Groundbreaking For Ag Center Wednesday

July 25, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Baltimore County will build a $9 million agriculture center in Hunt Valley that will offer office and meeting space as well as classrooms, greenhouses and demonstration fields for groups now spread throughout the area.

Officials said the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture, located on a 149-acre property just west of Interstate 83 on Shawan Road, will extend the county's commitment to farming. The county purchased the land from the Tillman family, which had operated a horse farm and boarding business there. The complex, to be built in pastures where horses grazed for decades, will continue to resemble a working farm with several fields planted in crops, alongside vineyards, beekeeping equipment and hives, forested areas, barns and paddocks.

"The idea is to focus a lot of ag groups in one location to allow for better interaction," said Keith Wills, spokesman for the Baltimore County Farm Bureau. "There are so many possibilities for what can go on here. We want to show off our ag heritage."

Officials will break ground Wednesday, likely while the most recent tenant farmer is still mowing hay. The National Park Service and Maryland Program Open Space contributed $3.1 million toward land acquisition, design and construction costs.

"The location, minutes off the interstate, is ideal since much of the county's ag activity is in the northern area," Wills said.

The center will be located on a property with a hillside view that captures many surrounding farms, in a county with 800 working farms and more than 70,000 acres devoted to commercial agriculture.

"This center will educate the public about the value and importance of agriculture," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

The initial phase of the center includes a 10,000-square-foot building that will house several agriculture-related groups, including the county office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Maryland Wineries and Horse Breeders associations and several 4-H clubs.

"We are looking forward to having a space of our own, where we can collaborate with others in the ag industry," said Kevin M. Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. "You can't beat being on a working farm with classes and a demonstration vineyard to show the public what goes into winemaking."

Construction is expected to be completed late next summer.

"The building will have a farm look and feel that retains the rural character of the area," Wills said. "Visitors won't be driving into an office park. These will be barn-type buildings."

Visitors will also drive past pastures and rotating fields of crops in a constant exhibit of farm activities, he said.

"We want people to see ag in Baltimore County and the best farm management practices working on the site," he said. "We plan to utilize a lot of land in rotational pasture management."

The long-range plan calls for hiking trails, an outdoor equestrian ring, outdoor and indoor arena, a recreation pavilion, and a historic farm village with a museum.

"We have a lot in the works with our ultimate wish list, but it won't happen overnight," said Dave Martin, county extension service director. "Once we have the core building under way, a lot more will be happening."

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