At North Harford High, students study the science and skill of agriculture

Cultivating a new farm generation

March 22, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

High school cultivating farming's next generation With surgical scissors, a needle and thread, Jessica Meadows carefully sutured a cut on a replica of an animal limb. Stitch by stitch, she repaired the deep laceration, an exercise that consumed most of the 80-minute animal science class at North Harford High School.

"It takes time, but it really isn't that hard once you get the hang of it," said Meadows, a senior who hopes learning the technique will further her plans to study veterinary science in college. "It's just one continuous stitch."

The students also are building a model dairy farm, studying breeds of horses - even taking part in an animal-calling contest.

In a rapidly growing metropolitan county where the number of farms has been declining, the school in the rural northern part of Harford near the Pennsylvania border is bolstering its curriculum to meet the demands of students interested in agriculture.

In addition to animal science class, North Harford High offers courses in horticulture, agribusiness and farm equipment maintenance. In the coming years, the Pylesville school, which is in the middle of a $52 million expansion and renovation, will open Harford's first agricultural magnet program.

"It bodes well for the future of agriculture here," said John Sullivan III, agriculture coordinator for the county's economic development department.

Agriculture remains a big business in Maryland, but farms have been disappearing at an alarming rate in recent years. Harford has experienced a decline, though not as drastic as other counties with farming traditions. The number of working farms in the county has dropped from 733 in 1997 to 683 today, Sullivan said.

And with the influx of thousands of jobs and residents associated with the federal military base realignment looming in the coming years, development pressure seems certain to intensify.

Yet interest in agriculture among young people, many of whom come from farming backgrounds, remains strong, county and school officials say.

"They like working with their hands, and they like animals," said Aimee Densmore, animal science teacher. We will be giving them hands-on experience that will lead to job opportunities in the industry or prepare them for college."

When the three-year renovation at the high school is completed this summer, plans call for opening a working farm with three pastures for livestock, a chicken coop, a barn, and fields for an array of crops. Students will take care of animals and grow crops, Densmore said. The school will offer courses in plant science, equine science, and wildlife and forestry management.

"It's everything that you need to learn to maintain a farm," she said.

The magnet program is expected to start in 2010 and accommodate 200 students from across the county. Members of the ag community are helping faculty build the curriculum.

"If we want to keep our farmland, we have to start training the next generation of ag entrepreneurs," said Billy Boniface, a horse farm owner and president of the County Council. "We have to educate them, teach them what agriculture has to offer and then help get them onto the farms."

In the meantime, the North Harford students have plenty of agriculture activities and coursework to keep them busy. This week, students in horticulture classes harvested hydroponic lettuce they tended for six weeks in a greenhouse and served it in salads to classmates.

"They have been working in pairs for weeks, checking, measuring, watering the lettuce from seed to now," said Dene Bruce, horticulture teacher.

The greenhouse also holds spring bedding plants scheduled to bloom in time for the school's annual Mother's Day flower sale.

"This class is not just about cutting the grass," senior Drew Hoopes said about horticulture class. "It is about working with plants, learning about landscaping and working in a greenhouse. I have gotten great job experience."

The students work on the school grounds and tend the gardens. Hoopes secured a landscaping job that will help him pay for college.

Raymond Davis, who was planting daffodil and freesia bulbs for the greenhouse one day this week, said the experience led to a summer job with a grounds maintenance crew at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"I have already learned how to use a lot of different mowers here and know how to maintain fields," he said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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