As farmland gives way to subdivisions in fast-growing Howard County, there are inevitable clashes of culture that are apparent when the scent of fresh manure drifts into a new town house cluster or when an impatient motorist on a country road honks at a tractor going 10 miles an hour.
Increasingly, even the most rural areas of Howard County are home to children "who think milk comes from the Safeway store," says one farmer who keeps an eye on development, County Council member Charles C. Feaga (R-District 5).
It is for that reason, among others, that a proposal for a farming education center is gathering steam among the organizations that serve the county's farm community. Similar facilities already exist in Montgomery and Carroll counties.
Interested agencies are eyeing county-owned parkland off Route 144, across from the county fairground.
Farm officials say that, in addition to centralizing farm agencies, the facility could be a teaching center for Howard's schoolchildren, now required to study the environment, and parents interested in composting or garden pest control.
"There is a big need . . . for people to understand what goes on on farms, to try to avoid the kind of confrontations that develop," said Robert Ziehm, head of the county's soil conservation district.
A central place where farmers could seek advice and suburbanites could learn more about their agricultural neighbors is an idea that has been kicking around Howard County for a decade. But it has drawn increasing support in the last year, farmers and spokesmen for agricultural agencies said.
The agriculture center has the backing of the Farm Bureau, the Soil Conservation District Board and the Cooperative Extension Service, among others.
Feaga, who raises cattle, grain and hay on 200 acres near West Friendship, has discussed the concept of a combined farm agency facility during budget sessions, but no formal proposal is on the table. Howard County Administrator Buddy W. Roogow said, however, that there is "no doubt that we are interested."
"For years, we've been talking about having a one-stop central information center, not only for farmers but for the urban sector of the county," said William Brendel, who has farmed in the Glenwood area for nearly 60 years.
"There is a rather romantic concept of rolling countryside and picturesque farms," said Ziehm, the soil conservation administrator. "But people have to understand that such things as manure spreading, noise from tractors and herbicide spraying are a necessary part of farming." For some people, he said, "it comes as a big surprise."
"We hear it too from farmers who have a lot of trouble from vandalism and people riding through their fields with mini-bikes and four-wheel-drive vehicles," Ziehm said. " . . . They have their problems with neighbors too."