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Sunny spot becomes Laurel’s first urban farm

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Posted on: August 15, 2022

By: Angie Latham Kozlowski

Laurel gained its first urban farm last year when Kellie Cox, horticulturist and owner of  Strawberry Fields, a landscape design and installation company based in Silver Spring, purchased a flat and sunny quarter-acre property in the city. Millie Farms, which Cox named after her daughter, is part of a growing urban agriculture movement in Prince George’s County. In addition to providing significant environmental benefits, urban agriculture offers economic and community development opportunities. An urban farm can offer health and education advantages, as well. 

Flowers growing at Millie Farms.
Courtesy of Kellie Cox

Urban farms have become popular. In 2012, a Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission report on urban agriculture featured 15 urban farms in the county, but none in Laurel. Urban Agriculture Conservation Planner Kim Rush Lynch is with the Prince George’s Soil Conservation District (PGSCD), which offers comprehensive support to current and aspiring urban farmers in the county; the program also taps into local, state and federal agencies for support. Rush Lynch indicated that there are fewer than 40 urban farms committed to actively working with PGSCD. According to Rush Lynch’s office, there are also other urban farms in the county that are not currently partnering with PGSCD. 

Millie Farms in Laurel.
Courtesy of Kellie Cox

Rush Lynch observed that between 2015 and 2016, the Prince George’s County Council was successful in incentivizing urban farming to locate in the county through an urban agriculture property tax credit, one that is still available to eligible applicants. Further growth of the movement has been fostered through partnerships and the focus of urban farming as a food-access strategy. Food equity, conservation and climate change mitigation also factor into the push to encourage urban agriculture. Fast forward to now, and there are zoning ordinances that allow for urban farming across much of the county. 

Along with its many benefits, urban farming can also present unique challenges, including some imposed by zoning and permitting requirements. Rush Lynch’s office supports urban farmers with its Bloomin’ PGC Urban Farming Initiative, a resource-rich program that offers resources for business planning and marketing, cultivation and land-use practices, education and training, and legislation and regulations. It also connects urban farmers to each other, including through Google and Facebook groups. The initiative was developed by PGSCD in partnership with the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council.

A sunflower at Millie Farms is ready to be picked
Courtesy of Kellie Cox

While some urban farmers may face local resistance to their efforts, Cox reported that immediate neighbors and the larger Laurel community have welcomed Millie Farms with open arms. Cox’s husband, employees and tenants all help with the project. 

As a woman business owner, Cox is eager to support and empower women also working in horticulture, and she has established a micro-grant initiative, the Strawberry Sprout Grant program, to do exactly that. Eligible applicants may receive grants of $1,000 to further their careers and work in horticulture and related fields. Cox plans to put 100% of the proceeds from Millie Farms into the program. 

Cox and her team are excited about the progress they are making at Millie Farms. For her part, Cox said that she “loves creating a native habitat for our local wildlife and food source[s] with a variety of native plants that we are growing. Along with this, we are providing an educational resource for the local residents, which we greatly enjoy.” Cox recently sold Millie Farms’ cut flowers and fresh rosemary through a coffee collective based in Silver Spring, and she is considering selling the farm’s flowers, herbs and produce at local farmers markets and similar locations in Laurel. 

To learn more about urban farming, including tapping resources to start your own farming enterprise, go to pgscd.org or contact Kim Rush Lynch at ka******@co.us

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