Festival, not a Funeral, for Farming

August 13, 1993

While Maryland's farming acreage continues to shrink under development pressures, county farm fairs still produce a bumper crop in attendance. Saluting the rural heritage and enjoying a community get-together combine to draw record crowds.

Howard County holds one of the largest county farm fairs in the state, with crowds of more than 125,000 expected for this year's week-long production. It begins tomorrow at the fairgrounds complex along Interstate 70.

Howard's interest in agriculture is increasing among its newer suburban residents, who want to see what farming life is all about and to help promote it through the tradition of a county fair. The enthusiasm for the fair demonstrates that farming skills and activities are alive in Howard, even if agriculture is no longer the dominant economic force it once was.

Thousands of animals will still compete in the livestock events, despite the continuing loss of farmland to subdivisions. Nearly as many entries are expected in the other competitions that include cooking, crafts and canines.

This is the 48th annual edition of the fair, which began in 1946 just after World War II. Selecting the county farm queen is still a highlight and the 4-H Club competitions are hotly contested. But the Midway rides and the rock bands remain an essential part of the fair, entertainment for all that is not focused on farming. Those diverse attractions have helped to make Howard County's fair the fourth largest in Maryland.

The number of farms in Howard has actually increased slightly in recent years, even as the size of those farms and the number of people who can make a full-time living from them has shrunk. The "farmette" of two or three acres is more common. The hobby farmer, with another job, and the family with a couple of horses kept for riding are included in the farm totals.

But large pastures for livestock and feed crops are becoming more scarce. Farmland preservation programs, with cash payments and tax incentives, are not equal to the lure of development dollars for many agricultural landowners, particularly in Howard's lucrative real estate market.

For county fair week, however, the entire community joins in rightful celebration of Howard farming rather than in bemoaning its decline.

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