Farmer to Stay on Former Navy Dairy Farm

4/8/2014 6:00 AM
By Chris Torres Regional Editor

It appears that farmer Ed Fry will stay on the grounds of the old U.S. Navy farm in Gambrills, Md., at least through the end of the year.

Fry and Anne Arundel County have come to terms on an agreement that will allow Fry to stay on the farm and institute nonorganic practices. The contract expires Dec. 31.

At the same time, the county is putting out a “request for proposals” for any farmer willing to organically farm the land, the largest tract of ag land in Anne Arundel County — a largely suburban area between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

In December, Fry announced that he was giving up his organic certification on the 500 acres of land he’s been renting since 2001 on the former U.S. Naval Academy dairy farm due to a “perfect storm” of issues including continuous noxious weed problems, excess phosphorus from the application of manure, the loss of his organic beef processor in Littlestown, Pa., and the lack of a long-term contract with the county.

But his decision has not gone over well with many of his neighbors, and the county, which subleases the land to Fry, has been considering whether to sublease the acreage to another farmer willing to farm it organically.

In its decision, which was announced earlier in the week, the county stated that it would try to identify another farmer interested in farming the land using organic protocols. “If the county is unable to identify a farmer interested in farming organic, the current tenant farmer” Ed Fry “will be given a long-term lease to impose measures that will restore the land to make organic farming, once again, a viable option,” according to a letter released by the office of County Executive Laura Neuman.

The county has set a deadline of July 1 to notify Fry of its future intentions.

Fry, interviewed by phone Wednesday, said he’s prepared regardless of what the future holds for the Anne Arundel farm. He also runs a 1,500-acre crop and dairy farm in Chestertown, Kent County.

He said the Anne Arundel operation makes up about 20 percent of his total business and that if he loses that portion of the business, he would put all of his focus in his Chestertown operation.

“It’s not the end of the world. But we’ll be using these BMPs I’ve been hoping to use for all these years,” he said of the Anne Arundel farm.

Fry said his 50-member organic CSA at the Anne Arundel farm, Maryland Sunrise Farm, would continue through at least this coming growing season.

He’s currently raising 120 head of Angus beef cattle on the Anne Arundel farm. The cattle used to be fed an organic supplement and marketed organically, but when Fry lost his Littlestown, Pa.-based organic beef processor earlier in the year, he decided to instead market the cattle as grassfed and is now giving the animals a nonorganic supplement.

The Anne Arundel County Dairy Leasing Program, Wounded Warriors Program, public school farm tours and fundraisers will continue through the end of the year, according to the new lease agreement. The agreement also states that if a new farmer is brought in, multispecies cover crops planted by Fry cannot be disturbed until after March 1, 2015, or the county would reimburse Fry for his costs.

“Our primary goal is to make sure the land is farmed in a responsible way. As a result, we are doing our due diligence by working with the current tenant, who has been a good steward of the land for more than a decade, and the community by seeking a farmer who might be able to embrace organic farming,¨ said County Executive Laura Neuman in the letter.

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