One of the most common words exchanged at a farmers market is 'sustainable.' Progressive shoppers are looking for food that has been raised, grown, or produced in a sustainable manner, and farmers are eager to deliver whether that means pasture-raised meat, pesticide-free produce, or small-batch wine. But for farmers, the word sustainable has to mean two things: responsible farming practices, and more importantly, whether or not the farm's business model can support itself.
"There's nothing less sustainable than a non-economically viable business model," says Shawn Eubank, the co-founder and vice president of marketing and sales at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville. "We could be so passionate about raising animals or making wine, but if it can't support itself then it doesn't matter how passionate we are," he explains, "because it's just not going to exist."
It's tough to make a farm economically viable, and as such, not as many people are getting into the business of agriculture. Since 2007, the number of new farmers has declined by 23 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's census. But, there are still young farmers who enter the field, like Greg Glenn and Shawn Eubank at Rocklands. To make their business sustainable, they're not putting all their eggs in one basket.
Glenn and Eubank founded Rocklands Farm in 2009 on Glenn's family property. They wanted to raise meats and grow vegetables holistically, while educating their community about where local food comes from. They started small, but now they farm nearly 60 acres of land. Those acres house not just one enterprise, but five.
The farm sits in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, which is 90,000 acres of rural, undeveloped land. Scout, the Australian shepherd, guards the laying hens as they peck for bugs outside of their school-bus-turned-chicken-coop. Pigs lounge in the mud or nosh on fresh vegetable scraps donated from a local food bank. Rows of vibrant greens and plump grapes wait to be harvested. The big red barn's doors are open to wedding guests and market customers.
The original business focused on pasture-raised livestock and pesticide-free vegetables. After a few years, they started a winery, driven by an interest on the part of Glenn's father, Greg Glenn Sr., who had been experimenting with grapes for several years.
In 2013, Rocklands became a licensed winery. They produced 700 cases in the basement of the Glenns' house in the first year, made completely from grapes they purchased from other farmers. This year, they will process nearly 3,000 cases, 35 percent of that coming from their own vines.
In their vineyard, they focus on hybrid grapes like Chambourcin and Chardonel, which do better in the humid mid-Atlantic climate. They bottle about 13 different labels per season, most of which are blends. The revenue from the winery now comprises about 60 percent of the farm's total income.
But, the vegetable and meat production is still going strong. The two-acre garden yields a variety of produce to supply Rocklands' vegetable CSA and on-farm market. Glenn manages 1,660 animals on pasture, practicing multi-species rotational grazing. The meat and eggs from the cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens are sold through the meat CSA and the farm market.
In addition, the Rocklands team regularly hosts weddings and educational field trips and camps, which round out the diversified farm business. The weddings are a valuable contribution to the revenue of the farm. While profits from education sector are significantly smaller, Glenn and Eubank still see it as a valuable part of their business, because it connects kids with the land that grows their food.
Just as in a natural ecosystem, the beauty of Rocklands Farm lies in its diversity.
Rocklands Farm: 14525 Montevideo Road, Poolesville, Maryland, 20837. The farm is open to visitors Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm.