Photos by Ryan Craun — Prince George’s County Planning Department
Upper Marlboro — The owners and operators of Cabin Creek Heritage Farm moved their young family into the rural part of Upper Marlboro in 2000 in search of the childhood they remember—climbing trees, building forts, and just being outside. It is different than their parents’ mantra of returning home when the streetlights came on in Bowie, but “that’s because there’s no streetlights all the way out here,” Doug Hill said.
When they moved in, the 24-acre farm boasted a single, one-bedroom structure. Needing more space for their three children, the couple purchased a 1780s log cabin that sat along a riverbank in Tennessee. It was moved to the Hills’ farm and attached to the existing home.
“We started with a little Noah’s Ark,” Lori Hill said. She used to have alpacas and llamas, which make great fibers; pot belly pigs; goats; and sheep. But, two years after the last child left for college, the couple decided they wanted a sustainable farm that could financially support their life.
Today, two greenhouses, pig enclosures, a hen house, rabbit enclosure, farm store, and the family home sit on the farm, which is mostly wooded and fronts the Patuxent River. Most the farmland is dedicated to the pigs, but six acres of the property is in a Critical Area.
“Land conservation programs are self-sustaining and the agricultural and green economy benefits rural and urban residents alike,” according to the 2017 Approved Prince George’s County Resource Conservation Plan: A Countywide Functional Master Plan (RCP). The Prince George’s County Planning Department works to preserve and promote agriculture throughout the County.
“We can’t feed everyone,” Lori said, “but we can offer an alternative to people who can’t eat conventional food, and people who want a connection to their farmers.”
The Hills’ pigs are bred, born, and trained in an enclosed space along the tree line. Jesse James, the 600-pound father of all their piglets, rests comfortably in his own enclosure, complete with mud puddles and a rotation of sows. Once the piglets are trained to stay inside the electric fence they are released to the farm and even have access to a “pig condo”—the former treehouse for the Hills’ children, which they have long outgrown.
Along with the hogs, the farm has laying hens, quail, and rabbits on site, all for sale online and through their store. The Hills now contract with another farm to raise the cattle that they sell as part of their meat CSA.
The meat CSA offers pork, beef, and chicken all year in four-month increments geared toward feeding a family, and can be tailored to each customer and changed each month. Lori says the flexibility has kept their consumer base happy. “One-third of our customers have been with us from the very beginning.”
The Hills’ youngest daughter has branched into the specialty niche of medicinal herbs (not that kind), and artisan ice pops.
In the earlier years of the farm as a business, “it was all about branding. We did every farmers market, wine tasting, and farm event that we could get into,” Lori said. But they have scaled back and focused on their direct-to-consumer retail. Now they try to bring consumers to the farm to see how they operate and buy directly from the farmers.
“Now we can breathe a little and focus on the CSA.”
Lori and Doug offer free tours of their farm and tout the transparency in their practices. To help with education initiatives, they offer free field trips to schoolchildren. They enjoy educating the public about farming and farming as a business. “People had heard of vegetable CSAs, but a meat CSA? What is that?” Lori said.
Navigating farming as a business is hard, but Doug says the only way to survive is communication and education with other farmers and agencies like Maryland Extension and Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.
“Just talk to your county and state regulators. They embrace us when we do and we’re incentivized to do things the right way,” Doug said. “They’re really trying to work with small farmers.”
Cabin Creek Heritage Farm is an example of what the Prince George’s County Planning Department was striving to achieve in its RCP. The goal of the plan is “preserving our existing rural and agricultural communities including our rural viewsheds, farmland, and the agricultural economy.”
The Hills said their location in Upper Marlboro is one of their farm’s best assets. Just 10 minutes from the Beltway, and right outside Annapolis, its much more accessible than Southern Maryland farms, where most people picture CSAs.
“We’re the best kept secret in Prince George’s County. People live right here and don’t even know we are here,” Doug said.