Md. policeman, nearing retirement, looks to jump on local food boom
CHARLOTTE HALL, Md. — Gilbert “B.J.” Bowling said he first decided to get serious about growing his beef operation while watching a neighboring farmer several years ago shrewdly capitalize on the region’s growing demand for local meat.
David Hancock, a former president of the Charles County Farm Bureau, had quit his job as an HVAC worker to focus on the retail side of his bustling farm in nearby La Plata, selling beef, chicken, turkey and lamb, among other agricultural products.
“I told my dad, I said, ‘Dad, he’s making a killing. People are just driving up,’” Bowling said. “He has a barn, he put some freezers in there, they pull up on the weekends, get a little grocery basket (and shop). I sat there one weekend and just watched.”
Bowling said he saw his future. He’s 38 years old, just a few years outside retirement from a nearly two-decade career as a police officer in Prince George’s County, and Bowling said he realized the potential of his family’s modest cattle farm.
Now, like Hancock, he’s hoping to capitalize as well. Despite its metropolitan location, Charles County still has quite a bit of farm acreage. Just as importantly, he said, it’s populated with suburbanites willing and able to pay a premium for local food. He’s barely had to work to find customers — some of them are fellow police officers, he said. He spent a morning last week working with a veterinarian to castrate seven beef calves, all of which have already been claimed for purchase by friends.
“They said, ‘Hey, I want your beef. I know what you do with your beef,’” he said. “Honestly, the shot that the vet just gave them are the first shots my animals have ever had.”
In total, he’s said he’s only sold a handful of processed animals retail, but he’s preparing to boost production. He recently refurbished an old barn on one of his family’s fields, built another and bought USDA-approved freezers to store his processed meat. He manages a herd of close to 40 Angus, Hereford and Angus-Hereford crosses on about 30 acres of pasture, part of the family farm he owns with his father, Gilbert Bowling Jr., and his grandfather, the first Gilbert.
He’s developed connections to regularly acquire free feed — grain byproduct from breweries and distilleries across the region. There’s also room to expand on the farm, making him an ideal beef producer for the region at present.
The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission is in the middle of a years-long effort to either build a meat processing plant or a transportation facility that would move local cattle and other animals to regional slaughterhouses for farmers.
But local officials say they need to see a greater commitment from Southern Maryland meat producers to justify the investment.
Bowling said he’d like to answer that call, producing up to 40 steers a year on a year-round basis.
“I want a consistent product. I don’t want just once a year. This is something that’s going to be a business for me,” he said. “People want meat year-round.”
A career in local politics may also be part of his future. Bowling’s running for commissioner in Charles County, hoping to join the ranks of farmers serving in public office in Southern Maryland.
Agriculturally, he said he’s particularly focused on land use law, including Charles County’s recent decision to heavily limit development across the county, which lowers the value of farmers’ property and their borrowing ability, he said.
For now, though, he said, the farm is the dream.
“I told my dad, I’m very grateful for the job I have, but how nice would it be just to farm all day?”
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