Kristin Beyard, a 5-year-old from Silver Spring, doesn't get much of an opportunity to see farm animals in the suburbs. So, in honor of her visit with farmer Peg Coleman's merino ewe Jessica yesterday, she wore her T-shirt embossed with a flock of white lambs and one black one.
"I wish I could take her home," Kristin said wistfully as Jessica licked her hand.
Kristin was among the many children who spent the day with their parents discovering some of Montgomery County's hidden treasures -- its farms -- on the first Farm Tour and Harvest Sale.
The event was sponsored by the Montgomery County Office of Economic Development and the Agricultural Promotion and Marketing Council, and provided city folks with a chance to learn about farming methods, pick fresh fruit and flowers and, yes, meet Jessica the ewe.
Many longtime residents were surprised to find farms like Coleman's bucolic 30-acre sheep and flower farm in Boyds thriving so close to housing developments, freeways and shopping malls.
"I didn't realize it was here," said Nancy Graham, of Gaithersburg, who brought her two daughters to see the lambs. "We drive up Barnesville Road all the time and I guess I never appreciated it before."
"This is amazing," said Ernie Beyard, watching his two children feed a cornmeal mixture that Coleman had prepared for the sheep. "It's hard to imagine this in the middle of a metropolitan area."
Tim Warman, of the Montgomery County Office of Economic Development, said approximately 100,000 acres, about one third of the county, is farmland. Alarmed by the rapidly disappearing family farm, Montgomery County officials joined local farmers 10 years ago to spearhead a farmland preservation effort. The goal is to preserve 89,000 acres, about 25 percent of the county, for agricultural use. To date, 30,000 acres have been protected from development. In recent years, several other counties have instituted farmland preservation programs.
The farm tour proved to be a big hit among children. At Butler's Orchard in Germantown, children outnumbered adults. Carrying plastic bags and buckets, they carefully combed the blackberry bushes in search of a ripe berry. More often than not, berries ended up in their mouths rather than their buckets.
"At the supermarket you don't get to choose the ones you really like," said 8-year-old Clara Politi as she scrutinized a blackberry bush. Clara visits Butler's Orchard several times each year with her mother and four siblings to pick berries and pumpkins.
Andres Cruciani, her friend, had a simpler motive: "I just like picking for the fun of it," he said, popping a blackberry in his mouth.