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County farm family in the ag hall of fame

February 08, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

click below for enlargement

SMITHSBURG, Md. - Smiles spread across the faces of John C. and Betty Herbst as they watched the future of Misty Meadow Farms, in the form of their four grandchildren, emerge from the stone farm house Sunday afternoon where they had once lived and raised their family.

Together, the three-generation farm family walked up the lane to the new, modern free stall barn that holds more than 100 Holstein cows and was built purposely with expansion in mind.

"We hope this family will stay in agriculture forever ... It's the best way of life there is as far as I'm concerned," said John Herbst, 74, who calls himself retired, though still looks every bit a farmer in his bib overalls, work boots and cap.

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The family's commitment to agriculture in Washington County earned them a place in The Governor's Agriculture Hall of Fame of Maryland this year.

The Herbsts were inducted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in a ceremony last Thursday night at the Maryland Agricultural Dinner in Glen Burnie.

They are the first Washington County farm family to be inducted since its creation in 1991. Their photograph will be displayed in a special alcove at the Wayne A. Cawley Jr. building in Annapolis that houses the state Department of Agriculture.

"I felt it was quite an honor to receive that. It tells me I must've done something about right," John Herbst said.

Started 48 years ago with 50 acres, two horses and a 20-horsepower tractor, the Herbsts built the farm slowly, always with their eyes on the future.

Over the years, Herbst became known for incorporating the latest farming techniques. He was a pioneer in the use of no-till corn in the early 1960s and was one of the first in the county to plant soybeans for feed and cash grain.

No-till and conservation tillage is used extensively on what is now a nearly 400-acre farm. A current nutrient management plan has been in place since 1990, reducing the need for commercial fertilizers on the farm.

"I never wanted to be first all the time, but when I saw something I thought was beneficial, I liked to try it," John Herbst said.

As he saw development encroach over the years, Herbst planned for the next generation by purchasing land around Misty Meadow Farms as it came up for sale. Now half of it is under ag land preservation easement, meaning the property can only be sold if farming becomes unprofitable.

"We see it (ag land preservation) as the only way to save agriculture here," said David Herbst, 44, the youngest of three sons who took over the operation in 1985.

He and his wife of 17 years, Betsy, now have four children: Katie, 15, Jenny, 13, Kimberly, 11, and Andrew, 9, all who have responsibilities on the farm and own cows themselves.

Over the years, the family have immersed themselves in the community, serving on a number of agriculture and non-agriculture related boards.

For 15 years, they've opened their farm for two weeks every May, giving tours for 1,200 elementary school students.

Being a part of the community is their way of "speaking up for agriculture" in a time when many don't appreciate where their food comes from, John Herbst said.

"Kids and people of the community as a whole don't have any understanding of farming," he said.

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