• Maryland Forests

Did you know that it takes markets to make planting trees viable?

Updated: May 23



Meet Keith Ohlinger, Owner of Porch View Farm

 

Keith Ohlinger has spent his life on the frontlines of farms and sustainable land

management, and knows all the barriers to being successful like the back of his hand. Owner of

22-acre Porch View Farm in Woodbine, the family farm proprietor has been an active, engaged

steward on agricultural and natural resource policies and practices from the beginning.


At age 18, he was appointed to his local town borough council and served on the

agricultural preservation board because they were “losing farms at such a fast clip in the ‘80s,”

Ohlinger says. Now 52, he still sees “there is no simple solution” to the challenges and problems

farmers face in managing their agricultural lands and their woodlands.


His grandparents lost their Pennsylvania farm before he was born, and he happened to

graduate school smack dab in the middle of the farm crisis of the ‘80s, so the obstacles to living

off the land and being a prosperous business are a constant backdrop to his life. Always looking

to innovate and find answers to some of these issues, Ohlinger is incredibly involved in his

community and the state, having served as treasurer for the Howard Soil Conservation District

Board of Supervisors and vice chair of the Maryland Agriculture Commission.


Ohlinger also served on the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture/Future

Harvest Board of Directors, the State Soil Conservation Committee and currently is on the

Maryland Forests Association Board of Directors. He is past president and vice president for the

Howard County Extension Advisory Council and past president for the Howard County

Watershed Improvement Network Steering Committee.


Wearing all of these hats in multiple roles, Ohlinger has an in-depth understanding of the

state of agriculture and land management in the state, as well as what’s needed to give

landowners an opportunity to succeed. He is an advocate for regenerative agriculture, serving

on over 50 local, regional and state, and national level boards, advisory councils, and

committees related to food, agriculture, soil and sustainability in the past decade.


One soil-centric group he is a part of is the Million Acre Challenge, which is a group of

farmers from across the state made up of diversified vegetable growers, livestock farmers and

row crop producers. Their mission is to bring farmers together to advance profitability,

production and resilience of the land through education and awareness of best soil health

practices. Ohlinger knows the science behind healthy soils and his efforts on his land are all part

and parcel of establishing a healthy, regenerative, organic living system from the ground up,

starting with the particles and pores of the soil beneath his feet.


“If you look at what has happened over mainly the last 300 years….colonialists came in

cut a lot of timber, planted and farmed a lot of tobacco, and soil was damaged by these intense

extraction activities,” he points out. In Ohlinger’s mind, his working the land the right way is a

way to try to get back to the Native American approach, staying attuned to what is needed in

order to survive and “supporting the local ecological balance.” With deep concern for his

children and their children, he takes the long view similar to Native American ideology, “How will

what I do impact my descendants 6 generations from now?”


An innovative way Ohlinger has been trying to build such a sustainable, regenerative

system is through silvopasture, but the challenges of economy and markets has made this

endeavor quite a frustrating one for him. Silvopasture is the planting of trees as a future forage

crop for livestock, with rotational grazing and species selected based on livestock. This can be

forest planted into pasture, or bringing livestock into existing forest after selective thinning and

management.


One of the things keeping silvopasture from becoming more widely implemented is the

Food Safety Modernization Act, which states that livestock can’t graze in orchard that’s intended

for crops sold to the public. So farmers like Ohlinger, after their animals have grazed, can’t sell

right to people and will need another processing step to get around this legislative impediment.


Forest and farm can co-exist, but if farmers like Ohlinger can’t make income off the fruit,

the nuts, the wood that comes from these integrative practices, what is an incredibly impactful

practice for soil and watershed health, carbon sequestration, and pollinator/wildlife support

could face insurmountable odds to ever becoming a sustainable established practice that is

broadly accepted.


Ohlinger has put his livelihood at stake for the good of the earth by trying out these

approaches despite the bureaucratic and economic hurdles that have become insurmountable

for so many farmers. “No one is looking at the realities of the farming life and no one is looking

at the economics,” he says.


Even in the face of so many overwhelming obstacles, Ohlinger still knows that we have

to do right by the land, both farms and forests. “We have to figure out how to feed, clothe,

provide energy and building materials for an ever-growing population without destroying the

planet in the process and how to do it in regenerative way. We have to restore the environment,”

he adds. When asked about his goals and how forestry is involved he states “My ultimate goal

is to create a veritable Garden of Eden that is pleasing to behold in the community, enhances

the local ecology, supports people, and makes a profit. Forestry is the anchor for all that I do.”

 


Keith Ohlinger pictured on his silvopasture farm in Howard County where he has planted 20,000+ trees.


Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS

Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL


 

Growing for Good: Maryland Foresters produced by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology



 

LINKS TO LEARN MORE:

Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology- Growing for Good: Farming and Forestry in Maryland Report

https://agnr.umd.edu/research/research-and-education-centers-locations/harry-r-hughes-center-agro-ecology/growing-good

Million Acre Challenge

https://millionacrechallenge.org/

Maryland Agriculture Commission

https://mda.maryland.gov/about_mda/Pages/md-ag-commission.aspx

Future Harvest

https://www.futureharvestcasa.org/


 

Keith has a love for his family, his land, and his animals that clearly shines through.

He has a deep understanding of sustainability and the environment.

The MFA is proud to have such a strong advocate on board to advance practices that will benefit generations to come.