WESTMINSTER — At Spinning Wheel Farm, simplicity is important.
"We're notfancy," said Ralph L. Robertson Jr., a dairy farmer who lives with his wife and 10-year-old daughter in a renovated white farmhouse on Old New Windsor Pike.
"We do things as simply as possible with the best return tothe bottom line," said Robertson, 43.
He may try to live and work simply, but not much is easy about operating a farm on the edge of a growing city during lean economic times.
"The milk business right now is real bad," he said while looking into one of his barns. As he did, a cow backed out of its stall and turned to look athim.
"They're just like people. Some are more curious than others," Robertson said, smiling.
For his accomplishments onthe farm and his work in the agriculture community, Robertson has received a "Master Farmer" award sponsored by a Pennsylvania magazine and colleges in five states, including the University of Maryland.
Robertson already has the plaque hanging in his home office.
"I was honored. I was humbled by it," he said.
Two other Carroll farmers have received the award in the last 13 years.
Robertson, who farms near Carroll Lutheran Village Retirement Community, didn't want to be a farmer when he went away to school in North Carolina.
"I went to college with the idea of being a lawyer or teacher. I always enjoyed history and government," he said.
He earned a degree in political science with a minor in history, but began working on the farm after his father was hurt in a farm accident. He had planned to go to law school when his father recovered.
His father regained his health, but then was gored by abull, Robertson said.
"But by that time, I had decided I really enjoyed what I was doing."
His father, now 73, lives across the street from Robertson and is bedridden. Robertson's mother, Elizabeth, keeps the books for the farm.
Robertson said he'snever regretted the decision to stay on the farm.
"This is a very challenging, rewarding job," he said. "It's outdoors. You meetgood people."
He doesn't know who nominated him for the award, which has been given to farmers in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia for 57 years.
This year, more than 200 farmers were nominated. Of these, 35 chose to complete anextensive application detailing their farm operations and community service, said John R. Vogel, editor of Pennsylvania Farmer magazine, based in Camp Hill.
Ten finalists were chosen, and a team ofthree judges visited the farms and selected six winners, he said. Robertson was the only winner from Maryland this year.
The judges were New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Brown; John Crowgey, a vice president at Farm Credit Bank in Baltimore; and Donald Evans, assistant dean in the College of Agriculture at Pennsylvania State University.
Master farmers must show financial progress and innovation in agricultural practices and must be involved in community and agriculture organizations, Vogel said.
"They have tobe well-rounded and involved in leadership roles.
"Master farmers exemplify the agriculturist's centuries-old reputation for dedication, perseverance, involvement and ambition," he said.
Since taking over for his father in 1976, Robertson slowly has modernized the farm, which his grandfather bought during the Depression. He's built new barns and silos and has installed a new milking parlor.
Robertson owns 137 acres and farms 445 acres. He milks 90 cows and has 120 young cows.
He and his family and one full-time employee, Melvin Arrington of Frizzelburg, have done much of the renovating themselves.
Robertson also has implemented conservation measures to help keep clean Little Pipe Creek, which runs through his land and eventually drains into the Chesapeake Bay.