Howard County Executive Ken Ulman bottle-fed calves, shoveled hay and drove a manure-spreading tractor Tuesday to mark the county's 11th annual Farm-City Celebration.
The two-week-long event, which began Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 5, is intended to "make the public and consumers aware of agriculture here in Howard County," according to Kathy Zimmerman, who as the agricultural development manager for the county's Economic Development Authority is coordinating the celebration.
Though Ulman has traded places with a farmer every year since he became county executive in 2006, he still learned a few new things on Tuesday.
For example: cows have bottom teeth but no upper teeth, a fact that put him at ease while feeding a 3-week-old calf by hand.
Ulman's day as a farmer was spent at Maple Lawn Farms, a family-run operation in Fulton that is best known for its turkey sales at Thanksgiving time but also includes a dairy farm and soybean, corn and alfalfa crops.
Owners Charles and Judy Iager showed Ulman around the farm, which has been in the family since 1839.
Despite arriving in the morning, Ulman was a little too late to milk the cows: that task starts at 3 a.m.
Charles Iager said he used to work from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. before he passed on the responsibility of milking. Now, he doesn't arrive at the farm until 6 a.m.
"People don't realize the hard work" that goes into farming, he said.
After lending a hand with a few farm chores, Ulman got a tour of the site. The Iagers have a full fleet of modern machinery, including a mammoth red combine harvester, complete with sensors to measure ground moisture, and a "fluffer," a spiderlike apparatus that turns hay to bring it into the sunshine.
The family has also diversified their business: they rent out space on the farm to Newsom Seed Co. and Thompson Gas, which stores fuel in a large tank on the property.
Ulman said the farm exchange has helped him achieve "a better understanding of public policy that deals with farms" and the "challenges of running a successful, financially sustainable farm."
In his eight years as county executive, he said, he has visited landscaping operations, a pig farm, a fruit and vegetable farm and a dairy farm, among others.
Ulman said he doesn't intend to end his visits after he steps down as county executive in December.
"This one day a year helps me focus on the needs of the agricultural community," he said. If he's elected lieutenant governor this fall, "I'm certainly going to suggest doing this at the state level."
For more information about Howard's Farm-City Celebration and a schedule of events, go to http://www.farmheritage.org.