Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Turnips on the Terp Farm

Elizabeth and I had the privilege of visiting the Terp Farm last week as part of our sustainability rotation. Our experience there was both rewarding and educational. In addition to helping out with the harvest by picking out, cleaning, and packaging turnips for the 2016 Taste of Maryland Legislative Reception, we were also given a lesson on Terp Farm’s history, mission, and impact by Guy Kilpatric, the farm’s lead agricultural technician and cultivation expert.
Terp Farm, located in the Upper Marlboro Facility of the Central Maryland Research and Education Center, shares a 202-acre plot with students, faculty, and volunteers from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Dining Services, and Office of Sustainability.
As we learned, the goal of Terp Farm is to become a fully sustainable operation in all senses of the word. The ecological footprint of Terp Farm is reduced through environmentally sustainable farming methods, such as crop rotation and use of organic herbicides and pesticides. Guy showed us his impressive farming plan, which incorporated dozens of different crops rotating through a relatively small 2-acre plot without any overlap through a four year timeline. In addition to extensive planning and careful considerations of cover crop usage, plenty of sweat and hard work is required to maintain the health of the land. The vegetables planted in the Terp Farm greenhouses all use the no-till farming method, which is a strategy for preparing a seed bed with minimal damage to the soil. Instead of pulverizing a large amount of earth into fine particles with the use of large machinery, Guy painstakingly breaks apart clumps of dirt with a broadfork, being careful not to destroy the structure of the soil. This method not only increases the soil’s nutrient retention and resiliency, but also health and yield of the crops.
We also learned that Terp Farm ultimately seeks to serve as a “residency” program for the next generation of America’s farmers. As Guy explained, over four million farmers in the United States are within five years of retirement and need to be replaced to maintain agricultural productivity. However, Terp Farm puts a positive spin on this otherwise insurmountable statistic. By providing the training grounds for students to become prospective farmers, Terp Farm reduces labor costs while offering an immersive and all-inclusive education to those that come to work in the fields and greenhouses. This method of integration into the community results in widespread social impact while maintaining financial autonomy.

While our time at Terp Farm was short, we learned so much and were glad to be a part of this amazing and fantastic project at the University of Maryland. Consider paying the Terp Farm a visit for yourself or even volunteering for a day to get a sense of what goes into running a sustainable farm operation!


  1. Dave - this is a great article illustrating all the hard work being done on our campus to encourage farming. Terps Rock!

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