How now, brown Navy cow? Naval Academy Dairy: Turning Gambrills farm into working museum might be best.

November 21, 1997

NOW THAT CONGRESS has relinquished its grasp on the 856-acre Naval Academy Dairy Farm, the fate of this large swath of green space rests in the hands of the U.S. Navy. Let's hope the Navy brass listen to the academy's current leadership and do not allow the farm to become another tract housing development.

The size and location of the parcel -- bounded by Routes 175 and 3 -- make it one of the most attractive development sites in western Anne Arundel County, which is already booming with housing because of its prime access midway between Baltimore and Washington. The federal legislation that allows the Naval Academy to cease its dairy operations prevents the Navy from selling the property, but the service could still lease it to developers.

To date, the Navy has not shown much interest in maintaining the farm, a throwback from the days when the officer training school produced its own milk to ensure safe sanitary conditions. Last year, the service spent $7,000 to study the feasibility of a golf course there. Despite pressure from current and retired Navy officers who sought an exclusive course near Washington, the plan was shelved.

Preserving this farm should be the Navy's goal. It is an oasis of open space that has survived because of a quirk, much like the 300-acre Smith Farm in Columbia. The easiest way to keep the Gambrills dairy operating would be to lease the 300-head herd to a dairyman. Unfortunately, Maryland dairy farmers are struggling financially, and this farm would probably require some type of subsidy to continue.

Anne Arundel County, which also wants to keep this green buffer zone, could help by teaming up with the Navy to operate it as a working agricultural museum. By maintaining a herd of cows and farming grains and vegetables, families, school children and visitors would be able to observe a working farm. The county could charge an entrance fee to subsidize the farming operations.

Just about everyone's interests would be served. A prime parcel would remain green and open. Neighbors would continue to enjoy living in a rural setting. County residents would gain a recreational and educational amenity. And the Navy would no longer have to subsidize a money-losing dairy.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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