South Koreans studying Carroll preservation effort

Professors quiz officials about farmland program

October 21, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's vaunted land preservation program, fourth in acreage nationwide, has attracted international attention. A delegation of university professors from the Republic of South Korea quizzed county administrations on the financial and political ramifications of safeguarding farmland from development yesterday.

The seven professors from Chung-Ang University in Anseong, a city about 50 miles south of Seoul, arranged their trip after surfing the Internet looking for successful preservation programs and finding Montgomery and Carroll counties to be leaders in the effort. Carroll has set aside more than 40,000 acres of farmland since it began preserving land 26 years ago and is nearly halfway to its goal of 100,000 acres.

"We want to compare programs and looked for good examples," said Young-sung Lee, an instructor in city and regional planning. "Carroll has a very good program that fits with our research. The Web site impressed us."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich managed a greeting in Korean that impressed the visitors but made the rest of his remarks in English.

"We are proud of our program and the people who are the heart and soul of it," Minnich said.

The visitors, whose trip was sponsored by the South Korean Ministry of Construction and Transportation, met with Montgomery County administrators yesterday before traveling to Westminster. They plan a trip to New Jersey today to discuss financial issues with farm credit banks.

Bill Powel, Carroll's preservation program administrator, played a brief video with scenic views of preserved farms and comments from those involved in the program. Several visitors took photos of the video as it played and notes throughout Powel's presentation.

"We didn't get a video in Montgomery, only handouts," said Jae-Wan Hur, dean of the university's school of industrial science.

On a more serious note, Hur added, "We want to try these programs. Many farmers want to convert their land to more urban uses, but the government is considering preservation."

The group had previously e-mailed Powel a series of questions, most of which dealt with how to start a program and sustain it financially. He gave a brief history of how purchasing permanent easements has helped farmers to keep their land in crops and livestock.

"I can fully understand why you are so successful," Lee said. "The passion of your staff is most impressive."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge promised the group that they "were listening to experts in the field." She urged them to take the message to farmers in their country.

"You have to go out and talk to them, explain the benefits and be enthusiastic," Gouge said.

The visitors left with brochures detailing preservation programs and a gift bag filled with memorabilia from Carroll County, including a miniature flag, a map, a rain gauge and thermometer and a jar of homemade jam.

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