot of feathers.

According to a February Baltimore Sun article, the Frys want to partially switch to nonorganic practices to address weeds, new state regulations for managing phosphorus, the closure of an organic beef processing plant in Pennsylvania and the lack of a long-term lease.

The most recent lease expired in December 2012.

“I am not arriving at this decision without a lot of consternation,” Edwin Fry told the Baltimore Sun. The farm includes a herd of grass-fed beef cattle, a vegetable patch and a popular corn maze.

Many of the farm’s neighbors aren’t happy.

“This has all been done underhanded and secretly,” d’Alex Childers, a neighbor of the property, said.

Edwin Fry has defended his planned use of synthetic fertilizer on the land, saying that the soil is already rich in phosphorus and that spreading animal manure would go contrary to the state’s new phosphorus management regulation.

According to the article, federal law requires that the land stay in agriculture, but there’s no stipulation that the farming must be organic.

“I think a lot of the things we’re doing to the land will be better for the land in the long run,” Fry said.

It’s funny how some people say they love farming and support it, but at the same time they’ll complain when a farmer runs a tractor down the road or spreads manure on a field.

I understand some farmers need to be more cognizant of their neighbors when they apply that fertilizer or spread that manure, but they are the ones taking risks to produce the food that ends up in the grocery store.

Some bad always comes with the good. Let’s hope people stop and think about this before they raise a stink about how their food is being produced.

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

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