Just two bid to sublease former Navy dairy farm

Staff Reporter

GAMBRILLS, Md. (July 15, 2014) — Anne Arundel County received just two bids to sub-lease the former U.S. Naval Academy dairy farm, a county official said last week, after a group of interested farmers who toured the facility called it depleted and neglected.
The county plans to announce a new tenant who would be required to restore organic certification to the land under a five-year lease beginning Jan. 1, said Tracie Reynolds, county spokesperson. The county council and the Navy will have to grant final approval. Regardless, the county was hoping for more bids, Reynolds said.
“It would have been nice to have more options,” she said.
The number of bids was likely influenced by the outcome of a tour of the 857-acre Gambrills farm attended by about 10 producers in April. The new tenant will sublease about 600 acres. A number of those farmers questioned in media reports the quality of the property’s soil and said a number of buildings, built between 1914 and 1979, were deteriorating, which the county acknowledges.
Farmers Edwin and Marian Fry lease and run the property under the name Maryland Sunrise Farm, an organic operation.
But excessive weeds and a growing population of foraging deer made organic farming impossible, forcing the Frys to switch to conventional farming methods recently, said John Jordan, farm manager.
The change upset nearby residents and environmentalists.
Up to 16 rows of each field became infested with weeds, requiring non-organic spray to manage, he said.
About 280 deer were counted and were consuming roughly 20 percent of farm’s crops.
The farm isn’t permitted to hunt deer, and at the rate they procreate, there are almost certainly many more deer on the farm now, Jordan said.
Whoever signs a new lease with the county will also discover it can take three years to get the farm certified as organic, he said, which could also have impacted the number of bids. Among the options permitted for an incoming farmer:
• The farm may sell “subscriptions” to the public and supply them with baskets of produce or other organic farm products;
• The farm can sell organic, grass-fed beef raised without added hormones and must be processed at a USDA-certified organic facility, dry-aged 14 days and frozen;
• The farm may participate in a state-sponsored cover crop program; and
• The farm can organize programs for the public, including agritourism and volunteer opportunities.
Out of 700 farms in Anne Arundel County, the Navy farm would be the only organic farm, Reynolds said.
“Kind of shows you how hard it is,” she said. “We have really sandy soils around here.”
The county is in the midst of a 30-year lease agreement with the Navy, which owns the farm.
The county will announce the winning bidder within the next several weeks, and the county council will most likely vote on it in September after its August recess, Reynolds said.