Demise of Hooker family farm could have been predicted years ago [commentary]

Plenty of people in their late 40s and older have stories about Old Route 24, the two lane roadway which linked Bel Air to Edgewood and had a marginally busy business district around the I-95 interchange.

The road's number has long since been changed to Route 924, as the four-lane Route 24, which has more in common with I-95 than it does with the Route 24 of a bygone era, is the new main link between Bel Air and I-95.

Commercial development didn't stand still when New Route 24 replaced Old Route 24. If anything, it speeded up. Time was the only commercial outpost along Old 24 was the 7-Eleven store near the Patterson Mill Road intersection. So built up is the area now that it would be possible to drive by without even noticing the 7-Eleven that was once a major landmark.

The territory once traversed by Old 24 was largely agricultural. Bel Air, the county seat, was a small, but rapidly growing suburb of Baltimore.

Long ago, most of the farmland along what is now referred to as the Route 24 Corridor, or Bel Air South, or even the Greater Abingdon Area, was harvested of its final produce and a new kind of crop took root: houses.

Why not? It's a nice place to live, and it's within relatively easy commuting distance to Baltimore.

The speed with which this growth took place is likely lost on many people living in the area in question. In a lot of ways, suburban Bel Air South has the look of plenty of other bedroom communities in Maryland that have been around 10 or 20 or even 30 years longer.

Rather quietly, a final chapter in the transition of Bel Air South from agricultural community to Baltimore bedroom has begun to play out. Norman Hooker and his family have decided to sell their 107-acre family farm on Laurel Bush Road in Abingdon for development. The farm has been in the family for nearly 120 years, but in the past few dozen of those years, the demeanor of that part of Harford County has changed substantially.

It's worth pointing out that historically Maryland's agricultural community has been composed of what would be considered very small farms in the lands to the west. It's been a very long time since any Maryland crop was a significant factor in the market price of agricultural commodities.

Still, many an enterprising and persistent farmer in Maryland in general and Harford County in particular has managed to make a living from the land. It's not easy, though, and it's made all the more difficult when you're one of the last farms in an area that's been consumed by development.

The passing of the Hooker family farm into the realm of residential neighborhood certainly is tinged with sadness, but any of us who laments too loudly the demise of agriculture in Harford County is probably engaging in a bit of hypocrisy. So many houses have been built on so much farmland in Harford County that a very small percentage of the county's population can claim to live on land that wasn't under plow or hoof 50 years ago.

Another farm in a heavily-developed portion of Harford County is passing into residential use, but if the people who end up living there are anything like the folks living on other former farmland, the change won't be terrible. It'll just make things a bit more crowded.

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