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iFarm

CS Grad Goes Back to the Land, With Help From the Web

By Chris Carroll

iFarm

Photo by John T. Consoli

Photo by John T. Consoli

A herd of young pigs gallops in the distance, just visible through the leafless winter forest. Farmer Doug Hill ’84 stands at a corn-filled feeder and tries his hog calls.

“Soooo-WEE! Hey, pigs!”

They ignore him, perhaps rooting for tastier fare: grubs, nuts, even truffles. Just pigs being pigs, he chuckles.

Hill is totally in his element tending his organically raised animals—Berkshire hogs, chickens, rabbits, quail—so much so that a visitor to Cabin Creek Heritage Farm, just outside the D.C. Beltway in Prince George’s County, might be surprised to learn he’s been farming in earnest for only five years.

He and his wife and farming partner, Lori Hill, grew up suburbanites in nearby Bowie, and have to look back several generations for farming forebears. So, particularly when they started, if animals got sick or feeding issues arose—not to mention when castration time came around for that first litter of piglets—they couldn’t draw on a reservoir of family know-how.

But Doug, a computer science graduate who, in addition to farming, co-owns a health data integration firm, says they weren’t helpless.

“It’s called the internet, dude. It’s got all kinds of useful information,” he says. “And I’m an IT guy.”

Massive, continent-spanning agribusinesses supplying eaters thousands of miles away don’t feel quite natural to the Hills. Instead, they sell their drug- and hormone-free meat and dairy products on the farm or at local farmer’s markets.

While their farming is traditional, they’re moving their distribution into the digital age, seeking to band together with other area producers to sell products online, reaching more potential customers … they hope.

Kim Rush Lynch, an agriculture marketing specialist for the University of Maryland Extension’s Prince George’s County office, is helping them with their marketing plans, and has watched the farm grow and evolve.

“Doug and Lori are fun pioneers—they like to try a lot of things, and they’re good at evaluating pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t,” Rush Lynch says. “Lori is intuitive and likes to go with her gut, while Doug is very analytical. They’re a great team.”

Before starting their commercial farm, the initial idea was to raise their three children in a natural setting while growing their own food, Lori Hill says.

“There’s lessons you learn in everyday life on a farm you can’t learn anywhere else,” she says. “You have the strict responsibility of chores, and you also have freedom to shoot a bow and arrow in your back yard.”

While he hasn’t picked up a bow, the couple’s 3-year-old grandson, who lives nearby, clamors to help tend the animals whenever he can. Just maybe, after a multigenerational interlude, farming might be back in this family’s bloodstream for good.

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