In the orange-carpeted meeting room of a Rockville hotel, seven miles from Bloomingdale's and one-quarter mile from the nearest country club, 100 Montgomery County farmers sat down yesterday to talk about tillage methods, soil types, rotation and manure.
They came in pickup trucks and dusty Fords from their farms in the northern neck of the county. Some wore pin-striped suits; other sported plaid flannel shirts and work boots.
These seemingly apoliticall folks were taking a break from the fields to attend the annual farmers winter meeting sponsored by the agriculture extension service of the University of Maryland.
There was little talk of grain prices, Russian wheat, Afghanistan or tearing up the Washington Mall with tractors.
These farmers got down to business.
"What do you think we should do for red root pigweed?" asked one of a chemical company representative.
The farmer was told to rotate his crops and use the chemicals Atrex and Dual.
Half of those present were men with gray or white hair; the rest, younger men and couples. All in all, they represented one-tenth of all the farmers in Montgomery County, a locality better known for its high per capita income, Potomac estates and sparse low-income housing.
Nevertheless, Montgomery County has 667 farms on approximately 36 percent of its land area, according to the county agricultural census.
"More land is devoted to farming in Montgomery than in any other of the three metropolitan counties," said Rene Johnson, county agricultural resources coordinator.
During a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and vanilla ice cream in a separate room of the Sheraton Potomac Inn, the farmers exchanged tales of their ancestors and news of their neighbors.
"Our farm has been in our family for 200 years," Jane King told five other farmers seated around her tables. "My father says he bought his first bull in the District in the '20s."
King owns a 535-acre cattle and Holstein farm near Damascus. She works the farm with her brother, Douglas King. "You never get a holiday or weekend off working on farm," she said. "I have to milk the cows twice a day and there's always cattle to feed. In the summer we plant corn and make hay."
King said the disadvantage of farming in Montgomery County is the long drive to Frederick County to obtain fertilizers and certain types of equipment. "But we sell our milk in D.C., and the farm's been in the family so long that we don't think about moving. It also would cost a lot to rebuild all the facilities," she said.
Barbara Stiles Goshen and her husband, Stan, attended the meeting yesterday to learn more about a relatively new way of planting corn, called no-till corn.
"Instead of plowiwng, like we always used to do, we use corn planters with an attachment on it -- a poke," said Barbara Goshen. "It makes a little furrow where you plant the seed and it cuts back drastically on erosion, which is a big problem in our (northern) section of the county," she said.
After lunch, a University of Maryland energy specialist gave the farmers a recipe for making tractor fuel out of corn. The formula involves mixing corn with water in a still, making a "slurry" or mash, stirring it, and heating it at various temperatures.
One farmer was skeptical. "What is this alcohol good for if you can't drink it?" he said.
The meeting broke up to laughter and applause.