The Lake Front’s Unsung Hero for May 2022 has come full circle from Bittinger, abroad and back to Garrett County, and is really making some serious moves to solidify the area as one with real progress and potential moving forward. Darryl was born and raised near the Glotfelty Family Farm in Bittinger which recently celebrated 100 years of operation. He really found his passion for agriculture, however, while serving in The Peace Corps in Tanzania from 2013-2016. It’s mildly ironic that he had to travel thousands of miles from the family farm to get involved in agriculture, yet his work with fruit orchards and apiaries in Africa really drove him to where he is today. Then in a move that still resonates today, the Hemp plant, one with a rich connections to the roots of this country, came across his radar back in college and never really left him. Darryl and his wife Haeli Gustafson are the founders and co-owners of Meadow Mountain Hemp.

In his efforts to launch a local business Darryl has been actively involved in several grant applications and follow-up for the Mountain Maryland Hemp Alliance. Grants have been written for procurement of lab equipment, machinery and equipment for waste management, hemp fiber feasibility study, and more. As chair of the Hemp Alliance, he is hands on and involved in anything related to hemp in the county. He is one of the founding member of the alliance (est 2019). According to his wife and nominator, Haeli (who you can read more about on page six), “People turn to him because they trust his knowledge and know he will be honest with them.” As evidence of his intent to stay in the area and help sustain it, Darryl is on the boards of Mountain Maryland Hemp Alliance as a Chairperson and co-founder, Farm Bureau as a board member, and the burgeoning McHenry Farmers Market.
Darryl’s other passions beyond sustainable farming include edible flowers and microgreens, being outside, hiking, discovering new things, and music. As a teenager, and long before he traveled the world, Darryl was bringing entertainment to the people in the form of shredding guitar for two locally famous bands – White Noise and The Lake Effect.

When did you start Meadow Mountain Hemp?
In 2019, Maryland began its pilot hemp program which allowed farms to legally grow hemp for the first time in well over 75 years. Meadow Mountain Hemp was officially started in fall of that year. The idea to grow hemp on our farm began when I was attending college at Towson University from 2007-2011. CBD was not mainstream back then, and the hemp I pictured growing was for fiber and hurd material.

What characteristics about hemp make it farmable or something you wanted to start producing?
Although hemp was very much a part of American culture and was historically widely grown, it is essentially a “new crop.” Farmers and entrepreneurs are leading the way to bringing hemp back into the fold. The thing that interested me most about hemp was that there are so many possibilities with it. My wife Haeli and I love that we can take our business in a number of directions and evolve as the industry improves. Being a part of the rebuilding a lost industry makes every day interesting and exciting.

Was living back in Garrett County and working on your family farm a priority?
The farm has been in the family for just over 100 years. I always had it in my mind that living on the farm would be a nice life. I think moving away to Baltimore for school, living in rural Tanzania for 40 months, and living in DC for two years gave me a good idea of the life I wanted for myself and eventual family. Moving back to the farm was more of a dream than anything. During my time in Tanzania, I saw a lot of opportunity for our school in avocado and fruit tree production and timber. My counterpart and I started a Environmental Club that taught students how to be self-sufficient through sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurialism. Coming back to the states, things came full circle and it was time to start practicing what I had been teaching my students over those three years. Manufacturing CBD oil became an outlet to develop a brand and line of products, which we see as imperative to creating a sustainable farm enterprise.

What do you hope Meadow Mountain will bring to benefit Garrett County and the community?
Our hope with our business is to help establish a robust hemp industry in Western Maryland. We see hemp as an opportunity for all Garrett County Farms will be able capitalize on eventually. Much how the soy industry was introduced to the county in the early 2000’s, hemp will be another row crop that farmers can grow to further diversify their operations. The key to this happening, though, is for processing capacity and infrastructure to be developed locally.

Who all works on the farm?
Our operation is currently operated by my wife Haeli and myself. We are lucky to have a large extended family and group of friends that always come out and help on heavy work days like planting and harvesting. We plan to add a farm hand or two this year to help in managing and maintaining the CBD crop.

What other organizations or associations do you need to make to help your business grow?
At the end of 2019, the Mountian Maryland Hemp Alliance was formed, a group of hemp farmers in Western MD. This expanded to over ten farms the following year. I currently serve as the Chairperson for the group. The main focus of our group is to help move the industry forward in our region. The group has received over $100,000 in Federal and state grant funds to conduct a feasibility study on industrial hemp processing in Western Maryland as well as for the purchase of some basic processing equipment. In addition, I serve on the Board of Directors for the Garrett County Farm Bureau which provides an outlet to reach out to our farming community and get hemp on the farmers’ radar. Once processing capacity is accomplished, around 1,000-1,500 acres of hemp will be needed to make that facility successful. This means that we will need a number of farmers to meet these acreage needs. Being visible and transparent in the farming community has brought a lot of acceptance and interest to the idea of growing it.

What would you like to say to others that want to start a small business or a small farming operation?
Go for it! The only thing stopping you is yourself. There will be a lot of folks who say you can’t make a living farming. This is so sad to me. Farmers should be the most respected folks in the community. They are stewards of the land and producers of the food we eat and materials we use. How has it come to be that you “can’t make a living farming?” I think a lot of this has to deal with the lack of evolution of farm operations. A dairy farm that continues to just sell milk to the processor is getting paid at the bottom rung of the ladder, while the folks making the ice cream are making all the money. Bringing that added value revenue back to farm is imperative to a successful enterprise. For MMH, this meant developing a premium crop, products, and brand.

Describe how else hemp farming can provide products that generally help our community and others?
Once processing capacity is developed, we will then have raw materials to make products. Processing would break the plant into three main products: seeds, fiber, and hurd (much like woodchips). Seeds can be pressed into oils (for cosmetics), dehulled for food (hemp hearts), and seed cakes eventually could be approved as an animal feed. Fibers can be used to create sustainable textile blends and lower dependence on input intensive crops like cotton. The hurd can be used for animal bedding, pulped to make paper, made into building materials like hempcrete, and even be incorporated into plastic blends for automotive car panels and nose caps of Boeing planes. There are really endless opportunities for innovation with these materials.

Is there a person you consider an unsung hero or that has been instrumental in helping you with your business?
There are a few people who have been instrumental in supporting our journey in Garrett County. Our graphic designer, Mark Stutzman, has been a believer advocate for hemp from the beginning. His expertise and skills in marketing and branding have helped us develop. Willie Lantz, Garrett County Agriculture Agent, is another person that I have to give a shout out to. He has been a key figure in making hemp a new and accepted crop in our region. There are countless number of times that Willie and his family have helped us out as new farmers—everything from getting a tractor and tiller to the farm to being a listening ear and voice of reason.

Written by Michael R. Fratz