Howard County farmers are inviting their suburban neighbors to take a hayride, see an antique thresher, buy a pumpkin, pet a goat and experience other slices of farm life in the county's rural west.
The second Howard County Farm-City Celebration will kick off tomorrow and feature 16 days of demonstrations, family activities, open houses and farmers' markets, all aimed at showcasing agriculture in the county.
The goal, said celebration co-chairwoman Linda Martinak, is "to emphasize the interdependence of the rural residents with the urban residents."
Martinak, who recently started selling vegetables from her Marriottsville garden at a roadside stand she shares with a neighbor, said the event also promotes an appreciation for the county's rural heritage.
"A lot of people think Howard County ends at Route 32," she said. "If you go out further you find all these beautiful farms."
In fact, farming is one of the top five industries in the county, according to the county Economic Development Authority, creating at least $200 million in products.
But as land prices continue to soar, farmers need to make the most money they can from every acre, and they rely on nearby suburban and urban centers to provide customers.
A 2003 survey by the Economic Development Authority found a growing number of small farms filling specialty niches.
The green industry - including turf growers and nurseries that supply landscaping plants and trees - is a growing sector, said Ginger S. Myers, agriculture marketing specialist with the development authority.
A place like Walnut Springs Nursery in Glenwood "is small acreage but high value," she said. "It is really typical of what could go on here in the county."
Direct marketing has been a trend for several years, Myers said, and is reflected in the popularity of four subscription services in the county that operate alongside more traditional farm stands and farmers' markets.
Agri-tourism is also a popular choice, including farms that offer pick-your-own fruits and vegetables, hayrides, corn mazes and other activities.
"The celebration is about ... putting a face on our food," she said. "It is your chance to really get out there and see how things happen."
The celebration starts tomorrow with a free bus tour highlighting the variety of Howard County farms.
The three-hour tour leaves from the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Ellicott City at 9:30 a.m. and stops at Maple Lawn Nursery, the weekly farmers' market at the Glenwood library and Bowling Green dairy farm in Sykesville.
The research center will have an open house until 3 p.m.
Also this weekend, Stillridge Herb Farm and the Howard County Conservancy at Mount Pleasant Farm, both in Woodstock, will offer tours.
Agri-tourism businesses will begin their fall activities in the coming weeks.
Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City has spinning demonstrations this weekend, story times over the next two weeks and celebrations featuring a pumpkin patch, scarecrow-making and petting-farm animals over the next two weekends.
Triadelphia Lake View Farm in Glenelg and Sharp's at Waterford Farm in Brookville will hold fall celebrations with hayrides, pumpkins, nature trails and other farm activities Oct. 1 and 2. And Larriland Farm in Woodbine offers pick-your-own and farm activities.
The county libraries are offering story times and activities with farming themes. And school groups will be learning about farm and home life before electricity at the site of the new Living Farm Heritage Museum in West Friendship.
The Antique Farm Machinery Club, which is building the museum, will hold its Farm Heritage Days at that location Sept. 24 and 25.
A horse show, plant clinics, a square dance, a largest-pumpkin contest and the Howard County Iron-Bridge Hunt round out the schedule.
Farming is still an important industry in the county, said John Frank, president of the Antique Farm Machinery Club and co-chair of the celebration. But suburban and urban centers have roles to play, too, in terms of housing and jobs.
"There really are pluses to all of these things ... as long as all of them are kept in a good balance," he said.
Howard County Farm-City Celebration
What: Sixteen days of tours, family events, farmers' markets, demonstra-tions and other celebrations of Howard County's agriculture businesses and heritage.
When: Tomorrow through Oct. 2.
Where: Several farms, libraries and markets throughout the county are holding events.
Schedule and information: www.farmheritage.org or 410-313-6500.
Some events require registration or fees. Some activities may be canceled because of poor weather.