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Harford agri-business incubator The Grove offers new terms to accommodate prospective vendors

The new Harford Agribusiness Incubator building located at the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street is under construction.
The new Harford Agribusiness Incubator building located at the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street is under construction. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Harford County has changed the terms and regulations of its pending agri-business incubator to make it easier for people to rent space and sell their products there.

With construction expected to finish in April, “The Grove” is Harford County’s $1 million venture into an agri-business incubator — a space where smaller agricultural enterprises can get their start and build up before moving to more permanent office spaces.

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When it was introduced, the incubator offered only 12-month leases on its 16 stalls and required businesses to be be open at least 12 total hours across three days of the week to qualify for use of the county-owned property.

But those terms were ill-suited to some county farmers and producers — some of whom are only part-time farmers and hold non-agricultural jobs — so the county changed the terms after taking input from the community.

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Now, businesses do not need to be open a minimum number of hours a week to qualify for the stalls, and they can select between quarterly, semi-annual and annual leases on space in the building, Director of Harford County Governmental and Community Relations Cindy Mumby said.

“We got some feedback from the community, and in an effort to be more responsive to their needs, we have shortened the time commitment and provided options,” she said. “Folks wanted to participate but did not want to make a year-round commitment."

Mumby said the overhead costs associated with the building will be low; the county will effectively only pay “to keep the lights on." That alleviates concerns that the quarterly leases might attract farmers for a short time in the growing season but not keep business during the off season, sticking the county with the bill for an empty stall.

The space will also allow artists, food processors and other agriculture-adjacent vendors who may want to use the stalls outside of the growing season.

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“There are other kinds of entrepreneurs who can make use of this space,” Mumby said. “[Occupancy] will certainly vary with the seasons.”

The Grove draws inspiration from the GroundFloor, a shared office space on Pulaski Highway in Havre de Grace hosting businesses that mostly cater to Aberdeen Proving Ground. Though the idea is the same, the Grove differs from the GroundFloor because it deals with agricultural products, Mumby said.

It is the first government-owned agri-business incubator in Maryland that the county knows of.

“This is a new concept,” she said. “We are not aware of it existing anywhere in the state as a partnership with county government ownership.”

Because it is a new arrangement, Mumby said that adjustments to the terms may be made over the lifespan of the space. If there is a shortage of space, the stalls will go to the highest bidder.

So far, Mumby said, four of the 16 available spots have been taken by three people.

The Grove, which is located alongside the Harford County Agricultural Center at 3525 Conowingo Road in Street, will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week.

Indoor and outdoor stalls are available to lease for $250 and $150 respectively, but prospective tenants can opt to rent both an indoor and outdoor space for $300 a month. Rents are due at the beginning of the month, which is a change from the original payment plan.

Application forms can be found on the county’s website and submitted to Erin Schafer at 611 N. Fountain Green Road in Bel Air, or emailed to elschafer@harfordcountymd.gov.

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