In their fourth year of attracting suburbanites to the country with friendly animals, farm machinery, fresh air and family fun, organizers of Howard County's Farm/City Celebration are adding a focus on healthy living to this year's two-week schedule of events.
New attractions include a family walk at Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, sponsored by the county Health Department; a Walk in the Woods at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville; and a program at the Glenwood library for adults to learn about rain gardens.
The Farm/City Celebration, with its emphasis on outdoor activities and fresh, local food, "ties in so well with the Healthy Howard initiative," said Kathy Sloan-Beard, a county spokeswoman.
The celebration, which will run from Tuesday through Oct. 6, also offers some favorite fall events, including the Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum's Farm Heritage Days, the Iron Bridge Hounds ride through Sharp's at Waterford Farm in Brookeville and an open house at the University of Maryland research farm near Clarksville. Farmers' markets, farm-themed story times at county libraries and fall events at area farms such as pumpkin picking and hayrides are also on the schedule.
The celebration, put together by a coalition of farmers, county officials and nonprofit organizations, was started in 2004 to encourage people to get out and explore some of the county's rural areas and agricultural businesses.
Farming continues to be one of the top five industries in the county, with sales of more than $200 million each year, according to the county Economic Development Authority.
The county has numerous small horse farms and boarding operations, a growing number of businesses focusing on horticulture and landscaping materials, and numerous farms focusing on direct marketing through farm stands, pick-your-own operations and on-the-farm "agritourism" activities.
Exact numbers of participants in the Farm/City Celebration are difficult to track, but "I think we're getting more and more people coming to some of the major events," said Linda Martinak, owner of Tranquility Farm in Marriottsville and co-chairwoman of the celebration. "Hopefully, we can keep a sense of the rural history of Howard County alive through these activities."
Martinak said the county Health Department was a new participant on the planning team this year, and it will provide health information at its walk Saturday.
The school system also had a representative at the meetings this year, with the goal of increasing awareness by students and families of the celebration, Martinak said.
Greater publicity is a key reason that Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine has added its fall festival to the Farm/City schedule for the first time this year.
On Saturday, the festival will give visitors a chance to learn about the farm's efforts to rehabilitate abused and neglected horses, educate animal-control officers and horse owners, and advocate for the welfare of horses. It also is intended to be a day of fun for families, with food, games, a petting farm, a costume contest and pony rides.
Being part of the Farm/City lineup "is going to be helpful to bring people out so they become aware of what we do," said Arlene Hatton, Days End's director of development. "We're looking forward to pulling in a whole lot of new people that didn't even know we existed."
Barbara Castellano, marketing projects coordinator for the Bon Secours Spiritual Center, has a similar hope that making the center's guided walk part of the celebration will help more people become aware of the center and its 313 acres of woods, trails and gardens.
"For us, it's helping people to be able to take advantage of these beautiful grounds," Castellano said, noting that the natural setting can be a peaceful place to unwind, refresh and get in touch with one's spiritual side.
The Farm/City Celebration will begin Tuesday with a job exchange during which County Executive Ken Ulman will work on the Rural Rhythm grain farm in Dayton, while the farm's owner, Leslie Bauer, will spend the morning sitting in as the county's top elected official.
In previous years, former County Executive James N. Robey drove a combine, gave medicine to horses and mucked out animal stalls as part of the job exchange.
Robey grew up in a rural area, while Ulman is a Columbia native and "an urban guy all the way," Sloan-Beard said. "It will truly be a completely new experience for him."
That, she said, is the point of the Farm/City Celebration: to introduce people who are not familiar with farm life to the rural areas of the county, the agriculture-based attractions and the activities of more than 340 area farms.
"I think a lot of people don't have any idea of the challenges the farms face," Sloan-Beard said. "It is hard, hard work."
Farm/City Celebration highlights
FRIDAY THOUGH SUNDAY (Sept. 28 to 30)
Farm Heritage Days Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum, 12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. $5 admission for ages 12 and older. www.farmheritage.org
Healthy Howard Family Walk Howard County Health Department at Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Route 108, Ellicott City, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. 410-730-4049 Fall Festival Days End Farm Horse Rescue, 15856 Frederick Road, Woodbine, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., small admission fee. 301-854-5037, or www.defhr.org
A Walk in the Woods, Bon Secours Spiritual Center, 1525 Marriottsville Road, Marriottsville, 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. 410-442-1320
Open House Central Maryland Research and Education Center, 4240 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 301-432-2767, Ext. 308 Iron Bridge Hounds Sharp's at Waterford Farm,4003 Jennings Chapel Road, Brookeville, 11 a.m. 410-489-2572 Fall Festival Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 410-465-8877
For information on library story times, farmers' markets and events at individual farms, go to www.farmheritage.org and click on the Farm/City link.