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40,000 attend Harford County Farm Fair

About 40,000 people attended this year’s Harford County Farm Fair, a continued trend of growing attendance at the six-day celebration of Harford County agriculture and the county’s amenities and community programs.

The 32nd annual farm fair ended last Saturday. In addition to the increased attendance — which was helped by sunny and mild weather this year versus heavy rains during much of the 2018 fair — the number of food vendors increased this year. There was greater public participation in fair exhibits such as increased entries in the home arts exposition, according to Aimee O’Neill, co-chair of the fair board of directors.

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“All in all, it was just a nice, solid, happy fair,” O’Neill said Wednesday night. “We had] just a lot of interesting things about Harford County for people to see and enjoy on a beautiful summer’s night."

Scott McGill, owner of the Forest Hill-based environmental firm Ecotone, purchased a 236-pound hog from 17-year-old 4-H member Brennan Stewart during the livestock sale. More than $260,000 was raised from buyers who bid during the nearly four-hour auction on farm animals raised by young 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. The proceeds then go back to the young sellers.

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“It’s just a great activity,” said McGill, who attended the auction with his wife, Moira. “It’s just nice to support the ag community.”

The Fallston resident said he wants to support the local agricultural community “and the kids that are our future farmers of America.”

Stewart, who is going into his senior year at North Harford High School, met with McGill after the bidding on his hog was complete and posed for photos with the buyer as he thanked McGill for his support. McGill said later that Stewart worked at Ecotone part time last year. The firm specializes in “ecological restoration” projects in streams, wetlands and forests and often works with farmers and other rural property owners to make ecological improvements to their lands.

“We want to work with the ag community and make ecological restoration work with agriculture, and supporting the youth is important to us,” McGill said.

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Stewart said he plans to study agriculture at the University of Maryland, College Park with a specialization in soil science. He hopes to come back to Harford County and work for either the local Soil Conservation District or Ecotone.

“I want to stay in Harford County as long as I can,” he said.

This year was the first for the McGills to participate in the livestock auction — Scott McGill said he purchased two hogs Saturday and worked to get the bid price up “to something that was meaningful to the kids.”

He and his wife, a homemaker and former Harford County Public Schools teacher, had been invited by one of McGill’s employees, Jake Deford, of Jarrettsville, and his wife, HCPS teacher Kristen Grimmel Deford.

Moira McGill discussed other connections she has with people in the auction, such as 4-H parent Courtney Holmstrom, whose two daughters sold animals. McGill recalled giving Holmstrom swimming lessons when the latter was a child, when she taught at Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Fallston when McGill’s children were students there and when the two women briefly worked together at North Bend Elementary School in Jarrettsville.

Scott McGill said he plans to have the hogs he purchased cooked during a pig roast for his employees. Moira McGill said she would rather have the swine “walk around the yard,” though, noting that the parting of the youth sellers and their animals was an emotional experience for them as well as her.

“But it’s the circle of life,” she said. “Those animals were put on the earth for us.”

Henry Holloway, owner of The Mill of Bel Air, was among the livestock sale buyers, and his nieces and cousins were among the 4-H sellers. Holloway purchased about five animals, some of which will be sent for slaughter, others will be taken home to breed young animals for youths to show next year, and still others will be donated back to support the 4-H scholarship fund.

“The kids that participate here are the best high school kids in the county,” said Holloway, whose children are 4-H alumni. "They are our future leaders; they all know how to work, they have good ethics, they have good moral values and there all going to go to college.

The youths will be “highly sought after by employers” if they earn degrees in agriculture, said Holloway, who noted “the opportunities are endless” for those seeking a career in the U.S. agriculture industry.

His 23-year-old son, Nathan, also attended the sale Saturday night. Nathan Holloway, a Darlington resident, works as a show feed specialist, serving the mid-Atlantic region, for Cargill Animal Nutrition.

He was able to find work with Cargill right out of school, after graduating from Iowa State University in 2018 with a degree in agricultural business. Nathan Holloway and his father noted how multiple agricultural employers recruit students and graduates from Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — Nathan said he had interned with Cargill while in college.

Nathan also discussed how his experience in 4-H, in which he started at 8 years old, prepared him for adult life and his career through relationship building, networking and sportsmanship, as youth competitors learn to understand that “the judge is always right.”

“The relationships that you build from this program, they’re unlike many other experiences,” he said.

Many girls participate in 4-H, and Nathan said the program offers many opportunities for them to succeed. He said the livestock showing field is “just completely equal and even, which makes it unique, fair and awesome.”

O’Neill, the fair board co-chair, said participation in 4-H, by boys and girls, has grown each year since the county fair was revitalized in 1988, as youths can show their various projects, which are on display so other families that visit the fair can see them.

O’Neill, who is a 4-H alum and was raised in a prominent Harford County farming family, said opportunities for women in agriculture are increasing. She said that there is “definitely” an “expanded range of opportunities” for careers in agriculture, first on a “macro” level in agribusiness in areas such as marketing, sales and developments of products and supplies for large producers.

People can also find careers in the smaller, retail family farms, providing locally-grown products to consumers.

Children and teens in 4-H can learn multiple skills that will prepare them for those careers, and they have opportunities to raise livestock, grow crops, create handcrafts and learn about technology and robotics, according to O’Neill.

Members identify a project they want to work on for the year, and they can be in a 4-H club where other members have similar interests. They must give a presentation on the project, communicate their goals for it and place it up for competition where it is reviewed by judges who can potentially award prizes to the youths.

“It is all adjudicated, and the judges take their jobs very seriously,” said O’Neill, who noted judges can provide feedback on improving the project.

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“From that experience, self discipline and also a sense of self confidence is also developed," she said.

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