Down on the Farm: Owens' Plan a Bargain All Around

"It's a beautiful farm," said Calvert County farmer Hagner Mister of Anne Arundel County farmers Jean and Virginia Carlton's Browsley Hall Farm, noting the sweep of a 95-acre field, a rarity among Maryland's smallish fields.

Mister, who is also deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, has a more practiced eye than much of modern Maryland for farm beauty. There are fewer farmers and more of the rest of us Marylanders every year. Over 20 years, from 1978 to 1997, Anne Arundel County lost over 13,000 of its 48,000 farm acres.

On a sparkling April morning last week, Hagner Mister saw something all of us can appreciate: land forever open and undeveloped.

Browsley Hall Farm is about to add 248 acres to Anne Arundel's treasury of preserved farm and woodland. In perpetual trust us 5,700 acres. The county's goal is at least 20,000 acres. (That's the same amount Mister's much smaller Calvert County has already preserved.)

That number will be closer to hand if the Anne Arundel County Council approves the plan, proposed by County Executive Janet Owens, that brought Mister and a couple dozen other officials, farmers and land activists out in the morning to the Carltons' tobacco barn.

Owens has asked for $3 million to build the county's preserve of farm land. That's more than three times the average appropriation over the last decade. Under such plans, farmers keep title to their lands, along with the right to live on and work them as they always have. But they sell all rights to develop their land. They can sell their land, but its new owners are bound by the same perpetual agreement.

Executive Owens' plan not only spends more money but also makes the money go further because it works on the installment plan, rather than making purchases in one chunk. With some farm land valued at $60,000 an acre, even millions don't go far if they must all be spent at one time.

Installments also benefit farmers by deferring capital gains taxes and providing a steady income stream.

Preserving farmland Mister was seeing is good for us all, not just farmers. Open land gives us beauty and room to stretch, keeping the county from gridlocking in a sprawl of concrete and asphalt. It makes homes for wildlife and lets natural processes work, giving us oxygen to breathe and absorbing the carbon dioxide we exhale along with the pollutants we produce with our machines and chemicals.

We applaud Owens' plan and urge the county council to approve it - quickly - for as Mister said, "Once houses come, the land is almost irretrievable."

| Issue 17 |

Volume VII Number 17
April 29 - May 5, 1999
New Bay Times

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