Baltimore County opens $10 million center for agriculture

Facility offers hands-on education, research and demonstrations

  • The lobby of the new Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture.
The lobby of the new Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
September 22, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County has opened a $10 million agriculture center that will offer hands-on education in productive farming, research opportunities in the latest technology and year-round demonstrations in farm management.

Officials said the facility promises meeting space to 4-H clubs, land associations and community groups and recreational opportunities for area residents.

The Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture, which opened officially Wednesday, spans 150 acres along Shawan Road in Hunt Valley. Its agencies and programs will help sustain a $300 million annual industry that is essential to the county's economy, officials said. It will also bolster profitability for the county's nearly 800 working farms that manage more than 70,000 acres.

"We want our farms to stay in business, our families to stay on their farms and our land to be preserved," said center director Chris McCollum.

Ed Lippy, who farms about 8,000 acres in Baltimore and Carroll counties, was among the dozens of farmers attending the grand opening.

"This center will advocate agriculture to the community and be an avenue to the future of farming in the county," he said. "It's a one-stop center for all services. It needs to happen everywhere."

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown echoed that sentiment, calling the facility "worthy of emulation throughout the state." Maryland, which has doubled its land consumption in the last 30 years, should consider the example of a center dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of life, he said.

At the center's core is a 14,000-square-foot board and batten building painted in earth tones. It houses offices for federal, state and local agriculture agencies.

"We are all partners working together in this one facility," McCollum said.

The building also offers classrooms, conference areas, a commercial kitchen and a two-story multi-purpose space that can accommodate about 185. Sunlight drenches the spaces from countless windows and enlarged photos of open spaces line the walls.

"I love all the natural light and all the photos of Maryland farms," said Julia Jitkoff, volunteer at the center.

Gene Swackhamer, chairman of the Maryland Agriculture Resource Center Inc., a nonprofit working with the county, promised the building is only the beginning.

"We are already thinking about a second building as a visitor center and a barn to house historic equipment," he said.

The complex, built on a former horse farm, will provide hands-on education in its classrooms and demonstration fields, training for new farmers and school children as well a look at the latest equipment, like a tedder that dries hay faster, and newest technology, like solar heating for quicker crop growth.

"Farmers can come here to get new ideas on how to adapt their farms," said Rob DeFord, owner of Boordy Vineyards.

McCollum gave Cheng-i Wei, dean of the University of Maryland College of Agriculture, a key to the building, just in case he wants to stop by on a weekend drive.

"This center is a role model for the whole world and it will make the world a better place," Wei said.

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