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Opinion: Mullinix family wants only to control their legacy

If you are looking for a group of people that have an appreciation and deep love for the beauty of Howard County farmland, you need not look any further than the Mullinix family.

I sit with my father on our front porch in Dayton every season as we're both rendered speechless by the beautiful sunset before us. At these moments I can't imagine anyone being so lucky, so fortunate as to enjoy this amazement. From our front porch I sit in awe of property that my family has owned for as long as I have lived. To say that I am blessed would be a gross understatement.

That being said, I, like my father and his brothers, am a realist. Would we love for our farm to prosper as in years past? Absolutely. Can we continue those practices and maintain a living? No, we cannot.

Agriculture, as we once knew it, no longer exists. I have watched for two decades as my father and his brothers have sowed this earth. I have watched them sacrifice time with family and friends, literally pounding the earth in frustration, with little, or no, results. I have watched my father laugh in complete defeat after learning what the "profits" of his labor are at the end of a season.

My father, along with his brothers Michael and Mark, as a partnership, have recently become the humble, somewhat unwilling, spearheads of a movement undesirable to some of you reading this. They have requested to be released from their Maryland farmland preservation contract.

Signed in the 1980s, they agreed to keep their property under agricultural protection for 25 years. According to this document they could be released from this agreement upon proving that farming their land was no longer profitable or "feasible." Far past the expiration date of this agreement, they have concluded that it is, in fact, no longer feasible to use this land in the manner agreed upon.

I feel as though I should share that their intention is not to sell their legacy to developers. For example, thinking they were operating within their limitations, they rented an existing shop on their property to a landscaping company. They were threatened with a $50K fine when the county and state took notice. Sadly, they were forced to evict the small business operating there.

Instances such as this are quite common. Farmers need this kind of supplemental income to survive. Oddly, a word from a disgruntled neighbor ultimately wins in these situations.

As we delve deeper into the argument, the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning thought they could be helpful by suggesting different types of "farming" that could prove to be profitable for the Mullinix Farm. Among those suggestions are: "agritourism", sawmill, butcher shop, petting zoo, landscaping business (Ha! Tried that!), veterinary hospital, livestock auction, landing strip, bed and breakfast… and the list goes on and on.

I think it is safe to say that everything on this list requires an enormous investment and runs a high risk of failure. After reading it, I thought to myself, "Wow. That takes some audacity."

I cannot imagine any county or state official going into a failing business and telling them they cannot do what needs to be done to sustain their livelihood. A board of officials would never go to a failing medical practice to tell the doctor that perhaps they should try a holistic approach to medicine.

The Mullinix farm started as a grain farm in the late 1800s. Now it is supposed to host a petting zoo to appease the property owners around it? The farm closed its dairy in the late 1980s because running it required the brothers taking way too much time away from their families.

Many projects have been contemplated, at times, attempted. Ultimately they were abandoned, because the sacrifice was just too much. The Mullinix brothers, now in their 50s, are now asked to take on completely new and unfamiliar avenues? Unlike many people, they have been working since they were children. Do they not deserve a comfortable retirement?

Howard County Zoning, how dare you? Just because this business comes along with some scenery does not mean you get to dictate its practices. Furthermore, this battle is with the state. At no point did the Mullinix brother partnership sign a Howard County contract. Had they been interested in your preservation program they would have signed up when offered.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that J. David Mullinix and Sons Inc. are not trying to sell away that which they hold dear. Quite simply, they are attempting to regain control of their legacy, their livelihood, and, most importantly, their private property.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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