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New extension webinar series focuses on peer-to-peer learning

  • Farmer Talk Flyer-John M.May saw the kick-off of the Horticulture and Fruit program’s new webinar series, “Ingenuity and Innovation in Agriculture:  Talk with a Farmer.” Nearly 100 produce growers and gardening enthusiasts registered for opportunities to learn about the successes and challenges others face in their agricultural pursuits—many of them repeat customers.

    The first installment on May 1 featured John McMahon, founder and farm manager of an organic, controlled-environment farm, Schuyler Greens Company near Charlottesville, Virginia. UMES Extension Specialist and Assistant Professor of Horticulture Dr. Naveen Kumar Dixit invited McMahon to share his experiences establishing the operation and the selection of his product (hydroponic greens) through the five-year evolution of his business model from wholesale direct to restaurants, to a shift in selling to distributors, institutional customers and grocery stores.

    McMahon also discussed how the company survived the most severe stages of the pandemic.  To regroup from a downward swing in restaurant sales, they bolstered their grocery store sales, which were up, and developed a new direct-to-consumer home delivery e-commerce system. He attributes the success, in part, to continual increases in automation and technology that lead to more efficiency and profitability.  Controlling the growing environment, he said, also results in more consistent yield and better quality crops.

    The webinar resulted in an invitation for attendees to visit Schuyler Greens to get a firsthand view of the operation, Dixit said.  McMahon also offered to lend his expertise to guide the startup of a community-based, small-scale hydroponic facility that Dixit is considering.

    “It’s very rewarding to experience the outcomes from such peer-to-peer learning,” Dixit said.  “That is the best aspect of this webinar series.”Mike and Ashley-mushroom

    John McMahon’s brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Ashley McMahon (right) of Magnolia Farm in Esmont, Virginia joined the conversation on May 15 to chat with viewers about the start-up of their small-scale mushroom operation.  The McMahons turned a passion for foraging wild mushrooms into a commercial operation featuring oyster, shiitake, reishi and lions mane mushrooms.  They focus on self-sustainability, raising sheep, chickens, beef cattle, fruit trees and berries. 

    To round out the month, Dixit hosted Mike and Tina Butler (below) of Butler's Farm Market & Orchard in Crisfield, Maryland.  On May 29, the couple discussed farm diversification through the cultivation of bedding plants and perennials for spring and summer sales.  The Butler's own an 11-acre farm where they currently have four tunnels and greenhouses with a total area of 10,032 square feet for the plants.  They also grow succulents as well as apples, strawberries, blackberries, greens, tomatoes and watermelon.

    The next webinar in the series will focus on cut flower production.  Details will be forthcoming.  For additional webinars and events, visit www.umes.edu/SANS/Events/.

     

    Gail Stephens, Agricultural Communications, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, gcstephens@umes.edu, 410-621-3850.

    Butlers Farm Mrkt