Grow & Fortify meets with agriculture industry reps

Associate Editor

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (Dec. 15, 2015) — A small group of consultants hoping to expand its influence and ease statewide regulatory hurdles in the value-added agriculture and agritourism industries met with a group of industry representatives at a Southern Maryland winery last week to look for direction.
The group, known primarily as Grow & Fortify LLC, has been holding meetings around the state with people in and around both industries with the hope of potentially starting a member organization — Grow Maryland — that would make it easier for farmers and entrepreneurs to leap into value-added agriculture and agritourism.
Complicated, contradictory and outdated regulatory codes in counties across the state have become a particular issue for fledgling agricultural enterprises, said Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify and executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
“Value-added and agritourism is evolving so fast that county code ... can’t keep up,” he said to a small group that included former state agriculture secretary Buddy Hance and officials with the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission inside Running Hare Vineyard.
As an example, he cited a recent situation in which a value-added business wanted to serve brie with drinks. The county required it to install a grease trap, Atticks said.
“Because you never know how hot that brie is going to be and how much grease it’s going to leech out,” he said to chuckles from the room.
Several attendees agreed the state fire marshal tends to impose the most frustrating requirements. Mike Scarborough, owner of Running Hare, said he uses a large, open tent for beer tastings, part of a fast-growing farm brewery business.
The fire marshal had one demand.
“We have two exit signs on an open tent,” Scarborough said to laughs.
But requests and code requirements can be less humorous and much more costly, Atticks said. They can also shut down a business before it opens.
“We’ve had people say they would have paid us 10 grand to avoid their 25-grand septic debacle,” he said.
Consultants like Grow & Fortify can also come in handy for local businesses when dealing with local officials — particularly for the business owners are likely to deal with those same officials again, Atticks said.
“It doesn’t behoove the farmer to get in that fight because that fire marshal might be there in five years when you want to put on an addition,” he said.
A member organization such as Grow Maryland would seek to educate value-added and agritourism business owners, work for them and lobby on their behalf, organizers said. It plans to announce additional meetings in 2016.
“The real reason we’re doing this is to see if there’s (demand for) an organization to tackle some of these issues,” said Kelly Dudeck, Grow & Fortify’s marketing manager.