HURLOCK — Born into an agricultural life, March’s Featured Farmer, Mary Lou Brown, is the first-ever recipient of the Maryland Farm Bureau Agri-Woman of the Year award, and a long time University of Maryland Extension 4-H Volunteer and local poultry farmer.
“As a child, when I was not yet 4-H age, my father let me show this huge Holstein Cow at Wrightstown Grange Fair. I don’t believe I could even reach up to hold the cow’s head in the right position for showing,” said Brown. “However, the cow did whatever I wanted it to do and ‘probably walked me’ around the ring.”
She grew up on a dairy farm in Bucks County, Pa., and has been influenced by agriculture and 4-H all her life. After attending the University of Delaware and earning her B.S. in Agricultural Economics and Education, Brown worked for the University of Maryland Extension in Queen Anne’s County where she was a 4-H Program Assistant for 9 years, and has been a 4-H volunteer for 20 years.
During that time, she met her late husband Bill, and were married in 1992. They bought 15 acres of land in Dorchester County, where her home is located today. At that time they grew produce and operated a roadside stand; but they always dreamed of retiring one day and being poultry farmers.
In 2001 they purchased 30 acres of land and began to develop their poultry farm dream, Maple Breeze Farm. For the next 15 years they grew the business from the two original poultry houses to six. Brown said her husband was always in the poultry industry, as well as running their farm; he worked for Perdue Farms for many years and then went on to be an Extension poultry agent with the University of Delaware.
In 2016 Brown lost her husband in a tragic accident on the farm. “My husband always said that if anything ever happens to me, just sell the farm. But I didn’t want to do that, I liked the farm.” So their daughter Ashley, left college to return to the farm to help out full-time.
Brown said she was managing the day-to-day responsibilities of the farm at the time of Bill’s passing, so not much has changed in her work. She always enjoyed the flexibility running the farm gave her while she was raising her children. Now Brown and her daughter are partners in the business. Together they run six poultry houses and on average grow 130,000 birds per cycle of approximately 60 days.
Ashley, who worked part-time at UMD Extension Dorchester as a 4-H Program Assistant in 2017, said “you really need a heart and passion to be a poultry farmer. You don’t just wake up one day and say I want to be a farmer.” Laughing, Ashley admits she’d like to take over the farm when her mother is ready to retire. “I do think about the future more than I really want to think about it. But yes, I would like to continue and keep the farm if I can,” she said.
Brown shared that UMD Extension has kept her on track over the years with her Nutrient Management plans. “If I need help understanding something, I know they are always there to help me. Extension is a huge help to me! The Ag Agents and Nutrient Management Advisors have expertise in so many areas; you just find a specialist and give them a call,” she said, adding, “Poultry farming and agriculture in general is definitely a challenge and an uphill battle.”
In December of 2019, Brown was recognized by the Maryland Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee as the first-ever recipient of the Agri-Woman of the Year award, recognizing outstanding women in agriculture for their dedication to the agricultural community and Farm Bureau.
Brown is a LEAD Maryland Foundation, Inc. Fellow, and is currently the Maryland State District 6 Director of the Maryland Farm Bureau, and a member of the Dorchester Farm Bureau. She also serves on the board of directors for the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Caroline/Dorchester Fair Board, The Lions Club, and is a 4-H All Star. She is also a current 4-H Club Leader and an active member at Unity-Washington United Methodist Church, where she and Ashley deliver food each week to about 35 families through a program called Food Link. In her spare time she says she likes to read Christian mysteries and entertain others in her home.
Ashley is also a member of The Delmarva Poultry Industry, The Maryland Farm Bureau, and a Volleyball Coach for DVA Middle and High School Students. In her spare time, she prefers to rest.