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Cider Mill Farm retains Elkridge's rural flavor


CHERYL NODAR HAS something that most of us want but few attain: She has a job she loves.

Nodar began working at historic Cider Mill Farm 10 years ago as a tour guide. She took to the work quickly and soon was promoted to manager of operations.

"It was like finding where I belong," Nodar said. "It's everything I could ever want in a job."

For Nodar, who has a fondness for animals and natural beauty, Cider Mill Farm is the perfect workplace. On 59 pastoral acres in Elkridge, Cider Mill has one of the areas only petting farms. Caring for the animals is one of Nodar's favorite tasks.

The petting farm opened 12 years ago and is one of Cider Mill's most popular attractions. For the past 10 years, admission has remained affordable at $1.50. The farm includes chickens, ducks, goose, turkeys, a peacock, pigs, Angora goats, cows, Barbados sheep and lambs.

Nodar believes that offering children a chance to interact with animals is increasingly important as America moves away from its rural heritage.

"I particularly love it when parents take the time to really watch the animals and learn alongside their children," she said.

Cider Mill offers tours to school groups in the spring and fall. For many students, a visit to Cider Mill is their initiation to farm life, and the experience can be enlightening. Getting a chance to milk a cow tends to have the greatest impact on young visitors.

"When I ask kids where their food comes from, most of them say Super Fresh or Giant," Nodar said. "The tours show children where their food really comes from. A lot of kids say they'll give up drinking milk after they try milking."

The fall season is the busiest time ofyear at the farm. Besides the petting farm, Cider Mill offers cider press demonstrations, hayrides, pony rides and living-history presentations. On fall weekends, the farm provides entertainment and seasonal activities such as scarecrow-making.

"We have plans for 10,000 kids to come in during the fall season," Nodar said. "Every day is a busy day."

As the name implies, cider-making has always been at the heart of Cider Mill Farm. In 1916, Fritz Kelly planted 5,000 apple trees on the property. When the trees began to bear fruit, Kelly founded a cider mill.

Each fall, neighbors lined up in their wagons and trucks for two miles along Landing Road to have their apples pressed into cider at the mill. Others came to the mill to buy apples and cider made from Kelly's trees. The mill continued to operate in this manner until 1969.

Nodar said many longtime residents share fond childhood memories of Cider Mill Farm when they visit. On the day of my visit, Nodar had just finished a hayride for schoolchildren when a group of senior citizens from Harmony Hall in Columbia arrived. Their activity coordinator, Linda Fitzpatrick. recalled visiting the farm when she was a child.

"We would come down and pick apples when I was a kid growing up on Thistle Road," Fitzpatrick said.

Tom Owens bought the property in 1970 and, with the help of generous neighbors, brought the mill back into operation. The apple orchard was overgrown and would prove too costly to re-establish. The petting zoo occupies the site of the old grove, and Cider Mill imports its apples from Virginia and Western Maryland.

Cider and apple butter continue to be made on the farm in the traditional way, though some parts of the pressing process have been updated to meet health standards. Cider Mill also has a bakery in which pies, breads and cookies are made for sale to visitors. Nodar enjoys all aspects of managing the farm.

"I know I'll never get rich doing this," Nodar said. "Of course, I have to make money, but more than that, I want to give people a unique and pleasurable experience."

Cider Mill Farm is at 50l2 Landing Road in Elkridge. The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week in the fall. Information: 410-788-9595 or www.farmmd.com.

Airport walk/run

The students and staff of Elkridge Landing Middle School invite people to exercise for a good cause. The BWI Airport 5K & 3K Family Walk/Run will be held at 8:45 a.m. Sunday. The race and walk benefit the Kennedy Krieger Institute Down Syndrome Clinic and local Down syndrome parent support groups.

Participants will receive a T-shirt and continental breakfast, and awards and prizes will be distributed throughout the morning.

Registration forms may be picked up at Elkridge Landing Middle School or from the race director, Wayne Malone.

Information: Malone, 410-993-RUNN, or Carol Jones at 410-313-5040.

Elkridge heritage

The Elk Ridge Heritage Society is offering a Heritage Tour of Elkridge, Howard County's oldest community, today. The tour will include stops at Belmont, Rockburn, the Elkridge Assembly Rooms, the Thomas Viaduct, Main Street, the Elkridge Furnace Inn and the Brumbaugh House.

The tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Participants will assemble at the Elkridge library parking lot at 10 a.m.

Information: 410-796-1578.

Skating party

Deep Run Elementary School PTA is holding a roller-skating party from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Supreme Sports Club.

The party is open to all Deep Run Elementary families. Skating will be free for families that have joined the PTA; new PTA memberships will be accepted at the door.

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