On a Friday evening in April, customers milled about the Highview Farms stall in The Grove, Harford County’s agribusiness incubator, as owner Diane Doran packaged chops and steaks behind the counter.
Outside, singer-songwriter Ruben Montoya performed his signature blend of funky blues and rock while the smell of grilled burgers wafted from the nearby Cowboy Eats* food truck. About two dozen customers sipped beer at outdoor tables or browsed through the eight shops in the green-and-white barn that houses the market. (Eight outdoor stalls and two indoor kiosks are scheduled to open June 1.)
”We’re doing really well here,” said Doran, a member of the family that’s been running nearby Highview Farms for three generations.
”We have customers who come by weekly to buy their meat. This little market has only been open for a year, but it gets a lot of traffic.”
The Grove is an initial step toward establishing a centralized agriculture center that has been among Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s major initiatives.
”Agriculture is still the biggest industry in Harford County,” said the Republican, who announced in April that he would run for state comptroller. “So it makes sense to have one centralized agricultural center.”
The Grove isn’t a farmers market; it’s a business incubator.
The project provides fledgling entrepreneurs with a low-risk way to determine if they have a viable business model. As of June 1, rents will range from $25 a month for an outdoor stall to $125 a month for a joint indoor and outdoor location. The market was open this spring on Friday nights and weekends, but those hours could expand if the demand increases.
Tenants include Three Oaks Farm, which sells mittens, stuffed animals and clothing made from the wool sheared from the farm’s alpacas. Gratify & Astonish (the name is based on a quote from Mark Twain) sells such home-cooked treats as fresh bread, tomato sauce, cookies and lemonade. Bel Air’s Southern Charm Candle Co. hand-crafts soy-based candles with such intoxicating scents as apple and maple bourbon, bamboo and coconut, and magnolia and peony.
But the market merely represents the first phase of Glassman’s vision. By the end of the summer, there will be an agricultural-themed playground and a walking/running trail on the approximately 90-acre property.
A short distance from the barn, the county agriculture center houses offices for the local branch of the University of Maryland Extension and provides meeting space for 4-H Club members inside what was once a furniture store. A former bank is being converted into a library.
Perhaps the most ambitious project has been the renovation of the 1730-era Gorsuch Mansion. Originally located on the grounds of the Winter’s Run Golf Club near Bel Air, by 2014 the historic house had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition.
Glassman worked with preservationists to dismantle the house board by board and brick by brick, transport it to grounds alongside The Grove, and reconstruct it. Eventually, the Blue House will become a visitor center and an agriculture-themed exhibit space. Even now, the original door frames and antique tools above the fireplace — a giant, blackened scythe, the yoke from a harness — instantly call up the past.
Vendor Pam Purce, owner of Three Oaks Farm, cheers each new development.
“Soon the walking trail will be open, and then the playground and then library,” she said, “Little by little, it just keeps getting bigger and better.”
The Grove is located at 3519 Conowingo Road in Street. For operating hours and other details, visit harfordcountymd.gov.
*An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the food truck serving the event.