DENTON — Farming 4 Hunger, a nonprofit founded in Southern Maryland to address a myriad of social issues through locally-produced food and other initiatives, has a new satellite program in Caroline County.
The Caroline County site, on a farm along state Route 328 outside Denton, will eventually offer everything available at Farming 4 Hunger’s original location in Charles County — seed-to-table farming and culinary education, second-chance programs for inmates, youth development for students of all ages and team-building activities for organizations.
It came to Caroline through the vision of Beth Brewster, food services director for Caroline County Public Schools and executive director of the Chesapeake Culinary Center, who liked what she saw at the Charles County site, founded by Bernie Fowler Sr.
“We pursued (Fowler) because we think this is the next step to helping the Eastern Shore,” Brewster said. “This is a way to reach kids, because the traditional methods aren’t working.”
Brewster said Farming 4 Hunger’s programs will help address hunger, poverty, addiction, food inequity and a lack of available job skill training.
“We are hoping this becomes a model, that others can pick and choose programs to take back to their own districts,” Brewster said.
Initially, the Caroline County chapter is leasing 9 acres, but it hopes to eventually purchase a total of 32 acres as programs are added, Brewster said.
The first steps this fall will be creating raised beds, cleaning out a shed on the property and putting up tents so team-building activities can be offered, Brewster said.
The Rural Maryland Council provided money for the coming year that will buy a tractor, a hoop house and computers, Brewster said.
Future plans include building a barn, an educational building and a ropes course, she said.
More startup funding came from the Caroline County Human Services Council, which allocates money from the Maryland Children’s Cabinet.
Susan Runnels, director, said the Human Services Council named poverty, hunger and diverting youth from the juvenile justice system its top funding priorities this year, and the Farming 4 Hunger model addresses all of them.
“We are very firm believers that this program is just going to be phenomenal for Caroline County,” said Runnels. “The first time we visited the program in Charles County, I said this could change the whole climate of our county. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Runnels said she was particularly impressed with one initiative that allows inmates to share their life stories with youth, inspiring young people to make better choices.
Fowler said he founded Farming 4 Hunger after hitting rock bottom and contemplating suicide in 2012, and seeing his own child struggle with addiction.
After a 90-minute initial phone call with Brewster, Fowler said, it was clear Farming 4 Hunger would be a good fit for Caroline County.
“There’s a huge need for the same programming,” Fowler said.
Fowler said the seed-to-table farming — which teaches people where their food comes from and how to prepare it — ties in with the nonprofit’s mission of helping people grow their own lives.
Student-focused programming begins in elementary school, Fowler said, with hydroponic tower gardens, now located in each of Caroline County’s five elementary schools, that show kids how lettuce is grown, harvested and used in their school lunches.
Age-appropriate activities for middle, high school and even college students continue that education, tying in life lessons along the way, Fowler said.
“Our programs nurture kids all the way through school,” he said. “We try to set the right mindset early.
“Food is just a vessel to get to people,” he said.