THE ANNUAL Howard County Fair is a pleasant reminder that agriculture remains alive in the fast-growing jurisdiction where large chunks of farmland increasingly have given way to suburbia.
Every year, farmers from Howard and neighboring counties assemble at the county fairgrounds in West Friendship to display with pride their best cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. Young 4-H Club members, some elementary-school age, show their ability to handle farm animals that are several times their weight.
Everywhere you turn, there's a snapshot of an agricultural wonderland. Wool shearings from sheep cover the ground as young farmers groom their animals with shears and clippers to prepare them for discerning judges. Young piglets feed from a mother that appears to be asleep. Goats climb on their cages in the exhibit areas to get a better look -- and maybe a little petting -- from visitors.
These visions of farm life are more striking because they are occurring on the cusp of the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis.
This is an area where large homes continue to rise on half-acre lots in the western part of the county that has lost much of its rural identity. The local government has spent millions of dollars to protect farmland from development.
Although agriculture is on the retreat, the 52nd annual Howard County Fair makes the science and art of agriculture seem as persistent as heat and humidity in August.
To some degree, farming's survival has depended on its ability to adjust to the disappearing land and to suburban habits. The 4-H children have helped keep farm life alive, even if it has meant raising pigs or other livestock, remarkably, on a single acre of land.
The fair winds to a conclusion tomorrow night, but it's not too late to give children a sample of what the county used to be -- and in pockets of Howard still is. In addition to the parade of floats tonight, tomorrow brings a dairy and livestock judging contest, the horse pull, a sheep contest and, for those with plenty of patience, the 4-H worm race.
County fairs give residents of the metropolitan area a close-up view of some of the things we've lost to progress. The fair reminds us that no matter how much we alter our lives, we must always leave room for agriculture.
Pub Date: 8/15/97