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Slow down - and appreciate beauty of farms

August 24, 2004|by JEFF SEMLER

If you have children, as you read this article, both you and they are anxious for school to start.

And depending on their age, the reasons may be the same or different. If they are young, you both are probably nervous about the unknowns of school. But if they are older, you are probably ready to get them out of the house and they may be bored at home as well.

While I will caution everyone to slow down and be more cautious with the school buses running again, I also remind you that with school starting and fall approaching, harvest is on the way.

Whether you are new to Washington County or just find yourself on a road following farm machinery, welcome to farm country.

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Agriculture is still the largest industry in the state of Maryland, and Washington County is one of the leading agricultural counties.

With 293,223 acres in land area, our county ranks ninth in size among the 23 counties. Of those acres, 41 percent is used for agricultural purposes.

We live in the heart of the fruit industry in Maryland. Apple and peach growers harvest more than 190,000 trees annually.

Dairying is the principal livestock enterprise, ranking second in the state. In addition to milk and fruit, our other chief agricultural commodities are beef cattle and hay (both second in the state) and barley (third).

In the last five years, we have lost nearly 4,000 acres to uses other than agriculture. If just 75 percent of those acres went into housing and we built one house per acre and each household had the average 1.5 cars, that means we have added 4,500 additional vehicles to the county roadways.

Couple this with school buses and farm machinery and we have the makings for many impatient drivers taking unnecessary and oft times dangerous risks.

So what should we do? Slow down! You live in a virtual Garden of Eden with the farms and fields abounding with nature's harvest. Leave a little earlier and enjoy the scenery.

Second, on the way home, take advantage of your location. Stop by a local grower's stand and buy some fresh corn, tomatoes, melons, peaches or apples.

I should warn you though. Once you taste farm fresh produce, it will be hard to go back to the imported varieties available in many stores.

Another thing you should consider is putting in a little garden of your own. Not that you are going to compete with farmers, but it has two other benefits.

First, it is less grass to mow - who likes to mow grass? Second and, most importantly, it gives you a sense of what it is like to work the land.

You will be introduced on a small scale, of course, to the trials, tribulations, and joys of planting a seed with the hopes of future harvest.

You will, in the end, relate to the sentiments of several of our former presidents. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."

In a letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, Jefferson related, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."

In the end, simply enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and bounty of our county's harvest.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in 4-H youth development as well as agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu

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