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Maryland’s Eastern Shore Remains Ripe for Farming

With fertile soil and a good climate, Maryland's Eastern Shore has a robust agricultural industry.

By Sue Siens on May 5, 2015

It’s only natural that Maryland’s Eastern Shore still has a strong agricultural base. After all, its ag heritage dates back over 300 years. With rich soil, a mild climate and convenient access to major Mid-Atlantic markets, the Eastern Shore’s flat land and green pastures make it ideal for raising all types of livestock, poultry production and growing a variety of crops. Top commodities produced on the Eastern Shore include corn, wheat, soybeans, fruits and herbs, along with beef and dairy.

Nurseries are also prominent throughout the five-county area. About 35 percent of Cecil County’s 222,000 acres are devoted to farmland, mostly for cash grains and dairy, while Talbot County has 109,002 acres and 280 operating farms. Agriculture is also an economic engine in Dorchester County, with 133,000 total acres and 424 farms, and Caroline County, with 150,357 acres of dedicated farmland and 658 farms. One of the top producing agricultural counties in all of in Maryland is Kent County. “We are proud of our 147,000-plus acres of agriculture land,” says Jamie Williams, deputy clerk for the Kent County Commissioners. “Our county has the highest percentage of Class A ag soils in Maryland, and we are the second-highest producer of ag crops.” The Eastern Shore is also a hotbed for grape-production in the state. As a result, the wine industry continues to enjoy more success each year, with operations like Crow Vineyard & Winery, Chateau Bu De Vineyard, Turkey Point Vineyard, Terrapin Station Winery, Dove Valley Winery, and Elk Manor Winery.

Cornucopia of Companies

Poultry processor Amick Farms is the No. 1 employer in Dorchester County, with 800 workers. The plant produces fresh and frozen chicken products for foodservice, retail and industrial markets. In Cecil County, Warwick Mushroom Farms – a subsidiary of family-owned Phillips Mushroom Farms – grows up to half a million pounds of white button mushrooms per week at its state-of-the-art plant. The county is also home to Moon Nurseries, which produces more than 40,000 trees and 350,000 container plants per year in Chesapeake City. Seafood processing is also big in the region, with the presence of companies like Sea Watch International, which harvests and processes shellfish in Talbot County, and Kool Ice & Seafood and Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture in Dorchester County. “We’re developing a company that will provide the infrastructure to support a new approach of producing oysters on the Chesapeake,” says Johnny Shockley, who co-owns Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company with business partner Ricky Fitzhug. Dorchester County is also home to Purdue Farms, which operates a hatchery in Hurlock, and The Mushroom Company, a mushroom processor in Cambridge. Food processing flourishes on the Eastern Shore. Bloch & Guggenheimer and Protenergy Natural Foods operate facilities in Dorchester County. In Caroline County, Hanover Foods operates a vegetable processing plant, and Kraft Foods makes bread crumbs in Federalsburg for its Stove Top Stuffing brand.

From Ice Cream to Alpacas

Small family-owned farms also find success in the region. Case in point is 201-acre Miller and Tanner Dairy Farm in Federalsburg, home to Nice Farms Creamery, which produces milk, skim milk, yogurt and butter sold at farmers markets, select grocery outlets, high-end restaurants, coffee houses and cafes in the area. “There are many advantages to living here, including nutritional advantages to raising pasture-fed cows versus the large dairy factories elsewhere,” says owner Bob Miller. All of the creamery’s products are produced by the farm’s 50 milk cows, and because the cows and processing facility are in the same place, Miller can sell fresher items. “Our products generally make one trip from the farm and creamery to the customer,” Miller says.

“Our creamery has grown from producing 8,000 gallons of milk a year to more than 40,000 gallons.” Also in Caroline County is Seaberry Farm, one of the largest field-cut flower producers in the Mid-Atlantic region. The farm is owned and operated by Drs. Richard and Wenfei Uva, who moved to the Eastern Shore in 2006 after studying and teaching horticulture-related subjects at Cornell University. “We had a great deal of academic knowledge about horticulture and wanted to put it into practice,” Wenfei Uva says. “Our location in the Eastern Shore is easily accessible to major markets to sell our products.” In Preston, Outstanding Dreams Farm breeds alpacas and sells alpaca fabric, yarn, and fiber. Owner Phil Liske, who bought the farm in 2007, raises nearly 40 alpacas on 15 acres of pasture and carries products made from the luxurious alpaca fiber in his farm store. “The Mid-Atlantic region has moderate weather and good grazing land,” Liske says. “It’s nice countryside.”

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