WESTMINSTER — Agriculture is changing in the county and across Maryland as producers branch out to meet the market's needs, Cooperative Extension Service agent Thomas Ford said Wednesday.
"Agriculture has changed in Carroll County probably more than anyplace else," in part because "we've got houses growing every place," he said.
Ford spoke at the monthly Agribusiness group breakfast at Baugher's Country Restaurant.
About 230 Carroll families are involved in alternative agriculture, he said.
Growers must be willing to take risks and change as the population and its needs change, he said. Marketing skills are especially important, he added.
County producershave an advantage because they're close to large population bases, which gives them opportunities to market their products directly to consumers, Ford said.
Within an hour of Westminster, there are 44 farmers markets, where producers sell bread, tomatoes, corn, cut flowers and a variety of other products, he said.
Cut flowers are "probably Maryland's greatest calling card" for alternative agriculture ventures, Ford said. The county has 15 cut flower producers who sell to wholesalers, local florists or at farmers markets, he said.
"It's a very lucrative enterprise," he added.
"Exotic livestock," including miniature donkeys, ostriches or red deer, are another possibility, he said.
Nursery crops, such as plants and flowers, are popular in this area because of the growing population, Ford said. Four new greenhouse operations opened in Carroll last year, he said.
Vegetables and fruits also are lucrative, he said. Eggplant, tomatoes, cantaloupe, raspberries and blackberries are good cash crops, but are labor-intensive, Ford said.