Kelly Hereth's transfer to the Carroll County office of the federal Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service brought her back home.
The former executive director of the Anne Arundel/Prince George's ASCS office, Ms. Hereth has been in Carroll for about a month.
"Carroll County's an area we go to for our own farm needs," said Ms. Hereth, whose husband runs a 45-head cow and calf operation in northwestern Howard County.
Many people she deals with in other agencies in her ASCS work are "someone I've worked with in the past or . . . a family friend," she said.
A six-year veteran with ASCS, Ms. Hereth began as a Howard County program assistant in 1987.
She worked her way through the ranks to her current position. Now she is responsible for administering and educating farmers about federal price support, refund and disaster relief programs.
"Carroll County has agricultural activity that I'm much more familiar with," said Ms. Hereth, 29, noting that Anne Arundel and Prince George's farmers grow tobacco.
Fewer farmers in that area produce the small grains that are grown in Carroll County and on her own family farm near Woodbine and Lisbon, she said.
Ms. Hereth said farmers in both areas have to deal with increased traffic and neighbors who don't understand agricultural practices.
"Most farmers are the same across the country," she said. "They are all very independent."
But "in Carroll County, farming is regarded as a real business and an economic basis that is vital to the community," she said. "In Prince George's and Anne Arundel, farming is almost a pastime, a historical thing that is still surviving."
Anne Arundel and Prince George's county farmers tend to shy away from long-term agricultural commitments, Ms. Hereth said.
"The value of the land is such that they can turn around, sell it and buy a farm elsewhere," she said. "That could happen anywhere, but in Carroll County there is greater support to preserve agriculture.
"I don't think people realize how important agriculture is in the United States," Ms. Hereth said. "It's one of the few areas that we have a true trade surplus."
That fact became clear to her a few weeks ago as she drove across the country with her family for a vacation in South Dakota, she said.
"It's an awesome, incredible feeling, realizing that these communities literally survive in an agricultural setting," she said. "Without the agricultural businesses, the towns die off, and then agriculture can't sustain itself.
"We need to support agriculture as much as possible, and I don't mean just price supports. Agriculture is a real business and a real economic plus."
Although farmers make up 2 percent of the population, about 16 percent works in farm-related businesses, Ms. Hereth said.
"There are all the people involved in manufacturing, shipping and marketing of agricultural products," she said, "everyone from the truck driver down to the grocery store clerk."
A native Marylander, Ms. Hereth said she moved to Howard County with her family in 1979. Two years later, she married her husband, Wilbur, and began helping him on the Hereth family farm.
"It's not that I was looking to marry a farmer," she said with a laugh. "I just happened to fall in love with one down the road. I've always been drawn to the farm community."
Ms. Hereth said her side of the family worked in agriculture for years, but her father chose not to farm.
Now she, her husband and their daughter, Elizabeth, share a home with his mother, Sibbalt, on the 190-acre operation.
In addition to working on her bachelor's degree in economics at the University of Maryland, Ms. Hereth spends her spare time helping her husband.
"Coming from a farm operation with my husband gives me a better idea of what the farm public expects," Ms. Hereth said. "I think part of my job is giving the government a good name so that they don't think it's just another bureaucracy."