After nearly two decades in the crab business, Bob Price got sick of serving his customers soft crabs that had developed a "paper shell" after shedding their hard skin in a tank near the Chesapeake Bay.
So the Manchester restaurant owner decided to shed his own crabs. Six years later, after lots of trial and error, Mr. Price has set up a successful shedding operation extension agents say is the farthest inland in Maryland.
"You know how sometimes a soft crab will stay in the sandwich when you don't want it to?" Mr. Price asked about 30 county officials and business leaders that he was taking through his operation yesterday afternoon.
"That's one that has been left too long [after shedding]. They'll last in the refrigerator for three to four days. But this makes a whole lot better eating," he said, holding up one of his blue beauties that had shed its skin moments before.
The tour yesterday afternoon was one of six led by three county farming organizations to show local economic development leaders the diversity of Carroll County agriculture.
In addition to the crab shedding operation, group members -- led by the county extension agency, the Carroll Soil Conservation District and the Carroll County Agriculture Commission -- saw the latest farming technology on a Taneytown dairy farm and a New Windsor grain farm.
A similar daylong tour that included an egg-laying operation and a hog farm was sponsored by the same agricultural organizations two years ago.
"Hopefully, this will create an awareness of some of the various HTC agricultural interests that are here in the county," said Carroll County extension agent David Greene.
"They also got to see some of the transformations that have taken place in traditional agriculture," he said.
Yesterday's group, which largely consisted of Carroll County government department heads and local bankers, also visited a commercial vegetable farm and a shiitake mushroom growing operation.
"We're not all just crops and cows," Mr. Greene said. "We have a lot of things that are unique and a ready market in the area."
For example, John Butler's shiitake mushroom operation in Hampstead -- the last stop on the tour -- sells its products to two area produce markets and the Weis Supermarket in Hampstead.
The part-time venture for Mr. Butler, who is a field services director for the Maryland Farm Bureau, produces about 250 pounds of mushrooms per summer on approximately 170 oak logs.
Eventually, Mr. Butler would like to see his "hobby" net $100 a week in extra income for his family.
"He couldn't sell them in West Virginia," Mr. Greene said, noting that Mr. Butler has a built-in market of about 3.5 million people in a 70-mile radius in the more urban Baltimore-Washington area.
"There's room for a lot more producers," Mr. Greene said. "We have a lot of trees, the wood is available in the county and the market is here."
For Mr. Price, most of his soft crabs are sold right where they shed their skins, at his restaurant on Hanover Pike.
"I hate paper shell soft crabs," Mr. Price said of his obsession that took four years to perfect. "My main reason to get into it was that I could never buy a good soft crab."