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Program Looks To Attract New Farmers To Montgomery County

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Woody Woddruff, the founder of the Red Wiggler Community Farm in Germantown, Md., shows off his cherry tomatoes to County Exec Isiah Leggett.
Matt Bush
Woody Woddruff, the founder of the Red Wiggler Community Farm in Germantown, Md., shows off his cherry tomatoes to County Exec Isiah Leggett.

Leaders in Montgomery County have unveiled a program designed to attrack and keep new farmers. They say it's the first of its kind in the country.

Farm incubators, where new farmers learn how to plant crops and work the land, usually only last two to three years. After that, the farmer must find their own land and start the process of readying soil and crops all over. What makes the new Montgomery county program unique is that it combines traditional farm incubators with the ability to lease land from private land owners.

Woody Woodruff started Red Wiggler Community Farm in Germantown, Md. He says demand for produce has grown rapidly in the past decade, but when he started the farm in 1996, he had to learn about agriculture on his own. Woodruff says looking back, he wishes he had had the help of a mentor.

"I didn't see certain things," says Woodruff. "Weeds have a story to tell.  I've had to learn that."

Woodruff served on a task force that is helping the county create a pilot program to offer mentors to new farmers. The program will also match those farmers with private land owners who will lease them land. County executive Isiah Leggett says the combination of the two makes the county program special. He adds it will also help fight off the pressure to develop the county's agricultural reserve.

"By getting more people involved and newer farmers, than you maintain the interest in farming," says Leggett. "If you lose that interest in farming, if you can't turn that over to your children, or grandchildren, or other younger people coming in, then those pressures become far greater than they otherwise would be."

The land leases under the program run for at least five years — a timeframe Woodruff says is usually long enough for a farmer to get their land into prime crop-growing shape.

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