6/15/2013 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent
SHARPSBURG, Md. — The overcast sky and heavy rains the day before did not deter the dedicated poultry enthusiasts from attending the fifth Maryland Poultry Swap and Farmers Market held at Green Hill Farm here last Saturday.
More than 100 vendors and several thousand attendees swapped poultry and shared stories.
“I love seeing all the smiling faces,” said Erin Moshier, the event organizer and owner of Green Hill Farm. “People will come here and see birds they have never seen before and be exposed to things that they never knew existed.”
Moshier started the event three years ago as a way to give local farmers another outlet for their products and services and in turn connect them with the larger community.
More than 3,000 people attended the event. It is held twice a year, biennially, with the next poultry swap and farmers market coming up in September.
In addition to the many types of poultry and small animals, there was live music, a poultry show with an exhibition clinic for those who want to learn to show, and just about something for everyone.
“This is a family friendly event,” Moshier said enthusiastically. “I know the kids are excited to see all the animals and then they can have the pony rides and the moon bounce or they can dance with the music. The food and music keeps people interested in staying longer.”
Moshier said she is also expanding her events on the farm.
“We just started homesteading days which is June 16t with hands-on seminars on canning and preserving, harvesting, livestock, making bread from scratch, making your own soap and wine from scratch.” she said. “We have a small 25-acre farmette. Some people think that is a lot of land but when it comes to farming there is not a whole lot you can do with that amount of land. But we have a great location right outside of town and we have found that agri-tourism is our niche. So we want to build on that.”
“Chickens brought me here today,” said Rachel Seratte, who had just bought a chick and was proudly carrying it as she checked out the vendors and the visitors. “This is my first time here and it is awesome. I love looking at the variety of birds and all the different bunnies.”
Twelve-year-old Gabriel White had traveled from Purcellville, Va., and she had just bought a bunny and was giggling with delight. “We came for chickens but I like this rabbit,” Gabriel stated. “It’s a lion head rabbit, I think.”
“We just bought the rabbit,” said Gabriel’s mother Tammy. “But we are looking for chickens. We have some roosters we might try to swap, but so far we ended up with a rabbit.”
Moshier said promoting the event is the hardest work.
“It is three months in advance and nonstop with lots of paper ads, online ads and a lot of planning,” she said. “Once the event gets here it’s just managing traffic and making sure things run smoothly although parking is our biggest problem and we need to invest in some traffic management.”
Stringent testing of birds must also be performed before they can be brought to the farm.
“Testing is necessary for all birds brought to this event and it is required by the state of Maryland,” Moshier explained. “They have to be tested for S. pullorum/typhoid and for avian influenza. I do a free testing clinic a week prior to the event so it’s pretty easy to have your birds tested.
“The vendor response has been awesome and it seems each one has come back every year. They are spreading the word that they are doing very well here,” she said. “I have some vendors who are making $2,000 just on chickens and they happily pay their $15 vending fee.”
Chris Caldwell rode his motorcycle to the event but his family came separately, taking the purchases back in their vehicle.
“I don’t have a farm but we have some guineas, chickens and quail,” Caldwell said enthusiastically. “I’m just looking around for more quail and so far I bought some Americana eggs. I like this setup and I am coming back for the Father’s Day event.”
“My friend Wes has a farm in Woodbine, Md.,” said Catherine Connor, a pleasant young woman who was resting on a pickup tailgate behind a stack of caged chickens. “We have chicks, rabbits and guinea keets. This is a lot of fun and I’m glad there is more here than just chickens.”
“It is just a huge eye opener to find out how easy farming can be,” Moshier said. “Everybody can do it and it is not that complicated to have a couple of bunnies in your backyard. You can have a few chickens and then gather some eggs. You can see that this person with the animals is normal and think I can do that too.”
This was the fourth time Kelley Marsh of Oldtown, Md., was a vendor at the event.
“I have hatching eggs, dog blankets and all kinds of chicks and ducks. The event gets bigger every year and you can always find something new,” Marsh said. “I have some rare show stock Muscovy ducks and it is worth my trip down from Oldtown.”
Alana Schoffstall was at the event for the first time.
“We bought a rabbit, some Cochin Bantams and we are still on the hunt for geese,” Schoffstall said. “We found Erin on Facebook and we do something similar in Everett, Pa., with our Black Valley Farm where we raise KuneKune pigs.”
“People should see that working together as a community is very productive and you can be successful individually,” Moshier said, extolling her belief in cooperative efforts. “It is hard to promote yourself, get your name out there and sell your product individually but when you are all grouped together to join forces, things fall in line and it makes things easier for everyone.
“I think a lot of people are moving toward being more self sustainable,” she said. “They are moving toward having a little farmette in their backyard. They want to get back to nature and live a more simple life. I think this attitude has blossomed into keeping chickens, having a small garden, growing their own food and getting back to basics.”