State needs agency for agricultureIn October 1971, the...

the Forum

February 11, 1993

State needs agency for agriculture

In October 1971, the Governor's Task Force on Agriculture issued its report. Acting on it, the legislature in 1972 passed Senate Bill 581, creating the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

To those of us who were present for that historic occasion, it is sad to see a few legislators trying to merge that department of government with a much larger one. The effect will be to destroy the Department of Agriculture.

To quote from its introductory statement, the 1971 task force "examined the structure of the state's agricultural programs and the alignment of those programs within the state government to determine in what ways the voice of agriculture in Maryland can be strengthened and contribute fully to the desirable growth and development of the state."

The 1993 proposal would eliminate the voice of agriculture, get rid of its strongest advocate, and further hasten the demise of the industry that was responsible for the early success of the Maryland colony and for many decades has been a cultural and economic asset of the Free State.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has developed a reputation for being efficient, effective and responsive to the citizens it serves.

Its scientists, administrators and, indeed, all its employees are a match for the best to be found. Its public service functions will not be performed at less cost simply by transferring them to another department.

The legislature should not be allowed to sell off agriculture for the few dollars of tax money they say it will save. Such action will cost your descendants much more than any theoretical savings.

The quality of the environment they inherit will be diminished. The cost of their food will be increased.

Much of the open space and green countryside you now enjoy will have disappeared. The overall quality of their lives will have been diminished.

It will be a big price to pay for the few dollars someone thinks might be saved in 1993.

Hugh E. Binks

North Charleston, S.C.

The writer is former deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Gutsy governor

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our governor for two wise and gutsy decisions he has made. One, a year ago, when he backed the community service program for students; and the other, recently, to purchase the Satyr Hill Farm lands.

I am a retired school teacher from the Baltimore County school system. I was able to take a community service course and have worked on numerous projects.

From this first-hand experience I can say that our youth benefit more from the giving than most people can possibly imagine.

As for "forcing" our students to do arduous and unpleasant work, this is precisely what community service has to offer: a not-so-pleasant task but always a rewarding learning experience.

For example, we had the opportunity last year to help fix a roof. Carrying shingles up a ladder wasn't easy, but I did not hear one word of complaint from the students.

As for the time involved -- 75 hours in a four-year time frame -- we spend that much time in a supermarket checkout line in six months. It is less than we spend on the job in two weeks.

Will it be a headache to administrate? Probably. Will there be some "cheating" on the sheets? Probably.

But I'll bet if this was a brain child of some education administrator who had to justify his big salary over the summer, there wouldn't be nearly this amount of foot-dragging and complaining about this much needed program.

Michael C. Loucas

Fallston

Community service

I hope the Maryland General Assembly won't undo the state education department's path-breaking community service program.

As a public interest lawyer, I have seen many situations where students could help people in need and get a lot out of it.

There are countless children in disadvantaged neighborhoods who want very much to learn but need the extra help that a tutor could provide.

Soup kitchens, shelters and other programs for the poor and the homeless are always in need of help. What better way for a student to learn about our society's pressing needs than to witness them at first hand?

Opponents of community service programs are way off base when they compare these worthwhile projects to slavery.

But how is requiring a student to learn by working in a soup kitchen more coercive than requiring that student to study all night for a civics test about poverty? And how is it in any way comparable to being the property of another person?

I hope the State Board of Education will continue to develop innovative programs like the community service requirement that really teach our students what society is all about and allows

them to help people in the process.

Molly Ruth Mitchell

Baltimore

Special schools

Stephen Sondheim's thought-provoking lyric, "Be careful what you wish for," came to mind after reading Mary Maushard's article (Jan. 31) on special schools in Baltimore County.

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