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Md. agriculture secretary blends in at Smithsburg orchard

May 09, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

SMITHSBURG -- Wearing an untucked shirt and sporting a two-day beard, Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson was hard to distinguish from the farmers who gathered to meet him Thursday at Rinehart Orchards.

It wasn't until Richardson, a farmer himself in Worcester County, Md., walked to the front of the crowd and began talking that it was obvious he was the person whom everyone had come to see.

"Thanks for coming out. I'm basically here to hear your questions," Richardson said.

Richardson visited Rinehart Orchards along with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Earl Hance as part of the state's Capital for a Day program, in which Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and a dozen or so cabinet officials visited Hagerstown to meet with elected leaders and local citizens.

Several farmers asked Richardson about state funding for agricultural preservation and programs to help diversify their crops and do new things such as start wineries.

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He answered their questions politely, noting that state budget cuts and a tough economy have taken a toll this year on state agriculture programs.

But mostly, he listened and chatted and got to know the dozen or so farmers who came to Rinehart's packing house to meet him.

"A lot of farmers look at folks in Annapolis as bureaucrats pushing paper and wasting tax money," said David Herbst, owner of Misty Meadows dairy farm down the road from Rinehart's. "When you get a guy like Richardson up here, you can see that he's working for us. You can see he's a farmer."

Richardson was scheduled to take a tour of J.D. Rinehart's 400-acre orchard but rain kept the meeting in the farm's packing house, where every year thousands of apples are dumped, washed, brushed, waxed, dried and weighed before being boxed and shipped.

J.D. Rinehart, who runs the orchard that has been in his family for 78 years, said the visit was good because it allowed Richardson to get a glimpse of farming in Western Maryland.

"He said he hasn't been here much. This gives him a chance to see what we're about up here. It's a pleasure to meet him. The state is doing a lot down there with very limited resources," Rinehart said.

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