Tourism crop seen as a key for county

Plan to open farm to public is `step in right direction'

May 08, 2002|By Paul Longo | Paul Longo,SUN STAFF

Education and entertainment will be important new cash crops for a historic Howard County farm this fall.

Martha Clark, daughter of former Sen. James Clark Jr., announced yesterday that her family plans to open an agritourism business on a 20-acre corner of their county-preserved 548-acre farm in Ellicott City.

"This effort is another step in the right direction to save an important part of this community and its rich history," said Howard County Executive James N. Robey during a visit to the farm yesterday afternoon.

The Clark family hopes to fill a void left by Cider Mill Farm, a Howard County institution that drew thousands of schoolchildren and their parents to an Ellicott City farm setting.

Cider Mill Farm was closed this spring after its owners sold 59 acres of land for development. Cheryl Nodar, who was the general manager at Cider Mill, plans to help re-create its ambiance on the Clark property, land that has been farmed by the family for over 200 years.

Clark's Elioak Farm is set to open Sept. 7, with educational hands-on activities, a petting farm and other agriculture-based programs. The Clarks will also continue to sell their home-grown produce on a stand off Route 108 near Centennial Lane.

Caragh B. Fitzgerald, an educator with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, said that agritourism ventures such as this one help bring different parts of the community together. "It's a great way to link farmers and nonfarmers, and allow nonfarmers to see what goes on firsthand," she said.

Such agritourism attractions are also an important part of the county's efforts to keep its farmlands vibrant, said Ginger Myers, agricultural economic development specialist for the county Economic Development Authority.

"The fact that the county has two separate programs - preserving and marketing of farmland - demonstrates our commitment," she said. "Preservation isn't enough; you have to also be able to support the industry."

Myers said the county gives farmers a great deal of flexibility in how they use their land in order to help them keep it. This is an important factor in farms staying in business in Maryland, where agricultural real estate prices rank fifth-highest in the nation, she said.

Said Robey: "Farming is changing, and tremendously in Howard County. While it changes, we don't want it to go away."

Clark said of her family's new farming project, "We are going to teach about agriculture and how it's important in our lives."

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