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The Great Pumpkin Grower

Farming is in Nick Walter’s genes
       You know the season has changed when you look across the sprawling fields of the Walter family farm, dotted brilliant orange with autumn’s signature crop: pumpkins. 
        There Nick Walter is happily knee-deep in his element, harvesting the fruit of his labor.  
      Just 21 years old, this hard-working, fourth-generation, Maryland farmer is the future of Maryland agriculture. Back in June, Nick planted these pumpkins, 30 acres of them. Before pumpkins, he’d planted, nurtured and harvested 20 more acres of vegetables. It is hard work, but he loves it; it is his chosen career. He plans to keep this farm vital, profitable and growing for the next generation or more.
      “It’s all I have ever wanted to do,” Nick says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
      Born in Charles County to Steven and Candy Walter, Nick spent his first years on the farm. When he was five years old, his parents divorced; Steven stayed on the farm while Candy and Nick moved to Lothian. Off the farm, Candy managed a growing number of suburban farmers markets. The boy tagged along. At those markets, the budding farmer saw his future.
       Weekends, vacations and summer breaks he spent on the family farm, learning the ropes, working the fields alongside his grandfather, uncle and father. After graduating from Southern High School in 2015, Nick spent a year at tech school, learning diesel mechanics. Both of his parents pushed him to continue his education, but all he wanted was to farm.
      “My parents really didn’t want me to be a farmer,” he says.
       Despite their efforts to steer him elsewhere, Nick moved back to the farm in 2016.
       “It’s my home,” he says — a home he has no intentions of ever leaving.  
        Farming is in his genes, and his history is in this land. Nick’s great-grandparents, German immigrants, began the farm in the 1920s. They logged the wooded land, using the timber to build barns. The farm grew to a productive 600-acre operation, supporting the next two generations of Walters with its bountiful crops of grains, feed corn and tobacco.
      In 2002, Nick’s father and grandfather, Harold, took the tobacco buyout. Unlike many who did the same, they didn’t sell the land to developers. They just kept on planting, expanding the total acreage farmed to about 1,600 acres through land leases.
       Today the family farm — formally doing business as H&S Farms, LLC — is going strong. Grandfather Harold has passed on, leaving the farm work to Steven, Nick and family friend Andy. Grandma Helen Marie Walter takes care of the books. Steven’s main focus is on the field crops: Wheat, feed corn, soybeans and sorghum.  
      Nick is all about vegetables. Eighty acres of tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, melons and pumpkins are pretty much his to manage. His customers are farm markets, roadside stands, Amish markets and other local businesses.  
      Greenhouses and hoop houses are the maternity wards of Nick’s produce operation. “It starts with seeds,” he explains.
      As they mature, the seedlings are transplanted to larger trays. When the plants are big enough, and Mother Nature gives the thumbs up, they are planted in the field.
      “That’s definitely my favorite part,” says Nick. “More than anything, I love to plant.” 
      This year’s record rainfall hurt.
     “The tomatoes split,” Nick says. “And the pepper plants just rotted.” But he doesn’t get “all worked up” about the weather challenges.  “It is what it is,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “I can only do what I can do.
       Fourteen years ago, a tornado tore up the farm.
      “It took out most of the barns and all of our grain bins,” Nick recalls.
      Today new metal buildings stand among a few of the original tobacco barns that survived that storm.  
       Staying in touch with your roots is good, but success takes moving forward.
       Solar panels power new greenhouses, where Nick and his father are experimenting with growing flowering annuals, like vinca. 
       “I’m thinking of the future, trying new things” says the young farmer. Mushroom compost as fertilizer is one. “I like it,” he says. “It does a good job.”
       This year, the farmers field-tested Bloom, the new bio-solid fertilizer beloved by The Bay Gardener, on the feed corn. “It’s good stuff,” Nick says. “You could see the difference in the rows where it was used and where it wasn’t. The plants were bigger and greener.” And, he laughs, “It doesn’t smell too bad.”
       He sees agricultural education as part of his responsibility. “People need to know where their food comes from,” he says. “It comes from farms.”
       Even in winter, his job is sunup to sundown. Not everyone — especially a 21-year-old guy — is suited for the long, hard days. Night is for sleeping; not for partying with friends. There is rarely any downtime, and that is usually in January and February, spent patching, oiling and sharpening the tools of the trade in preparation for the fast approaching spring planting season —when it starts all over again.
 
Jack-Be-Littles to Atlantic Giants
      Today it’s pretty much all about pumpkins: Jack-Be-Littles, Cannonballs, Mischiefs, Warty Goblins, Porcelain Dolls, Snow Balls, One Too Many, Atlantic Giants, Red Warty Things, Hubbards, Fancy Gourds, and Gladiators. Bins of freshly picked gourds are headed to Nick’s old neighborhood, Lothian, purchased by Ray Greenstreet, owner of Greenstreet Gardens.
       “It’s fun to think that some of my neighbors will be buying my pumpkins,” Nick says.
      Greenstreet is delighted, too. “These young farmers are working very hard to find their niche in Maryland agriculture,” Ray says. “They are the next generation, and they are showing great promise.”