Agriculture in Carroll County no longer means just growing corn, soybeans and wheat, or raising heifers and hogs.
Many farmers now raise shiitake mushrooms, radicchio and carnations, as well as soft-shell crabs and rockfish. This adaptation and diversification, if it becomes more widespread, should bode well for the future of agriculture and aquaculture in the county.
Despite Carroll County's increasing suburbanization, the growing of food continues to be an important component of the jurisdiction's economy. It generated about $67 million of the county's total income of about $2.9 billion, according to the 1992 farm census. Only about 550 people in the county consider themselves full-time farmers, but an equal number are part-time farmers who hold other jobs. Of the approximately 1,100 farms operating in the county, the majority are between 10 and 1,000 acres.
The economics of farming in this increasingly suburbanized county are rather simple. In order to survive, farmers must generate more income from their increasingly valuable land. For many farmers, such as dairy operators, they have realized all the possible efficiencies and have difficulty generating additional income. Many of these new, high-value crops can boost their profits.
In addition, farmers see fresh vegetables, horticulture and aquaculture as a reasonable way of managing their major risks -- weather and price. Other activities, such as breeding horses and exotic animals like emus and llamas, broaden the scope of Carroll's animal husbandry.
tTC The county is also fortunate to be located in a excellent market eager for these products. Approximately 4 million people with sophisticated tastes and relatively high incomes live within a 70-mile radius of Carroll County. Farmers can also easily market their fresh produce, flowers and plants at more than 60 farmers' markets within the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. The region's hundreds of restaurants provide another good market for fresh produce.
Carroll's Soil Conservation District and Cooperative Extension Service have done a good job of assisting county farmers in their efforts to find new crops and diversify their operations. Adapting changing conditions and markets is not new to farmers. As long as Carroll's farmers continue to change with the times, the county will enjoy a vigorous and prosperous farming industry.