Harford's Rigdon family honored for protecting their farm's soil, water

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The Rigdon family, whose roots in Harford County agriculture date back to the early 1700s, was recently recognized for their efforts to conserve soil and water resources on their farm with the Harford Soil Conservation District’s Conservation Farm of the Year honor.

“I think the Rigdons are well overdue to have received this award, and I’m grateful for all the hard work they’ve done over the years,” Bill Tharpe, the Soil Conservation District manager, said Wednesday.

John and Andrea “Andy” Rigdon, and their son, Harrison, owners of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville, were honored during the district’s Annual Cooperator’s Dinner Oct. 12 at the Level Fire Hall. Nearly 150 people attended the dinner, meant to celebrate partnerships between the soil conservation district, urban and rural areas, and the local, state and federal governments. Those partnerships support natural resource preservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to a press release from the district.

A farm or “Cooperator” is honored by the district each year for “exemplary dedication to conservation of our natural resources,” according to the release.

“They’re protecting the Chesapeake Bay,” Tharpe said of those who implement resource conservation measures. “Everything revolves around that.”

Andrea and John Rigdon, ages 56 and 61 respectively, are the 10th generation of Rigdons to farm in Harford County. Their 31-year-old son, Harrison, is the 11th.

Andrea, who has been married to John for 35 years, comes from a farming family. She is the daughter of the late Mary and William McGuirk, owners of Marylea Farm near Bel Air, which remains in her family.

She is a former member of the Soil Conservation District Board of Supervisors; she started as an assistant supervisor in 2005 and was named a full supervisor in 2013. She was the first woman named a voting member of that board since the Harford district was created in 1944. Her term on the board ended in 2017.

“We try to lead by example,” she said of her family’s conservation practices.

The Rigdons farm more than 2,000 acres in Harford, Cecil and Kent counties. Their operation, which dates to 1728, is headquartered on a “home tract” in Jarrettsville, according to the text of a speech Tharpe gave during the dinner, which the Rigdons provided to The Aegis.

The home tract encompasses about 210 acres along Rigdon Road, according to John Rigdon. A framed original deed, or patent, to the farm hangs on a wall in the farm office. He said it is made of goatskin.

“It’s quite an honor to get the award for taking care of the land,” Rigdon said. “We want to protect it for future generations.”

The Rigdons raise corn and soybeans, as well as barley, wheat, hay and straw, and produce such as pick-your-own blueberries, according to the Rigdon Farms website.

With local operations such as that of the Rigdon family, the public can engage with farmers and understand “where their food is coming from along with the benefits of protecting our natural resources,” Tharpe said.

The Rigdons also raise a herd of about 200 beef cattle. A number of the black cows were grazing in a pasture in the rolling hills of the farm Wednesday. They were near a small stream, although wire fencing separated the cows from the waterway.

Stream fencing, with grassy buffers along the banks, is one of the many measures put in place by the Rigdons over the years to protect the soil and water.

Other methods include no-till planting of crops, “precision agriculture” — using technology such as GPS and data for more efficient use of fertilizer and nutrients — building a secure location for handling and storage of agricultural chemicals, rotating grazing areas, separate facilities for cattle to drink water rather than standing in a stream, plus planting cover crops once commodities such as corn and soybeans are harvested, according to Tharpe’s speech.

Tharpe said Wednesday the Rigdons have implemented such measures through working with the soil conservation district and on their own.

He said most conservation measures available to farmers are voluntary. They do come with a financial cost, but they have long-term benefits such as better-quality crops and higher yields because the soil and its nutrients have not eroded in addition to cleaner water and healthier livestock, Tharpe said.

“Doing these practices actually provides a positive outlook in their production in the long run,” Tharpe said.

John Rigdon said the various conservation measures held this year despite a rainier-than-normal spring and summer.

“It has definitely helped with soil erosion and movement of fertilizer and chemical elements,” he said.

Harrison Rigdon, one of siblings, said it is “an honor” to win the conservation award.

“We like doing [conservation measures] because we see a lot of the benefits long term,” he said.

Harrison was in the midst of harvesting corn and soybeans Wednesday, and said he and his family will plant cover crops after harvesting is complete.

He said cover crops, such as wheat, barley, oats, even radishes, are planted every year.

“It holds the nutrients in place, where we can utilize them from one year to the next without them running off,” Harrison said.

He is the only one of his siblings to take up farming, saying that “I just always have had a passion ... I just enjoy doing it.”

Although Harrison Rigdon does not have children he hopes a member of the next generation of the family continues the farming business.

“Hopefully the family farm will continue on, and [we will] continue the legacy that we have,” he said.

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