Maureen O’SheaDec 31, 2020 11:53AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
In Cecil County, the business of farming is big business. Since she began her position as the Agribusiness Coordinator for the Cecil County Office of Economic Development in 2019, Maureen O’Shea has connected farmers to both customers and opportunities, though social media, events and education. Cecil County Life recently spoke with Maureen to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and to speculate on the long-range forecast for farming in the county. The future is a bright one, she said.
Your job has been to provide steerage and opportunities to the agricultural industry of the county, and so much of the responsibility of the position is targeted to marketing, education and increasing awareness of the industry.
Because we are several generations removed from the agricultural life, there is a lot of educating that needs to be done. That inspired the Harvest Dinner idea, which we host during the peak of our harvest season, and serves as a celebration of the many kinds of crops we produce in Cecil County.
We are a very diverse agricultural community, with a wide variety of products that are sold right off the farm, from fresh ice cream to milk to vegetables to grain to poultry to meat.
The Harvest Dinner is meant to educate the public, in an effort to say, ‘You can get all of these items right here in Cecil County, and you can make a dinner that tastes this good, right from farms that are within a few minutes of your dinner table.’
There is a perception that says that all Cecil County grows is corn and soybeans. It was that perception that inspired me to create cecilgrown.com, a directory that points our consumers to the many resources easily available to them.
How do you gauge the growing appreciation factor for those in the agricultural and farming industry?
I have been seeing quite an uptick in the ‘Buy Local’ movement, and people interested in where they are purchasing their food from. The main way I am able to gauge this growing interest is through our social media pages. People want to know more about the ethics behind agriculture, such as why we are spraying pesticides on our apples, and what the difference between ‘organic’ and ‘conventional.’
Social media has played a huge role in this education, and they’re coming to our pages as a reliable resource. There are a lot of unknowns out there that people are beginning to get interested in knowing more about.
How has that been magnified during the pandemic?
In a way, COVID-19 has become this golden egg for some of our direct-to-consumer retail farmers. When the grocery store produce shelves became empty, it was as if light bulbs went off above many of our consumers. They asked in a panic. ‘Where do I find food?’ and they quickly answered, ‘Oh, right, from our farms.’ In Cecil County, we are surrounded by farms and it reminded a lot of people, by necessity, where their food comes from.
Let’s talk more about the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural industry in Cecil County. It has forced farmers to rethink how they can get their products into the hands of the consumers, yes?
With the impact of COVID-19 on our farms and our food system, we’re seeing a lot of farmers pivot by expanding their product lines and partnering with each other. A great example of this has been with the Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun, who has created a major food hub in Cecil County by opening up an online ordering network in cooperation with other farms in the county. It’s a completely new system that allows farmers to sell their products directly to Flying Plow, who in turn gives consumers the opportunity to select and pay for their food in advance and online, and either pick up their order at farm markets or have it delivered right to their door.
From a local, national and global standpoint, the agricultural industry is a massively-changing one. Standards, regulations and practices are in constant revision. New markets for food distribution have opened up. Demand for healthier food is on a rapid rise. Social media has created easier access to data and information. Within that spinning matrix, how do see the Cecil County agricultural industry growing along with those changes?
We’ve been using the hash tag, “Local is the New Normal.” It represents a newfound appreciation for the fact that the food is grown right here in Cecil County. It’s fresh. It’s not overpriced. We know where it comes from. We know how many hands have touched it, and we know how many hands did not touch it.
The whole mind shift change happening is going to be a very good thing for our local farmers, and in fact, it’s given us the impetus to continue to grow our retail market.
We also have the room to create more opportunities for direct-to-consumer farmers.
What is your place in Cecil County?
I have so many favorite places, but I have two special places. The first is Chesapeake City, because I love being in that town and along its waterfront. My other favorite spot is on the Bohemia River in Earleville. There are spots to jump out of a kayak and go for a quick swim there.
You throw a dinner party. Who will you invite?
My grandfather. He passed away five years ago, and so much of my life has changed in my life since then. I get married in October, and I would like him to meet my fiancée. I would also like to invite Carl Sagan to the party, as well.
What items can always be found in your refrigerator?
I am a huge fan of sourdough bread, so you will always see sourdough bread starter in my refrigerator. I also have some sort of fermented vegetables in there, especially carrots. You can also find pickles and IPA beer.
Do you wish to put the goodness of Cecil County farms on your family table?
The Cecil County Office of Economic Development has created an interactive map that connects you to county-wide resources, including where to find local produce, fresh eggs, nurseries, greenhouses, breweries, wineries and so much more. Visit www.cecilgrown.com.
Richard L. Gaw