By Janene Holzberg, For The Baltimore Sun
8:05 AM EST, November 18, 2013
For an agricultural operation that is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Maple Lawn Turkey Farm is adept at blending the old and the new.
Tried-and-true methods still prevail at Maple Lawn. But the Fulton farm also embraces modern concepts, such as raising free-range birds and using large arrays of solar panels to generate enough electricity to offset what it consumes each year.
And just in time for Thanksgiving, the turkey farm's success story will unfold on the airwaves Tuesday in the debut of a new half-hour TV series featuring farms across the state.
In the first episode of Maryland Public Television's "Maryland Farm & Harvest," Maple Lawn manager Chris Bohrer says the farm does "a very brisk business at Thanksgiving time."
"When the line's out the door … it's a huge ego boost to see that many people come in to buy a product that you've spent your summer raising," he says on the program. As he speaks, photographs flash on screen of the long lines of bumper-to-bumper vehicles that back up on the days leading up to the holiday.
"We've had lines as long as 45 minutes to an hour and a half," says Bohrer, who has worked at the turkey farm for 26 years.
Bohrer, who also works as a Montgomery County police officer, begins working with the day-old poults when they arrive at the farm each June.
He and a small crew continue raising the toms and hens until the beginning of November, when he takes three or four weeks off from his full-time job to oversee sale of the turkeys to retail and wholesale buyers. He works for his father- and uncle-in-law, brothers Gene and Charlie Iager. They are the sons of Maple Lawn Turkey Farm's original owners, Ellsworth and Mary Iager.
The thriving turkey business is actually a separate entity from Maple Lawn Farms, a family-run dairy and grain operation off Route 216 that dates to 1839. The burgeoning community of Maple Lawn continues to develop on surrounding land sold by the Iager family in yet another enterprise.
Consumer correspondent Al Spoler — a self-described foodie who also does WYPR radio shows on food and wine — visited Maple Lawn Turkey Farm in September for a three-minute segment of the MPT show "Spoler's Local Buy." Future segments at various farms will focus on peppers, farm-made cheese, heirloom tomatoes and other products.
"This is true reality TV, as the show catches farmers doing what they do in real life," Bohrer said in an interview. "Farmers feed America, as well as other countries. No farms, no food."
The number of working farms — especially dairy farms — is shrinking in Howard County, and Maple Lawn Farms is proud to keep a family tradition alive.
"Word of mouth is our best advertisement, so this extra publicity is great," Bohrer said.
The 13-episode series, which introduces itself as "real stories about the people who grow our food," is the brainchild of MPT executive producer Mike English, who for 25 years has overseen the award-winning series "Outdoors Maryland."
Series producer Robert Neustadt said he was happy to get the project, which has been in the works for three years and was made in partnership with the state Agriculture Department.
"There are fascinating untold stories about the relationships Maryland farmers have to the land, the people and the environment," he said. "This series humanizes what goes on in their world."
Though the crew visited about 70 farms, there are 12,800 farms in the state, he said. So the opportunity for filming more of these compelling stories exists.
"We're hoping the series will have enough of a 'gee whiz' factor and enough interesting personalities to draw viewers in," Neustadt said.
The show's target group is the 95 percent of the population who aren't farmers, he said.
"We've done more technical agricultural shows that were geared toward farmers, and we want to be viewed and respected by them," he said.
"But we're constantly reminding ourselves that this program isn't for farmers," Neustadt said. "This one's for the huge segment of society that really doesn't know a lot about the people who feed us."
Topics in the first installment range from frozen cow embryos being exported by Palmyra Farms in Hagerstown to sustainable farming at Harborview Farms in Rock Hall on the Chesapeake Bay.
Personal stories — such as that of farmer Terri Wolf-King, who rebuilt her life and Cornerstone Farm in Hurlock after losing her husband and young son in a fire in 2000 — fill out the 28-minute program.
Bohrer advises viewers in his segment that fresh turkeys cook very quickly, so customers need to get a good meat thermometer and roast their birds to 165 degrees. Recipes gathered from farm visits will be featured by episode on the station's website, mpt.org/farm.
"I'm always a fan of anything that promotes agriculture," Bohrer said. "And this show is all about touting what we have right here in Maryland."
Maryland Public Television's "Maryland Farm & Harvest" premieres at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, and repeats at 11:30 p.m. Thursdays and 6 a.m. Sundays.
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