UMES Ingenuity Creates a Prize-Winning and Exportable Entrepreneurial Model

  • Monday, September 3, 2007

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) was named a regional winner of a competition sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) for its FARMS Project.  All public four-year institutions were eligible to apply for the C. Peter Magrath/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award, which was created to recognize "institutions that have redesigned their teaching, research, and extension and service functions to become more productively involved with their communities, however community may be defined."

    FARMS (Farmer Access to Regional Markets) is an agricultural supply chain model developed by the Rural Development Center (RDC) at UMES.  The model is termed a "network."  It is based on appropriate greenhouse technology, market demand, an agri-business with expertise in growing and a strong market.  The agri-business then promotes development in agriculture by providing fixed contracts and technical/logistical support to growers who normally wouldn't utilize the technology. 

    In Maryland so far, the FARMS project has resulted in the creation of the "Greenhouse Growers Network," a network of flower growers for Bell Nursery of Burtonsville, MD.  As the partnership matures between UMES and U.S. Orchid Laboratory and Nursery, Inc., additional growers will be needed for that company, too. The potential exists for adoption of the model by other agribusiness enterprises, other commodities and other locales. 

    The RDC has been supporting the adoption of "hoop house" technology, which is less expensive than building a greenhouse and shows promise of enabling lower income clientele to become vegetable growers. "We are proud to say that UMES is living up to its land-grant mission to support rural economic development," said Dr. Ron Forsythe, vice president for commercialization at UMES. "This national recognition from NASULGC for the FARMSinitiative provides that reassurance."

    International expansion

    In Jamaica, UMES personnel have provided consultative and hands-on assistance implementing the same model, which has created one network of growers of specialty lettuces, fresh herbs and spices and another network of growers of peppers, herbs and spices, both using hoop house technology. Development efforts using the FARMS model in Jamaica have been underwritten primarily by the Global Development Alliance within U.S. Agency for International Development with UMES' non-profit affiliate Maryland Hawk Corporation, Inc. as a subcontractor.  As interest has grown, however, private industry is becoming involved, and the Alcoa Corporation has signed on as a partner.  This spring, the University of the Virgin Islands signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UMES to bring the FARMS entrepreneurial model to that U.S. territory.

    Inspiration from the poultry industry

    "The FARMS project is derived from the vertically integrated business model of the poultry industry here on Delmarva," said Daniel S. Kuennen, director of the Rural Development Center, "where individual family farms grow chickens under contract to major poultry companies."   As Kuennen explains it, "We've adapted that model so that instead of chicken houses, our growers build greenhouses. Our growers have more variety in the types of commodities they can produce, and we are helping them form service cooperatives to negotiate better bulk purchases and services for all aspects of their businesses. FARMS enables growers with limited amounts of land, farming expertise and market contact to gain access to technological and managerial expertise and major markets, thus reducing thx