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Future Harvest conference combines agriculture and ecology

January 20, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Eastern Shore beef farmers Steve and Pat Parkhurst said they were interested enough in the future of Maryland farming to make the trip to Hagerstown this weekend for the two-day Future Harvest-CASA Conference.

"I grew up on my family's farm, and I want to stay on the farm," Pat Parkhurst said. She described her family's 120-acre operation in Queen Anne's County as not big, but not small either.

Her interest in the conference at the Four Points Sheraton was in how to continue to show a profit while being a good steward of the land and adjacent waterways, including Chesapeake Bay.

Rob Schnabel of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation also was at the conference, spreading the word about how farming practices can affect the bay, both positively and negatively.

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"We're here to promote the farmer-to-farmer grazing project," Schnabel said. The goal is to wean farmers away from feed to grass grazing for their cattle.

With grazing, there is less fertilizer needed to grow the corn crops customarily used for feed. With less fertilizer, there is less runoff into streams, rivers and eventually, the bay, Schnabel said.

"Grazing also improves the farmer's bottom line," he said, noting that there is a lot of interest in Washington and Frederick counties in the grazing project.

Promoting fencing of cattle away from streams also has an end result of better water quality and better health for all.

The four-year farmer-to-farmer grazing project is in its first year in Washington County, and Schnabel said 10 to 15 farmers already are involved.

The Parkhursts said they know from experience that people are looking for quality, especially because of recent food scares. They are determined to provide such products, and are looking for help at conferences such as the one this weekend.

Cynthia Barstow, an author, consultant and university professor, told more than 200 conference participants that the key is helping growers make a profit while providing healthy food for consumers.

"People are getting more intimate with their food," Barstow said. Consumers really want to know about their food, and they are paying attention to labels and how the food is produced, she said.

The conference is sponsored by the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Its Web site is www.futureharvestcasa.org.

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