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
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.
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.
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.
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 www.mda.state.md.us.
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.