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Clearing the Field

Maryland Helps Farmers Navigate Changing Laws

By Liam Farrell

Farm Illustration

Jasmine Byers

Jasmine Byers

Weber’s Cider Mill Farm in Parkville, Md., is a much different operation than when the family first started raising chickens a century ago. Fruits and vegetables are now sold directly from the farm instead of hauled to Baltimore, a bakery and gift shop were added along with autumn hayrides, and everything from directions to a harvest calendar is listed on a website.

“You can’t do things the way your great-grandfather did,” Stephen Weber Jr. says. “We’ve kind of adapted to our surroundings. We’re a little farm surrounded by houses.”

Farm StatsBeyond operational changes, Maryland farmers today also face a host of new and complicated legal requirements, along with nuisance complaints, environmental regulations, banking rules, immigration issues, and food safety, patent, and intellectual property law.

In response, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources joined up with the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences to start the Agriculture Law Education Initiative. It's part of the MPowering the State collaboration between the two universities.

The idea for the project started with the General Assembly asking the University System of Maryland to help preserve the state’s family farms and help their owners navigate complex legal issues and regulations. The government estimates 350,000 Marylanders are employed in some aspect of agriculture, which makes it the state’s single largest commercial industry. More than two million acres, encompassing nearly a third of the state, are used for farming.

Work began last year with assembling resources and holding stakeholder meetings and now more extensive outreach is planned, including a telephone call-in service for expert advice, legal curriculum, and new professional, degree, certificate and other course programs for agricultural law.

Paul Goeringer, a research associate for Maryland’s Center for Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy, says the initiative is meant to spur a conversation among farmers. A lawyer with a master’s in agricultural law who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, Goeringer wants to establish a foundation of knowledge so the farming community is ready when an unanticipated issue comes along.

“It does fill a big vacuum that was existing in the state,” he says. “We’re trying to develop some sort of baseline. Then when the next fire comes up, it doesn’t take long to educate people on that.”

Weber, who is part of the project’s advisory panel, hopes it can become a clearinghouse for Maryland farmers.

“That’s a major part of this state,” he says. “You appreciate the environment. But you also want to be able to run your business.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.