Future Harvest aims to add to membership on Eastern Shore

Associate Editor

KENNEDYVILLE, Md. (Nov. 8, 2016) — Future Harvest CASA, a regional nonprofit is expanding its presence to the Eastern Shore, where it hopes to build its membership and educate farmers about new paths to farm profitability and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
The Cockeysville-based nonprofit was in Kent County on Oct. 29, hosting a field day at St. Brigid’s Farm dedicated to grazing and soil health. It was one of the first, Future Harvest hopes, of an increasing number of Shore events for the 800-member organization, said Dena Leibman, Future Harvest’s executive director.
The nonprofit would like to help farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula find new, profitable ways to diversify their operations, and it also hopes to help find farmland for a growing number of graduates from its beginning farmer training program, she said.
If Shore crops are all “export-oriented and not table food, we don’t have the most secure food system,” Leibman said. “I think the pendulum’s swung too far toward soy and feed corn, and we would like that needle to move back toward where there’s some grain production and we increase table food production.”
Future Harvest, which was founded in 1998, has, within the last year, hired a new Delmarva program manager, Aleya Fraser, who operates out of her Preston farm and a desk at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy in downtown Easton, Leibman said. Expanding the nonprofit’s offerings on the Shore would keep farmers and new members from having to attend Future Harvest’s events, which are more frequently offered in central Maryland where most of the group’s membership has been based.
That would also assist with another one of the group’s more fortunate issues: Rapid growth within its beginning farmer program.
The program offers a year-long classroom curriculum with hands-on training at sustainable farms in the region.
Future Harvest has 110 applicants for its program next year, and a survey of its 2015 graduates revealed that about 75 percent were working full-time and commercially in agriculture, Leibman said.
“That’s one of the nuts we have to crack is access to land for our graduates,” she said. “There’s just an explosion of interest in farming both in young people and second careerists. … We need to find them land anywhere we can and a market where they’re able to sell, and the [Shore] fits that bill.”
Most of the farmers in the program are in their 20s and 30s, she said. For some it’s a first career. For others it’s a new one. Several, for instance, are ex-military.
Future Harvest is supported by member dues, donations and grants, Leibman said, such as a $100,000 grant it received from the Town Creek Foundation in Easton, which pursues environmental and sustainability issues in Maryland.
Eventually the group hopes to hold 10 to 15 educational events each year on the peninsula for all farmers.
But the youth, in particular, she said, could play an increasingly large role.
“I think we’re going to see the entrepreneurial spirit of the millenials come into play here, and they’re going to find a way to get land. There’s just a huge amount of interest in millenials to farm,” Leibman said.