Harford’s County’s Fertile Agriculture Industry
With snarling traffic jams, the country’s premier facility for non-medical chemical and biological research, and a newly opened Wegmans, it may be hard for some to imagine that Harford County is still very much an agricultural community.
Based on the data in the 2012 Harford County Land Use report, 55 percent of primary land use in the county is classified as agricultural, which includes crop production, dairy farming and large wooded areas otherwise unassigned. Another 9 percent is labeled as recreational use and includes state and county parks and any planned open spaces in large subdivisions. Comprising a combined 64 percent of available land, agriculture dwarfs the second most common land use, which is residential, covering only 24 percent.
Many residents and visitors have been exposed to Harford’s farmland through agri-tourism ventures like hayrides or corn mazes, but they are only a fraction of the agricultural diversity that exists in the county. These designations include traditional crop farming, botanical and nursery farming, equine industries, dairy farming, organic meat and poultry, and burgeoning niche markets that include alpaca llamas, aquaculture and retail sales. To experience this rich heritage, you have to venture outside the inverted ‘T’ of the development zone into the expansive northern territories and the corners of the south.
Emory Knoll Farms located in Street has survived through six generations and numerous incarnations of traditional farming. In 1998, they started as a wholesale nursery and recently incorporated as a niche business in 2004 under the name Green Roof Plants. They are currently the only nursery in the country dedicated solely to the propagation of plants for the green roof industry and the first nursery in North America specializing in green roof horticulture consulting. They have worked on over 700 green roof projects across the United States.
Foxborough Nursery, Inc., also located in Street, is a wholesale nursery that specializes in growing unusual conifers, broadleaf and deciduous plants. Founded in 1978 by David and Marilyn Thompson, Foxborough Nursery spans 400 acres and currently inventories over 900 intentionally engineered plant species. Their sons, Brad and Andrew, expanded the family business even further with the development of Brother’s Berries, a cut branch business that grows, cuts and ships the popular winterberry branches around the country for Christmas time.
A fourth-generation farm located in Bel Air, Hickory Chance Farm raises cattle in a closed herd for total quality control. Without the use of drugs, hormones or implants, Hickory Chance Farm creates tender beef. To maintain the integrity of their herd, they do not purchase cattle from other suppliers, and they produce their own specialized feed to maximize nutrition and flavor.
Deer Meadow Farms in Havre de Grace specializes in hog production. Karl and Donna Mandl started the traditional farm in1999 but began focusing on private sales of whole and half hogs in 2005. They used a grant from the Harford County Agricultural Marketing Cooperative in 2008 to expand their reach and customer base with retail sales at local farmers’ markets.
Aquaculture is another arm of animal farming in Harford County. Fish-In Barrel in White Hall offers fishing to the general public for a fee. A daily admission to the private fresh water pond allows you to try your hand at catching trout, rockfish, catfish and bluegills without a license. Fish prices vary and rod rentals are also offered. Other farm-raised animals available in Harford County include chickens, lambs, llamas, goats and honey bees.
From corn to soy to award-winning grapes, Harford County soil has proven rich for select crops. Located on 175 acres in Churchville, Brad’s Produce has become a staple offering at local stands and farmers’ markets throughout the county. Eighty acres of the farm started by J. Brad Milton in 1992 is devoted to traditional vegetable and fruits like strawberries, watermelons, eggplants, tomatoes and zucchini.
Wilson’s Farm in Bel Air operates on 40 acres and offers a similar selection of fruits and vegetables through their retail store located on Conowingo Road. Currently owned by Greg and Janelle Wilson, the farm was originally established in 1807.
Brad’s Produce and Wilson’s Farm Market both offer an annual Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program whereby the public purchases shares of the upcoming season’s crops. For a predetermined fee, the farm will supply the CSA customer with a box of harvested fruits and vegetable as well as other products like fresh flowers, eggs and honey. The CSA program is a way for farms to stabilize their incomes and for the community to support its agricultural entrepreneurs.
Maryland has 50 licensed wineries, and Harford County boasts four of them. With soil and climate conditions similar to Portugal, Spain, Southern Italy and Greece, the grapes that produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are grown in the region. Harford County’s four wineries – Fiore Winery in Pylesville, Harford Vineyard in Forest Hill, Legends Vineyard in Churchville and Mt. Felix Vineyard and Winery in Havre de Grace – are part of Maryland’s Piedmont Wine Trail, along with three vineyards in Baltimore County.
One way farmers have managed to survive through economic factors and uncooperative weather is to specialize beyond traditional products and develop a niche in their community. Broom’s Bloom Dairy located off Route 543 in Bel Air is one very successful example. Supporting its 9th generation of the Dallam family, the dairy farm produces approximately 75 pounds of milk a day from 55 dairy cows. Current family owners, Kate and David Dallam, have operated the farm for 14 years and have sold their dairy products through off-site farmers’ markets the last 12.
Seven years ago, the Dallams were searching for ways to be more profitable. They decided that Kate’s outgoing personality was a natural fit for retail, so they opened a stand on their own property. Kate Dallam says, “We are not in a great location for a farm. Route 543 is a major feeder road to I-95, which makes moving farm equipment a little treacherous. It is, however, a great place for a traffic-driven retail outlet. We knew we had good products to sell, but we were looking for the hook to draw customers in more frequently. Ice cream became the hook.”
The Dallams’ homemade ice cream immediately began drawing customers from around Harford and beyond. “Ice cream makes for loyal customers,” says Dallam. “We’ve been tremendously successful. Our sales have increased year over year.” Although there is some drop off in the winter from a summer peak of 1,500 gallons of ice cream a week, their steadily growing customer base and interest in their products was strong enough to expand their space to include a café that is now open year round. “Our customers buy all our dairy products and like our simple food offerings, but ice cream brings them in the door.”
Dallam keeps her customers’ appetite whet with frequent Facebook posts and pictures surrounding new flavors, events and animal news. “We have over 5,000 fans, and they are very active,” she says proudly. “In the summer, I can’t post featured flavors anymore because I sell out too quickly and disappoint my customers.”
Although the dairy side of the farm business still pulls its own weight, milk is a volatile commodity, which fluctuates with the market. By adding the ice cream store, the Dallams have made their income more predictable. “Our ice cream store saved us a few years back. It allowed us to keep our farm up and running.”
For more information on all the agricultural businesses in Harford County, visit HarfordFarms.com.
Photo credit: Paragon Photography