EASTON — A whole family of honorees were celebrated this year as Chesapeake Champions for being good stewards of the local environment.
Five principal brothers and two nephews owning the Hutchison farm in Cordova, their wives, children, grandchildren and extended family were honored by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), the Horn Point Lab, Thursday evening, May 30.
The ceremony was held in front of a crowd of about 150 people at the Waterfowl Festival Headquarters on Harrison Street.
The title of “Chesapeake Champion” began about seven years ago as an annual award, envisioned to honor a citizen that set an example for others by their care and stewardship of the environment.
The experts at UMCES, the Horn Point Lab, try to select a person who goes to extraordinary lengths to take care of the world, not because it’s their job, but because they love the outdoors and it’s their passion.
The Hutchison brothers and their families are the first large group and the first farming family to receive the award.
Earl Hutchison began the family farm with 300 acres in 1944, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, raising hogs, grain crops and others.
His sons Richard and Harold began to farm in 1966, forming a partnership that eventually included Earl Hutchison’s five sons.
Brothers Harold, Richard, David, John Earl, and Bobby Hutchison joined together to farm thousands of acres in Talbot and Caroline counties.
These days, Harold and John Earl have retired, and Travis Hutchison, Bobby’s son, and Kyle Hutchison, Richard’s son, have stepped in.
They farm about 3,400 acres in the two counties. Nearly 500 acres of their family farm are preserved with conservation easements.
The Hutchisons raise corn, wheat, soybeans, barley, cucumbers, peas, and lima beans. Over the years, their efforts have included a Christmas tree farm, a swine operation, seed sales, and other businesses.
Their farming practices have included the “no-till” early adopter, wood chip bioreactors for nitrogen removal, and fertilizer applicators that use sensors to gauge how much nitrogen to use just where.
“Agriculture is our number one industry in the state and the heart of if is right here on the Eastern Shore,” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder said.
“And families like these have made our farming practices that we implement right here in Maryland a showcase across the nation.”
He said Maryland is frequently held up as a model when he goes to national conferences due to those “pioneering” practices.
He also mentioned that the Hutchisons’ success would never have happened “without the support of some strong wives behind them.”
“The Hutchisons have put in more than 250 man years for four generations of their farming operation,” Bartenfelder said.
“They seem to have a well-oiled family philosophy about best management practices,” UMCES professor Tom Fisher said. “The first criteria of a best management practice is at least it had to be economically beneficial.”
He said other criteria was how labor-intensive the practice would be, and whether it would really help the environment.
“Farming is a way of life, but it’s a business,” Bobby Hutchison said. “And if you don’t want to treat it as a business then you won’t have that way of life.”
“We survive because of the good years, I call them the home run years,” he said. “They come along every once in a while. I’ve had three very good periods in 45 years.”
“But most of the time, we do a margin business and we have to watch what we are doing,” Hutchison said.
He said that many of their efforts would never have happened without government cost-sharing and grants.
“In particular, the bioreactors we had on the farms — we could not justify putting them there if they were not covered by a grant,” Hutchison said. “I think they are great things. I think they are a step into the future.”
The brothers are also leaders in the farming community. Bobby has been a spokesman for the agricultural community, testifying in Annapolis for the passage of legislation, and instrumental in opening their farm for tours.
He was named a Master Farmer, the first from Talbot County, by the Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers Association in 2017. Bobby is a member emeritus of the Harry Hughes Agro-Ecology Center in Queenstown.
His brother Richard served for more than 20 years on the Talbot County Planning Commission, and is a current board member of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
John Earl has a doctorate and is noted for his volunteer efforts in church outreach.
Their father, Earl Hutchison, was one of the founding members of the Talbot County Soil Conservation District.
In 2005, the Hutchison Family was inducted into the Governors Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Other organizations the family has been active in include Ruritan, the Maryland Agricultural Commission, Southern States Cooperative Board, Maryland Christmas Tree Association, Cordova Volunteer Fire Department, and Fairview Church of the Brethren.
The Hutchisons were also honored May 30 with kudos from Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) office, the Governor’s Office, the Maryland General Assembly, and the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture’s Office. Among those who spoke were UMCES professor and Director Mike Roman, and professor and President Peter Goodwin.
Other Chesapeake Champions include Amy Haines of Out of the Fire Restaurant; Chip Akridge, owner of Harleigh Farms on Oxford Road; Albert Pritchett of the Waterfowl Festival and Waterfowl Chesapeake; Jordan and Alice Lloyd of the Bartlett Pear; Jim Brighton of the Maryland Biodiversity Project and Jerry Harris of Mallard Haven farm in Dorchester County.
The Chesapeake Champion ceremony and reception was the work of ESCES under the guidance of Carin Starr, Development and Outreach Coordinator.
Part of the evening included a Silent Auction, “guessing raffle” and food by Susan Joy, Blue Heron Catering.
Flowers on the tables, pickles and cucumbers came from the Hutchison Farm.
RAR Brewing from Cambridge donated beer.
Displays showing how science and agriculture can come together to support a more sustainable eastern shore were created by Pat Rogan and his company Assemble.
The event is also a fundraiser to help graduate students continue their education at UMCES, the Horn Point Lab.
“Let’s keep working to make the Chesapeake Bay the cleanest water it can be,” Bobby Hutchison said.
“Farmers are the original keepers of the environment,” Secretary Bartenfelder said. “So thank you for that.”