Carroll Co. farm tour celebrates saving land

Event set up to highlight preservation program

November 02, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With nearly 400 acres of crops, forests and streams, Foggy Bottom Farm on the outskirts of Hampstead offers a compelling argument for land preservation. Just across Houcksville Road from this rural vista dominated by an 18th-century farmhouse is a new subdivision of colonials with two-car garages on sprawling, manicured lots.

"Land preservation is the only hope, if Carroll County wants to keep its rural character," said Wilson Lippy, who has lived at the farm all his 71 years and is recently retired. "Just come down my road, and you'll see what happens to farms that are not in preservation programs. One side of the road is development, and one side is me."

The Lippy farm and five others were on Carroll's farm tour and open house yesterday, an event designed to highlight the county's 25-year history of preservation, which has saved nearly 42,000 acres from development.

"We are showcasing various farms in different parts of the county that are all involved in preservation," said Bill Powel, Carroll's preservation program manager. "People can see and learn that ag is a viable, strong industry."

The farms offered visitors a look at dairy, grain and livestock operations while the landowners briefed them on the merits of preservation.

"The idea is to let people in, let them see the farm and maybe they will get interested in preservation," said Joe Kuhn, a Woodbine farmer who helped Lippy organize the tour. His Aloha Farm was a tour stop.

Windsor Farm near New Windsor may have been the most popular tour spot yesterday, possibly because it offered hayrides and a chance to sit atop a quarter horse. Visitors also saw the importance of preservation. The farm is owned by Bill and Jeanni Hawkins.

"The farms are the greatest thing about this county," said Annette Hartung, visiting with her husband and two young sons. "That was the deciding factor in our move here."

Karen and Lou Hobson, retired dairy farmers, have preserved their 106-acre Cowlick Gardens Farm near Taneytown.

"I hope the tour convinces the public that preservation is worth the cost, the time and the effort," said Karen Hobson. "People don't want to smell a farm or hear a farm, but everybody wants to look at our open spaces."

Lippy, whose brothers farm nearly 400 acres surrounding his home, placed his land in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation Program, one of more than a half-dozen programs that help donors or sellers preserve their land. Since Carroll entered the program in 1978, the county, state and, more recently, the federal government have spent nearly $68 million on farmland preservation and paid an average of $1,600 an acre, Powel said.

Lynda and Mike Jones toured their neighbor's farm yesterday and thanked Lippy for "saving our view."

Through Carroll's Critical Farms Program, prospective farmers can buy land. The county purchases easements to farms that are for sale, stipulating that the money be reimbursed when the new owner enters the state preservation program. The program gave Eric and Faith Burall the down payment they needed 10 years ago for a 158-acre farm near New Windsor.

"Without that, we would never have been able to swing it," said Eric Burall, who milks about 120 cows a day at Burlin Farm. "If we don't preserve these farms today, they won't be around tomorrow. They will all be houses."

The state land preservation program meant that Jerry and Barb Watt could expand their dairy operation with the purchase of two adjoining farms. Their farm in Middleburg is called MD-Cedar Knoll Farm.

"It feels great to own the land and preserve it, too," said Barb Watt. "Hopefully, this tour will make the public more aware of the advantages. Farms don't require the roads, schools and other infrastructure that homes do. Preservation actually helps keep taxes down in the long run."

Carroll County is fifth in the nation and second in the state in the amount of preserved farmland. Montgomery County, the national leader, has saved nearly 60,000 acres. Carroll is at the center of a block of eight Maryland and Pennsylvania counties that collectively have preserved 350,000 acres for agriculture.

"This region has the strongest preservation effort in the nation," Powel said. "High ag production coupled with strong development pressure helped these counties see the need for preservation early on and that is fortunate."

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