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Harford's Farm Visitation Day educates as the ag world evolves

Harford's Farm Visitation Day educates as the ag world evolves
James Hughes, 12, left, and sister Laura Hughes, 9, of Aberdeen, try their hand at a ball toss into some old milk cans during Harford County's annual Farm Visitation Day. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

As Harford County farms diversify and their owners try to figure out their future, the county's ag community hopes events like Sunday's annual Farm Visitation Day can keep people interested in the wide world of agriculture.

"This is what we do every day and we are just trying to educate people on agriculture and why we need it," Mike Doran, president of Harford County Farm Bureau, said at the Galbreaths' Hawks Hill Creamery in Street, host to this year's program.

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The Galbreath family went into the cheese-and-ice-cream business 10 years ago. Sunday they provided farm-themed kids' games, a farm machinery display and, of course, an ice-cream truck that quickly drew a line of customers.

The county's 4-H members provided some additional farm animals, as Hawks Hill Creamery only has cows, Doran said. The farm also hosted Farm Visitation Day four years ago.

He noted it has been trickier to find farms willing to volunteer for the event, as farmers worry about liability or people potentially seeing something unsightly.

"Farmer are just scared what people are going to see," he said.

He had hoped for good attendance, explaining last year's Farm Visitation Day drew about 300 people.

"It seems like when we are in the north part of the county, the numbers are kind of down," he said, adding the goal of teaching people about food production and prices remains the same.

Another goal is dispelling some myths about farming.

Doran said some people, for example, see expensive machinery and think farmers are rich, when in reality, the average farmer gets 20 cents for every dollar of the products they sell.

"We are just in debt up to our ears," he said, noting the Farm Bureau members considered displaying the prices on items like a tractor with a grain drill, which cost $300,000, but decided against it.

"It's tough. We have a lot of assets but we are spending a lot of money, too," Doran added.

Some might also think farmers do not care about the environment, but "we are doing our part with nutrient management and best[-practice] management to save the [Chesapeake] Bay," Doran said. "Without the land, we are hurting."

The Galbreaths' farm is a good example of the new paths Harford agriculture is taking.

In 2007, the family sold about 200 cows to pursue agro-tourism, Elizabeth Galbreath, the current Miss Harford County Farm Bureau, explained.

The remaining 15 cows effectively belong to the 19-year-old Elizabeth, who was also third runner-up for Miss Maryland Agriculture.

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Asked if the farm has any other upcoming plans, Elizabeth's mother, Kim Galbreath, pointed toward a row of poles in one of the fields.

Kim Galbreath said her son is growing hops and is considering taking advantage of a new state law allowing farms to run breweries.

"What 21-year-old doesn't want their own brewery?" she noted with a smile.

"We are very much diversifying," Kim Galbreath said. "We are trying to expand into all kinds of new ideas."

Elizabeth Galbreath said it made sense for the farm to host Farm Visitation Day again because of their experience dealing with a large number of visitors and daily customers.

"I think one of the reasons we have had farm visitation is we focus on agro-tourism all the time," she said. "Our main focus here is for adults and children to understand what a real farm looks like and where their food comes from."

"We are just trying to show them a taste of Maryland agriculture and how farmers actually live and operate," she said.

Kim Galbreath added farmers look out for each other. She was wearing a shirt supporting another farmer whose young child has cancer and had encouraged others at Farm Visitation Day to wear the shirt, too.

Those who came out seemed to be having a good time playing games, posing with farm equipment and showing their children a new part of the county.

"I figured the kids would be interested," said Carl Schandelmeier, of Havre de Grace, who brought his grandchildren, ages eight and five, to the event.

"Beautiful day, figured I'd come out," he added while watching a 1917 hit-and-miss engine with a water pump.

The equipment would have been used for pumping out ponds and other drainage needs, owner Albie Breidenbaugh, of Jarrettsville, explained.

Fred and Suzanne Hughes, who moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground from Huntsville, Ala., a year ago, brought their kids James, 12, and Laura, 9, to the farm to enjoy some games.

"Life is not about iPods and video games," Suzanne Hughes said. "We try to bring them outside as much as possible."

"We like to do things that are in the local community," she added. "We like to see what is going on in the state."

Fred Hughes also said it was important for the children "to see where their food comes from and meet people who actually put food on the table."

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