Educational Tours at Maryland Organic Farm

It’s only when you wander around the other side of the barns on the former Naval Academy dairy farm that it becomes clear what the project is all about: hundreds of acres of rye, soybeans and hay growing pesticide-free, and about a half-dozen farm animals being raised without hormones.

Horizon Organic Farm, which opens to the public this weekend, has made a monument to pesticide-free eating, drinking, working and purchasing.

One of the gleaming white buildings on the dairy farm is now an educational center, teaching visitors about bovine life, crop rotation and milk’s journey from cow to carton.

Another is a store selling organic foods, shirts made of organic cotton, soaps, stationery, tourist gifts and recycled products.

A year after the Colorado-based company leased the farm from the Navy, Horizon Organic Farm is scheduled to open Saturday with a discovery barn, store, picnic pavilion and children’s party room — all completed in a $2 million renovation. Tours, crafts, storytelling and pumpkin-picking are among the opening weekend’s festivities.

Farm tour guides have scheduled tours for thousands of school children and adults to teach them about organic growing and the benefits of organic living.

Natural Food For Thought

“There’s very little opportunity for people to bump into organic agriculture except in a package in a store,” said Paul Repetto, Horizon co-founder and senior vice president. “But this is a place for them to bump into it in the real world.”

The 875-acre farm is an unusual attraction for Anne Arundel County, and Horizon owners hope it will be a boost for the organic farming industry and their company. With organic foods comprising an estimated 1 percent of total groceries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a need to teach about organic farming and room for the industry to grow, Repetto said.

“We’ve planned it to be a teaching facility and to help build our brand,” he said. “We are the leading organic dairy company in this country. We believe it’s our responsibility to help people get back in touch with where their food comes from.”

Organic farmers grow crops without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Farmers use compost and crop rotation to promote healthy soil. Although Horizon farmers are abiding by these guidelines, the farm will take three years to be certified free of chemicals that may have been used previously.

By keeping pesticides and synthetic fertilizers out of the soil, organic farming helps reduce polluting runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Organic dairy products come from cows raised on organic feed. The cows also are not fed antibiotics or hormones, which are sometimes used in conventional farming to increase milk production.

In the Discovery Barn

At the Horizon farm, rye, soy and hay are budding in a small garden outside the discovery barn. Inside, children can learn which bugs are harmful to the soil and which promote growth.

In another barn, heifers raised by children in local 4-H chapters are fed and watered. An area outside is set up for milking Happy, the farm’s Holstein, which gives milk several times a day. A milking parlor, a processing plant and conference rooms are being renovated and are scheduled to open next year.

One industry expert said the farm and its interactive educational center could become important in strengthening organic farming in central Maryland.

There are 74 organic farms statewide, and three in Anne Arundel County, according to Valerie Frances, organic certification program manager for Maryland’s Department of Agriculture.

Horizon Organic Farm is located on Rt. 175 at Dairy Lane, Gambrills, Md., 21054. It is open to the public free from 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Sunday. Tours are $4 for adults and $2 for children. For more information, call (410) 923-7600.