Farming has thin margins that can disappear during a year with bad weather or low crop prices. Farmers have long felt the pressure to sell farmland to developers. Maryland was the first state in the nation to provide for lower assessments on land devoted to farm or woodland uses. Land is assessed according to its current use and not according to market value, so farmers pay lower proper taxes and feel less pressure to introduce more intensive uses.
Lower property taxes help farmers, but they need more. Maryland also has an Agricultural Land Preservation program that, along with the state Rural Legacy program, has preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. Preserving agricultural land eliminates the possibility of development in exchange for cash or tax deductions and provides capital that allows farmers to continue farming.
Baltimore and Harford counties have robust preservation programs as well. More than 50,000 acres of land in Harford County are preserved, while Baltimore County consistently ranks in the top 10 counties nationally for land preserved with over 64,000 acres permanently protected by conservation easements.
Many farmers would have given up on farming without land preservation. But because of the financial benefits of land preservation, when the pandemic hit and demand for locally grown food increased, farmers were ready. Local residents know they can count on operations like Roseda Farm, which sells its world-class black Angus products in local stores and ships nationwide. Shaw Orchards, on land owned by the same family for more than a century, welcomes customers to pick their own fruits. Daily Crisis Farm sells cheese and butter; Clear Meadow sells beef, pork, chicken, eggs and dairy, while at nearby Miller’s Farm Market, all manner of beef and pork products are available. Rigdon Farms, which was featured in your article, Albright Farms, One Straw Farm, Roberts Roost — the list isn’t endless, but it is impressively long.
And all those farms are preserved. Without the benefits provided by land preservation, many local farms would have long since been converted to suburban sprawl and the sudden increased demand for local food would have gone unmet.
The American Farmland Trust has a simple message: “No Farms, No Food.” I would supplement that with another simple message: “No Land Preservation, No Farms.”
Renee Hamidi, Monkton
The writer is executive director of The Manor Conservancy.