Farming couple coexists with suburbia

September 20, 1992|By Linda Lowe Morris | Linda Lowe Morris,Staff Writer

Captions with photographs in The Carroll County Sun of Sept. 20 erroneously indicated that Lyman and Dorothy Hood of Eldersburg were not on good terms with the people who live in the housing subdivision that surrounds their farm. The Hoods say they enjoy and value their friends and neighbors.

9- The Carroll County Sun regrets the error.

It is one last act of rebellion every time Lyman Hood puts on his hat.

Just above the deeply creased brim, an embroidered patch says JTC it all: "Raise Hay, Not Taxes." It's his plea for green fields of clover instead of parking lots and shopping centers and sub-developments.

There are battles being fought all over Carroll County these days as suburb meets country, but for Lyman and Dorothy Hood, the wars are over.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

And on their Eldersburg farmstead, Pine Hill Farms, they've had to adapt to new ways of making a living.

In the kitchen of the couple's 19th-century farmhouse, Mr. Hood reaches into a desk drawer and pulls out a faded Polaroid photograph taken from a small airplane that was flying just a few hundred feet above the trees.

Taken in the early 1980s, it looks down on the Hoods' five acres of Eden -- the neat white house, the red-painted barn and its cluster of outbuildings, gardens of vegetables and flowers, and a small pasture for their last remaining horse -- all of it surrounded by a solid ring of white pine, spruce and cedar.

But just beyond this wall of evergreens you see another ring -- rows of houses, each little more than 20 feet from its neighbor -- the development called Hilltop.

"It's sort of like an oasis here," says Mrs. Hood, as she looks at the photograph.

When the Hoods first moved to their farmstead 27 years ago, it was in the midst of open fields. And from the beginning, they did a variety of things to survive.

They both loved horses, so they boarded them, up to 35 at a time. Mr. Hood rented 300 of the acres around them to grow hay, both to sell and as food for the couple's horses.

Once a part-time rodeo rider,Mr. Hood became a farrier, shoeing horses on farms throughout the county. The Hoods taught themselves leather craft, then sold their own handmade saddles, tack, fancy Western-style wallets and belts.

They had four children -- a son and three daughters -- three of them delivered by Mr. Hood. "He's a pretty good midwife," Mrs. Hood says, "a lot better than the hospital was.

After I had the first one in the hospital, I swore I'd never do that again, and I kept my word."

Eventually, the land around them was sold to a developer, who broke ground in 1977 for what was Carroll County's first cluster subdivision.

NB For the Hoods it meant the end of renting the land around them

and the end of boarding horses. They were forced to find new ways to get the maximum use of every square foot of their property.

"Getting used to a subdivision is a lot like getting older," Mrs. Hood says. "You've got to adapt and work smarter."

Where once he used his vintage tractors to cut hay, Mr. Hood now uses them to cut the grass in the subdivision's open recreation spaces.

He also buys logs and splits them into firewood, which he sells to his neighbors.

Mrs. Hood expanded her gardens into a unique dig-your-own perennial nursery. She grows more than 100 varieties of perennials, herbs and wildflowers -- poppies, asters, day lilies, chrysanthemums, black-eyed Susans,ornamental grasses, miniature roses, ivy and lilies of the valley among them.

Shopping for plants there is a little like walking through an arboretum. Customers browse until they choose their plants. "We give them a price," Mrs. Hood says. "If they like it, we dig it up, put it in a plastic bag and they take it home with them."

"We want people to feel free to come in and wander around," Mrs. Hood says. "Neither of us is any good as a salesperson. If people see something they want to buy, that's fine. We don't give them the hard sell."

While their parents buy flowers, children often find their way back to the chicken house where Mr. Hood keeps a dozen hens of a Leghorn-Rhode Island Red cross-breed. "City kids are starved to see anything country -- and chickens fill the bill," he says.

Mrs. Hood also sells potted plants and bouquets of cut flowers from early spring through frost. And during the Christmas season, she offers pine cones, greens and wreaths.

The Hoods have tried to be understanding, even sympathetic, toward their new neighbors. Mr. Hood waits until the commuters around him have left in the morning before he starts the machinery he uses to split firewood.

And he is careful, he says, not to clean out the barn on weekends or holidays when his neighbors might want to enjoy their backyards.

"Ain't nothing like having a barbecue and the guy next door is spreading manure," he says.

Solveig Smith, the Carroll County zoning administrator, calls the Hoods a good example of Carroll County farmers who have adapted to the suburbs that have grown up around them.

"One time I went there to pick up a bouquet of flowers after a particularly stressful day," Ms. Smith recalled during a recent telephone conversation. "I intended to stay 10 minutes but I sat on their front porch for over an hour and drank in the serenity. To just sit there in that beautiful garden with people who are at peace with their lives -- it was really wonderful."

That peace may be the secret to their success as suburban farmers, she continued.

"They're very, very content," she said. "They live their own lifestyle. They're not trying to beat anybody or get ahead of anybody."

"We're coexisting to the best of our ability," Mrs. Hood says. "We've met some delightful people who have enriched our lives. And had things stayed the way they were, we would have never met them."

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