Sharp’s Farm. TBM photo by Emily Calkins.

As Howie Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau, considers the state of local farms, his words ring with a hope that’s echoed by other local farmers:

“Overall, I think are doing well,” he said.

Although prices for corn and soybeans had initially dropped, they are rebounding a bit, Feaga said.

When local butcher shops had to temporarily close their doors or allow limited customers due to COVID-19, that also had a negative impact on local farmers.

“We could not get dates to butcher our animals that were ready for market,” explained Feaga. But the outlook for butcher shops is starting to improve as well.

As far as the weather and crops, soybeans have thrived while corn suffered from some ill-timed dry spells.

“Hay has been good locally, but again, out in the western end of the state it has been dry, so there has been very low production,” said Feaga, who added that dairy farmers have also been hard hit as milk and commodity prices are low.

Feaga urged people to buy locally – and buy often – from farms. “We are farmers and God filled us with hope at the start, and we make our own as we go – it’s just who we are,” he said.

At Frank’s Produce and Greenhouses in Elkridge, Jake Franz, whose grandfather, Frank Rhodes, founded the business, believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer behavior in ways that are benefitting local farms.

“It has also brought more stress,” admitted Franz, but added that business has topped previous years for Frank’s.

Tomatoes, peaches and corn – grown on the family’s farms in Woodbine and Sykesville – sold well throughout the summer.

“We grow our own green beans, eggplant, peppers, and more. And now fall is here so apples and pumpkins are really selling,” said Franz.

“Our spring stock was amazing,” he added. “People had more time to do things in their yard. People were doing projects that they had put off. So, we had big orders of shrubbery. And now while the kids aren’t in school some days, we get a lot of parents who want to spend a half an hour walking around outdoors with their kids.”

Pumpkins are also a hot commodity at Sharp’s Farm in Brookville, where the cancellation of school field trips to the pumpkin patch initially put a dent in business, said Cheryl Nodar, farm manager and program director.

But through lowering prices on pumpkins and setting up farm tours, Nodar has been able to recoup some of that business. Socially distanced hay wagons drive people out to the pumpkin patch, or they can walk. All visitors are required to wear masks.

The farm has become a popular destination for families this fall, said Nodar. “Moms and dads get to do something and get out of the house,” she said. “We have 550 acres outside where people can social distance.”

From Nodar’s perspective, it’s good to see families having fun while keeping the farm operation afloat.

“I can’t keep my farm store stocked fast enough,” she said. “All in all, given the circumstances, we’re just happy we’re here.”

By Susan Kim | Staff Writer | The Business Monthly | November 2020 Issue