p o n s o r B o x
Founded in 1998, Future Harvest-CASA is a non-profit
network of farmers, researchers, landowners, consumers,
and activists in the Chesapeake region. Future
Harvest-CASA works to promote profitable and sustainable
food and farming systems by exploring new crops
and new markets for farmers, stimulating consumer
demand for locally grown food, and promoting conservation
P.O. Box 337
106 Market Court
Stevensville, MD 21666
from the Future Harvest-CASA Conference
For more on the Future Harvest-CASA conference,
see our story on keynote presentations by Steve
Groff of Cedar Meadow Farm and Barbara Damrosch
and Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm: Nothing
middling about the Mid-Atlantic.
Snodgrass, Emory Knoll Farm, Street, MD
Ed Snodgrass's forebears emigrated from Scotland to Philadelphia
in 1709, traveled about 60 miles into rural Maryland, and
haven't moved since. "You could say we're a family that
likes to stay put," Ed reflects.
But the key to their survival as a 400-acre family farm,
he says, is that "each generation has refrained from
trying to tell the next how to innovate." When Ed took
over the farm from his dad in the early 1970s, he watched
the price of corn tumble from $4.25 a bushel to $1.90 a bushel.
"We were used to getting a loan from the bank in the
spring and paying it off in the fall. Interest rates were
18 percent. We got hammered. I swore I'd never be a commodity
After that, Ed was obliged to spend several years working
off-farm. For awhile he was an anti-drug educator, but the
farm kept pulling at him. "I've known a lot of junkies,"
he observes, "but if you get addicted to farming, it
is a thing that never leaves you."
Gradually, Ed was able to buy out his siblings' share in
the family property and develop an on-farm business growing
plants for 'green roofs'—living, vegetative roofs for
installation on residential, commercial, or industrial buildings.
Emory Knoll Farms is the only green roof company in the U.S.,
and to date has built a quarter of a million square feet of
green roof in 20 states and four countries. (You can learn
more about Emory Knoll Farms and the benefits of green roofs
In a separate venture, Ed also runs educational programs
at the farm, including a stream ecology course and a 'tribal
studies' course, in which young kids are asked to build a
village, a culture, and a language in one day. His advice
for those seeking to develop viable farm businesses? "Remain
opportunistic, and remain determined."
Elliott, Everona Dairy, Rapidan, VA
Everona Dairy didn’t begin with a yearning to bring
sheep’s milk cheese to U.S. consumers. Nor did it start
with a business plan or any kind of plan for that matter.
It all began with a dog. Pat Elliott explains: “I got
into [the business] because I bought a border collie. I needed
to give my collie something to do so I bought some sheep.
Then I started thinking, ‘What can I do with these sheep?’
I kind of backed into it.”
Now Elliott runs the only licensed sheep dairy in Virginia
and is tapping into a market that is going almost unnoticed
in the US. “According to Old Chatham Sheepherding Company,
the largest producer of sheep’s milk in the US, more
sheep are milked in the world than cows, but there are only
about 100 producers in the U.S. I want to convince you that
you can do this, too," Elliott told conference-goers.
Dr. Elliott is a physician by training who stumbled into dairying
as a second career. Although keen to get more farmers on board,
she warns, “If you’re not interested in making
friends with people, go into research or something.”
To succeed, Elliott believes it takes making friends every
step of the way, starting with your inspector. They can be
a hindrance or a help—you have to decide beforehand
what kind of relationship you want to build.
Which leads her to another warning, “Get legal!”
As a producer of raw milk cheese, Elliott is a stickler for
following through with the rules and regulations. She recommends
you “get legal” from the beginning and stay legal—you
won’t have as many problems down the road and it makes
the process easier all around.
Elliott participates in as many cheese and dairy conferences,
tastings and events as she can and sells her product through
upscale outlets, restaurant groups and direct at farmers’
markets. Everona Dairy, though only a part-time job for Elliott,
has become a full-time passion.
Zurschmeide, Great Country Farms,
Blue Mount, VA
Ten years ago, when they were in their late twenties, Kate
Zurschmeide and her husband listened to a presentation about
Community Supported Agriculture. The Zurschmeides had been
farming leased land in Loudon County, Virginia, for a generation,
but as the Washington D.C. suburbs began to spread out in
their direction, the family knew they needed to rethink their
The young couple found a farm that had been on the market
for six years, and managed to convince the sellers to give
them financing based on their projected CSA income. The first
year, they signed up 50 members and offered home delivery
to all of them. It was a roaring success—so much so
that in their second year, full of pride and ambition, they
upped membership to 600, still promising home delivery. Kate
gives a nervous laugh at the memory. "Needless to say,
we were in way over our heads. It was a logistics nightmare.
It was also a drought year, and we had no irrigation."
Somehow they made it through the season, managed to hold
the loyalty of most of their members, and took stock once
again. One of their members owned a courier service, and he
took over a big part of their delivery route. They established
a fixed delivery area, and began offering a u-pick 'bonus
value' to draw members out to the farm. And they articulated
a mission for Great Country Farms: "To offer a way for
everyone to experience farm life and enjoy the benefits of
Having that mission has kept them on track ever since. Gradually,
they have built their CSA membership back up to 550 members
for a 22-week season, most still with home delivery. At the
same time, they have vastly increased traffic to the farm
by organizing festivals, offering tours, and hosting parties
and weddings. CSA members can attend the public events free
of charge, while non-members pay $10 per car. "We doubled
our revenue the first year we instituted the entry fee,"
says Kate, and she encourages other farmers to place a value
on the farm experience. "That may sound like a lot of
money," she points out, "but compare it to the price
of taking the family to McDonald's and a movie."
Sowers, South Mountain Creamery,
Randy Sowers inherited his “get big or get out”
dairy farm with over 1,000 head in 1981 and has slowly turned
it into a direct-to-consumer marketing success.
After years of getting just $13 per hundred weight (before
hauling, brokerage and marketing fees) and being misrepresented
by large cooperatives, Randy decided it was time to stop fighting
the current and step out of the stream. He downsized to just
300 head on 2,000 acres and looked into direct marketing.
But, as he quickly discovered, “Competing dairies in
an area drive down prices. We need to work together in a way
that can benefit everyone fairly.”
So Randy started rounding up other farmers disgusted with
the system and persuaded them to form their own cooperative.
“The current system is raping the farmer. We have to
reclaim the cooperative in dairy. [Co-ops] should be farmer-run
The transformation has been dramatic. South Mountain Creamery
now boasts over 600 customers. The biggest seller for Randy
is skim milk, for which he can get $2.09 a half-gallon. Plus,
the butterfat he removes to make the skim milk can now be
made into butter and sold for $6/lb. “If I back up a
tanker to my barn like I used to, I’d get just $960
for 8,000 lbs of milk. Now I’m making $3888 just in
direct sales of skim, and that’s not including the butter.
In total, I can make about $5000 from that same 8,000 lbs.”
The success of direct marketing sparked a bit of herd growth
at South Mountain Creamery, but lately Randy’s taking
another step back. “We downsized again to make more
of a profit. We found out as we grew, it caused more and more
problems—we ended up with larger costs and lost control
of our marketing.” South Mountain Creamery is now down
to 200 cows on just 1,500 acres and spreading the word: it’s
time to “get small, or get out.”
West, West Farms, Lewisburg, W. VA
Pam West is a fourth-generation farmer who grew up in New
Jersey, started farming with love and no money in a remote
corner of West Virginia, and learned the hard way.
In the early '90s, she and her husband responded to an extension
recommendation to get into the pimento pepper business, setting
out 15,000 plants in their first year. "We nearly killed
ourselves trying to take care of those peppers," says
Pam. "And in the end, we made more money off of a small
patch of cut flowers that I had put in just for the heck of
They went on to try other ventures, including shiitake mushrooms,
before finally settling on sheep, herbs, and flowers. Today,
they've reclaimed a 114-acre farm that had been left fallow
for 50 years. They have 77 acres of woodland, 100 ewes on
28 acres of pasture, and 9 acres in cultivation, of which
3 acres are dedicated to 120 varieties of cutting flowers.
They also have 1300 sq ft of greenhouse space and grow all
their own transplants.
Pam's specialty is floral arrangements and wreaths, some
of which she takes to juried craft shows in the off-season.
Their remote location has made marketing a continual challenge,
but with persistence and ingenuity they have made it work.
"Not a day goes by," says Pam, "when I don't
get up and say to myself, what can I do to make the world
a better place—and what can I sell?"