‘Pencil To Plow’ Farm Program Continues To Grow On Shore

SALISBURY – Wicomico County officials view the “Farming: Pencil to Plow” program as an aid in developing a job force.

For the past few years, University of Maryland Extension (UME) has been offering “Farming: Pencil to Plow,” a nationally recognized beginning farmer program by the National Association of County Agriculture Agents (NACAA). It is an eight-week entrepreneurial training course designed for aspiring farmers and those producers interested in diversifying their operation.

Course material includes learning components of a business plan, learning why, how, and where to do agricultural market research, becoming aware of government regulations facing small farmers and identifying compliance resources, understanding the importance of budgeting, discussing cash flow projections, and reviewing content and purpose of Income Statements and Balance Sheets.

Course curriculum is supplemented by presentations given by experts in the agriculture field, representatives of the University of Maryland Extension Offices and other local agencies on specific agriculture components that are key to enhancing successful farming.

Participants who complete the training course will have a prepared business plan to present to potential lending sources and a certificate of completion issued by NxLevel, a nationally recognized entrepreneurship training provider.

“Economic development is where we’re heading, and part of that is creating a job force and meeting those standards. ‘Pencil to Plow’ has become part of that in the community,” Wicomico County Council President John Cannon said.

Agriculture Faculty Extension Assistant with the UME Office Jessica Flores explained in 2012 she sat down with a colleague and decided there needed to be more of a push toward initiating beginner farmers, those who are interested into where the local food source is coming from but don’t have the experience.

“They think it is a great idea but aren’t sure about money, or what exactly it would entail in running an operation, whether it be a small or large size operation,” Flores said. “Pencil to Plow is a beginning farmer program that started in Wicomico County, and it has branched further than that. We started it off with the Lower Shore program. However, we just pulled individuals as far away as Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Caroline County, as far down as the Lower Shore. It has been successful.”

Of the participants that have graduated from the program, 87.5 percent strongly plan to use the knowledge and skills gained in this program to help develop their farming endeavor.

Approximately $49,000 in grants has been secured from the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center with a $1,000 grant secured from the Beginning Farmer Success program. In addition, $1,750 of solicited funds has been received to support the program.

“Pencil to Plow” is preparing for its third class session at Wor-Wic Community College starting Feb. 2. To date there are 11 participants signed up for this year. Overall, since 2012, there have been 27 participants with a high success rate.

“Those who have participated have really had the chance to really examine their idea … we take their idea, break down and essentially create a business plan with them. We examine their idea to see if they can generate an income from it and if they cannot we look at what we can change so that they can be able to do that,” Flores said. “It is a one-on-one approach. Our goal is to keep the class size small. We generally average about 10 to 14 participants, but they can ask those one-on-one questions. We go over regulation, cash flows, business plans, marketing and how to work with individuals they may not be familiar with a networking situation.”

Flores stressed networking is vital in operating a successful farming operation.

“I have always encouraged people who participate if you are going to be a successful agriculture operator you have to have business savvy and that is where we are seeing a lot of our farms fail. They don’t have a good game plan as to where their money is coming in and where it is going out. We sit down and really examine that with them to essentially have a budgeting plan with a one-year, three-year and five-year goal,” she said.

Online registration is now open for the next class session at Wor-Wic Community College from Feb. 2 to March 16. The classes are held on Monday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Registration is $30 per person which includes class materials and a light dinner each evening of class. For more information visit www.farmingpenciltoplow.eventbrite.com.

The UME of Wicomico County is part of a statewide educational organization funded by federal, state, and local governments. UME’s mission is to support Maryland’s agricultural industry; protect its valuable natural resources; enhance the well-being of families and individuals, both young and old; and foster the development of strong, stable communities.