After 20 years in the making, Harford County ag center opens

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A concept more than two decades in the making — putting all of Harford County’s agricultural services under one roof — has come to fruition.

“For as many as 20 years, we always talked about having an ag center where we could consolidate all our ag services and preserve Harford County’s agricultural heritage,” County Executive Barry Glassman said Saturday during a ribbon-cutting at the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street.

Glassman was surrounded by county staffers, County Council members, state legislators, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris and representatives of the county, state and private entities that occupy the former Glen Echo Furniture building near the intersection of Route 1 and Route 136.

“We think this spot will certainly grow and serve future generations of farmers for research, preservation and all that we do to help celebrate, and preserve Harford County’s farming history,” the county executive said.

Glen Echo Furniture occupied the building from 1967 until its final day in business in February 2016. The county acquired the property that March for $950,000, and the acreage was added to land the local government already owned at the highway’s crossroads at Routes 1 and 136.

The historic Joesting-Gorsuch House sits next door to the agricultural center. The wooden house, which dates to the 1700s and is considered to be one of the oldest houses in the county, was open for tours during Saturday’s celebration.

The house had been dismantled and moved from its former home on the Winters Run Golf Club property near Bel Air to the county property in Street two years ago.

“Take a look at some of the old artifacts that are there to celebrate our farming history,” Glassman told the crowd.

Glassman later said that he plans to develop a year-round farmers’ market on the property —which should be available next year— for wares such as produce, artisans’ works, even Christmas items. He also hopes to use the Joesting-Gorsuch House for visitor functions and develop an agricultural research center on about 10 to 15 acres zoned for commercial use along Route 136.

“It’s still in the visionary stages,” he said of the research center.

Current agricultural center tenants include the Harford County Farm Bureau, Harford County Soil Conservation District, the University of Maryland Extension’s Harford office, along with its 4-H program, plus the state’s Department of Forest Pest Management. Space is also available for federal agriculture entities such as the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service, according to a county news release.

Putting all agencies under one roof has saved the county $52,000 in rent in separate facilities, and will generate $27,000 from the leases, according to the news release.

The facility also has parking areas, a staff kitchen area, training room and conference rooms.

“Now that we’re together, it’s easy to walk across the hall to ask questions or touch base on projects and activities,” Alice Archer, secretary/treasurer of the Harford County Farm Bureau, said in a statement. “Many of our efforts cross-pollinate between our organizations, so it’s a great advantage to be in meetings together or share what’s happening with our respective boards and committees.”

Artwork depicting agricultural or racing scenes decorate the walls of the facility. A large painting of horses at a fairground hangs in a main hallway. That work was created in 1968 by artist Joseph Sheppard for Robert Merrick, then president of Equitable Trust Bank. Equitable, which once occupied the building at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air that now houses the county administration, was acquired by Maryland National Bank, then NationsBank and now Bank of America.

Philip Wohlfort, of NationsBank, facilitated the donation of Sheppard’s painting to the county government, and county leaders hope to have a rededication ceremony with the artist this fall, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

Visitors along with those who work in the building praised having local agricultural services under one roof.

“The co-located services makes it great for when someone comes in and isn’t certain who they need to talk to,” Paul Rickert, area extension director for the Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties’ offices, and the interim director for Harford’s extension office, said. “We’re not having to send them to other places.”

Rickert said staff “can serve a range of needs,” even lawn management or dealing with a pest, or disease issue with a tree.

Angelique Livezey, a 4-H volunteer who lives in Bel Air, noted the advantages for the 4-H youth participants who can get questions answered from staff on agricultural projects or environmental projects on which they are working.

“It’s easier just to go down [the hall] and talk to them,” she said.

Meg Jones, whose family owns Jones Dairy Farm in Forest Hill, watched as her 11-year-old daughter, Katie, checked out a display on 4-H while visiting the Agricultural Center.

Katie, a fifth-grader at Forest Hill Elementary School, also talked with 4-H educator Cynthia Warner about signing up for the program.

“She’s always asked about 4-H and we live on a farm, so it goes hand in hand,” Jones said.

Meg Jones said “it makes perfect sense” to have all agricultural-related agencies in one location.

“It’s great for the farming community, to keep it strong in Harford County — to have everyone together,” she said.

Visitors to the Joesting-Gorsuch House could see multiple items representing centuries of farming history in Harford, such as Churchville resident Bernie Bodt’s collection of artifacts from local canneries.

Canneries, where local produce was processed and put in cans, could be found throughout Harford County in the 1800s and early 1900s, but many in southern Harford closed when Aberdeen Proving Ground opened in 1917 during World War I.

The last local cannery closed in 1999, Bodt said. His family owned canneries going back as far as his great-grandfather.

A display case in the house held “Harford currency,” or tokens paid to cannery workers instead of U.S. currency. Bodt said one token was worth 3 cents circa 1910. Cannery owners did not have cash readily available, if their money was tied up in cans or seed and fertilizer for the farms that supplied the produce, so they used tokens bearing their names instead, according to Bodt.

Cannery workers were paid 3 cents for every 16-quart bucket they filled with peeled tomatoes or corn taken off the cob. An adult woman could fill 60 buckets a day, earning her $1.80 — child workers typically earned less as they filled fewer buckets, according to Bodt.

The tokens could then be used to purchase items in local stores, assuming “[the owner was good for the debt, [and of] good upstanding character…,” Bodt said.

Another display case holds an award earned by then-16-year-old John Joesting in 1921, who was living in the Joesting-Gorsuch House. It is a second prize earned in a dairy cattle contest at the Maryland State Fair, and it bears the names of Joesting, Richard Wills and Albert Ady. Joesting went on to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates, along with Harford’s Mary E.W. Risteau — the first woman elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1921 — during the early 1930s.

Joesting’s award was found in the extension office’s collection during the move to the agricultural center, according to Mumby.

“He had this award in this house when he was teenager, and after all these years it found its way back to his home,” she said.

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