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The Amish and Mennonites moved from Pennsylvania to St. Mary’s County starting in 1939 when local land was cheap. Property is far from cheap now, but Amish and Mennonites still make a living from the land.

The Stauffer Feed Mill in Loveville is one of those operations. Some of the county commissioners recently visited the mill, once known as the Loveville Hen Yard, which grinds animal feed without using electricity. Pneumatic power operates such things as the handheld sewing guns that seal the bags of feed.

The mill has enough room to store a supply of grain to last 10 weeks, said Joseph Stauffer. Corn, oats, barley and soybean meal are ground up to make various feeds for farm animals. The farm also has a general store on site.

Asked who his best customer is, Stauffer said, “A 43-year-old female with a horse.” But the mill also supplies feed for beef cattle.

Horse owners in St. Mary’s often stable their animals on 15-acre farmstead lots — “a very important part of the way land is used in St. Mary’s County,” said his brother, Elam Stauffer.

Elam Stauffer runs Loveville Leather Tack and Feed next door. His business caters to horse owners in Southern Maryland and even from Virginia. It’s hard to find someone to make repairs or alterations to leather, he said. Big-box stores don’t offer those kinds of services.

“That’s what they have here, true customer service,” said Donna Sasscer, agricultural specialist for St. Mary’s County government.

“There’s sometimes really simple solutions all around us,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) when electricity isn’t available or isn’t wanted.

“We have become so removed from that in society, it’s nice to be able to witness it again,” he said of the mill’s operation.

Jarboe works with the Amish community, which is more focused in Charlotte Hall. The Mennonite community is in the Loveville area.

Joseph Stauffer’s father bought the Loveville property in 1946 when it was a tobacco farm. David Stauffer started buying chicken houses in the 1960s and the farm became known as the Loveville Hen Yard. At one point, the farm had 4,500 chickens, selling thousands of eggs.

Now there are only a few chickens around the farm and the business is focused on animal feed.

Times have been tough on the business. “The price of feed over the past two years has become a nightmare,” Joseph Stauffer said.

The corn crop is being stretched thin. Jarboe asked if corn being diverted for use as ethanol fuel was a reason.

Corn is being sold at $8 for a bushel, which is good for corn growers, but bad for the beef farmer who has to feed them, said Ben Beale, St. Mary’s County farm cooperative agent with the University of Maryland.

“We need to decide if we’re out to drive or we’re going to eat,” Joseph Stauffer said.

He said many people have small “feel-good” activities at their home, like gardens or raising chickens, but may not be focusing on commercial agriculture, which feeds the population.

The Amish and Mennonite communities did not participate in Maryland’s buyout of the tobacco crop and still produce about 1 million pounds of it a year, Beale said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com