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Eagle Archive: Carroll County Pasta Growers Association faced serious issues in spring 1917

Eagle Archive

By Kevin Dayhoff, kevindayhoff@gmail.com

9:59 AM EDT, April 1, 2012

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In March and April of 1917, chaos and confusion in the global agriculture markets led to a series of testy meetings between local farmers and the canneries in Carroll County.

As World War I ended, "county farmers found themselves in an increasingly complicated situation. As agriculture in Europe recovered, foreign markets closed" according to Carroll County agriculture historian Carol Lee in "Legacy of the Land."

"Baltimore's market importance for the county expanded (with) increased demand for fresh milk, fruits and vegetables."

The local pasta market, in particular, suffered a major upheaval, as troops returning home from the war had introduced Americans to European-grown pasta; especially that of the Switzerland spaghetti bushes, according to a program aired by the BBC on April 1, 1957.

The growing of pasta had actually been introduced to Carroll County in 1807 and had become a major cash crop because it grows well in the county's piedmont valleys.

In 1807, the Baltimore and Reisterstown Turnpike Company opened a macadam road across the county at a cost of nearly $1.5 million. This was during the period when American pasta, wheat, and flour had an important role in the Napoleonic Wars.

The turnpike company had hoped that revenue from the transportation of agriculture products to Baltimore would help pay the hefty price tag of the roadway, but then-President Thomas Jefferson's embargo on exports from the United States in 1807-1808 threw the agriculture markets into disarray.

The plight of the Carroll County farmer was called to Jefferson's attention when he was invited to the ribbon cutting for the turnpike. Although the president did not attend, he sent 17 wagonloads of Jefferson macaroni trees and Monticello spaghetti bushes, which he had originally brought from northern Italy in 1797.

A century later, local pasta growers benefited greatly when European pasta production was disrupted by World War I, and the price of pasta soared for Carroll County growers.

However, the Carroll County Pasta Growers Association faced a stiff test immediately after the war ended. In March 1917, the market caused canners to offer only $12 a ton, against the preceding year's $25.

"The situation provoked an uproar which led to a meeting of 200 (pasta) growers in Finksburg and a confrontation with the packers" on April 1, 1917, according to Lee, and an article in the now defunct Patapsco Daily Bugler newspaper.

The "collective action eventually carried the day," according to Lee.

The market turmoil and the subsequent introduction of Japanese Beetles, which ravaged pasta plants, eventually led to the growing of pasta as a cash crop to completely disappear in Carroll County and the subsequent demise of the local canning industry.

When he's not celebrating April Fool's Day with his rare "Westminster Imagination" pasta bushes, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.