May 13—Future Harvest, the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, has selected Grace Leatherman as its new executive director.
“Our farmers and food producers played a heroic role in sustaining communities during the pandemic,” said Steven Jones, president of the Future Harvest Board of Directors. “Yet, perhaps their greatest contribution will be in strengthening our food system’s regional impact in continuing times of uncertainty. Grace intuitively understands socially how we got here, the role of education in making change, the value of teamwork and leadership while sharing this organization’s values.”
Leatherman joined Future Harvest on May 9, bringing a lifetime of experience engaging with area farms as well as a deep understanding of the complex history of agriculture in America, which she researched during her graduate work at the University of Delaware, according to a news release.
A Baltimore County native, Leatherman raised sheep and was immersed in 4-H. After studying history and horticulture in college, she pursued a master’s in history and became a history teacher.
While teaching, she spent summers and weekends working at Butler’s Orchard in Germantown. Leatherman became the Maryland History Day outreach coordinator for Maryland Humanities, and in 2019, the executive director of the National Council for History Education.
She also spent nine years on the Damascus Community Fair Board, volunteered in Montgomery County 4-H, and served as the secretary of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau., “When I traveled the state as the Maryland History Day outreach coordinator for Maryland Humanities, I admired the wide variety of farms that stretched from the mountains to the ocean,” Leatherman said. “Sustainable agriculture is critical for the environmental and economic health of our region, and it is important that a diverse group of farms, farmers and consumers has access to support and resources. ”
At the National Council for History Education, she helped guide the strategic planning process focused on equity and inclusion, developing programs and obtaining funding to host the organization’s first-ever Equity Summit and The Rural Experience in America program.
Since 1998, the goal of Future Harvest — a 501(c) (3) membership nonprofit — has been to move the Chesapeake region’s agriculture forward. Member farms continue to be leaders and practical laboratories for developing and championing practices that lead to commercial success while protecting the bay, according to the organization’s website.
Future Harvest’s core programs include:
— The Beginner Farmer Training Program, which aims to replenish the aging farmer population with a workforce trained in sustainability. The three-level program is yearlong and has a competitive application process.
— The Field School, which holds about 35 farmer- and consumer-education workshops, tours and intensives each year on farms and food businesses around the region.
— Voice 4 Change program, which works collaboratively with others to advance policies and raise awareness of issues that help advance the organization’s mission.
— On-Farm Research, its most recent program. Future Harvest is conducting a 7-10 year soil benchmarking study, testing soil on select farms over time to help participating farmers better understand and share with others how their practices affect soil fertility.