Farmer Spotlight: Keith Ohlinger, Regenerative Farmer

    September 16, 2019

Written by Ashley Guenard

“His passion for agriculture and living things is unbelievable.”

Farming is in Keith’s Ohlinger’s blood— his family has farmed for almost 400 years. Even as a child, he knew that farming was his future. Keith and his wife now own Porch View Farm LLC, a 22 acre farm in Western Howard County that raises diverse, heritage breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, geese, rabbits, and honey bees. Keith farms in a way that works with the land and animals without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. “He really makes a connection with his animals, such that the animals become a part of his family,” said Kathy Johnson, director of agricultural business development for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, in an article for American Farm publications.

Keith takes careful steps when farming to ensure the health of his animals and soil. He uses practices such as rotational grazing, which involves shifting cattle to different locations throughout the property. This practice has been shown to increase soil fertility, aid in drought resistance, control less desirable plants, and maximize water absorption. His farm also uses progressive methods of forestry, like the silvopasture model, which fences and feeds his livestock using 7,500 trees that he has planted himself. This method benefits forest ecosystems by stimulating plant diversity and enhances nutrient density for the animals. He also uses a natural keyline water system in his fields, which is a landscaping technique used to maximize the natural flow of water. He also makes a point to compost animal waste to use as a fertilizer.

“Regenerative agriculture practices take time to put in place successfully,” Keith told us, noting that integrating animals as part of the ecosystem is a critical way to conserve the natural environment. As much as Keith supports healthy soil practices, he underscores that “agriculture is first and foremost a business–it needs to make a profit.” Farmers can do their part and switch to methods that don’t involve chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but if the farmer cannot make enough to feed their family, it will not be sustainable, he noted. Keith has found a way to make this type of farming sustainable for his family and works hard to advocate for better policies that will support other farmers looking to follow his path, as well as for mental health support for farmers who are struggling. (Ohlinger has championed research and dialogue regarding the suicide rate among farmers, telling the Frederick News-Post, “If we were the spotted owl, people would be trying to protect us. We’re basically on the edge of extinction.”)

So what can consumers do to protect and support these growing farming practices? Keith says a big problem is that “the general population is so far removed from where their food comes from,” so public education is key. Consumers need to know our farmers and where our food comes from in order to make informed decisions when we shop. Support smaller sustainable farmers like Keith who take that extra step to promote better soil and animal health. If we care about the practices our farmers use, we can change the trend and see an increase in these regenerative practices. 

Thank you Keith for being a leader and advocate for sustainable farming methods in Maryland.

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