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 and stewardship.
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 farmer again."
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
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 at www.greenroofplants.com.)
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
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
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
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 operation.
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 its bounty."
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
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 and farmer-owned.”
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
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 it."
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?"