Meet State Senator Thomas McLain Middleton – ‘Mac’ to his friends. Since 1994, Mac has served the people of the 28th Senate District of Charles County (southeast of Washington, DC), and is now the last remaining full-time farmer in the Maryland legislature. He owns and operates 275-acre Cedar Hill Farm with his family, raising beef cattle and growing hay to feed not only his cows but the neighboring horses that make up the large Maryland equine industry.
As with most modern farms throughout the northeast, diversification and innovation are the keys to success, and Cedar Hill Farm is no exception. Mac’s daughter, Kelly, operates a thriving agritourism business on the farm, where cute barnyard animals charm the kids and their parents. In addition, the farm has pick-your-own strawberries, a large corn maze, a pumpkin patch, and events like birthday parties and even weddings. (http://www.middletonfarm.com/)
Mac has a degree in Biology from Mount Saint Mary College and served his military obligation is the US Army Intelligence, which took him to both Italy and Germany. After his stint in the service, Mac was elected as a Charles County Commissioner. During this period he bought Cedar Hill Farm from his parents, and proceeded to raise tobacco, grains and strawberries. While the type of crops he grows has changed over the years, his love for the land has not. Mac has recently put the land into a conservation easement so that it will remain farmland in perpetuity.
Senator Middleton notes that the best farm preservation program is farm viability and profitability. When asked what the biggest agriculture issues are in Maryland, Mac responds, ‘There are three right now. First is low grain prices, second is the rules for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and third is some of the EPA regulations.’
We asked the Senator how CSG-ERC helps legislators. ‘I think the most important thing that CSG-ERC does is to enable legislators to discuss mutual concerns with other lawmakers from the region.’ He especially likes the tradition of taking the time at the annual conferences to ask each state for a brief update on what they are doing in agriculture and what the major issues they are dealing with.. ‘I always learn from his fellow legislators in other states that way,’ he adds.
The legislation Mac is most proud of in his 22 years in the Senate is the ‘Agriculture Certainty Program’ that he sponsored. This program allows farmers to set environmental goals, especially regarding the Chesapeake Bay. With those goals in place, that farm would then be exempt from new environmental regulation for ten years. He says, ‘This legislation enables farmers to have certainty that new regulations will not impact their ability to secure loans for new equipment and operations.’
We asked about the biggest changes in Maryland agriculture in the last twenty or thirty years, and Mac answered that it was the transition out of tobacco as the number one crop in the region.. ‘Much of the land that was tobacco fields has been replaced by greenhouse products – many Maryland farms raise plants that are sold at big box stores across the country.’
We asked Mac about changes in the legislature he has seen during his tenure. He noted how partisan it has become on both sides of the aisle. He also talked about the urban-rural divide in government. ‘We need to act as agriculture legislators. We need to educate our urban and suburban counterparts about the importance of rural issues and agriculture to the state economy, open space and our ability to produce locally grown food.’ He adds, ‘it is important for rural legislators to understand the urban issues and support what they need, in return for understanding and support coming back to the rural areas. We need to understand both sides of all issues and legislation, not just our own parochial views.’
Finally Mac is justifiably proud of his work on the Chesapeake Bay commission, where he has served for many years, and where he is serving his second term as the chair. When asked what he worries about, he says, ‘I’m concerned about where the next generation of farmer is coming from.’
Mac will be at the Annual CSG-ERC Annual Meeting at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut from August 13 through 17. We hope to see you all there as well.
Bob Haefner and Tara Sad, Agricultural & Rural Affairs Policy