LIKE ANY SMART SHOPPER, the U.S. Naval Academy wants to buy its supplies at the most favorable prices. Since it is paying a premium of as much as 50 cents for each gallon of milk produced at its 84-year-old working dairy in Gambrills, it would like to shut the operation and buy milk products wholesale. But that doesn't mean that the 865 acres should become a subdivision, another strip mall or even a golf course.
Thirty years ago, the Navy wanted to close the farm, but the Congress would not permit it. Members of the House Armed Services Committee considered the dairy "a morale building asset to the Naval Academy" and prohibited the Navy from closing the farm without congressional approval.
Academy Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson believes the time has come to close the dairy and sell off the 300-cow herd that has been supplying mids with milk and ice cream since 1913. To continue the operation costs the academy about $260,000 annually, which reduces the budget to feed midshipmen. Buying milk from commercial dairies will free up money that can be spent on improving the quality of midshipmen's meals.
Not only should Congress repeal this law, it should also make sure the farm continues under academy control. If Congress follows Admiral Larson's recommendations, closing the dairy farm would not necessarily mean the end of agricultural operations there. The superintendent is willing to entertain a range of possibilities, from leasing the land for farming to establishing an equestrian center, to ensure the land remains open. Academy officials are preparing a business plan and have solicited suggestions from the community.
If the federal government deems the land "surplus," the General Services Administration will dispose of it. The GSA could turn it over to Anne Arundel County or sell it to the highest bidder. A new owner is likely to seek the maximum return from the land, i.e., develop it. Academy officials say they have already fielded calls from builders who can't wait to get their hands on this large parcel.
Maryland's congressional delegation should keep tabs on this issue to ensure that even if the farm is closed, the land continues to remain open and green.
Pub Date: 4/22/97