At Larriland Farm, in Woodbine, visitors can harvest their own fruits and vegetables straight from the vine.

Owner Lynn Moore says the experience can be powerful. “It’s just nice being outside,” she says. “There’s a breeze blowing, and the sun is out, and it’s quiet, and you have all the colors and the smells of the fruit.”

Larriland’s crops vary by season. The farm opens with strawberry season in late May and closes in early November after a fall harvest of pumpkins, apples, broccoli and spinach.

In addition to educating its visitors on its naturally grown food, Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City allows people to connect with its animals.

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“We’re probably the most expansive petting farm in the area and the one that has animals all the time in full view,” owner Martha Clark says, adding that some lucky visitors have been able to see some of the farm’s goats and cows give birth. “That’s pretty amazing to watch,” she adds.

Sharp’s at Waterford Farm, near Glenelg, also has animals — cattle, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep and pigs — for viewing while the farm is open in the spring (April to mid-June) and the fall (mid-September to mid-November). The farm has a 1.5-mile nature trail with signs explaining the features hikers pass, as well as other unmarked trails. In the summer, the farm holds a series of agricultural tours, by appointment only.

“People like to visit it because it’s such a large farm (that) when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t see other houses, hear traffic on the road,” owner Denise Sharp says. “It’s pretty isolated.”

Many area farms have adopted the community supported agriculture trend — in which members receive a share of the farm’s harvest in exchange for payment and/or farm work. Farms include Breezy Willow Farm in West Friendship, Jasmine Farm and Roundabout Hills Farm in Glenwood, Shaw Farm in Columbia, Gorman Farm in North Laurel and Howard County Growers LLP, a cooperative of several farms and growers.

4. Howard County Astronomical League

To allow people to connect with a more distant part of nature, the Howard County Astronomical League (HAL) conducts star parties two times each month — one time when the moon is out and one time when it’s hidden.

During its parties, the astronomy club members teach attendees about what they’re observing — the moon, planets, galaxies and star clusters.

“Nature’s all around us ... half of everything around us is over our heads, and everyone ignores that,” club president Bob Prokop said.

With all the parties held at Alpha Ridge Park, in Marriottsville, Prokop said he finds a lot of the people see the group and decide to join the fun.

“Many of them have never looked up at the sky in their entire life,” he said. “The best thing for me personally is when I hear the ‘wows’ or the ‘oohs’ or the exclamations of surprise. ... I’ve found that the moon is more interesting than anything else to people who have never looked through a telescope.”

Though most of the club’s observing occurs at night, he said some members are starting a new outreach program for solar observing, which requires more expensive equipment to see sunspots and flares.

“Solar observing is going to be a future thing for the club,” Prokop said.

Also in the club’s near future is a long-awaited celestial observatory at Alpha Ridge. The observatory, which the group is partnering with Howard County government to build, will house the group’s prized telescope, a device crafted by former Johns Hopkins University astronomer Paul Watson in the 1930s or 1940s.

The facility will be open by appointment for educational and community groups and is expected to open in late 2011 or spring 2012.

HAL member Joel Goodman says the park is a prime spot for the observatory with its dark night sky and seclusion, making it possible to clearly view the Milky Way on clear, moonless nights.

5. Howard County parks