Farm tag offers skewed view of Md.

October 24, 2002|By Ann Egerton

ONE OF the things that was drummed into me as a child was pride in my state.

Maryland, with its mountains, bay, ocean, beaches, rivers, low country and rolling countryside, is America in miniature, I was taught. (Well, almost; we have no deserts and no natural lakes.)

So it comes as a surprise to see people driving with yellow-orange license plates that have "Our Farms, Our Future" imprinted on them, with a red barn at the bottom.

The plates are special order, like the ones with herons and the legend "Treasure the Chesapeake" on them. You can order them for $20 more than the standard white ones that feature the Maryland flag.

It's still true, thank heaven, that there are farms in Maryland, about 13,000 of them; indeed, farmland covers about one-third of Maryland's area. But somehow it seems a little forced for Maryland to identify itself as a farm state, especially since a lot of its farmland has been gobbled up by developers.

The reality of Maryland is that although small, it is densely populated for its size -- 19th in the country. Service industries, not farming, provide the largest portion of our total output of goods and services.

This does not produce a historic, naturalistic or old-fashioned bucolic image the way a flag or heron or barn does.

But if we look more deeply at Maryland, its sometimes romantic past and rather colorless present, we can come up with a modern, even hip, license plate for those who want an alternative to flags and herons.

We can draw on our broad range of landscapes, on Baltimore's past and present as an important port, on our fame as the Old Line State and the "Star-Spangled Banner" state, on our prominence in both medicine and space and then, finally, our farms. (Corn and soybeans are our biggest crops).

We also have a much more racially and ethnically mixed population than the big farm states.

In short, Maryland in every sense is a state of diversity. Let's grab that image before another state does and market it wisely; there may be money in it.

Ann Egerton is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore.

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