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Farming's Past and Present


One of this season's delights is the return of weekend farmers' markets. The revival of such markets from Carroll County and Howard to Harford and beyond comes just in time: statistically, agriculture continues to be a shrinking industry in this rapidly urbanizing state.

Things were quite different only several decades ago. Much of Maryland was rural, and most everyone outside Baltimore City was personally familiar with farming or farmers.

Huge farmers' markets operated in the city. They were at their busiest in the wee hours of morning when wholesale produce began arriving from surrounding counties. In a few frantic hours, it was sold to smaller merchants and "Arabs," the city's famous traveling produce vendors known for their loud but nearly undecipherable calls and their colorfully decorated horses and wagons that were filled to the brim.

Anne Arundel County's produce, in particular, was much in demand in that era, which lasted not long past World War II. The soft, sandy soils of North County were famous for producing flavorful strawberries, juicy cantaloupes and cucumbers. Growers there had the advantage of being close to the Baltimore market, and to an ample supply of mostly Polish immigrant farm labor. Although truck farms are rapidly a vanishing breed in Anne Arundel, they remain vivid in the recollections of many older people in this area.

The Ann Arrundell County Historical Society is doing important work to document the history of truck farming. Society President Will Mumford has just completed a book about that form of agriculture, and his organization has acquired three original produce farm buildings -- a wooden summer kitchen, a tool shed and corn house -- which it hopes to restore at its Benson-Hammond House headquarters near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"Our goal is to interpret not only this site, but truck farming in general in Anne Arundel County," says Beth Nowell, the society's executive director.

Last year, the group sponsored a strawberry festival to commemorate truck farming traditions. It was so successful it will be repeated Saturday, June 12, at the Benson-Hammond House, at Aviation Boulevard and Andover Road.

The event will give you a taste of Maryland's agricultural past. And the seasonal return of the region's many weekend farmers' markets will give you a taste of its farming present.

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