Organic market enjoying recent upswing in Md.
Robert and May Kimball were lured into the local food movement when they relocated to Cordova, Md., from Prince George’s County. They started Bob’s Organic Farm in their backyard and began raising chickens, pigs, hogs, sheep and goats. (Photo by Jonathan Cribbs)
(Oct. 3, 2017) Over the last decade, growth has been the trend at Nick’s Organic Farm in Frederick County.
“We average double-digit growth in sales every year and have for the last 10 years,” owner Nick Maravell said of his diverse, Certified Organic operation that sells beef, poultry and other farm products.
At times, he said, he boosted production.
He has also increased prices. Demand doesn’t seem to drop.
Five years ago, he said, 150 to 200 people came to his farm’s yearly fall tour, which includes wagon rides. Last year, about 400 showed up. Sales over the weekend jumped by more than 20 percent, he said.
“The wagon was packed every single time,” he said.
It’s the kind of growth that may not surprise many organic growers across the state and country. Maryland’s 111 Certified Organic farms sold $17.7 million in organic products in 2016, a 27-percent boost over the previous year’s $13.9 million, the USDA said last week.
Nationally, more than 14,000 Certified Organic farms sold $7.6 billion in organic products in 2016, a 23-percent jump over the previous year’s $6.2 billion.
“We’re constantly getting new customers all the time that appreciate our local and organic approach to food production,” Maravell said.
In Maryland, the majority of organic sales — about $9.5 million — came from crops, including nursery and greenhouse products, USDA data show. The remainder — more than $8 million — came from sales of livestock, poultry and their products.
Organic and local foods are in demand among regional buyers, including grocers and restaurants, said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusinesses development at the Maryland agriculture department.
“They always ask for organic. There’s not enough to meet the demand that’s there,” he said. “Local is right there with it. Just the fact that you’re a local Maryland producer helps you move product.”
The demand has also lured new people into farming. Bob Kimball began raising chickens and other animals several years ago after he relocated to Cordova, Md., from Prince George’s County in search of more space for his family.
He’s chief technology officer at Ciena, a Hanover, Md.-based networking and technology company, and he works from home.
He purchased 13 acres, and his wife, May, was enthusiastic about organic foods.
The couple believed “it’d be nice to have absolute control over the food we eat, plus we could sell it,” he said. “We raise it all under the same principles of organic feed, no GMO, real high-quality pens. … A lot of natural forage. That kind of stuff. No medicine unless they’re sick. As natural as we can make it.”
Their backyard operation, Bob’s Organic Farm, started in 2015, isn’t yet certified organic because sales of its organic products, such as chickens and sheep, are too low, Bob Kimball said. But they’ve experienced robust sales growth since his wife, who is Chinese, began marketing their poultry and other meat products to the state’s Asian community, primarily in Howard and Montgomery counties, he said. Social media has been key to their growth.
“People like to have friends over and cook dinners. They’ll entertain with our products… and then the next thing you know we’ve got another customer,” Bob Kimball said.
They’re highly tailored to their customers, sometimes raising chicken breeds from China and Thailand popular with Asian consumers. He said he’d be happy with a business that generated about $30,000 or more in revenue each year.
“I don’t think we could do what we do at scale. We’d lose the quality,” he said. “We’re not going to compete with the big guys and don’t want to.”
Maravell said he sees continued growth in the future.
“We tend to be sold out all the time, so we could increase our production and our sales would probably go up as well,” he said.