County Executive Allan Kittleman recently met with nearly 50 residents and business owners directly involved in the agriculture industry to discuss initiatives to support the health and vitality of farming in the county. The agriculture roundtable provided a vision for supporting the industry going forward and offered an opportunity to hear ideas and concerns from farmers.
"Agriculture is so important to our community," said Kittleman. "One fourth of our county land - that is approximately 40,000 acres - remains in farmland, and agriculture is the fifth largest economic driver for the county with more than $200 million in sales annually. I am committed to doing what we can to help our farmers thrive."
Kittleman announced the formation of a new subcabinet consisting of key county departments and agencies that oversee agriculture programs and requirements. The group has begun regular meetings to help coordinate and facilitate agriculture issues and processes in the county. It will be led by James Zoller, the newly appointed agriculture coordinator, in the Office of Community Sustainability, who has managed the Roving Radish program for the last three years. Other departments include the Department of Planning and Zoning, the Agriculture Land Preservation Program, the Howard County Soil Conservation District, the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the County's administration.
The proposed initiatives focused on four areas: unifying and better coordinating the various county agriculture programs; supporting projects that help our local farms remain profitable; educating the community about the needs and challenges of farming operations to increase community cooperation; and ensuring that thoughtful, supportive legislation is in place to govern property and farming rights.
Announcements included efforts to expand the Roving Radish program from consumer meals to assisting with distribution of local produce and meats to local restaurants; ensure the Agriculture Preservation Program is effective; and support the industry's use of existing agriculture innovation grants through the Howard County Economic Development Authority. The discussion ranged from zoning regulations to managing deer populations that damage crops to farmers' use of county roads. Moving forward, the subcabinet will review suggestions and work on appropriate solutions.
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