At Chanceland Farm in West Friendship early yesterday morning, County Executive James N. Robey drank some coffee, put on his hat and headed out to clean horse stalls.
Chanceland's owner, Bob Manfuso, put on a coat and a tie decorated with racehorses and went into Ellicott City to serve as an honorary county executive for a few hours.
At the end of the third annual Farm-City Celebration job exchange, Robey had ruined a pair of shoes, Manfuso had deflected numerous requests for raises and both men said they had developed an appreciation for what the other does.
"I learn," Robey said of trading places with local farmers three years in a row. "That's what this is all about."
The exchange also serves to draw attention to the county's Farm-City Celebration, which continues through Oct. 7. The schedule of farmers' markets, story times, activities at farms and other events are intended to make connections between Howard County farms and suburban dwellers.
The selection of the 195-acre Chanceland horse farm for the job exchange highlights the important role that equines play in Howard County agriculture, said Ginger S. Myers, an agricultural specialist for the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Across the county, the number of farms has shrunk, but many of those remaining have turned to niche markets, agri-tourism and direct marketing to succeed.
Today, horses are at least a $140 million industry in the county, Myers said.
There are about 80 licensed boarding facilities and hundreds of pleasure horses in addition to thoroughbred farms such as Chanceland, which breeds horses, raises the offspring for sale, has training and rehabilitation programs and owns several racehorses of its own.
Horse farms keep chunks of land open rather than developed, they tend to be acceptable to nearby homeowners and they support other businesses, including feed stores, veterinarians, fence builders and farriers, Myers said.
After a morning that included leading young horses from a pasture to a barn for feeding, navigating a syringe into the horses' mouths to give them medicine and giving one horse a sponge bath, Robey said he was impressed with all that goes on at the farm
"It is not just a lot of physical work, it's a lot of mental work," he said.
Robey also was asked to evaluate 11 yearlings and predict which would sell for the best price at auction in Timonium.
At a post-exchange lunch at the Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum in West Friendship, Manfuso said he would donate 10 percent of the sale price of the horse Robey chose to Howard County General Hospital's campus fund.
For his part, Manfuso said he realized that "you had better have a good staff" to handle the wide variety of issues the county executive faces.
He received briefings on county and state legislation, health issues and development before touring the Police Department and examining the county's emergency 911 center.
There, he marveled at an aerial photograph of his farm that an operator pulled up from a computerized archive and launched into a description of a circular horse exercise apparatus that appeared in the image.
As the exchange drew to a close, Lewis R. Riley, Maryland's secretary of agriculture, said that statewide agriculture remains the No. 1 industry and that some positive efforts are under way to keep it healthy.
One of those, he said, is a jump from $40 million to $80 million in funding for the state agricultural land preservation program.
"That is going to help us really move forward," Riley said. "We've been so restricted. ... We haven't been able to make offers that were reasonable for the farmers to accept it."
The Farm-City schedule is online at www.farmheritage.org. Details on many Farm-City events are available at www.visit howard county.com or by calling the Howard County Economic Development Authority at 410- 313-6500.