Getting out of the City: Farming in the DMV Area

My husband works on a farm. We live in Washington, D.C.

His farm joins the 577 farms and 350 horticultural enterprises that make up the 93,000-acre Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve.

A line from a movie made about the Agricultural Reserve sums up much of what I love about farms in the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia) area:

“If you imagined being blindfolded, taken to the center of the Ag Reserve, and dropped onto one of the many farms here, when the blindfold was taken off, you’d never guess you were in Montgomery County, Maryland.” — “Growing Legacy” official trailer

I love the feeling of “getting out of the city” that I have when I’m at the farm. I love how it feels like I’m 100 miles away, when really it’s more like 20. As a city dweller, I love that it’s easy to access local, sustainable food from family farms.

This Saturday, September 17, thousands of others from across the country will get a taste of DMV farming when they convene in our backyard for Farm Aid 2016 at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia.

Since my own farmer (Chris) can’t be there on Saturday, I wanted to share some of his thoughts on why he chose the career he did. Not only is he a young farmer — 29 years old, compared to the average age of the American farmer at 58.3 years — but he also grows all the vegetables for the farm’s CSA (community-supported agriculture), keeps two hives of honeybees alive, staffs booths at farmers markets, and manages the books. Like at any small business, small-scale farmers wear a lot of hats.

Amy: Why did you choose to become a farmer?

Chris: I always had an interest and a hobby in gardening, and I knew that I wanted my career to produce something worthwhile and tangible — something I was proud to hand off to a customer. Producing crops for families and seeing their faces light up when they receive a week’s worth of food was something that I found rewarding, and still do.

Amy: What are the biggest challenges facing small family farms in the DMV area?

Chris: In our area, there are a lot of rules and regulations that are not friendly toward small businesses in general, which means small farmers have to get very creative about the way they distribute. Also, because this is such a developed area, every acre and square foot of land is extremely expensive, which makes it hard for new farmers to acquire land.

Amy: What advice would you give to a young person wanting to pursue a career in farming?

Chris:

  1. Join local organizations such as Chesapeake CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) or Future Harvest (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) to meet and collaborate with other farmers. Seeing other farms and learning their techniques is so important for the work that we do.
  2. Develop strategies to make farming work for your life. It’s very easy to become burned-out as a farmer, so find ways to farm that afford you the ability to take time off and find things that bring you joy.
  3. Just get your hands dirty. There are a million excuses you can make to not farm here: the market, the cost of land, bugs, the humidity, funguses and more … but if you delve deeply into it, you’ll learn incredible amounts every year through trial and error. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and make mistakes, because those are things that you’ll learn from.

For insights from other local farmers who grow our nation’s food, come to the Farm Aid 2016 FarmYard Stage this Saturday! There, farmers, farm activists and artists will discuss food and farming topics throughout the day.

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