Marc Grossman ’96
Farmer, High School Teacher
The farm is pitch black as Marc Grossman '96 threads his way carefully through the electric fence. It's cold—last night's early frost killed off a shipment of vegetables that was already spoken for—but tomorrow's vegetables need to be washed and packed, and 150 pounds of garlic should have gone into the ground a few weeks ago. Even as he sets out, he knows he won't get to everything tonight.
Such is the uncertain nature of a small farm, which is why Grossman keeps his day job as a high school teacher. He comes out to this farm in Brookeville, Maryland, a couple of times a week in the colder months. Even in the dark and the cold, there are vegetables to tuck under blankets and a new irrigation system to protect against the freeze.
"You have to love it, otherwise you don't last very long," Grossman says as he stakes out a patch of ground for the next day's delivery of leaves from Baltimore County. The farm is certified organic, and these leaves will form the compost for next year's crops.
Grossman credits Goucher with giving him the flexibility he needed to learn all the varied skills running a farm entails, as well as a sense of perspective about the endeavor.
"Goucher taught me how to think critically," he says. "It gave me the skills to learn a lot of things, and it gave me the skills to see the role of something this small in the larger world." He laughs, and adds, "I wonder how many Goucher grads are farmers."
Grossman didn't start out as a farmer post-Goucher. After graduation, the history major headed to Capitol Hill as an intern. But life inside the beltway didn't agree with him, so he joined the Peace Corps. After a three-year stint building water systems in Bolivia, Grossman returned to Ohio, where he grew up. He spent some time at Stratford Ecological Center, an educational farm and nature preserve, exploring a lifelong interest in farming. "For the changes that are going to happen, there have to be people actually doing something. I wanted to be one of the people actually doing, as opposed to telling others what to do."
"I didn't want to be the policy advocate," he says. "For the changes that are going to happen, there have to be people actually doing something. I wanted to be one of the people actually doing, as opposed to telling others what to do."
Grossman returned to school to get a teaching degree at George Washington University, then he took a position in Montgomery County, Maryland, where he still teaches high school social studies. Meanwhile, in his spare time he grew seedlings to sell at market. When that proved not to be economically feasible, he rented six plots in a community garden and grew salad greens. He scored a slot at a local farmers' market, and that was his niche. "I didn't make any money," he recalls, "but I didn't lose any, either."
At the market, he met John Brill, a fellow small farmer who was expanding the community garden at Our House, a residential job-training center for at-risk male teens. The farm is a for-profit operation that, at least in theory, is separate from the nonprofit Our House. The farm sells its organic produce and free-range eggs to local restaurants and at farmers' markets, and it offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Neither Brill nor Grossman were making it on their own in agriculture, so in 2008 they decided to team up and take advantage of the available farmland-now grown to 12 acres-and the job-training aspect of the Our House program. The young men who live on site are paid wages to do skilled and unskilled labor, from digging ditches to fixing tractors, all while working toward their GED in the evenings.
Grossman now has almost reached a stage where he breaks even for the amount of money he's put in over the years, to say nothing of the time involved.
"I don't have a grand vision for where we'll be in ten years," he says. "Right now we're just trying to nail down what we have, and to do it well. I'm just doing my part, making my contribution."