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The Grove, Harford County’s new agricultural incubator, would help farmers grow their business, Glassman says

Workers install sections of a metal roof on the new Harford County agri-business incubator building, called The Grove, Thursday morning. The building is located next to the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street.
Workers install sections of a metal roof on the new Harford County agri-business incubator building, called The Grove, Thursday morning. The building is located next to the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street.(Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Harford County is constructing a shared agri-business space as part of an effort to consolidate and promote agriculture in the county.

The shared workspace, called The Grove, is currently under construction and has received attention from the governor, who allocated $400,000 to the construction as a line item in the capital budget, which was unveiled on Jan. 15. The project is estimated to cost $1 million in total.

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The estimated costs of running the agri-business incubator are very low for the county, because it will not staff the building, said Cindy Mumby, the director of Harford County’s Office of Governmental and Community Relations. Its chief expenses will be electricity and heating.

The building will provide local farmers, food processors and artists a venue to sell their products. Its stalls, measuring 16-by-12 feet each, can accommodate 16 businesses, provided they meet the requirements for using the space. It will be located alongside the Harford County Agricultural Center at 3525 Conowingo Road.

Interested businesses would annually pay between $1,800 and $3,600 for a stall and must be open for at least 12 total hours across three days of the week to qualify. Applications are being accepted through Feb. 15.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he hopes to have the center open in the spring before June’s crop season. The space will be helpful for small businesses with only a few employees or new businesses just getting off the ground, he said.

The Grove is only the most recent step in a larger plan, Glassman said. Plans are also being laid to construct an agriculture-themed playground and carve two educational trails on the 86-acre property.

“It is kind of our master plan to make that our agricultural center,” he said. “That way, people can come, they [can] go to the market, they can walk the trails.”

An artist's rendering of The Grove, an agri-business incubator being built by Harford County Government near the agricultural center in Street.
An artist's rendering of The Grove, an agri-business incubator being built by Harford County Government near the agricultural center in Street.(Courtesy Harford County Government)

The idea was inspired by The GroundFloor at Harford — the shared office space on Pulaski Highway in Havre de Grace. Glassman said that project was successful, partly because of businesses’ eagerness to service and contract with Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

The success can be measured by the number of businesses that launch from the shared space, among other factors. Mumby said several companies got their start at the GroundFloor and have since moved on to their own offices. Many of those companies dealt with APG.

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In 2019, the GroundFloor had 13 resident businesses, serving 82 clients through its small business development center and 42 new clients through Harford’s Defense Technology Commercialization Center.

The Grove will work like a more professionalized farmer’s market, which producer Sarah Rider said comes with uncertainty. She manages Havre de Grace’s farmer’s market.

There are a handful of professional, full-time farmers who set up stalls at the Havre de Grace farmer’s market, Rider said, but others have non-agricultural jobs and sell their products on the side. The time commitment and cost of selling at The Grove, she said, would not add up for some small farms — particularly the mandated 12 hours of operation a week.

“I am still a little confused on what it is going to be,” she said. “I am not sure I really see it as a big, fancy farmer’s market because I do not know how many farms are going to be able to be in there seven days a week, or even three.”

The price could be prohibitive, too. Havre de Grace’s farmer’s market costs $300 per season for a stand, she said, though the price per event increases if a vendor participates in 10 or fewer markets. Some may not produce enough to justify the cost of maintaining a storefront like what the shared space would provide.

Still, Rider said she was looking into the possibility of selling at The Grove and would not dismiss the idea until she learned more about what it could be.

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Moreover, Rider did not see the space becoming a threat to the farmer’s market, which is only open on Saturdays during select times of the year.

Glassman concurred, saying that there was enough business and demand in the county to go around.

“Agriculture is still one of our number one businesses per-capita,” Glassman said. “It is important to keep promoting it.”

The governor’s office did not respond to questions by the time of this article’s publication.

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