New Ag Resource Council Director Targets Farming, Nonfarming Communities
When Kelly Carneal Dudeck was working in Baltimore County’s land preservation office more than a decade ago, a group of area farmers had a dream of creating a resource center to support the rural economy and promote the conservation of agricultural and natural resources.
Dudeck was part of that discussion, but she moved away and lost touch.
Years later, after a stint with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, she returned east as the director of rural lands for the nonprofit 1,000 Friends of Maryland. And she made a discovery:
That dream from so many years ago was not only still alive, it was becoming a reality.
That group of farmers and others, now known as the Maryland Agricultural Resource Council, opened the $10 million Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture two years ago on 150 acres in Cockeysville, Md.
This year, MARC took yet another step in its development by hiring its first executive director — Dudeck.
“I was hesitant to throw my hat in the ring ... but I’m glad I did,” said Dudeck, who took the helm five months ago. “I’ve always felt a connection to the agricultural community in this neck of the woods because this is where I’m from.”
Dudeck’s mission since her arrival has been to take the vision of MARC’s 21-member board and make it happen.
“I’ve been here almost five months and I haven’t really come up to breathe yet,” she said with a laugh.
Having a large, active board has been a blessing and a challenge, she said.
“You’re not starting from scratch; it’s not a brand-new nonprofit,” she said. “They definitely have a vision and there’s been work done. That was kind of a challenge in itself: With 21 very different board members, there can be 21 very different ideas of how we can move forward.”
Board member Alice Chalmers said Dudeck has met that challenge well.
“Kelly has come on board full force, bringing with her a lot of creativity and energy,” Chalmers said. “She is very good about making connections with other organizations to come up with events that can help promote their mission and goals as well as ours, and she understands the need to support both Maryland’s farming community and help the community at large better understand the key role of agriculture and food production in our state.”
Dudeck sees MARC’s mission as three-fold: making itself a statewide resource for the farming community, the nonfarming community and children.
And there are a host of plans in the works to make that happen, many of them involving partnerships with the resources under their own roof. The center houses Baltimore Soil Conservation District, the University of Maryland Extension and the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency.
A host of other agricultural organizations use the center for meetings and activities.
“For farmers, we are starting an Ask the Expert series,” Dudeck said.
The free, monthly workshops will address issues such as permits and regulations, large animal veterinarians and marketing.
And, after partnering with Future Harvest-CASA on beginning farmer training, the council is looking to take the next step and launch a mentoring program with some established farmers in the area, Dudeck said.
As for the nonfarming community, MARC is hoping to expand its educational offerings, with classes and seminars in backyard chickens, canning and beer making, to name a few.
“I see it as a way to really pull in another community that might not yet have a close connection to agriculture,” she said.
Just as important as the resources under the center’s roof, however, are those right outside its doors.
“One hundred and fifty acres is a lot for us to maintain, so a lot of the plan moving forward would be for other groups and entities to come in and partner with us,” Dudeck said.
That has already begun.
MARC is working with the University of Maryland on a pasture project to plant a few different types of pasture grasses that are environmentally sustainable. They plan to put cattle on them to see which ones work best for the animals and the land.
A system of trails is also in the works so visitors can get a close-up look at some of the projects and the crops on the demonstration farm.
As for the third part of MARC’s three-fold mission — educating children — that will get a big boost this fall with the debut of Farmer Stan’s Agricultural Farm Tours. an effort to introduce Maryland’s school-age children to basic agriculture.
The tours are the brainchild of Stan Dabkowski and Wayne Armacost, two veteran farmers who welcomed countless visitors to their own farms for years and proposed partnering with MARC to host educational programs on the demonstration farm.
The fall tours will educate students about corn and soybeans, and their value not only as food, but also in other products we use on a daily basis. Children also will learn about fall vegetables and honeybees, and visit various farm plots, as well as the animals.
Additionally, Dudeck said, MARC is in talks with Baltimore County public schools to incorporate its apiary into the curriculum, with the idea of students adopting a hive and following it through webcam interaction.
Of course, to get these ambitious programs up and running, MARC needs funds. To that end, the nonprofit has two events planned this fall.
The first is a Full MOOn ShinDig from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at the ag center. The event will include dinner, music by the Jody West Band, square dancing, roulette and blackjack, and prize raffles. Tickets are $85 or $1,000 for a table of eight.
The second event is Family Farm Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27. Highlights include live music, food, a farmers market, carriage rides, a cow milking contest, local beer and wine, workshops on food and farming, and a silent auction. Cost is $10 per carload.
For more information on either event, call the Maryland Agricultural Resource Council at 410-229-0530 or visit www.marylandagriculture.org.