Aldo Leopold (1887-1949) is regarded as one of the first of the true ecologists in the United States. In a chapter titled “The Land Ethic” in one of his several books, he popularized the idea of ecological thinking — that animals, plants, soil, geology, water and climate all come together to form a community of life.
Leopold’s quote could be taken as the blueprint for the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP) that was established in 2010 by the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts (MASCD) for the purpose of recognizing and certifying farmers who have demonstrated that they are good stewards of their farmland and related natural resources.
The FSCAP effort has the support of grants from some powerful allies besides the MASCD with The Chesapeake Bay Trust, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, The Maryland Soybean Board and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
But even with all of that, if the movement was not accepted and welcomed by the farmers of Maryland, it would go nowhere. Fortunately, the Maryland farmers have stepped up and taken the idea to heart.
Right now, FSCAP has, as of Aug. 7, 2017, 153 farms enrolled in its program with a total acreage of 60,251.13 in at least 18 of Maryland’s 24 counties and county-equivalents. There are also 32 horse farms protecting 3,363.60 acres across some 11 Maryland counties in the program as well.
FSCAP works with the local soil conservation district to evaluate the farms. As part of this comprehensive review, the farm’s nutrient management plan, soil conservation and water quality plan are reviewed as well. There is a site assessment and evaluation conducted on all owned and leased property to ensure that no unaddressed environmental concerns exist. A typical FSCAP walk-through evaluation is completed within three hours.
So, what do the farmers enrolled in the FSCAP program actually get for entering the program? One of the main things is that FSCAP farms receive a three-year waiver from MDA nutrient management inspections as well as the Stewardship Notebook which contains information about promising new conservation opportunities such as nutrient trading. They also get recognition on the MASCD website and those selling directly to the public can add product and contact information. They may also be eligible to earn income from nutrient trading by installing additional BMP’s.
Farmers receive the recognition they deserve for protecting the environment in the form of announcements in publications in the area local to the farm and in wider agricultural magazines when they have achieved entrance into FSCAP. They get a sign to post on the property to let the people around them know that they value the environment that they share with local homeowners.
Brett Grohsgal, of Even Star Farm in Lexington Park, MD said that FSCAP was an easy entry for his property because his 104 acres is certified organic already. Even Star Organic Farm is one of the largest certified organic CSA farms in Maryland. The farm services three farmers markets and wholesales to six restaurants, two grocery stores and two universities.
“But,” he said, “during the process [the inspector] did suggest some new pollinators that we tried and found to be very useful…The process itself was easy and very quick for our farm; three hours for the walk-through and three weeks later we got the certification and a handsome sign for our property that says we are a member of FSCAP. It’s a good thing that we can use to let our customers know that we are indeed interested in protecting our — and by extension their own — lands and waterways.”
For Carolyn Krome of Persimmon Tree Farm in Westminster, MD in Carroll County, it was very much the same story. Persimmon Tree Farm offers superior care for competitive show horses and said that catering to the needs of Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation riders and horses of all levels is what they do best.
Carolyn said, “We keep our land and water management practices absolutely in order not only for itself but also because it is so important to the Chesapeake Bay programs. It is very important to us to do so and it is also important to many of our clients here at the farm that we keep excellent conservation practices so this works well for us. FSCAP is a good program and offers advice and a learning opportunity for those who want their farms to reflect the best practices of land management. We are proud to have that sign on our property.”
Waredaca Farm owner Robert Butts also believes that having his farm is enrolled in the FSCAP effort is important to his clients as well. Waredaca, located in the Laytonsville area of northern Montgomery County, MD is nationally known as a top level eventing stable. Three weekends a year it hosts United States Equestrian Federation sanctioned competitions on its 220 acres which draw competitors from across the U.S. It is an ongoing boarding, teaching and training farm as well.
Butts said, “FSCAP is a good program because it highlights what we already do and it lets others know that we do this. Our clients are very interested in conservation as a group and it is a good thing to have recognition for the work that we do that is sort of behind the scenes otherwise.”
For Dave and Betsey Herbst who own and operate Misty Meadow Farms, a 376-acre dairy farm in Washington County, FSCAP means something else. Misty Meadow Farm has its own on-site creamery where the public can come on hot days to get ice cream and take advantage of the petting zoo, playground and agricultural education displays they provide. They have 170 head of Holstein cattle along with a few Brown Swiss. They also produce corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and hay. The family uses many best management practices on their farm including no-till planting, stream buffers, cattle stream crossings, grass waterways and rotational grazing. Misty Meadow Farms is also home to a pollinator habitat. The Herbst’s have installed several manure storage facilities to ensure they apply nutrients in the right amounts and at the right time of year to stay in compliance with their nutrient management plan.
But the thing that bothers Dave Herbst is that, “What you see on the media about farmers…is bad news. It seems that they are more interested in showing something shocking than in representing the fact that most farmers are dedicated to maintaining great land and water practices on their farms and are very good to their livestock. FSCAP makes public announcements in your own area and in larger areas and it is nice to have that sign out there showing that your specific farm is a good neighbor to the people who live near you.”
He goes on, “Farming is not just something that seems like a good idea one day. You put your life into it. I am a third-generation farmer, our fourth-generation farmer is out there on the tractor working right now and our fifth-generation farmer is lying right here on the floor smiling at me! We have a stake in this land and FSCAP helps us to make that known to the public.”