For the 28th consecutive year, the Montgomery County Office of Agriculture will give County residents a firsthand look at the beauty, value, prevalence and importance of the many farms that exist right in their midst.
The Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale, which happens July 22-23, allows visitors to take self-guided tours of 17 farms in Montgomery County. Producing everything from strawberries to beer, organizers say these farms—many of which are situated in the County’s 93,000-acre agricultural reserve—are an important part of the County’s past and present.
“The Farm Tour serves a dual role,” John Zawitoski, the Office of Agriculture’s Director of Planning and Promotion, said of the tour. “The first role was to educate all County residents that Montgomery County has a robust agricultural sector, while providing the opportunity for visitors to experience farms and the agricultural products our local farms produce, which are most abundant in the summertime. The tour also provides our farmers a unique marketing opportunity to interact directly with consumers.”
The phrase “farm-to-table” is probably familiar to anyone who watches food shows on television or has paid a recent visit to a trendy restaurant. It’s a movement that involves buying produce, meat, or any other food product directly from a local source, typically a farm. Farms on the tour vary in size, while some may be considered small, other operations can span in size encompassing hundreds of acres. Whether small or large, they are all family-operated which accurately describes most, if not all, of the 540 farms in Montgomery County, which collectively contribute $287 million annually to the County economy.
Farm-to-table advocates tout a number of benefits of local food, including more knowledge about where food comes from, a reduced likelihood of those foods being genetically modified or treated with too many pesticides, and the preservation of agricultural heritage and farmland.
Many county residents are familiar with farmer markets where the farmer brings agricultural products to the consumer. “The farm tour serves the opposite purposes of connecting residents to the farms,” Zawitoski said. “It brings people to the farms rather than taking the farms to the people.”
Although high-end eateries are most often associated with the farm-to-table concept, there’s no reason it can’t happen in the average household. When you take home a bucket of pick-your-own blackberries or a dozen locally raised eggs, you’re a part of the farm-to-table movement.
That’s the message many farms hope to convey during the upcoming Farm Tour.
“Kids these days are used to seeing food at the grocery story,” said Ben Butler, farm and finance manager of the popular Butler’s Orchard in Germantown. “It’s good to get a fresh tomato or a locally grown strawberry. That supports a local farm. We employ 140 people. If people weren’t supporting local food producers, we would go under. We’d be a housing development.”
There’s another key benefit to this approach to food: you’re minimizing the amount of food that has to travel long distances (and the associated negative impacts to the environment.)
“It takes a lot of energy and time to get blueberries to the grocery store in December,” Butler observed. “Depending on where in the world it’s coming from, how many gallons of fuel or tons of carbon does that take? Think about the carbon footprint of that. With us, you can get it here and then keep them in your freezer for pies or smoothies.”
One last advantage of farm-to-table? The food you get is simply delicious.
“I don’t know how many times we hear that this was the best strawberry someone had ever eaten,” Butler said. “We’re educating young kids and older people on how things grow. It gives them all an inside look at our farm and our history and how it all works.”
People of all ages are welcome to take part in the Farm Tour. Because the event is self-guided, participants can visit as many or as few farms as they wish.
Some participating farms feature special activities or products, including pick-your-own, petting-zoo animals, special tours, and tastings, among other experiences.
“Farm tour participants have a chance to design their own experience,” Zawitoski said. “There’s something for everybody and an opportunity for every area of interest.”
But the real draw, of course, are the farms themselves.
“When people think Montgomery County, the first thing they think of is not agriculture,” Zawitoski said. “But it’s a rather significant part of the County. People say they didn’t even know we had farms in the County. This helps residents to realize what fine agricultural products we have.”
To get started with your farm tour plan, take a look at the official brochure for the event, which lists participating farms, activities, and all other relevant information.
For information on the tour, or on the Office of Agriculture, visit the office’s official website. The Office of Agriculture helps to preserve farmland, promote local agriculture, and spread awareness of the importance of farms in Montgomery County.
By Scott Harris. Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.