Times may be changing, but farming remains big


Despite the number of new housing developments that spring up across Harford County each year, giving the landscape an increasingly "suburban" look, agriculture remains the county's largest private industry.

And the farming community -- as well as county officials -- don't want anyone to forget it.

That's why together they have produced a 20-minute video on farming in Harford County -- covering its tradition, its diversity and its innovations in conservation.

The video will be distributed initially to public schools and libraries throughout the county, in an effort to reach young people in particular.

But county officials say there are probably a lot of adults who could learn from it, too.

"It's very important that citizens understand the role that farming plays in the county," said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann during a recent preview of the film.

"Interestingly enough, in some kindergarten classes children don't even associate a cow with milk anymore."

The video, "Harford County Farming: Our Heritage, Our Future," was produced and directed by Tom Foster, a video producer in the county's Media Resources Department.

Mr. Foster worked closely with the county's Agricultural Task Force, a group of farmers, county officials and conservationists established in the late 1980s to advise the county executive on agricultural issues in the community.

The 10-member volunteer group wanted to make a film that would inform viewers that farming in Harford is not only thriving but also diversifying to meet the demands of a constantly changing county, said Mike Pons, a Joppa horse farmer who is chairman of the task force.

"Farming is not just a silo and a tractor and a couple of cows," he said, noting that the concerns of farmers today reach into the areas of governmental regulations, encroaching development and the threat that land use places on the Chesapeake Bay.

The environmental aspects of farming are critical "because everything we do with agriculture ends up in the bay," says Mr. Pons, who breeds about 300 mares a year on his Country Life Farm.

He said the video was conceived about a year and a half ago by task force members "primarily as an educational tool" geared to high school students.

"Today's students are three generations removed from the farm," said Dennis Kirkwood, teacher-in-charge of environmental education for the county schools who was a consultant to the task force during the video's production.

"By and large, Harford County's population is nonfarm these days. But it's important that we don't lose sight of where our resources are coming from."

Filming began in the fall of 1992.

"We'd go out every couple weeks to a new location," said Mr. Foster. "Normally, I like to start with a script and shoot to fit that. But in this case, we shot the video first and wrote the script afterward, and it worked out quite favorably."

He and a few task force members went to about 30 sites to look at the variety of farms and agricultural techniques that exists in the county.

They interviewed longtime Harford farmers in the dairy and beef cattle businesses. And they talked to the newer breed of farmers, such as those who are experimenting in aquaculture, the use of man-made ponds to raise fish, and hydroponics, the science of growing plants without soil.

They filmed acres of traditional farms filled with grazing sheep or rows of corn and soybeans. They also filmed newer operations where people come to pick their own fruits and vegetables in the summer and to cut Christmas trees in the winter.

A significant part of the video is devoted to the latest management techniques in soil conservation and water protection -- procedures such as crop rotation, grass waterways, rotational grazing and crop residue management -- all designed to preserve the environment.

"It really was a group effort," said Mr. Foster. "And it was a constant revelation to me, as someone who did not grow up in this county, to see what was going on out there."

The video has been distributed to all nine public high schools in the county for use in environmental science class, an elective course for 11th- and 12th-graders.

Mr. Kirkwood said it would be shown during a unit on land usage and management of resources to illustrate how good farming practices are being used.

"Our goal in environmental science is to start in our own backyard to become aware of our environment and to understand how it all works together," said Mr. Kirkwood, who is also director of Harford Glen, the school system's environmental education center.

Mr. Pons said the video would continue the "multidimensional" educational effort that started last year when up to 50 environmental science students from each of the high schools ++ took a field trip to two working farms.

Nearly two dozen Harford farmers, including Mr. Pons and others on the task force, opened their farms to students in that project.

"The enthusiasm from the students after those trips was terrific" said Mr. Kirkwood, a seventh-generation livestock farmer in the northwest area of the county.

"We have taken steps in Harford County to make sure our heritage and growth exit side by side," he said. "It's important that we don't lose this perspective."

The video is expected to be available in all branches of the Harford County public library by next week, said Denise Carvaggio, who coordinated the production for the county.

She said it eventually will be distributed to all middle school and secondary school libraries.

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