Showcasing Maryland's Agriculture

Where in the world can you find an insect zoo, rockfish fingerlings, thousands of different seed samples, specimen horticulture stock, international visitors, railroad cars, local food product displays and a collection of Maryland's famed Wye Oak all under one roof on a given day? Right here in Annapolis at one of the city's best kept secrets, the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Surprised? If so, you are not alone. Many people pass by the two well-known Holstein cow statues on Harry S Truman Parkway not knowing what is in the adjacent building.

Each day, the two cows greet all of the dedicated employees of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, nearly 25 of whom have worked at the department since its establishment 30 years ago. Sometimes, the cows sport hats that a mystery benefactor places atop their heads as discreetly as Edgar Allen Poe's secret admirer leaves roses and a bottle at the poet's grave or the "Hon Man" welcomes I-295 drivers to Baltimore. Sometimes MDA employees decorate the cows on special occasions, but the Easter bonnets, construction helmets for Labor Day, and red stocking caps for the winter that arrive unannounced remain a great mystery and bring smiles to the faces of all who notice. The cow statues are reportedly made from a full body cast of a prize Carroll County Holstein cow.

Every work day, without much fanfare, more than 200 people quietly go about their business of ensuring a safe and healthy food supply and environment, fairness in the marketplace, and that agriculture remains a strong economic force. But, each year on the third Saturday of March, the agency throws open its doors to thousands of visitors so that they may explore the many fascinating aspects of agriculture in Maryland in fun and festive ways.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Charles Puffinberger has come to work at the Department of Agriculture wondering what the day will bring. He oversees all of the plant industries and pest management activities, pesticide regulation and responsibilities of the state chemist's office. Staff in these areas are responsible for protecting forests, the nursery and landscaping industries, and citizens from the deleterious effects of pests and plant pathogens and disease. Entomologists, plant pathologists and scientists on Puffinberger's staff can plan for cyclical and ongoing activities like gypsy moth suppression, mosquito control, nursery inspections, and pet food evaluations, but extraordinary events cannot be predicted.

No one could have anticipated last year's excessive rainfall. With it came the highest counts of mosquitoes in decades, causing aggravation among residents and a record number of cases of West Nile virus among humans and horses in Maryland. Because of these conditions, more than 2,000 communities enrolled in the agency's mosquito control program to try to reduce the number of hungry insects in their immediate vicinity.

Increased global trade and interstate shipping have brought many benefits to Maryland. As a result, however, the likelihood of increased pest introductions has occurred. In 2003, MDA staff detected more than a half dozen new pests of regulatory concern in Maryland and is responding to contain or eradicate them. Some are found by residents who submit everything from ticks to colorful caterpillars to MDA entomologists for identification. Because of one curious homeowner who hand-delivered an interesting looking caterpillar to the laboratory, the agency discovered a new moth that eats the leaves of the popular landscaping shrub, Euonymous.

A diligent nursery inspector found a very serious insect called the emerald ash borer in one Maryland nursery. The green metallic-looking insect with its unique-looking larvae is of Asian origin and had previously been found in the United States only in Michigan. It is so serious that federal officials have quarantined more than a dozen Michigan counties from movement of ash trees and wood. MDA is undertaking a deliberate and extensive survey of ash trees involved and destroying them.

In anticipation of the May 2004 return of the 17-year cicada, MDA is gearing up its outreach efforts. Already, graduation, wedding, and planners of other events are inquiring to find out what this spectacular event will mean. The agency has a message: be prepared, know what to expect, and try to enjoy it. Do some research to find out how significant the cicada populations were in your area in 1987 before planning important outdoor events from mid-May through early July. Populations could range from almost none in one area to more than 100,000 per acre in others. Older neighborhoods with trees more than 17 years old are thought to be particularly susceptible to high numbers of the insect. Learn about the cicada. They are very noisy and they swarm, but they are not harmful to people or most plantings. They don't bite or sting. Their only purpose in their four- to six-week life span is to reproduce.

Down the hall from the "bug experts," pesticide regulators are making sure that when pesticides must be used they are used properly and by licensed applicators. They respond to consumer complaints, inspect pesticide, pest control and lawn care companies, and train and license individuals who apply chemicals to protect agricultural production, homes, and other properties from problems such as termites and farm pests.

Ensuring fairness in the marketplace through accurate weighing and measuring devices is a function of many state agriculture departments that is almost as old as the United States itself. For 209 years, officials have made sure that people get what they pay for by certifying the accuracy of scales and volumetric measuring devices. Historically, agricultural products were the primary products traded. Today, the Maryland Department of Agriculture ensures that deli scales, gas pumps, meters on heating oil trucks, and airport and railroad scales, among others, all function properly. They respond to consumer complaints every day and help companies fix the problems that caused customers to be dissatisfied.

Environmental protection, particularly of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, is at the top of the agency's concerns. To that end, a staff of soil conservationists and others help farmers install and pay for best-management practices on their farms to prevent soil erosion and keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of our waterways. In addition, the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, along with local governments, has purchased easements that have preserved more than 400,000 acres of valuable Maryland farmland for future generations.

In one month's time last year, the agency hosted foreign delegations from Korea, Trinidad, Tobago, Russia and China to help Maryland companies sell agricultural and livestock products as diverse as hay, goats, race horses, vegetables, nursery stock, dairy cow genetics, seafood and processed "value-added" food products. A staff of marketing professionals helps the state's farmers' markets, agricultural tourism enterprises, the equine industry, food processors, watermen, forestry companies and other producers find and expand markets for their products to ensure the economic viability of agriculture. Without economically viable farming, fishing, and forestry industries, the farmland and local, farm-fresh products that residents of this largely metropolitan region treasure so dearly could easily become unavailable.

On Saturday, March 20, the department invites the public to walk past the cow statues and through the doors of the bright, naturally-lit building for its annual open house. Each year, thousands of people, especially families, come to explore the agency's activities. They check out the insect zoo, pet giant Madagascar hissing roaches, taste-test sautéed crickets in a variety of flavors, make slime with the state chemist, compare alpacas with llamas at the petting zoo, take a pony ride, and meander through agriculture and farm equipment exhibits. Food as well as products from arts and crafts vendors are available for purchase. For further information, call 410-841-5882 or visit

When Sue duPont is not at work at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, she can often be found jogging through Annapolis, paddling a kayak or spoiling her feline children.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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