Three Harford farms have an excuse to get scrubbed up this weekend, as they invite the public to join them for Farm Visitation Day from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Lohr's Orchard, Mount Felix dairy farm and Holloway Brothers beef farm will open their doors to visitors.
The day's wagon rides, tours, refreshments and machinery displays will teach people agricultural basics, said Ned Sayre of Waffle Hill Farm, president of the Harford County Farm Bureau.
"It's at a point now where not a lot of people come from a real close farm background, so they really don't know what all's involved in farming," he said.
Andrew Lohr, of the orchard that bears his name, said that when he grew up almost everybody still had "an uncle or a grandfather living on a farm." People could visit their relatives and get a firsthand farming education, he noted.
But the shrinking farming population - farmers made up 2.6 percent of the American labor force in 1990, compared with 38 percent in 1900, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture - means fewer people have an aunt or uncle with a farm and a spare room for the summer, Lohr said.
So farmers, with Harford County officials, local 4-H members and other farm friends, will try to give people a taste of what those in agriculture know.
At Lohr's, that means showing off the walnut-sized apples, peach trees of different ages, cider-processing equipment, like the rack and cloth press that gets juice from the fruit, and pasteurizing machinery.
Mount Felix Farm will change its usual schedule: Although the cows usually get milked daily at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m., the second milking will be moved to 3:30 p.m. so more people can watch, explained Mount Felix's David Keyes.
Keyes' parents moved to the farm in 1953. Now stretching about 300 acres, the farm houses a milking herd of about 120 cows. Keyes' mother lives there and helps feed the calves.
Development makes public outreach especially important for Harford County farms, said Sayre, a lifelong resident of the beef-producing Waffle Hill Farm. "The development industry is competing for the same land that we need to farm," he said.
But unlike development, Sayre said agricultural land makes new economic contributions every year. "Once you build a house, it's done, it's finished, they've got to go find another piece of ground to develop," he said.
Of the county's 94,000 acres devoted to agriculture, about one-third have been permanently preserved and another third have been preserved for a five-year block, said John Sullivan, the county's agricultural coordinator.
"Agriculture is one of our biggest industries in the county," said Sullivan, who noted that the 650 full-time and 650 part-time farms in Harford have an impact of about $400 million in the county, including the farms' effects on restaurants, grocery stores and agriculture suppliers.
Land preservation makes a "commitment to the future of the agriculture industry," as well as preserving the county's quality of life, Sullivan said.
Sayre estimates that 400 to 600 people will visit each farm, with overlap among the three groups. Sullivan is more optimistic, expecting crowds of 2,000 to 3,000, depending on the weather. The event is free.
Lohr's Orchard is at 3212 Snake Lane, Churchville; Mount Felix Farm is at 2028 Level Road, Havre de Grace; and Holloway Brothers is at 1161 Stafford Road, Darlington.