Panel seeks fertile minds

Mission: Longtime members of the Valleys Planning Council are eager to find among their newer neighbors some who will work to preserve Green Spring Valley's rural flavor.

October 20, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

If J. Crew and Farm & Fleet ever combined their catalogs, Patrick A. Rodgers would be on the cover.

Rodgers, a 23-year-old lacrosse player, wears chinos smeared with dirt and has hands caked with tractor grease. Soon to graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park, he's raising hay and 40 head of beef cattle in Green Spring Valley.

At a time when land preservationists are looking for ways to pass their passion for rural life to their suburban-minded neighbors, Rodgers represents the bridge Green Spring Valley elders seek between what the valley was and what they hope it will become.

In the 40 years since the Valleys Planning Council set out its "Plan for the Valleys," a study of how to protect this rural enclave not far north of the Baltimore line, the group has had some success in protecting agricultural land through various covenants and easements.

But, while the population of the valley has nearly doubled and the number of housing units there has tripled since the 1960s, council membership hasn't kept pace.

"We find the same faces, the same pocketbooks opening up to fight all the battles," said Jack Dillon, the council's executive director.

Last week, the council held a Rally for the Valley, an effort to kindle new interest in the council and find out what people want the future of the valley to be. The idea was to bring in new residents who haven't been involved in the council or other local organizations, give them information about land conservation, and develop ideas on how to get more people involved in preserving what is now the most threatened rural enclave in the county, Dillon said.

At one point during the meeting, a man asked council members to raise their hands. Nearly everyone in the room did so.

The council would like to get new faces from the 10,000 people living in the valley involved in conservation. If it could do so, the council would be a nearly unstoppable force in county zoning decisions and other conservation matters, said George C. Doub, president of the council's board.

"We need to get this valley going," he said.

But the presence of Rodgers, who is roughly half the age of the next youngest person in the room, was the only evidence of success in bringing new people into the fold.

Urgency to act now

Rodgers' parents moved to the valley when he was 10. A couple of years later, he asked for some cows to raise as a sort of hobby. By the time he entered college, he was hooked.

Now, a cherry-red Case IH tractor sits in his parents' driveway near a BMW and a sports utility vehicle, and Rodgers is on the Valleys Planning Council's Advisory Committee.

"We need to make people understand how quickly things can change around here," Rodgers said.

"There really is a need to do something now, because if we put it off further, you're decreasing the possibilities with every year."

During the 13 years he has lived in the valley, Rodgers said, he has seen the balance between farms and housing developments tip away from agriculture, bringing in people who like to look out over open fields but who don't like all that goes along with farming - tractors, tied-up traffic, the smell of fertilizer.

He said he understands that landowners should have the right to do what they want with their properties.

But at the same time, he figures he would need to manage a 300-head herd and work about 800 acres to make a serious go at farming. And that's about all the farmland left in the valley.

"At some point, farming's got to stop or development's got to stop, one of the two," Rodgers said.

Exposure is key

Typically, newcomers haven't shown as much interest as established residents in preserving the land, Rodgers said. They do, however, tend to be the first to complain when houses go up next to theirs.

The key, he said, is giving newcomers more exposure to what agriculture is really about.

"If you get people on a farm and show them things, if you take your kid out and let them pet a baby calf that was born two days ago ... it gets them a lot more interested in preserving everything," Rodgers said.

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