Sotterley's Historic Farm
Sotterley’s farm history originates long ago in the manorial system of early Maryland when James Bowles established a plantation with its basis in tobacco in 1699. At the time, tobacco was a cash crop grown throughout Maryland, and the farm continued to grow tobacco into the 20th century. Plantations like Sotterley also grew fruits and vegetables as food for those who lived on the farm. Eventually, the foods produced at Sotterley diversified to include things like corn, cereal grains, and livestock. As the plantation passed from owner-to-owner over a long period of time, the farming traditions remained the same. The farm grew and shrank in size as economics dictated whether the owners sold or bought, from almost 7,000 acres in 1790 and as small as 400 acres for most of the nineteenth century. Historic Sotterley Inc. now consists of 94 acres of farm and woodland. After her fathers death in 1947, Dr. Mabel Satterlee Ingalls acquired the property, becoming Sotterley's last private owner. She turned Sotterley into a non-profit museum in the 1960s. Her daughter, Sandra Van Herdeen, inherited what was left of the property that Mabel had held onto even after establishing the non-profit and later donated that land back to Sotterley. It now constitutes a part of the site that is dedicated to agriculture today.
The principles behind the current sustainable farming movement are directly tied to farming practices throughout history. Putting fields back into production at Sotterley that were once fallow is not only good for the economy of the site; it provides teachable and tangible connections between the land and our shared history for visitors and protects our environment. Modern day implementation employs organic farming methods from the past, using feed and fertilizer from plant and animal materials. No chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics or pesticides are used.
We invite volunteers to our site to learn about planting, harvesting, and sustainable farming while helping us with our farming efforts. These volunteer events support our Growing for Good program, which donates fresh produce to local food banks and pantries to aid our community.
Growing for Good
Growing for Good is Historic Sotterley's program for keeping our farm active while giving back to the community. Southern Maryland contains three USDA Low-Income, Low-Access areas (colloquially known as food deserts) - two in St. Mary's County around Lexington Park and Great Mills, and one in Calvert between Solomons and Calvert Cliffs. The USDA defines "Low-Income" as the median household income of an area falling below the poverty line. "Low-Access" is defined as a significant share of the population lives more than 1 mile from a food store in urban areas, or more than 10 miles from a store in rural areas. Therefore, Low-Income Low-Access areas have a significant share of the population living below the poverty line with reduced access to food.
Growing for Good targets this need in our community by growing fresh fruits and vegetables and donating them to local food banks and pantries, while raising visibility for the need for food security. At the time of publishing this page, we have donated over 90,000 pounds of produce grown here on our farm to our community.
It is not enough for a single organization to tackle this problem alone, however. That's why Historic Sotterley's Growing for Good program partners with Farmers Feeding Southern Maryland, a local nonprofit which brings farmers together to tackle food insecurity as a team in our area. Our Facilities and Farm Manager has also been a farmer all his life, and works closely with the local Farm Service Agency and USDA offices to target the needs specific to our community. We are proud of the work we've accomplished so far, and hope to make meaningful connections with more organizations as we move forward.