Anyone who travels through Baltimore County's Long Green Valley on a regular basis has to stop now and then so that Bobby Prigel's cows can cross the road. Prigel is a dairy farmer who produces milk the old-fashioned way, moving his herd from pasture to pasture, on both sides of Long Green Road, letting the cows actually walk and chew grass at the same time.
Prigel's fourth-generation family farm, Bellevale, is the only organic dairy farm in the county.
Unfortunately, you can't buy Prigel's milk.
He sells it to a company, Horizon Organic, which trucks it to a processing plant in Buffalo, N.Y., which, according to MapQuest, is about 360 miles from Bellevale Farm.
Horizon claims to be the nation's leading brand of certified organic milk, with a full line of USDA-certified dairy products. Bobby Prigel wants to get in on this and do it himself.
He wants to produce his own dairy products, including ice cream, on his family farm. He wants to cut out the long-haul, diesel-burning middle man and reduce the carbon footprint of the organic dairy products his cows make possible. He wants to make more money, too.
And he wants to do this right there on Long Green Valley Road, in the large building he constructed this past year. He wants to call it the Prigel Family Creamery. He wants to pasteurize and homogenize his cows' milk and bottle it. He wants to make butter, cheese and yogurt - and did I mention ice cream?
The building is finished - at least the roof is up - over about a quarter of an acre on the 260-acre Bellevale land. But Bobby Prigel is not ready for prime time, and his creamery opening has been delayed because some of his well-to-do neighbors in the Long Green Valley don't like what he wants to do. They've taken him to the Baltimore County Zoning Commission a couple of times - and lost - and apparently they're going to keep up the fight.
Prigel tells me he's already run up about $60,000 in legal bills that he hadn't anticipated when he got his building permit.
It's a shame because Prigel's project represents what's needed around here - a local farmer selling his products to local consumers.
Isn't that what the trend back to local farming is supposed to be about - cutting out the middle man, getting fresh produce, meats and dairy into the local marketplace, and reducing our contributions to global warming as we shop?
Bobby Prigel doesn't use antibiotics on his cows, and he doesn't spread chemicals on his land. His cows are free-range, and he rotates them every 12 hours through a series of 50 paddocks on land that - you'll like this, too - won't ever become a housing development.
In 1996, the Prigel family placed 180 of its 260 acres into perpetual agricultural preservation with the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation. Six years later, the Prigels put another 80 acres of woods into permanent conservation with the Long Green Valley Conservancy. It's included in Maryland's Rural Legacy program. That means the people of the valley, and anyone who drives through, won't see McMansions popping up.
What they'll see is cows. What they'll also see is a new barn-like building with a retail front and an impervious parking lot.
Some of the neighbors don't like this; they don't think a farm stand belongs on preserved farm land. So Prigel expects more legal headaches - and bills - before all is said and done and the ice cream goes on sale.
Fortunately, he has a lot of supporters, including valley neighbors, some of whom already have helped raise half of Prigel's legal expenses. And, twice already, Baltimore County government has ruled in his favor. Last summer, the deputy zoning commissioner, Thomas Bostwick, granted the Prigel Family Creamery's request to be allowed to operate a farm stand on the site, and he dismissed complaints from the opposition in strong terms.
"It is hard to imagine a negative impact stemming from the operation of a family-run organic dairy farm stand in the center of many acres of farmland owned by that same family," Bostwick wrote in a July opinion.
Later, ruling on Prigel's request that he be allowed to sell products at the creamery, Bostwick stated: "I find that granting this special exception will further the goal of the local, family-owned dairy farm that hopes to produce and sell organic products directly to members of the public. ... Considering all the circumstances, it would border on the ridiculous not to grant [permission for a farm stand]."
After a second hearing last month, Bostwick again ruled in Prigel's favor. In a written opinion, he addressed the question of whether a commercial creamery should be built on land set aside for preservation, and he took a shot at Prigel's neighbors.
"The concept of 'agricultural preservation,' " he wrote, "includes taking steps to preserve agricultural businesses rather that simply preserving open space and pastures and attractive views of the countryside for non-farmers who happen to live in agricultural areas."
With that, you'd think maybe the complainers would go away, but evidently they're not done yet and are taking Prigel to court, according to his attorney, John Gontrum.
Here's wishing Prigel well. I hope he perseveres, wins his case and lives to be able to tell his cranky neighbors: No ice cream for you!