Tucked away in Kent County's Kennedyville is a land where cows graze on clover, and creeks flow freely. This charming piece of land, known as St. Brigid's Farm, is home to 200 grass-fed beef and dairy cows. The farm is named after St. Brigid, the patron saint of dairymaids and scholars who was renowned for her compassion and often featured with cows at her feet. Partners in the farm have remained steadfast in practices that not only protect the health of the cows but the consumers that rely on responsible stewardship of the land.
Judy Gifford was raised on a dairy farm, which eventually led her to earning a degree in Animal Science from the University of Connecticut. After 16 years in the public sector, she returned to her roots by establishing a 69-head Jersey dairy operation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with partner Dr. Robert Fry.
Robert graduated from the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977. After years of working with cows, he became interested in Managed Intensive Grazing, also known as rotational grazing as a healthier alternative to grain-fed production. After meeting in 1991 and beginning St. Brigid's in 1996, the partnership between Bob and Judy continues to strengthen.
The 62-acre farm established in permanent pasture provides relief to the Chesapeake Bay in comparison to many conventional agricultural practices. Despite the benefits of the sustainable farm, Judy explains that small-scale operations are "a dying breed." A host of unique challenges come when considering small-scale farming, such as marketing: "[you] have to be flexible and look at ways to maximize your resources."
But Judy explains that St. Brigid's success is grounded in the three legs they believe make a sustainable farm. "We believe that a farm needs to be economically viable, which we achieve through producing high-quality Jersey milk and grass-fed beef, [be] ecologically sound, and promote community involvement." The rotational grazing practices of St. Brigid's produces healthy cows and meets the pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Judy and Robert's dedication to local foods and their community is evident in their annual event Field to Fork. The proceeds from the event are donated to a different organization every year. This past year's benefitted a group that does not feed people but rather rescues them in times of trouble—the Kennedyville Volunteer Fire Department. During the dinner, farmers and consumers sit side-by-side in the green pasture enjoying a four-course meal grown from Maryland soil.
In addition to their commitment to their community, St. Brigid's Farm is a partner of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Chesapeake Chapter, which promotes local and sustainable foods by connecting consumers to producers, and which CBF coordinates. St. Brigid's is also a partner in the Maryland Grazers Network—a mentorship program that pairs experienced producers with farmers who want to learn new grazing skills. Sustainable practices, like rotational grazing, have allowed St. Brigid's to develop a healthier product for the consumer. In stark contrast to the confined animal operations that line the Eastern Shore, Judy and Robert demonstrate just one success story of the great things that can happen when science and the land come together in harmony.
Maryland farmers like Bob and Judy are doing their part to clean up pollution to their local waterways. So why is it that big poultry companies take little responsibility for the harmful waste their chickens produce?! This week, Maryland legislators are considering the Poultry Management Litter Act, which requires big chicken companies to take responsibility. This legislation would ensure cleaner, healthier waters for us all, and it would protect Maryland farmers and taxpayers from costs that should be borne by the large poultry companies. Click here to learn more and to send a message to your legislator.