Saving the farm has meant diversifying
By MIKE LEWIS
These days, farm work can mean anything from milking cows and raising crops to hosting hunters and celebrating weddings.
Some of those latter options are also known as diversifying revenue streams.
“There are lots of different avenues folks are taking for income generation,” said Jeff Semler, University of Maryland extension educator in Washington County. “… They’re trying to take some of the eggs out of one basket and put them into some other baskets.
“The old standby was one person on the farm getting a job off the farm,” he said.
That still happens, Semler said. And the price climate — particularly the drop in milk prices that put a squeeze on dairy operations — has brought more alternatives to the forefront.
Farmers have to consider those options carefully, Semler said. To start, farmers are busy people.
“You can’t add (another task) to the bottom of your list of things to do,” he said.
Farmers also need to be honest about their preferences and talents. The personality and skill set that makes a successful dairy farmer, for example, might not translate well into other endeavors.
“It’s really an individual decision. … (For example), there are certain folks who don’t have the temperament to run a roadside stand,” he said.
The following is a look at what four alternatives agricultural operations in the Crossroads Business Journal area are doing.
‘At my age, I’m glad we’re out’
For years, Bill Butler worked on a dairy farm southwest of Martinsburg, W.Va.
“My dad started milking here in 1926, and we milked cows until 2000. … It was a good business. At that time, we made money,” he said.
Change began when his son, Todd, went to college and did not want to go back to dairy farming. For the past several years, Butler Farms and Shenandoah Valley Sportsmen have operated an orchard and a game preserve on the land.
The orchard is the largest part of the business, Bill Butler said. But the game preserve — which he called “kind of Todd’s idea” — is not far behind.
“It’s not uncommon to have 50 people in here for lunch” during a hunt, he said. “We release about 25,000 birds a year.”
Bill Butler said he has fond memories of the dairy operation. But now at 88, he also remembers it being a lot of work.
“At my age, I’m glad we’re out,” he said.
‘I had two options’
North of Smithsburg, Md., Misty Meadow Farm Creamery will celebrate its seventh anniversary next year. David and Betsy Herbst said they had a couple of reasons to start the ice-cream-making operation.
“Low milk prices,” David said, coupled with the fact that two of their children, Jeni Malott and Andrew Herbst, were looking to get into the business and they needed some way to expand. Jeni takes care of the cattle. Her husband, Justin, and Andrew deal with the crops and machinery.
“I had two options, basically,” David Herbt said. One was to expand from an operation of about 120 cattle to one with 400 to 600 cows.
“That’s not the kind of farming (Jeni) wanted to do,” he said, and the family didn’t have the land or labor for that kind of growth.
So David and Betsy started the creamery, and their wares are now available at their farm as well as farmers’ markets and other locations.
“We’re in a couple of local stores,” Betsy said.
Another daughter, Katie Long, and her husband, Brooks, have a dairy farm in another part of the Washington County. They also are looking to diversify. The Longs recently broke ground for a facility where they will produce and sell milk, butter, cheese and yogurt. It will be known as Deliteful Dairy at Long Delite Farm.
In downtown Frederick, Md., South Mountain Creamery, which lays claim to being Maryland’s first on-farm milk processing plant, plans to open what it bills as the state’s first farmer-owned restaurant.
Set to open in the spring of 2019, the restaurant will feature two options: the South Mountain Creamery Ice Cream Shop and the Hometown Harvest Kitchen. The new restaurant will feature indoor-outdoor seating for up to 200 people and create approximately 35 part-time and full-time jobs in downtown Frederick.
“Through our home delivery service, we deliver the farmer’s market to your door — making local food more accessible,” Tony Brusco, co-owner of South Mountain Creamery, said in a news release. “Our new downtown restaurant will offer the farmer’s market on your plate.”
Hometown Harvest Kitchen will feature a line-style layout showcasing local food, including hand-tossed salads, hand-crafted sandwiches, hot comfort foods, hot and cold sides and South Mountain Creamery’s handcrafted premium ice cream.
“Folks will be able to get ‘home-cooked’ food at a restaurant quickly and for a reasonable price,” Chef Jesse Rogers said in the release. “(The) best part is that our menu will change regularly during seasons as local, fresh produce is available. Certainly, it will be farm-to-fork fresh and delicious.”
The South Mountain Creamery family owns and farms roughly 3,000 acres in Frederick County where they milk 550 cows and raise more than 100 beef cattle and 16,000 laying chickens. Three generations work on the farm. Tony and Abby (Sowers) Brusco and Ben and Kate Sowers now run the company, which employs more than 85 people.
‘This could really be fun’
In Frederick County, Md., Glenn and Carol Zirpolo are looking to put beloved farm buildings to new use.
“It’s a sod farm. All the beautiful green grass is down there,” Carol Zirpolo said.
“It’s not what it used to be,” she said of the business, “but a lot of things aren’t.”
Under the name Blue Bird Manor, the Zirpolos have filed for building permits to transform the barn into a reception hall and a second building into a bridal suite where brides and their parties can spend quality time preparing for the big ceremony.
The Zirpolos have a little experience to put toward their venture.
“We’ve held four wedding there, just family and friends,” she said. “And, actually, Glenn and I got married there.”
Carol Zirpolo said income is a secondary consideration in their case.
“We’re doing it because it’s something we want to do,” she said. “We love these barns. … This could really be fun.”