A couple of years ago, Diane W. Hale began growing herbs to make herown tea. This winter, she plans to begin marketing the seasonings tochefs at Baltimore's best restaurants.

Hale is among a growing number of small farmers in the county finding a niche in the lucrative market for herbs, organic fruits and vegetables and specialty crops, county extension agent Thomas G. Ford said.

Hale, who also grows organic fruits and vegetables and raises lambs on 15 acres, said she makes enough money to cover expenses and buygroceries for her family.

But small-scale farming has the potential to generate much more income, Ford said. Culinary herbs grown in greenhouses can bring in $50 a square foot, he said. Organic fruits and vegetables can generate $2,000 to $3,000 an acre, he said.

Experts will speak Saturday about striped bass farming, operating a bed and breakfast, raising game birds and growing flowers, among other topics, as the extension service conducts the daylong conference "Income Opportunities for Small Farms" at the Agriculture Center in Westminster.

About 100 people, mostly part-time farmers, are expected to attend, Ford said.

Most of the farmers own 5 acres or less, he said,and get into farming to supplement their income or save money to send their children to college.

Donald A. Fisher of Carrollton will talk Saturday about growing and marketing organic fruits and vegetables. He and his wife, Debbie, operate a 4 1/2-acre farm.

"It's very profitable," he said. "It's not the hippie stuff any more. We've goneway past that."

The couple also own a furniture repair business but plan to phase out that operation in three years to become full-time farmers.

They did "serious gardening" for about 10 years and sold the bounty to neighbors, he said. This year, they advanced to "production levels" and set up shop at a farmers market in Highlandtown inEast Baltimore.

They grow a number of different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash and greens, including Italian dandelion, which was popular with Greek shoppers, he said.

Fisher, 37, said hewill talk Saturday about the importance of diversification for smallfarmers and about how to get information about organic farming.

"I think it's very important to get back to basics," said Hale, 45. "Ithink more people ought to try backyard gardening, even if not for profit. It relieves a lot of tension digging up dirt."

Ford said four sessions at the conference have attracted the most registrants:

* "Producing and Marketing Cut Flowers," by Ford.

* "Growing and Marketing Fresh Herbs," by Marlene Lufriu and Barbara Steele of Alloway Gardens in Littlestown, Pa.

* "Raising Sheep and Goats for Profit," by David L. Greene, interim director of the Carroll extension service.

* "Producing and Marketing Organic Fruits and Vegetables," by Fisher.

Other speakers will discuss the impact of a small farming business on the family, developing a business plan, assessing the county business environment and financing a small business.

Interested persons may register to attend the sessions still, but reservations for lunch are full, Ford said. The cost for the conference is $20.

Information: 848-5013 or 875-2801.

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