THE KIDS are back in school, soccer season has started, cornfields are being cut and cool weather has occasionally come our way.
In other words, fall is almost here.
In western Howard County, it's the season to celebrate our agricultural heritage. Festivals and other events are planned for the coming weeks.
You don't have to travel far to find out what makes our part of the county so special. And you'll have a lot of fun doing it.
You can see working farms and learn what it was like to farm long ago, befriend horses rescued from neglect, give the kids pony rides and decorate pumpkins -- all in our neighborhood.
Be sure to mark these September events on your calendar:
Howard County Agriculture Tour: 8: 30 a.m. to noon Sept. 18.
The free tour includes stops at farms in Clarksville, Highland and West Friendship to see agricultural techniques.
According to Cheryl Simmons of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, the purpose of the tour is twofold: Farmers can see what others are doing to prevent nutrients from entering the Chesapeake Bay, and the public can learn about modern farms.
"Although the landscape is changing, farming is still a vital aspect of Howard County living," Simmons said. She added that County Executive James N. Robey and County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone will attend the tour.
The tour will begin at the University of Maryland farm on Folly Quarter Road. Participants will have a light breakfast and travel by bus to the farm of Howie Feaga, who boards horses and is using innovative grazing and feed management techniques.
Other stops include the farm of Jim and Linda Brown, who grow vegetables with drip irrigation and use integrated pest management; Calvin Day, who uses rotational grazing to manage through wet and dry times; and Jim and Ruthie Welling, who use buffers to reduce the flow of nutrients.
The tour is sponsored by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Howard County Soil Conservation District and the Howard County Farm Bureau.
Farm Heritage Days: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 25-26.
The Howard County Conservancy holds the annual celebration on its farm, Mount Pleasant, in Woodstock.
Members of the Antique Farm Machinery Club will bring vintage equipment and give hands-on demonstrations of threshing wheat, cracking and shelling corn, chopping fodder and making apple cider.
There will be a working blacksmith shop to repair tools and fashion iron to be used on the farm. Wagon rides, a flea market, an arts and crafts show, live music and refreshments are planned.
At 10 a.m. Sept. 26, a live bluegrass gospel church service will be held.
Admission and parking are free.
The conservancy is a land trust dedicated to helping preserve the environment, agricultural resources and historic sites. Mount Pleasant Farm, deeded to the conservancy in 1993, is its headquarters. The farm is at 10520 Old Frederick Road.
Days End Farm Horse Rescue Fall Festival: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 25.
Kathleen Schwartz, executive director of the Days End Farm Horse Rescue, invites everyone to "pony up for a day of fun and amusement."
The Fifth Annual Fall Festival, she says, will include riding demonstrations, horse and pony rides, a petting zoo, pumpkin-decorating, scarecrow-stuffing and a parade of costumed horses in costumes.
A silent auction and raffle are planned. Proceeds from the events, as well as from the admission fees -- $2 for adults, $1 for children ages 6 to 12, $5 a family -- will help provide care and treatment for abused and neglected horses.
Last month, the farm received seven emaciated Arabian horses from West Virginia.
Southern States Cooperative donated a ton of grain for the horses, as well as halters. Days End still needs supplies, volunteers and funds.
Schwartz says it costs thousands of dollars to rehabilitate a horse for adoption. During the festival, all horses available for adoption will be on display.
Days End Farm Horse Rescue is at 15856 Frederick Road, east of Route 94, in Lisbon.
Information: 410-442-1564 or 301-854-5037.
Horses and the Environment Mini-Expo: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 25.
The Expo will be held at Schooley Mill Park in Highland.
Speakers are scheduled on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Topics include manure-handling and parasites at 11 a.m.; pasture forages at noon; managed grazing at 1 p.m.; composting and worm bins for homeowners at 2 p.m.; and backyard conservation at 3 p.m.
"This is tailored to horse enthusiasts and small-acreage horse owners," said Simmons of the USDA, a co-sponsor of the event.
Activities include a hay-bale maze, pony rides, interactive nature displays, an activity tent and exhibitions by an equestrian drill-team.
The Howard County Department of Public Works, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Howard and Montgomery Soil Conservation Districts also are sponsors.
Schooley Mill Park is on Hall Shop Road, near Route 108. Information: 410-465-3180.