In many ways, Priscilla Wentworth from Anchored Roots Farm is responsible for a great deal of this project. Without her, I am not sure I would have even known where to begin with this investigation, nor would I have been able to access nearly as many contacts. Thankfully, she was the first person I spoke with in my exploration of the transient foodscapes in the Southern Maryland region. My time with her on her small but blossoming farm showcased the sober reality of the difficulties small-scale producers face; yet, her optimism and ingenuity revealed that despite the liminality of Southern Maryland’s current food system, there is the inescapable buzz of progress. Situated alongside the Patuxent River, briny aromas carried by the wind reminded me of the unique and privileged topography of the place we both spent our youths. Sounds of the lapping waves could be heard as we brought the car around to Priscilla’s humble but colorful farm.
While Priscilla had grown up immersed in agriculture—her parents were involved in a family nursery business—she did not pioneer her career in Southern Maryland food systems and agriculture until completing Masters’ research on local farmers. She quickly learned that in order to profit from small-scale agriculture, commodity crops and a niche were necessary. At present, Anchored Roots Farm specializes in growing flowers, both edible and decorative, micro-greens, and a variety of unique crops like golden tomatoes and Padron peppers. By participating in farmers markets, coordinating workshops among locals, and selling produce to both local consumers and restaurants, Priscilla hopes to diversify income streams enough to become a full-time four season farmer.
Since there is such a domination of staple crops by large-scale industrial producers, small-scale producers must innovate where available. Fortunately, Maryland is made up of a multitude of micro-climates carved by the Chesapeake Bay, Patuxent River, and Potomac River, thus providing a very diverse soil culture that allows for experimentation in growing methods. That said, land price remains one of the largest impediment to new farmers. A great deal of Priscilla’s business has been generated via word-of-mouth, which reveals some solidarity among consumers and small-scale farmers alike. Localized initiatives are emerging to encourage new farming methods and, in fact, the lack of governmental dependency in some ways is a source of resistance against industrialized agriculture. One of these initiatives is LEAD MD, a competitive program that identifies leaders and studies the state, resources and cultures of agrarian communities. Another is Future Harvest CASA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing formal workshops for new farmers and supplying a network of contacts. (More on this organization will be covered on a later post!)
However, in spite of the apparent local support, conflict still exists between perceptions of small-scale and large-scale production. As consumers, it can be tempting to vilify large-scale agriculture and fetishize conceptions of the “local;” yet agriculture historically has proven an undervalued and difficult living, especially in a food culture that has naturalized industrial eating and homogenized taste. Reintegrating an appreciation and education for taste and food production is integral for the success of small-scale producers. For Priscilla, achieving a truly localized food system requires a decentralization of foods where relationships can be forged directly between producer and consumer, and an appreciation of prior food and taste methods can be met with innovation. What’s more, there needs to be a greater socioeconomic accessibility to these types of production methods, which at present are fairly limited to a cosmopolitan consumer base. Having spent just a few hours at Anchored Roots Farm, I left with my mind swirling a cocktail of questions I couldn’t begin to answer: how can we promote a large-scale shift in collective values without marginalizing certain producer and consumer demographics, what kinds of taste education could prove effective in fostering a greater appreciation for place-based consumption, and most importantly how can we do this before we all develop chemically-induced cancer?