Farming family reaps state award

Partners: A Carroll couple are inducted into the Agriculture Hall of Fame for their achievements on and off the farm.

March 14, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Dressed in flannel and denim, his beefy hands callused and his complexion ruddy, Bill Knill looks every bit the man who has weathered 40 seasons on his family's Carroll County farm. He puts in 12 hours in the fields, barns and greenhouses - and then finds more to be done in a meeting room.

His wife, Jean, has been known to slaughter, scald and pluck 50 chickens for her freezer in a morning and spend an afternoon preserving quarts of green beans. She also plays a part in what goes on in classrooms throughout the state.

The Knills have been working their farm and promoting agriculture for so many years - and doing it so well - that they are now Hall-of-Famers.

Everybody knows about the baseball hall of fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But there's also the Maryland Agriculture Hall of Fame, and the Knills are members of its class of 2003.

Agricultural acumen and community service earned the couple induction honors, said Buddy Bowling, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Commission and program coordinator for the Hall of Fame.

"They have created a better environment for future generations," he said.

Last month, the Knills traveled to Annapolis for a banquet and their induction. A silver platter, engraved with their names and the date of their induction, is displayed in the family room of the Knills' Mount Airy farmhouse.

"This award brings recognition for all of agriculture and it accents the good things we do," said Bill Knill, 62, president of the Carroll County Agriculture Commission, vice chairman of the Maryland Friends of Agriculture Fund and former president of the Maryland Farm Bureau. "It really lifted our spirits."

Jean Knill gives her husband of 44 years most of the credit.

"Long before good farm practices like soil conservation, grassed waterways and best management were ever mandated, Bill used them," said Jean Knill, 63. She is a board member of the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation and the State Farm Bureau Women's Committee.

They are the 26th farm family to be inducted since the honor was established in 1991. Also joining the Hall of Fame this year are Russell and Shirley Watson, who farm a 700-acre nursery in Prince George's County. Their involvement in farm conservation programs and their long years of support for United Cerebral Palsy and other charitable endeavors earned the Watsons their award.

Bill Knill is the fourth generation of his family to earn a living from the land, and he traces his ancestry to an English farmstead in the town of Knill.

`Put in long hours'

His father, Roy Knill, let him take over the farm in 1962. For nearly 30 years, he and Jean - who met at Mount Airy High School and are active alumni - were partners in a dairy operation.

"She fed the calves, milked the cows, took care of the kids and a garden," he said.

"He put in long hours and was late for supper," she said.

The Knills have coped with economic forces, development pressures, the vagaries of weather and a demanding public to keep the farm profitable.

"It is all a step of faith," Bill Knill said. "You make the wrong decision at the wrong time and you could go in the hole for the next few years."

But, with know-how and luck, the Knills have prospered. The year wheat prices dropped, they bought pigs and fed them the grain they could not sell. Pork prices soared that year.

When subdivisions encroached, they sold the dairy cows and opened a neighborhood farmers' market. "This way we are part of the community instead of resisting it," Bill Knill said.

`Adapt to new methods'

In response to the demand for fresh produce year-round, the couple recently started a greenhouse operation. Their farm also produces hay, straw and beef cattle. In the off-season, the family sells Christmas trees, firewood and mulch.

"If it's one thing the Knills taught me is that you have to adapt to new methods," said Jerry Watt, who started milking cows for the Knills when he was 13 and now tends to a herd of 100 on his Middleburg dairy farm. "Ag changes daily. You adapt or you get left out."

Farming will probably stay in the Knill family at least through the next two generations. The elder Knills plan to turn over much of the operation to son Jim Knill in the near future, they said. His son, who is their oldest grandson, 21-year-old J.W. Knill, is pursuing an interest in beef cattle.

Jim and J.W. Knill know what they are getting into. They help run the 365-day operation built on the latest technology and environmentally sound methods.

After sundown

For the elder Knills, the day's work has almost never ended with the last milking or the sundown closing of the market. They both have calls to return, programs to plan, paperwork to process and causes to advocate.

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