Family homesteads: Young farmers maintain land and continue farming legacy

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One by one, Nick Bailey has seen them disappear — the ancestral farms in Forest Hill that always flanked his own. The land is sold, mom-and-pop homesteads are plowed under, and upscale houses sprout where cows and corn once thrived.


“We used to be surrounded by fields, not choked out by development and noise,” said Bailey, who owns Grand View Farms. “Kids today who grew up on farms don’t have time for agriculture; it’s easier to sell the land for a couple million dollars. But you never get that [farmland] back.”

Nick, left, and Wilson Bailey, owners of Grand View Farms. (Brian Krista/ Baltimore Sun Media)

His family’s tract might have followed suit, had Bailey gone into his chosen field of engineering.

“I had no intention of coming back here after college,” he said. Why bother?

His father, Wilson Bailey, left farming years ago, rather than douse the crops with poisons. For more than a decade, the land just dozed while its stewards worked other jobs.

Then the prodigal son returned.

“Sitting in an office all day didn’t appeal to me,” said Bailey, who, with his dad, re-awakened the farm in a different vein.

They bought livestock — 25 chickens and a cow — and adopted an eco-friendly style. That 10-year-old re-boot has paid dividends. The Baileys now raise nearly 200 beef cattle, 800 chickens and 60 pigs on 200 acres in their pasture-based, regenerative operation. The business serves 6,000 customers, mostly through online deliveriesand has reaped more than $1 million to date.

Bailey, who attended Fallston High, is one of a cadre of young farmers in Harford County who are determined to keep multi-generational farms alive, or even create new ones. In the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, the county numbered 628 farms, a 17 percent drop from 30 years earlier. Moreover, more than one-third of American farmers are now 65 or older, following an inexorable rise in the last half-century.


“Farming is certainly still a very healthy, viable and important industry [here], generating almost $600 million in economic activity for the county annually,” said Andy Kness, University of Maryland agriculture extension agent for the county. “That said, there are challenges our farmers face, which drive the innovations and changes they make in order to adapt and stay alive. Even with these great challenges, we have several bright, young farmers who are willing and able to tackle them.”

For instance, unlike many beef farms, Bailey’s herd feeds on grass, not grain, and is rotated daily from field to field, replaced by chickens. This allows the ground to replenish itself with animal manures in a natural setting. The pigs thrive in woods nearby.

“We give back to the land more than we take,” said Bailey.

His customers favor the meat and eggs from a homestead free of synthetic fertilizers and weed killers. Selling direct to the public strengthens that rapport. Bailey welcomes clients to stop and see his stock and offers school tours in warmer months; the marketing ploy builds trust.

“The core of our business is relationships,” he said. “We want people to [patronize us] based on their visceral experience here.” Visitors are sure to see the old bank barn, refurbished as a wedding venue, and a bed-and-breakfast.

Come evening, Bailey climbs into his 1983 Jeep with his wife and kids and jounces out to the fields to see the cattle silhouetted against the setting sun.


“It’s the most peaceful thing one could experience,” he said. “No matter what happened that day — the amazing highs and horrible lows — that one snippet is fulfilling. You need to keep an even keel in farming to stay sane, or you won’t survive.”

Kim Vaughan puts on her work boots as her one-year-old daughter Helen sits next to her at their family dairy farm, Daily Crisis.  They have a herd of around 75 cows, 40 of whom are milked every day.

Daily Crisis Farm

It’s an apt name for the Vaughan family’s dairy spread, or any small homestead hustling to hang on. Welcome to the Daily Crisis Farm in White Hall.

“My dad [Daniel Vaughan] named the farm when he bought it 40 years ago,” Kim Vaughan Burkholder said. “Every morning, it seems there’s a problem — a blown tire on the tractor, a dead battery in the truck, or a cow got loose. At day’s end, we feel like we’ve gotten nothing done until we count up the little [accomplishments], like feeding the heifers and getting the hay bales out. The mundane tasks are still a victory.”

The mother of one, with another on the way, Burkholder and her 64-year-old father, work nearly 300 acres of corn and hay, tend 40 milk cows, and keep the place going with income gleaned from other sources critical to a small farm’s survival. Her husband, Steve Burkholder, works as an auto body restorer; her mom, Karen, is a crop insurance adjuster and tends the chickens. The family apiary produces sweet local honey. From her quarter-acre flower bed, Burkholder, 35, crafts wedding bouquets and holiday wreaths. All of this nibbles away at expenses and helps keep the farm afloat.

“If we didn’t have these niche markets, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. The farm stand out front, on Bradenbaugh Road, offers milk, eggs, butter and other dairy products. Upscale cheeses, made from the farm’s milk and sought by local wineries and groceries, are a cash cow.

“Cheese helps keep the lights on,” Burkholder said.


A graduate of North Harford High, she left home for college, then worked for two years in an office job for the USDA. Sitting at a desk, she found, was “harder for me than discing a field.”

A farmer, she would be.

“It’s a mental addiction; it gets into your blood,” Burkholder said. “My father’s goal [in the end] is to fall asleep one day after milking his cows. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and that’s the sickness of it. At the end of the day, you’ve worked outside in the sun, with the birds and nature, and you feel tired but great. Then you sit down with the bills and think, which ones do I pay today?”

Could she run the place alone?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m a female farmer and proud of it, but there are some things I’m just not strong enough to do — and I’m humble enough to admit that. Farming is an excellent way to grow up; you learn to swing with the punches better than people without such responsibilities and whose biggest worry of the day is whether their morning coffee order was correct.”

More’s the pity, she said:


“I can walk into the kitchen for breakfast and have a piece of toast with butter that is, literally, from our own back yard.”

 Charlie Pendorf raises emus, turkeys and chickens at his small family farm in Churchville. (Kenneth K. Lam/ The Baltimore Sun)

The Hydrofarm

If diversity is the ticket to farming, then Charlie Pendorf is its model. He began by growing strawberries and now raises emus.

“You’ve got to keep pivoting,” said Pendorf, 36. “It’s the only way to survive.”

Greenhouses dot The Hydrofarm, the 10-acre tract he purchased in Churchville. Once teeming with hydroponically grown lettuces and microgreens bound for local restaurants, the buildings have sat dormant since the pandemic, when many of the farm’s clients begged off. So Pendorf changed course and began raising chickens, 300 in all. But foxes and coyotes began ravaging the egg-layers.

“That’s when I got the emus, to scare away [the predators],” he said. Now his initial brood of six emus has grown to 28 and, to Pendorf’s surprise, folks have bought more than 100 emu chicks to raise as pets. He also breeds kunekune pigs, turkeys, Muscovy ducks and quail, ostensibly for the same reason.

Charlie Pendorf, left, looks on as his daughter Alaina, 8, holds a Kunekune piglet at their small family farm in Churchville.
Oct. 12, 2022.

“Our daughters name the animals, so every one must leave the farm alive,” said Pendorf. He also sells firewood both culled from his own land and procured from local arborists who cut up trees downed in storms.


A graduate of Aberdeen High, Pendorf spent 10 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Anne Arundel County before retiring with a back injury. With no farming savvy, he began growing strawberries hydroponically in a spare bedroom before turning the hobby into a business.

“It has been an uphill battle ever since,” he said. “People think we’re living the dream; I say, ‘Remember, nightmares are dreams, too.’ ”

Pendorf plans to re-establish the greenhouse operation next spring.

“Hopefully, we’ll get back on our feet again,” he said. “We’re getting there, though I’m not sure where we’re going.”