From Hogs to Vegetables

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Jenny Schmidt talks about diversifying into vegetable production, which takes an entirely different skill set.

schmidtA third generation farm in Sudlersville, Maryland, Schmidt Farms, Inc.’s Jenny Schmidt shares her perspective on vegetable farming and advocating for the industry she loves.

Seed World: How did you get your start in farming, and what directed your operation to vegetable production?
Jenny Schmidt: I married into the farm but had an off-farm job as a Registered Dietitian for a number of years before deciding that I really preferred prescribing diets to plants and soils over humans. They are much more compliant! When my father in law sold the business to my husband and brother in law 22 years ago, we were a hog and grain operation. Since hogs weren’t cash flowing at the time, it made little sense to invest in needed facility upgrades so we got out of livestock and went into fruit and vegetable production as a means to diversify the farm and not have all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.

SW: What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegetable production?
JS: I actually have two. One being that somehow vegetable production is more sustainable for the soil. Vegetables require significantly more tillage and more pest control. They also utilize more equipment, creating compaction issues, more so than grain production does. We have been a no-till farm since the 1960s, so tillage is antithetical to our soil health and water quality initiatives here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Vegetable production requires more inputs, more tractor hours, more diesel fuel, and more resources to bring a crop to market. The second is that not enough farmers grow vegetables – that more grain farmers “should just grow veggies instead.” Diversifying into vegetable production takes an entirely different skill set and different equipment than most farmers typically have. While I entirely agree that people need to eat more vegetables, the premise that farmers can just simply “grow something else” is naïve.

SW: I see that you are a volunteer for the national CommonGround program. How has this experience helped you to advocate for agriculture?
JS: Yes, I’ve been a Maryland CommonGround volunteer since 2010. It has helped me network with other farm women around the country who have similar stories yet different operations. We use each other as resources when there are questions we aren’t qualified to answer because they’re (the questions) not part of our farming operation – (like for me, livestock, because we have none). It also helps to collaborate with others and amplify our (advocacy) message.

SW: Do you feel that being a woman grower has provided any advantages or challenges?
JS: When I first started as a pesticide applicator, I was one of a few women in the training but because I had extensive chemistry and science training, as an RD, I was able to converse intelligently about pesticides and was never disrespected and excluded for being female in a predominantly male career. To me that has more to do with competence, willingness to learn, and ability to communicate effectively about who I am and what I do in those settings.

SW: You recently had the opportunity to represent the U.S. as the U.S. Delegate for the Global Farmer Roundtable. What was a key take-away from those discussions?
JS: That we ,in the U.S. and other developed nations, eat from a place of privilege and we take food for granted. Globally, one in four children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition and half a million children go blind every year from Vitamin A deficiency. We haven’t solved the issue of global hunger and, from our place of privilege, want to dictate to other countries how they should allow technology to be used in agriculture or what they should be growing and eating instead of just simply meeting their basic food needs.

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