Growing food at Frostburg Grows is a major part of our project. Fitting in and working alongside other growers is also extremely important to us. We often talk about food systems and food networks, and when you become a grower you have to be able to understand where you are, or where you strive to fit in the local food landscape. There are many models, examples and methods in growing and selling food, and most growers are different in how they manage their farm, their products and how they interact with their buyers and market their products. A few examples include operating a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm and selling to invested members, traveling and selling at farmer’s markets, growing and selling wholesale for larger distribution, growing niche or specialty products like honey or wool, having a destination farm where the customer comes to you for your product-like pumpkin picking, Christmas trees or an apple farm, creating value-added goods like jarred sauce or jams, or, a combination of everything and more.
Farming is many things; wonderful, rewarding, fulfilling, nurturing, and it’s also laborious, tough and can be unstable and volatile at times. Weather, seasonal change, availability of good workers, supply and demand, cultural trends and values, your ability to change, evolve and adapt, among many other variables all play a role in the success of your operation. But, nothing else in the world is more important than the availability of food and water, of course we would not survive long without it.
Talking about the existing food system, we recognize that much of the produce we find in grocery stores comes from far, far away, leaving an unsustainable footprint in the process. We don’t need our food to be trucked in from California, Florida or Mexico, or farther, and we don’t need to be consuming food forced-grown with heavy pesticides, unfair labor wages in resource depleting, drought-stricken landscapes. We often call this the ‘industrial food system’ where the big business of food places profits way before value, selling to the masses, and where the factory farms conduct the atrocious ‘business’ and ‘production’ of livestock. But, we have alternatives, and we can choose to grow our own food, support local growers, improve our health and the health of our community, and stimulate the local economy in the process!
Like many places in our state and elsewhere, western Maryland has issues regarding food. Many parts of the region have been classified as ‘food deserts.’ These areas have low healthy food availability, with many people living at or below the federal poverty level, as well as living more than a ¼ mile from a grocery store without reliable transportation. The idea of getting fresh, healthy food into the mainstream marketplace as well as into the mouths of the underserved is of paramount importance, where an estimated 7,000 families in our own Allegany County have been documented as needing food assistance.
(Image courtesy of Amanda Behrens, Johns Hopkins University)
In addition, conventional farming has a shorter growing season, where we often experience long, cold winters. Our project is being used to identify ways to grow local food, fruits and vegetables in a greenhouse environment, which will allow area growers to extend their growing season, grow more food, generate more income and to make more efficient and potentially more viable use of their land.
In our four-season climate, local farmers typically do not plant seeds until June 1st for fear of a late frost. Crops generally are not ready to harvest until mid-late summer, and autumn can once again bring early, crop-killing, freezing temperatures. Our high tunnel greenhouses, complete with solar panels that deliver warm-water irrigation from 5,000 gallon (rain-water harvested) storage tanks, can extend the growing season indefinitely, often allowing a plentiful tomato harvest as early as Memorial Day!
We are confident that this is the ‘game-changer’ in successfully growing and selling local produce and addressing the many issues we have. We are creating a better and more sustainable way to grow and we can compete on various levels with the industrial system including price, dependability and availability. Of course, if widely practiced, this would have remarkable impact. People would have access to healthy food where the environmental wasn’t compromised, and the local farming community and agricultural economy would benefit dramatically. Furthermore, it has been studied and understood that a limiting factor in building a strong local food system is the need for more growers. We feel that if many of these innovative practices are implemented in our farming community, and we can address these obstacles, then we can improve many factors in the overall cultural and agricultural landscape of western Maryland and beyond. This is where we feel the greatest importance and meaning of our training mission.
Food Production Goals
- Production, processing, distribution and sales of local foods to help build the local food system and related natural resource based economy
- Establish innovative techniques and growing methods for most efficient production
- Create cost-effective techniques for growing produce