Think of Howard County, Md., and chances are, it’s all about upscale boutique shops and a variety of restaurants sure to please the most discerning gourmand, as well as cultural events and relaxing recreational offerings.
According to the last census, however, there were more than 300 farms (full-timers and “sundowners” alike), not to mention 200 beekeepers, in this Maryland county, located just west of Baltimore and within easy reach of the D.C. suburbs. Bringing the best of both worlds together, Kathy Johnson, the county’s director of agricultural development, suggested both upcoming and ongoing agritourism activities.
“Agriculture is alive and thriving,” according to Johnson. As it turns out, it’s not difficult to honor the roots (literally) of what was once an overwhelmingly rural region and, at the same time, celebrate the area’s bounty.
Probably the easiest way to connect the fruits of farmers’ labors to consumers’ tables is at one of the county’s six weekly farmer’s markets. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, and yes, even farm-to-bottle local beers and spirits (we’re talking rum and whiskey), as well as fresh baked goods: All are regularly offered Wednesdays through Sundays, from now and throughout the harvest season. These markets operate at a variety of locations throughout the county, including the grounds of public libraries and the parking lot of the old courthouse in Ellicott City. The best thing about these markets, said Johnson, is that everything is super fresh, picked the night before or the morning of, all at the height of ripeness. “I love farmer’s markets,” she said. “They’re great.” In addition to their environmental, economic, and nutritional benefits, “they’re fun!”
But maybe you want to get your hands dirty and have a more up close and personal experience. A number of Howard County farmers invite visitors to pick their own. This time of year, that includes pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins. And with the annual Howard County City-Farm Celebration, set for Sept. 21 through Oct. 6, there’s no end to farm-loving fun, with some 300 public events ranging from compost demonstrations to tips from local master gardeners.
Hoping to get lost in a maze (if only for a little while?) Have a yen to take a hayride? Large farms that welcome guests offer these activities and more. Check out Larriland Farm where, among other attractions, a “boo barn” is guaranteed to spook out little folks (but in a gentle way). Clark’s Farm offers a trip back in time to historic Enchanted Forest, as well as a petting farm (“Everyone loves the baby goats”). Sharp’s Farm is a “teaching farm” that takes time to consider the environmental side of farming, focusing on water quality (Sharp’s also gets high marks for its popcorn).
Mary’s Land Farm, an all-organic farm that offers meats and eggs (including those from ducks and geese), will host an adult evening on the farm, with olive oil tastings, a bit of wine and a hayride. And for those who can’t help thinking Christmas thoughts, even before the first frost, there’s the TLV Tree Farm.
Finally, the Living Farm Heritage Museum pays homage to county agriculture, offering a place for visitors to compare new and old farm machinery, tour a mid-20th century house (what? corded phones?), check out a one-room schoolhouse, and visit barns and sheds. Camp on the grounds and spend the night.
But what might be the most incredible word from Johnson is the fact that yes, there is still a very active FFA chapter in the county. Who knew?
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Insider’s tip: If every Maryland household spent $12 a week for eight weeks at a farmer’s market, the state’s economy would grow by $200 million, not to mention lowering our carbon footprint.