Gambrills farmer can stay at former Navy dairy farm, for now

The family that farms a government-owned property in western Anne Arundel County will be able to stay there through at least the end of the year, county officials said Friday.

Anne Arundel County is offering a lease to Edwin Fry and his family to continue operating his Maryland Sunrise Farm through Dec. 31 at the site of the former Naval Academy dairy farm in Gambrills.

Fry has farmed the land organically for years, but plans to give up organic certification and use conventional fertilizer and herbicides. Many nearby residents criticized the change and urged the county to find another farmer who would keep the land in organic production.

County officials said the farm will be allowed to switch from organic practices, but Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman said she will issue a request seeking other farmers interested in farming the land organically who might take over when the lease is up.

"We are doing our due diligence by working with the current tenant, who has been a good steward of the land for more than a decade, and the community, by seeking a farmer who might be able to embrace organic farming," Neuman said.

The land is owned by the Navy, which leases it to the county, which in turn subleases it to Fry. It was once a dairy farm that provided milk to Naval Academy midshipmen. The county pays the Navy $240,000 per year for the farm on a lease that runs through 2037. Fry pays the county about $50,000 per year.

Fry said he's satisfied with the new arrangement, which requires the county to tell him by July 1 if the farm will be turned over to someone else next year. He's been working without a written lease for 15 years and said that will change.

"Either me or someone else will have a long-term lease, and that's what the land needs," he said.

Fry has agreed to continue community activities on the property such as 4-H, to keep farming a vegetable garden on the property organically and to share soil test information with farmers who apply for a future lease on the land.

In addition to working the 680-acre former dairy farm, Fry and his family have farmland on the Eastern Shore.

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