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New mission milked from old academy dairy farm


When Chris and Virginia White of Crownsville got a call last fall from Horizon Organic Dairy, it was like a dream come true.

The dairy wanted their design business, Chris White Design Inc., to create exhibits about organic farming on the newly leased Naval Academy Farm land in Gambrills. For the Whites, who eat organic food, the opportunity was perfect.

"It was sort of one of those dream jobs that comes along once in a while that really fits in with what we believe in," Virginia White said.

And so they embarked on a project that will soon give farm visitors a look at a cow's life and the travels of a worm.

The Whites are designing the 3,000-square-foot Organic Discovery Barn as part of Horizon's renovation of the 875-acre farm. Scheduled to open next month with free admission, the farm was designed to include an educational center about organic farming and will offer tours.

The barn exhibit will include life-size foam cow models to illustrate a day in the life of a dairy cow and a tunnel that visitors can crawl through to simulate a worm's trip beneath the soil. A 10-foot-tall plastic cylinder, with soil on the bottom and various crops on top, can be turned by visitors as a lesson on crop rotation.

"It's just not the written word; it's also a physical, interactive exhibit to get people to understand what's going on," Chris White said.

The academy started its dairy farm in 1911 to provide midshipmen with safe milk during a typhoid outbreak. At its high point, the operation had about 400 cows. As cheaper, commercially produced milk became widely available, academy officials decided in 1998 to close the operation, which was far from the Navy's mission.

Horizon, the nation's largest organic dairy farmer, leased the land from the Navy last fall and planned to establish an education center primarily for children, said Jan Stanton, Horizon's manager of the farm and education center. The farm will show visitors how organic crops are grown and explain the health impact of crops raised without the use of hormones or pesticides, she said.

The company, which has farms in Maryland, Colorado and Idaho, is converting the Naval Academy farm's crops to organic crops for cows on the Eastern Shore. The conversion will take three years, and the first crop is expected to be converted by next spring and the others by 2002, Stanton said. The farm is also growing soybeans and rye, and harvesting hay.

"I don't know of any place in the nation were there's a farm and an educational center merged together that were built that way solely for the purpose of educating children and their parents about agriculture, specifically organic agriculture," Stanton said. "It's really something that's one of a kind."

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is another concern for the Whites.

Virginia White said visitors will see from their exhibits that organic farming methods are better for the environment because they don't use pesticides that can run off into the bay.

She said she hopes visitors will learn about organic food so that they can make educated choices when shopping.

"I hope ... instead of thinking of price, they'll think of the price that's nonmonetary," she said. "It all comes down to the decision that each individual makes at the grocery store, what kind of agriculture we have and what kind of effect it has on our lives."

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