UMES Extension tour takes visitors inside agribusiness success

“Sweat equity,” Kelly Jackson (at left) told visitors, was what took her family’s agribusiness from a picnic tent at the end of the lane for selling sweet corn to a booming farm market, helping to shape Dorchester County’s agritourism regulations. The group was part of UMES Extension’s Traveling Agritourism Workshop that made stops June 10 at Emily’s Produce in Cambridge and Blades Orchard in Federalsburg, both in Maryland.

It all began 25 years ago, she said, when she and her husband, Paul, welcomed their firstborn, Emily. They wanted to “earn a little college money” while ushering her, and later their son, Kyle, into the 7th generation family farm’s “tradition of working hard.”

“The tents with their honor system boxes got bigger each year as we grew,” Jackson said. “We realized, ‘This is going to be a business—more than a roadside stand!’”

A pumpkin patch was added, and their small farm venture morphed into a full-fledged market in 2002 with construction of the first permanent (800 sq. ft.) structure. Next came a walk-in cooler and u-pick strawberries. Mums, a corn maze and a children’s playground were added for “fall family fun.”

Eight years in, they started selling to restaurants and now have 10 to supply. A few years later, they added a full-service kitchen and make homemade breads and pies from family recipes; peach cobbler and pepperoni rolls are favorites. The u-pick has grown to include blackberries, blueberries, cherries and wildflowers. On the farm side, beef cattle were added to the large-scale grain production.   

“It (agritourism) doesn’t come easy,” she said. “A lot of time and extra money has to be invested along the way, including legal representation and insurance. You have to have a good relationship with them. You can have every paper and waiver in the world, but you’re still at risk (for liability).”

Emily’s Produce now employs an average of 32 people. They’ve had special events, including Easter egg hunts, goat yoga, and Growing Community Flavors cooking demonstrations, and now offer a food truck. Three years ago, they were the first produce market in Dorchester County permitted to sell locally produced beer and wine using Maryland agricultural products. Their fruit is used by Maryland brewery and winery partners and they feature products from other partners in the market such as ice cream, cheese and jams.

“You have to research and keep trying different things to be successful,” Jackson said, giving their CSA and satellite markets as examples. And, she said, you have to expect challenges.

“We’ve had flat tires on wagon rides and a cow getting out and running down the road,” she said. “Last year, we lost 100% of our pumpkin crop to too much rain.”

“Sometimes I miss the days of the small tent!”

Gail Stephens, agricultural communications, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, UMES Extension,, 410-621-3850.

Photos by Todd Dudek, agricultural communications, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, UMES Extension,

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