- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) A run-in with a 1,200-pound heifer convinced novice farmer Roy Arce that he needed some help.
A San Diego native who moved to central Carroll County, Md., in 1993, Mr. Arce recently got his hand stuck in the cow's halter and was dragged around his cow pen for a few laps.
"I had no idea what I was doing," said Mr. Arce, who lives on five acres of farmland. "I knew I was going to be on a farm, but I didn't know what I was going to be doing on that farm."
Mr. Arce looked for help from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. The agency usually helps experienced farmers increase crop production and fight pests and drought, but it has begun offering classes for farmers in training.
As the number of experienced farmers dwindles, they are being replaced by suburbanites who move into rural stretches of the Washington area and they often don't know how to feed their livestock or plow their fields.
"Most adults have had, at least, grandparents who had a farm," said Ginger Myers of the Howard County Development Authority, which this month will start a series of farming classes for beginners along with the Maryland Cooperative Extension.
"But now we're looking at high school seniors who are graduating without any farming experience whatsoever, and once they get out of college, they want to find ways to connect with the farming experience."
Terry Poole, an agent in the Frederick County Extension Office, began classes in 1996 that have become the model for similar programs in Howard, Wicomico and Harford counties.
Mr. Poole started noticing the farming newcomers 15 years ago, when Frederick County's first major growth surge was in full swing.
The calls he began to get from the novices were unlike the usual questions he fielded from experienced farmers.
"Hello, I just bought 25 acres," an aspiring farmer would tell him. "What do I do now?"
"It was really getting unreal," Mr. Poole said. "I started wondering how many of these people are really out there."
Maryland and the nation are seeing a higher percentage of part-time farmers than ever. The number of full-time farmers nationally decreased by 16 percent in the past decade, while part-time farmers increased by 1 percent.
Many of the new part-timers are lifetime farmers who have taken up second jobs to supplement their incomes. But many others are what are known, variously, as "hobby farmers," "lifestyle farmers" or "retirement farmers."
These newcomers make up the bulk of the folks who spurred Mr. Poole to teach farming classes for beginners. His classes cover topics like the definition of a farm, basic agricultural terms, feeding livestock and buying farm equipment.
For Mr. Arce, the classes were a revelation.
Mr. Poole taught him to rotate crops, search out niche markets and keep track of his farm finances. Now, Mr. Arce raises emus and sells the meat.
"Emus are a lot less troublesome than cows," he said.
He also has advice for other city slickers considering taking up farming.
"You've got to have your mind set on enjoying this," he said. "If you don't, you can forget it."

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