Families live rural dream

Lifestyle: Two couples swap their comfortable rowhouses for sheep, chickens, vegetables and small-farm life in Carroll County.

April 17, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

He grew up in Towson, she in Parkville. They married and lived as yuppies in a historic Fells Point rowhouse, chatting with neighbors on their front stoop in the evening, or hopping onto the Harbor Shuttle to go out for crabs or ice cream. They brewed their own beer to go with sausages from Ostrowski's Famous Sausage, a short walk from their backyard grill on summer nights.

But two years ago, Tom and Heidi Stone cashed in their urban dream for a rural one. They sold their renovated rowhouse and used the profit to buy a five-acre farm and a flock of chickens.

"This place is a blessing," said Tom, 38, dressed in overalls and repairing one of the small buildings that dot the farm outside Manchester in Carroll County.

While farms are disappearing every day in Maryland, exurban Carroll County saw a small increase in the number of small farms, or "farmettes," of less than 10 acres. In this county, 105 of the 1,407 farms have less than 10 acres, according to the 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture farm census. That's up from 92 farms that size out of 1,560 in 1992.

People such as the Stones, or Kris and Greg Thorne, a couple who traded their Columbia rowhouse for a small sheep and vegetable farm, are taking baby steps into farm life while one spouse keeps a steady income.

The lure of a life of self-sufficiency -- raising eggs, vegetables and chickens -- has replaced the conveniences the Stones enjoyed in Fells Point.

For income, they rely on Tom Stone's job as a construction manager in Baltimore. The three dozen eggs they collect every afternoon aren't enough to build a business.

"We don't try to make money [from the farm]," Tom said. "It takes the fun out of it."

But they don't want to lose money, either, so Tom took a course in "backyard flocks" at Carroll Community College, which has a regional program dedicated to teaching farm technology. Because of the interest from people who want to earn some money from the few acres they own, the college created courses for the beginning farmer.

The flocks course showed Tom he was feeding his chickens too often, an unnecessary expense. "There used to be farmers in the family, but by the time I was born, they were long gone," Tom said. "Some people always wanted to be doctors or lawyers. You're wired for some of these things before you're born. I just had a natural affinity for this stuff."

Daily delights

For Heidi Stone, who stays home with their two children, the farm has provided a wonderful rhythm and daily delights. She remembers the first day they got eggs, a month after they bought 20-week-old Rhode Island Red hens.

"A girlfriend of mine and I were both out peeking in the nesting boxes," Heidi recalled. But it was Emily, then 2, who found the first egg.

"She was wondering if there were chicks inside, but I told her these were just for eating," Heidi said. "We didn't have any roosters yet."

Like the Stones, the Thornes left the comforts of Columbia for a rustic farmette near Finksburg, where they raise sheep. They sell the wool to wholesalers and at craft fairs.

"There are days when I think about the money I put into this place, and if I'd put it in CDs or just in the bank, I'd have more," Greg Thorne said. "But I wouldn't be as happy."

They were not only yuppies, but "dinks" -- double income, no kids -- in a three-bedroom townhouse. They became interested in spinning and crafts and bought two Romney sheep they boarded at a farm. They longed to buy a place of their own.

They found a modest house on about four acres -- where the previous owners had raised organic vegetables -- and were able to sell their house.

They have been able to make ends meet, using Kris Thorne's income from her systems analyst job at the Social Security Administration. Proceeds from selling wool and organic vegetables go back into fixing the farm. They took out a loan for a new tractor -- price tag $15,000.

Greg rode the Kioti tractor to till the soil in the vegetable patch. He planted potatoes. Other vegetables are waiting in the greenhouse.

Realizing a vision

They have learned things as they go along.

"I find each year, when I go to plant, I have to go look in the book and see how deep I have to plant this or how I have to do that," Greg said.

The Stones moved to a farm because of their children. The arrival of Emily, now 4, and Daniel, 2, prompted them to realize a vision: a house in the country, hens clustered at their feet, an old house to restore and a family-oriented church community. Coincidentally, the farmhouse they bought was built in 1854, the same year as their Fells Point rowhouse.

Heidi, pregnant with their third child, had left her job as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital to raise their children.

Tom has taken easily to animal husbandry and repairs -- his background as a construction manager and landscaper has helped. Heidi is concentrating on the gardening.

Learning the hard way

They learned some things the hard way, such as when their first flock of young turkeys turned up missing, leaving a few feathers on a hill as clues.

"After talking with people, we figured out it must have been a family of foxes," Tom said.

They were advised to keep a light on in the turkey pen, and they've had no trouble since. The turkeys are big enough, at more than 40 pounds to hold their own against a fox.

When someone pulls up the driveway, the females call and the males gobble.

"They act like little watchdogs," Tom said. "Emily has named all the turkeys now, so we can't slaughter them."

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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