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Ag Expo is proof that something old is new again

July 17, 2009

Suddenly, something that Washington County has in spades is fashionable again - rural farmland.

Those who spent the last 15 years figuring out how to spin open fields into strip mall and subdivision gold might have somewhat run their course, as the nation is becoming more aware of the value of locally grown foods and pastoral settings.

Small growers are popping up in Washington County as fast-food joints once did, producing everything from delicious, pasture-raised poulet rouge chicken to meaty Boer goats targeted to the growing ethnic population.

We applaud the organizers of the Washington County Ag Expo and Fair for staying the course through all of the "development first" years and offering an outlet for agricultural interests, and we encourage local residents to participate in the event, which runs through Thursday.

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Understanding the need to juice the fair, organizers have expanded the scope of the event, with more rides and motorsports shows that should interest those who prefer the thrilling to the tilling.

But once in the gates, they might even learn something about Washington County's rural tapestry and its agricultural rebirth.

Rather than something to be divided up and built upon, Washington County farmland might be on the brink of a new - and old - life. Rural land is becoming more valuable, not for building upon, but for supporting a fast-growing number of people who want to earn a living off of the land.

Evensong Farm and Many Rocks Farm in Washington County recently were featured in a Washington Post story about the increasing ranks of female farmers. Vast markets are opening up in the metropolitan areas for small-farm products, and more local restaurants are proudly offering wholesome, grass-fed beefsteaks on their menus.

Customers are increasingly willing to pay a premium for foods that are grown in harmony with, not against, the laws of nature.

Amid the rides and tractor pulls, Ag Expo plays an important role in promoting this rural lifestyle. The youths are the real show, as they parade their prize animals around the ring, show off their homemade pies or enter their canned vegetables in competition.

As recently as a few years ago, Ag Expo seemed to be about the past, as farmers held onto an old way of life that appeared to be on its way out. Today, Ag Expo is about the future, one that is bright with promise.

It is encouraging that fair organizers are seizing the opportunity, and it is up to the rest of us to recognize their efforts with our attendance.

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