Meat is having a moment in southern Maryland.

Actually, it’s more than a moment; it has taken such hold, that you can accurately call it a movement.

Local, family-farm raised meat is much in demand.

Farmers and producers are pulling in customers from surrounding urban areas like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis, Maryland, and Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia. They are conscious consumers who want to know where their food comes from, how it was raised, and that it’s a guaranteed quality product.

The southern Maryland agricultural community and its farmers have risen to meet that demand.

“The meat industry in southern Maryland is entering a boom phase, with a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse coming online soon, and the building of the Regional Agricultural Center to complete and add value to the entire process,” said Craig Sewell, marketing and livestock program manager for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, a division of the Tri-County Council for southern Maryland. “SMADC’s role is to help build, grow, reinforce and solidify the food chain from southern Maryland producers to consumers throughout the region. SMADC is completely committed to seeing the industry grow as a trusted and healthy brand of meats from well-tended and humanely treated animals.”

There are many programs and infrastructure that support and promote this industry in its regional rise to success.

Programs

The Southern Maryland Meats program is one of SMADC’s most popular branding programs. It was developed in response to the high consumer demand for local, farm-raised meats. In order to be a part of this brand, farms must be in one of the five southern Maryland counties; agree to raise, slaughter and package their products according to SMM standards; and follow clear labeling procedures. The SMM website, created and maintained by SMADC, provides consumers with clear information about the raising, slaughtering and labeling standards of the brand. The site lists farms that participate in the brand and locations where SMM products are sold.

In order to help the growing meats industry, SMADC purchased two freezer trailers to facilitate transportation of frozen meat cuts from the USDA slaughter facilities back to the farm for the farmers to sell. SMADC also purchased several dedicated freezer cases reserved for SMM products only and placed at centralized locations in the region.

“Taking Stock: The Faces and Stories of Southern Maryland Meats” is a coffee table book featuring the stories and photos of the farmers in the Southern Maryland Meats program. The book features images by Lena McBean of Remsberg Inc. and was written by Craig Sewell.

“Taking Stock” has currently sold over 200 copies and was recently given a national award by the Association for Communication Excellence at their annual convention.

The Southern Maryland Meats Junior Livestock Program, or the SMM Junior, was developed to engage young people in raising livestock for quality meat production and is open to any youth resident in the five southern Maryland Counties (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s). Youth participating in the program raise high quality meat animals adhering to SMM standards for feed, and humane and responsible raising practices. Eligible livestock includes beef, sheep, hogs, goats, poultry and rabbits.

Southern Maryland youth involved with livestock projects, 4-H members and FFA are encouraged to participate. Program members from previous years may reapply each year with a new project animal.

SMM Junior participants receive free promotional materials to help promote their animals during the county fair show season and livestock auctions. A Completion Award of $100 will be presented to youth who successfully complete the SMM Junior Membership Program requirements.

The Southern Maryland Invitational Livestock Expo, or SMILE, is a way to further engage youth in agricultural livestock production, and is an annual three day show event. It includes instruction, fitting and showing, and market and breeding competitions for domestic livestock species of beef and dairy cows, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs. The show is open to youth competitors from around the region.

SMILE is designed to be educational and to prepare participants for higher level shows at the county and state fairs. The SMILE organizers place great importance in encouraging showmanship and communication and the SMILE show emphasis is on refining skills and cultivating good sportsmanship both inside and outside the show ring.

The event is held yearly at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown, Maryland, at the end of June. The 2019 dates are June 21-23.

The Meat and Seafood Guide showcases southern Maryland’s farm-raised meats and local seafood. This guide is updated and printed every other year, and the 2019 edition will be available this June.

The annual Buy Local Challenge is a campaign designed to encourage consumers to try local foods and to commit to buying local year-round. Consumers are asked to take an informal pledge to “eat at least one thing from a local farm every day during Buy Local Week,” which is the last full week in July.

SMADC launched the challenge in 2007. It was quickly championed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and grew to be a state-wide, annual event. There is a Buy Local Challenge kick-off event held on the governor’s mansion lawn in Annapolis, Maryland, every year at the start of the challenge week.

SMADC also hosts an annual challenge celebration event, which is held at the end of the challenge week. This is a farm festival style event that is full of fun for family members of all ages. The annual celebration invites the general public to experience the bounty, the food and the fun of Maryland’s farms. The 2019 summer evening event will take place at Spider Hall Farm in Calvert County, Maryland, on July 29 and will feature tastings and sales of local farm products, food trucks, live music and entertainment. Over 50 local vendors are expected, with an annual guest count of 600-800 people.

Infrastructure

Federal law allows the slaughter and processing for intrastate sale of rabbits and 20,000 poultry of a producer’s own production annually without continuous inspection by the USDA. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s regulations do not consider rabbits and poultry slaughtered under these exemptions to be an approved source so they can only be sold directly to consumers on the farm.

Producers that participate in Maryland’s new voluntary program and receive certification will be considered an approved source by the DHMH and can sell anywhere intrastate. Both parts and whole poultry and rabbits certified by this program are allowed to be sold. The program requires one person from each facility to attend MDA training, follow basic requirements of the program and access by MDA to conduct inspections.

The Westham Butcher Shop is a multi-species red meat slaughterhouse located in St Mary’s County, Maryland. The slaughterhouse is self-contained in power generation and was built to exacting animal welfare standards. Standing in what were once tobacco fields, the shop is currently open for custom slaughter and will be applying for its Grant of Inspection with the USDA shortly, and upon approval, will be operating under FSIS inspection for all slaughter of meats including custom, retail and wholesale.

The Regional Agricultural Facility, known as the RAC, will soon be a pivotal part of southern Maryland agriculture in regards to meat processing and value-added products.

The RAC complex will be located in St. Mary’s County in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. The facility will be a public and private partnership providing complementary services with the capability of adding value and profitability to products from southern Maryland farmers.

The 7,500-square-foot building will be designed to accommodate the forecasted usages of the RAC, including meat cut and wrap services, meat locker and refrigerated storage, value added and finer meats processing, a retail store, a commercial kitchen for making value-added goods, and space for educational and apprenticeship programs.

The RAC aims to encourage small business agricultural development, strengthen the region’s farm community, create jobs and keep money in the local neighborhood.

With these programs and infrastructure, southern Maryland livestock is striving to create a strong industry for the future.

Mary Wood, farmer and vice-chair of the SMADC board, has been involved in the process of assisting this industry since its inception.

“As livestock producers, our Forrest Hall family is really looking forward to having a slaughter facility and a finishing facility close to home,” Wood said. “We appreciate it for our own time and effort and we appreciate it for the handling of our animals. This project is really a good thing for the new businesses involved, the industry in general and for us as individual producers. It can’t come too soon for us.”

Charles County Commissioner and livestock farmer Gilbert “BJ” Bowling said, “As a community member, farmer and local elected official, I believe that the entire region is in a prime position to capitalize on our proximity to the national capital region and provide quality meats to an ever expanding diverse market. We must position our local governments in a way to support these small local farmers and producers, as they will drive the local agriculture markets through smart and strategic policy decisions.”

For more information, visit southernmarylandmeats.com.

Shelby Watson-Hampton is a freelance writer in southern Maryland.