It’s the end of an era – and potentially the beginning of another. As of September 4, 2012, Colchester Farm LLC will belong to Rock Hall farmer, Trey Hill. Colchester, a centennial farm on the banks of the Sassafras in Georgetown, MD, has been in Charlotte Staelin Hawes’s family for over 100 years.
“This was a difficult decision to make,” says Hawes. “The farm has been owned by my family since 1885, and I’ve spent 20 years developing some things like the CSA there. “
But, Hawes says, it was time. She moved off the farm, which is in a preservation easement, several years ago and neither her children, who live in Colorado and Georgia, nor her grandchildren want to take over. Hawes knows, because she asked them all before deciding to sell it.
“It’s not a group decision, “ she says, “but it’s certainly a decision well-thought-through and approved-of by everybody concerned.”
Which is not to say it’s not without its pain. The Chance family, who has farmed that land for three generations, has strong feelings about the place, too.
“I was so, so sad,” says Joan Chance Infield, who owns the catering business, Sisters By Chance, with her sister, Amy Chance McGee.
Infield moved to Colchester when she was seven and lived there until she was in college. She still walks her grandchildren down to the river there. Her brother, Andy, who grew up farming Colchester beside his father, Earl, and who now farms it with his son, Jake, lived in the farmhouse until he and his wife bought a farm in Chesterville. There will be a plaque on the barn dedicated to Earl Chance, who farmed the land for 52 years.
“It’s the end of something,” says Infield. “The day that I went to college, Pop had me go down to the corn crib and had me bag corn all morning. There’s just a connection there.”
But while it’s not an easy transition, it’s one that Hawes feels confident will be beneficial going forward.
“I think Trey has the best of intentions to preserve the land, which is in a Maryland Agriculture Land Preservation Foundation program, [so it cannot be developed],” says Hawes. “And he’s agreed that the CSA can continue to function on it for at least five more years.”
Trey Hill, 37, who grew up farming alongside his father, Herman Hill, is excited to own the property.
“It’s a farm I’ve always known, and I like the idea that it has the CSA in it, because that’s something I’ve been interested in,” Hill says. “And there’s 40 acres of organic [land] that we’ll figure out what to do with. I want to talk with Theresa [Mycek, CSA manager] to see if she has ideas. “
Mycek appreciates that Hill is interested in the CSA. “Some farmers aren’t aware of what a CSA is or what the benefits are,” says Mycek. “But he knows and is supportive of that. I know our members will be glad that the CSA will continue on at Colchester.”
Hill has a degree in farm management from Purdue University in Indiana. “What I’m trying to do is be environmentally sound and trying to keep as low a carbon footprint as a large-scale farming operation can. My idea of sustainable is being environmentally sound as well as economically sound.”
For now, Hill says he and his wife, Cheryl, and their two young children will continue to live in Rock Hall, and will reassess farther down the road. But he is not planning to make big changes at Colchester.
“I’m happy with way things are,” he says. “I want to assure everybody about what we’re doing. It’s big historical farm, and I’m aware of that. I know I’m probably not the stereotypical person who would buy a farm with a CSA on it,” he acknowledges, referring to the fact that he and his father farm thousands of acres ‘conventionally.’ But he’s also aware that there is a broader palate of possibilities and is looking to the future of farming here on the Eastern Shore.