Farm stand is a family tradition

Harbin's Farm dates to the 1960s

the family still grows vegetables on its land

July 05, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A slice of old-time Howard County sits at Route 99 and Bethany Road in Ellicott City. The corner is the location of Harbin's Farm, a family-run fruit stand that dates to the 1960s.

The fruit stand has no cash registers and only recently did workers start using a calculator to tally totals. Before that, members of the Harbin family would add the numbers on brown paper bags or slips of paper.

The stand opens every April, when large painted signs come out promising spring flowers, local strawberries and fresh eggs. As the weather warms, more signs are added. Soon passers-by are tempted by locally grown Silver Queen corn, cantaloupes, tomatoes and peaches. Squash, onions, apples, potatoes, peas, peanuts and carrots are also sold.

"We've lived here seven years, and we can't wait for them to open each spring," said Joan Mangelsdorf, who lives in nearby Waverly Woods. Mangelsdorf was browsing the baskets of hanging flowers, and she said she planned to buy corn and "whatever else looks good."

The Harbins still grow a few vegetables on the 16 acres they own behind the farm, but just about everything else is hand-selected by members of the Harbin family, who visit farms from Pennsylvania to the Eastern Shore to get their produce.

At the height of the growing season, customers can buy plums, nectarines, blueberries, peppers, corn, cucumbers and watermelon. A table holds glass jars of apple butter, quince jelly, Vidalia onion relish, pine- apple preserves, honey and other delicacies.

About eight years ago, the farm started selling Christmas trees and handmade wreaths in November and December. Three years ago, it added fresh flowers and plants.

Kim Taylor, who was given control of the farm stand about two years ago by her uncle, Bob Harbin, said the farm was started in the late 1920s by seven Harbin brothers: Andrew, Blufe, Robert, Sherman, Hubert, Rufus and George.

They had land throughout Howard County - 50 acres near Route 99 and 30 acres off Marriottsville Road - and grew corn and tomatoes for the former Acme supermarkets. "That's basically what they did for income," she said.

In the 1950s, they started the retail outlet as a little cart along U.S. 29, "where [Route] 108 is now," back when it was a slow-moving two-lane road.

The brothers ran the farm together, Taylor said. Edna, the wife of Robert, took care of all the brothers, doing the cooking and cleaning for the farm and providing canned goods that were sold. Now 85, she still lives next door to the farm stand, Taylor said. "She was known really for her pickled vegetable medley and her canned tomatoes and string beans," Taylor said.

In 1968, Sylvia and Bob Harbin, the children of Edna and Robert, started the farm stand where it is today, selling corn and tomatoes that they grew.

These days, the stand is run by Taylor; her husband, Michael Taylor (who works for the government); and sons Brian Sennett, 18, who just graduated from Mount Hebron High School, and Joe Sennett, 21.

Sylvia and Bob Harbin, and their sister, Jean Rest, who is Kim Taylor's mother, also come in on weekends, as do Rufus and Glen Harbin, the sons of co-founder Rufus Harbin.

Bob Harbin is in charge of procuring the produce. He will travel one day to Pennsylvania, visiting Amish farms, and another day to the Eastern Shore, Kim Taylor said. "He's supposedly retired but is nowhere near retiring," she said.

The Amish farms, which provide most of the flowers, as well as some produce, can be challenging. The Amish do not use phones, so Bob Harbin has to arrive and see what is available. He chooses all the produce, Kim Taylor noted, and said that he doesn't simply accept crates of fruits or vegetables but that he looks through and takes only what looks good.

When the summer produce starts to taper off, it is time for apples and cider from Baugher's farm and fall mums. As winter approaches, Christmas trees and wreaths are sold. Then it is time to close the farm until spring.

"It's a lot of work, but I love working outside," Kim Taylor said.

Harbin's Farm is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., April through December.

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