Harford County residents, farmers and county officials gathered at Level Fire Hall Friday night to celebrate local farmers' accomplishments and agricultural land preservation at the 2012 Harford County Ag Banquet.
Among those honored was one of the county's most influential land preservationists, Peter A. Jay.
Henry Holloway, of Holloway Brothers Farm, was the master of ceremonies for the evening and kept the audience laughing with the many jokes before announcing the many guests, including several county council members, Harford County Executive David Craig and Earl "Buddy" Hance, who spoke next.
Hance is Secretary to the Maryland Department of Agriculture and praised the county and state, for what he called the "best farmers in this entire country." He also promoted the Buy Local initiative, which he said had taken off because consumers realized they could have "tastier" produce.
The two main awards of the evening were the Excellence in Agriculture Award and Land Preservationist of the Year. John Sullivan, of the Harford County Division of Agriculture, presented the first award, Excellence in Agriculture, to Mike and Rose Fiore of Fiore Winery.
The couple purchased their farm in Pylesville in 1975 and still have 600 vines of their original production, Sullivan said. The winery has won many awards through the year, including several which "put Fiore on the map."
Fiore Winery also helped to pave the way for other wine businesses in Maryland, according to Hance. Although Napa Valley in California is known for the wine industry, Hance said Fiore Winery helped to put Maryland on the map as the next wine center of the United States.
"The Fiores are pioneers of the wine industry in Maryland," he said.
Mike Fiore also briefly spoke after receiving the award.
"To get to this point, it's a thrill," he said, "a real thrill."
The Land Preservationist of the Year award was presented to Jay, owner of Windmill Hill Farm, by Bill Amoss, of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, and Dr. Kim Holloway. Windmill Hill Farm is a 260-acre horse farm near Churchville and was originally purchased in 1946.
At this point, Amoss said, more than 45,810 acres in Harford County have been preserved and in the coming year, they expect that number to rise to more than 47,000 acres.
Current preservation efforts cover nearly 16 percent of the land in the 440 square mile county.
Amoss also thanked land owners who were in the process of placing easements on their farms and properties for preservation and said Harford County was ranked one of the top 10 counties in the nation in that respect.
Craig also spoke when Jay was recognized, calling him a "phenomenal person."
"It's not just about preserving farmland, it's about preserving farmers," he said.
After receiving his award, Jay also addressed the crowd, thanking the people who work with him at Windmill Hill Farm, saying they have had "good people" and that if a farm is worth preserving so are the people.
"When things go right on the farm, it's because of them generally," Jay added.
Jay is a founding member of the Harford Land Trust, a local nonprofit that has been responsible for preserving a number of significant and ecologically sensitive properties in the county including the Kilgore Falls waterfall in the northern end of the county and wooded and wetland tracts along Bush River in the southeastern part of the county. He has also been active with the Nature Conservancy, a worldwide organization that works to preserve land and water resources.
Friday's dinner also featured a announcement of 2012 grant recipients by Bill Tharpe, of the Harford County AG Marketing Cooperative, Inc. Recipients included Nicholas Bailey, of Grand View Farm; Bel Air Farmers Market; Rocky Cullum; Joyce Evans, of Gardens of Joy; Ashby Everhart, of Legends Vineyard; Ed and Kathy Fielder, of FCD Foods; Larry Fila and Dene' Bruce, of Beavers Everlasting Farm and Flowers by Dene'; Mike and Rose Fiore, of Fiore Winery; Kim and Allen Galbreath, of Hawks Hill Creamery; Bill Harlan, of Belvedere Farm; Tom and Paul Harman, of Harman's Farmers Market; Havre de Grace Farmers Market, David Keyes, of Mt. Felix Farm and Keyes Creamery; John Knapstein, of Top of the Hill Apiary; John Kovac; Jennifer Kraus, of Bay Meadow Farm; Douglas Norton, of J & J Legacy Farm; Greg and Mary Stewart, of Fawn View Farm; Susquehanna Beekeepers Association and Dawn Yurkiewicz, of Stratford Farm.
Tharpe also mentioned the two grant programs in Harford County, the emerging technology grant and the producer grant. He also thanked the county executive and Harford County Council for their work in supporting his organization and the farming community.
Craig also proposed a new way to support the community that evening as well, suggesting mobile farmers markets be established to serve the five senior centers in the county.