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Council supports wineries and farm breweries

This week the County Council unanimously passed a zoning measure that creates a clear and reasonable path for farm-based breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries to locate and grow here in our agricultural areas. This is a win for farmers, creators, and consumers alike.

The County already has a growing industry of wineries and breweries, thanks to visionary entrepreneurs and a commitment from County government that has resulted in reduced regulatory barriers and increased incentives.

Serious challenges, however, existed in our zoning code for entrepreneurs trying to start and grow a business in our rural and agricultural areas. Tackling these challenges head on, the zoning measure passed this week establishes clear and reasonable zoning rules that incentivize investment and enhance the agricultural heritage of the County.

The core of the ordinance is to allow these businesses as accessory to a farm operation. In other words, the primary use of the land or property must be agricultural. The measure also set prudent and balanced requirements for events and local ingredients. For all the details, read the staff report.

There are many reasons to support this industry:

  1. Making beer, wine, cider, and spirits has historically been agricultural activity— farmers brought not only grain or produce but also beer or whiskey to market.
  2. Increasing demand for local ingredients from our craft alcohol producers opens new opportunities for Montgomery County farmers. There is potential for hundreds–or even thousands–of acres of grains, hops, and fruit being grown in the County for our local craft alcohol producers.
  3. Allowing this use is helping a new generation to return and thrive as business owners in our agricultural reserve. You can see the creativity and energy these young cultivators and creators are bringing to the job. Having this opportunity makes farming more viable which will reduce pressures to sell for residential development or sell to corporate farming conglomerations.
  4. These businesses enhance the quality of life of our residents and make Montgomery County a better place to live. Have you spent a Saturday afternoon at one of our farm breweries or wineries? It is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Farm Alcohol Production in the County

Checking out the scenery, soil, and production facilities of Montgomery County wineries

I want to thank Councilmember Craig Rice for co-leading this effort with me as well as all my colleagues for their support. Most of all, I want to thank all the stakeholders and community members for their advocacy and inspiration. There is no doubt that the ordinance I introduced last spring improved considerably as we learned more and incorporated good ideas from all sides.

Here’s to a prosperous, vibrant, and sustainable agricultural reserve!

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Sunny Ridge Farm

Have you always assumed that the fields of corn and soybeans in the Ag
Reserve or on the Eastern Shore were heading to the table? Not so.
That corn is largely used for feed as part of the meat production
process. On the Eastern Shore the crops are going to chicken feed.
Here it’s more likely beef.

I’ve always wondered what was going on with the beautiful steel silos
you see in the fields. Now I know. The farmers let the corn and soy
stay on in the field until it dries to a certain moisture content.
Then they harvest it. The corn comes off the cob easily in the
combine’s grinder because it’s dry. Then they haul it to the silo area
where they dry it further to the right moisture level for storage.
Some of it they sell right then but most they store to sell based on
market price.

The rains this year have been tough on the farmers, and the drought was too.

Here I am with Drew Stabler, a really solid guy who taught me a lot on
my visit. The guy my age is David Lechlider. He’s an 8th generation
farmer here in the region. If you do the math that’s back to the
1700s.

We’re looking at the corn coming off the truck into a conveyer and I’m
eating a few kernels while the massive dryer operates over head. The
roasting kernels smell sweet but mild.

All about a half hour from the County Council office building.

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Solar in the Ag Reserve

Yesterday I met with Craig Ruppert of the Ruppert Companies. Craig and his
brothers grew up down county and started several successful
horticulture and real estate businesses. Their company has some 650
employees regionally and the HQ up past Derwood has superb green
features. Included among them is a solar field that provides all the
power they need to run the campus. I’ve often wondered why we don’t
see more solar and wind power in the reserve since renewable power
could support agricultural uses there. Craig is a very forward
thinking guy and I had a great time getting to know him.