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
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
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
Million Acre Challenge
Maryland Agriculture Commission
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.