In West Friendship Park, where the Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum recently closed, the more than 340 acres of land will now be home to the county’s new Office of Agriculture, County Executive Calvin Ball said Tuesday at a press conference.

This will be the county’s first agriculture office and the state’s third, and it will promote farming in the county.

“The Office of Agriculture will create a physical space where all our agriculture-facing functions can collaborate toward a common goal of supporting farms and farmers,” Ball said.

This office, along with the Department of Recreation and Parks, will work together and propose ways the hundreds of acres of land could be used recreationally. Possible uses might include space for overnight camping, festivals and events, spaces for agricultural learning and interactive programs for gardening.

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As well as providing uses for the public and people in the agriculture community, the county will hire four full-time positions: administrator of agriculture, an executive assistant and two project managers.

Uses of the space for the agriculture community would include assistance such as providing farmers with marketing or soil conservation help, and it will create a shared working space with the Department of Planning and Zoning, the University of Maryland Extension, the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the Howard Soil Conservation District.

“The goal is to bring these individuals together in one place and also closer to the residents they serve,” Ball said.

On Nov. 27, the farm museum that once sat on the office’s new location closed seven years early, after 18 years of operation. Nick Mooneyhan, the county’s Recreation and Parks director, cited various code violations and the group’s lack of proper event permits for the early lease termination.

The Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club operated the museum, which housed thousands of agricultural artifacts dating back 400 years. The club has until the end of May 2024 to remove all museum items. John Frank, the club’s president, said the lease termination was unexpected and devastating.

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After Mooneyhan announced the lease termination, the county was met with a backlash from the community.

At least 20 people spoke at the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board meeting in October, sharing their support for the museum and speaking out about the lack of transparency from the county.

During the week of the farm museum’s closure, Mooneyhan told The Banner there would be indoor and outdoor archery facilities, restrooms and camping sites added to the land — and West Friendship Park will be open to the public for recreational use and outdoor activities.

With the coming additions to the land’s recreational uses, Mooneyhan said the county’s first priority is getting all of the farm museum buildings up to code.

The eventual Office of Agriculture that will take the museum’s place was highly anticipated among the agriculture community, said David Yungmann, a County Council member who represents District 5, which also includes the museum property.

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“The ag community has been wanting an ag center and a centralized sort of office of ag support for a long time,” he said.

Kevin Atticks, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, echoed what Yungmann said.

“Agriculture needs support, ag need a place that they can go, and it’s great to see in additional to soil conservation, they’ll have a one-stop shop here where they’ll be able to come in and help with their efforts to decrease food insecurity, their efforts to keep food growing for Marylanders, their effort to keep open space open,” Atticks said.

These are all daily functions of agriculture, he said, but the new office will put farmers in better positions financially.

“This office will help farmers do the one thing that will allow them to do all of these others and that is to help them become more profitable,” Atticks said. “When that happens, everything else falls into line.”

Abby Zimmardi is the 2023 investigative reporting fellow for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022. 

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