Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun
When Alan Sharp isn't down on the farm, he's up in the air. The 26-year old is a fourth-generation Howard County farmer and also an aerial surveyor with a degree in aviation management. He splits his time between his surveyor job and the farm, where he works with his parents, Chuck and Denise. Chuck is officially retired but still fairly involved. "My father is 'farmer retired'," jokes Sharp. "He's still down there forty-plus hours a week." Denise manages the farm's greenhouse, while Alan fills multiple roles. Running a farm means "you've got to be a jack of all trades -- plumber, electrician, mechanic, plus you have to know the agricultural science and do the paperwork," he explains. "It's a little of everything. I'm always busy - but I'd rather be busy than bored." Currently, with his parents still involved, Sharp can divide his time between his two occupations. But at some point, he says, he'll need to choose between the two. "I'm in that position where I need to go one way or the other," he explains. "It's hard to do. I love farming and there are benefits to it -- but no 401(k) or those benefits." The Sharp family has been farming in Howard County since 1903; their current farm occupies 530 acres where they grow produce sold onsite to consumers and to local restaurants and grocery stores. They also operate a much-loved corn maze, run field trips and host birthday parties during the spring, summer and fall. "We've moved toward agritourism," Sharp says, explaining his family's enthusiastic approach to community involvement. As the Howard County population has grown, so have their opportunities to educate and entertain local children. "It's nice to be where we are, so close to Washington and Baltimore," he says. "There are so many suburban families -- and it's nice for families who live in subdivisions to easily get to farms like ours. It gives us customers nearby who enjoy coming out."
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Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun
Nora Crist's family has been in Howard County for longer than she can articulate - and they've been farming for just as log. "I'm not sure if I'm seventh or eighth generation," she says. "We've been here forever." Over those decades, Crist's family has included judges, legislators and a World War II pilot (her grandfather), but farming was also in the family's blood. Today, Crist, 26, and her mother, Martha Clark, run a 540-acre farm, where they grow produce, raise grass-fed beef cattle, pigs and chickens, and operate a popular petting zoo. In 2005, Crist earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Delaware. "I grew up riding horses and knew I wanted to do something outside and with animals," she explains. After graduation, she returned to the farm to work with her mother -- but she also wanted to do something on her own. "I knew I wanted not to live in my mom's house!" she laughs. "I wanted to bring something to the table." After extensive research on sustainable farming techniques, Crist began raising grass-fed cows. Soon after, she added chickens and pigs to the mix. She's passionate about raising animals humanely and excited about how sustainable agriculture has helped her family's farm grow. Crist and Clark sell their products right from the farm itself. Crist credits the community with the success of their farm - she says it's a result of the ongoing support of great food and local farmers. "Selling to customers is the icing on the cake," she says. "It's beautiful product, and when someone's excited to buy it, that's the best part."
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Howard County is well known as an economic hub - a powerhouse suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But the county is also an agricultural wonderland, home to over 300 farms, which average 125 acres each. About one-quarter of the land in Howard County is farmland, according to The Howard County Farm Bureau. Some of these farms date back to the earliest days of Howard County -- and some of the families that farmed the land hundreds of years ago are still involved in local agriculture. Whether they're starting a community-supported agriculture program (CSA), embracing agritourism or introducing sustainable farming practices, the new generation of farmers is forward-thinking and excited to build upon the family legacy. --Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun
By Kit Waskom Pollard