Talk of Distillery Growing in Farming Community - Southern Maryland Headline News

Talk of Distillery Growing in Farming Community

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. — The local farming community has been looking for ways to diversify the crops it grows and how to use rural land in such a way to keep it preserved. One of the methods growing in popularity has been to produce grapes for the local winery in Leonardtown but farmers may now be considering diversifying into spirituous liquors.

Farmers started talking about interest in whether a distillery would be a good fit in St. Mary’s County last week at their annual legislative dinner in Leonardtown.

Farmers are quiet right now as to exactly who is floating the idea but agricultural leaders say that a distillery here could help boost the livelihoods of local farmers.

“Anything to create jobs in this county… it might be a good thing,” said John Knott, president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau.

Knott said that some of the locally grown corn and wheat that is usually shipped over to the Eastern Shore to supply chicken feed for the massive poultry industries there could stay here and be sold to make liquor such as whiskey.

Knott said that the distillery could also allow local residents as well as tourists from out of town to come and view the liquor being made, essentially making the distillery a part of the growing agricultural tourism sector here.

But Knott was surprised to hear of the talk of starting a distillery; he said he had never heard of the idea here before the Jan. 14 meeting.

But, that didn’t mean it could not work, he said, but the idea was just in its infancy.

“It may happen, it may not,” Knott said.

The town of Leonardtown had to create a zoning text amendment to make the winery on Point Lookout Road a reality and also had to lobby the county for funds to get the project completed.

A cooperative of farmers and grape growers have been feeding the winery fruit to make a local product which has boosted hopes of farmers to turn a profit after eschewing tobacco more than 10 years ago.

Bob Schaller, director of the county’s Department of Economic and Community Development said that similar zoning and legislative changes would be required to have a distillery here, but the trouble would likely be worth the cost.

The challenge would be to find a farmer who wanted to go through the long process, he said.

“This is a great opportunity for further diversification of agricultural resources,” Schaller said. “We’re just beginning this, but we’re hopeful something will come of this.”

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