Officials are moving ahead on a multimillion-dollar plan that would bring agricultural groups under one roof in the steeplechase country of northern Baltimore County.
Baltimore County officials are expected to announce today the $3.8 million purchase of more than 100 acres of farmland on Shawan Road in the Hunt Valley area for the site of the Baltimore County Agricultural Resource Center and Farm Park.
The deal is expected to allow the construction of a facility that would serve as an educational resource center, while conserving open space.
With the agricultural industry being worth an estimated $400 million to Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties in Maryland and York and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania, officials say it's important to build a facility for industry organizations and to educate the public about the business.
"I think it's a strong statement of Baltimore County's commitment to agriculture," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "We're a two-thirds rural subdivision. Eighty percent of our people live on one-third of our land."
Near Oregon Ridge
The Farm Park will provide the open-space benefits of walking and equestrian trail riding and otherwise complement the nearby Oregon Ridge Park, officials said.
David A.C. Carroll, the county's environmental chief, said it's important to have many agriculture agencies under one roof. He said that many times agricultural groups don't have a facility to meet.
"They have no place to go if they want to formally discuss some of their issues," Carroll said. "It's very difficult for the public to learn more about them."
He said there also have been talks to incorporate the facility with the county school curriculum.
Carroll compared the idea to a county public school curriculum that requires every fifth-grader to complete an outdoor science program that sends the pupils to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
Three years ago
Members of the agriculture community had envisioned a resource center in the area for some time, and about three years ago, the group met with county officials to pitch the idea.
Soon after, officials said, the agricultural group formed a nonprofit organization, the Baltimore County Agricultural Resource Center Inc., which then teamed with the county to help the vision become a reality.
Wayne McGinnis, a fourth-generation Baltimore County farmer and member of the organization, said the group helped find the 149-acre farmland site.
He views the facility as an important resource for Baltimore County and the agriculture community.
"It will be a key regional center for agricultural support, education and support for our rural resource conservation zones," McGinnis said. "It has been a goal across the country to combine as many agencies in one location so that people could come at one location and take care of their different needs that they have and to promote and protect the encouragement of agriculture and natural resources."
The construction of the facility could begin early next year with organizations moving in about a year later, Carroll said.
The project is expected to cost about $7 million, he said.