Atticks to head Maryland ag department
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Kevin Atticks, an agricultural advocate and lobbyist, will head the state’s Agriculture Department.
The founder of Grow & Fortify, a Baltimore consulting firm that represents value-added agricultural organizations in the state, now runs, as secretary of agriculture, a department that regulates and assists more than 12,000 farm operations.
Gov. Wes Moore’s selection caps a surprising seven-year run since Atticks founded Grow & Fortify, which oversees a small portfolio of state associations representing wineries, brewers, distillers and hemp growers, and built it into a respected advocate in the state for agriculture.
The Moore administration announced Atticks’s appointment Jan. 17 along with several other Cabinet members, including Serena McIlwain for the Environment Department, Kevin Anderson for the Commerce Department and Josh Kurtz for the Natural Resources Department.
“With each announcement, we continue to build a Cabinet that reflects the state we are humbled to serve,” Moore said in a statement. “These leaders bring with them great knowledge and deep expertise. This is going to be Maryland’s decade, and our team will lead with service in their hearts.”
Members of the farming community described Atticks as an affable, fluent and collaborative representative for the value-added agriculture industry, which runs the gamut from agritourism operations and on-farm wedding venues to farmers processing their crops into products for the retail market.
“He’s very intelligent, very well-schooled and very articulate in his presentations,” said Colby Ferguson, government relations director at the Maryland Farm Bureau, which recommended a slate of secretarial candidates to the Moore administration, including Atticks. “He has a really good grasp of nontraditional ag and value-added agriculture while also still working in the traditional ag realm.”
Names on Farm Bureau’s list of candidates included Atticks’s predecessor, Joe Bartenfelder; Chip Bowling, a well-known Charles County producer; Tom Albright, a livestock, produce and greenhouse farmer in Baltimore County; and Trey Hill, a Kent County farmer and environmentalist, Ferguson said.
Atticks could not be reached for comment.
Lindsay Thompson, executive director of Maryland Grain Producers, said she had spoken with Atticks on Jan. 19 and praised his ability to collaborate. The two had worked together on policy issues in Annapolis when their interests overlapped, including right-to-farm and pesticide concerns, she said.
“I think he’s really interested in hearing from all facets of agriculture, so I would encourage farmers and agricultural organizations to take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to him and let him know what your priorities and concerns are so that he’s aware of the diversity of issues and priorities across Maryland agriculture,” she said.
She said she hopes the state under Moore will continue to work with the ag industry as it pursues various climate-related goals in water quality and solar energy. The state also needs to ensure funding exists for cost-share and technical assistance to help farmers meet those goals, and land preservation programs must continue to thrive.
Atticks began his career publishing books about the local wine industry and has been executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association for 20 years. He launched Grow & Fortify in 2015 and holds positions of influence in groups including the University of Maryland agriculture college’s Global Leadership Council and Future Harvest’s board. He has a bachelor’s in journalism from Loyola University Maryland, a master’s in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder and a doctorate in communications design from the University of Baltimore. He is also part of the communications faculty at Loyola.
In addition to lobbying on behalf of the value-added agriculture industry in Annapolis, Atticks has also spent several years trying to simplify a complicated web of onerous and antiquated regulations within many local jurisdictions statewide that make it costly and difficult to launch value-added operations.