Acres of corn stood behind George Mayo, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, as he guided Gov. Larry Hogan around the foundation's Harford County home near Havre de Grace Thursday morning.
The nonprofit foundation is based in the Sen. William H. Amoss Agricultural Center at Swan Harbor Farm, which is on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Swan Harbor is owned by the county and managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The governor and First Lady Yumi Hogan spent nearly an hour with foundation staff and board members, touring their offices at the Agricultural Center and three trailers that the foundation takes to schools and community events throughout the state so students can learn about the science behind raising crops, livestock and aquaculture.
"It's a great program that they have going on here, lots of people doing wonderful work, and I came out with the secretary of agriculture just to see it for ourselves," Hogan said.
The governor and first lady were accompanied by State Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder and many of Cecil and Harford County's state legislators.
Hogan said he was "really impressed with the dedication and the knowledge of the people" at the foundation, and the organization's cooperation with the private sector, the state departments of agriculture and education, the University of Maryland and local governments.
The foundation was established in 1989, the result of a gubernatorial task force on agriculture education.
Its funds come from grants, donations, fundraisers, endowments, business contributions and sales of the "Ag Tag" license plate, which has an illustration of a farm.
"They're doing great things and they're educating some 40,000 kids around the state about the importance of agriculture," Hogan said.
Mayo also showed the governor the neighboring cornfields, which the county leases to local farmers.
He noted tassels were starting to come out at the top of the deep green corn stalks Thursday. Pollen from the tassels forms the ears containing kernels on the cornstalk.
Mayo called corn plants "photosynthesis machines."
"They're efficient at taking light and water and changing that into energy," he told the governor.
Hogan turned to listen to Hannah Schantz, 20, a Fallston resident who is interning with the foundation this summer.
"We've been watching it grow, and I measured it for the first time [last] Friday, and it looks like it's been growing since then," Schantz told him.
Schantz, a 2014 graduate of the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Magnet Program at North Harford High School in Pylesville, is studying agricultural and extension education at West Virginia University.
She said later that she can see the corn growing each day outside the foundation office windows. She noted "it was pretty exciting to be able to talk with" the governor.
"Seeing his reaction to how tall it is, compared to how short it was, was really cool," Schantz said.
She also noted Mayo and his program were "instrumental" in the founding of the agricultural magnet program at North Harford in 2010. Schantz' class was the first to graduate with a certificate in the program.
Hogan said agriculture is the "No. 1 industry in Maryland."
"It's critically important, and we're going to do everything we can to support the ag community," the governor said.
The foundation has five full-time workers and about 17 part-time staff, Mayo said. He said a key part of their programs involve providing information about careers in agriculture, beyond farmers.
Mayo said only about 2 percent of the jobs in agriculture in the U.S. are related to production, meaning raising crops and livestock.
Many jobs are related to farming technology and animal and plant science.
"What it means is, there's room for everybody in the industry," Mayo said.
Mayo noted Hogan is the first governor who has actually visited the foundation's facilities, although former Govs. Robert Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley have toured the foundation's mobile trailers at community events.
Hogan stopped by the foundation as part of a two-day tour of Northeastern Maryland, including visits to Havre de Grace, Port Deposit and Kent County.
It was also his second visit to Harford County in two days – he paid tribute to two slain Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies during a highway naming ceremony in Abingdon Wednesday.