It's a Hamby tradition

Williamsport teen hopes to preserve farm culture and his family heritage

Williamsport teen hopes to preserve farm culture and his family heritage

May 12, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD


For Garrett Hamby, showcasing cattle is an inherited lifestyle that masquerades as a hobby.

In fact, you could call him a teenage cowboy.

Garrett, 16, showcases cattle. His older sister Corey Hamby, 19, showcased cattle. His father, Ralph Hamby, showcased cattle as a teenager, too.

Now, it's Garrett's turn to carry on a family tradition.

For the Hambys, displaying animals at agricultural exhibitions is their way of showing off the fruits of farm life.

Garrett, the youngest of two siblings, has been to more than 30 shows and is preparing for his first exhibition of the show season, the 2006 Atlantic National Regional Preview Junior Angus Show on May 27 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

The Hamby family owns dozens of cattle, among other animals, which they raise on their 60-acre farm in rural Williamsport.

For decades, working that plot of land has proved to be a profitable family business, but changing social needs now are posing a threat to the Hambys' way of life.


"You know where the Wal-Mart, Home Depot is?" Garrett said. "We used to work that land."

Garrett said he has had to reconsider his dreams of owning his own farm, in part because he has watched countless cornfields turn into condos. He also worries about his ability to generate an income as a farmer.

"I've thought about becoming a (veterinarian) because farming really isn't that profitable anymore," he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent Census of Agriculture, Washington County has lost roughly 12,370 acres of farmland between 1987 and 2002. That's almost the same as losing five farms per year for 15 years.

County and state lawmakers have weighed in on the issue, as well.

Earlier this month, state legislators passed the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006, which, among other things, would increase funding for the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation.

The Washington County Commissioners have partnered with a nonprofit preservationist group and have agreed to hire a full-time land preservation planner.

Back at the Hamby farm, the rising costs of production are hurting the family business, said Garrett's father, Ralph. They have had to rely on side jobs bailing hay and making fences for extra money, he said.

"It's much harder now than it was when we started," said Ralph Hamby, 46, who has been farming for 30 years.

Right now, Garrett is prepping White Stone Sky Man, Champion Hill and Stroker - a heifer, bull and steer - for the Junior Angus show in May. He said he probably will enter seven more shows before the end of the summer.

Caring for show animals means waking up as early as 6:30 a.m. to feed them a special diet, bathe them in fortified hair creams and conditioners, and train them to walk gracefully and obey simple commands.

It's a process that starts as soon as the calf is born, Garrett said.

But he said it was the process that kept him involved with the shows, knowing that he had a hand in developing that calf, knowing that he had developed generations of calves before and knowing that he would develop that calf's future offspring.

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