A new 'ag-tourism' sign for Zekiah Farms appears on northbound Route 5 before Bryantown Road. (Photo: Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission)
ANNAPOLIS (March 5, 2014) Maryland's new ag-tourism signing program pilot has started in Charles County with the installation of directional signs for two farms: Serenity Farm in Benedict and Zekiah Farms in Waldorf.
Charles County Government and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission initiated a series of discussions with Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to create a program that permits state highway signs directing the public to ag-tourism farms.
As farmers diversify their operations and connect more directly with consumers, ag-tourism has become a growing segment of Maryland agriculture and an important source of income for our farmers, said Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance. I thank SHA Secretary Jim Smith and his staff for their cooperation in developing the program. We look forward to expanding the program statewide so more residents can enjoy fresh products and lively activities right on the farm.
The eligibility criteria for this program requires participating farms to be open to customers and tourists for at least six months of the year (at least four days a week and at least six hours a day) for the on-site sale of local agricultural products. Farms must also have an established educational tour that can be provided by a knowledgeable guide upon request or host public events, such as festivals, fairs or workshops.
The State Ag-tourism Signing Program will be available to farms in other counties in the state. However counties are required to first set up their own program to place directional ag-tourism signs on county roads to ensure that motorists can find the farms after leaving state roads. Interested farmers must first apply to the program through their county to receive signs on county roads. Once approved, the farmer then applies to the state for signs on state maintained roads. After county approval, SHA and MDA will approve farms meeting the criteria and determine the number of signs applicable. For information concerning the program contact Stone Slade with MDA at (410) 841-5770 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture identified 231 ag-tourism farms in Maryland with receipts of $7.3 million.
SMADC has announced grants for up to $1,500 in matching funds for the purchase and installation of signs that have been approved by SHA and MDA for up to three farms each in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince Georges and St. Marys counties. Funds will be available until April, 2014 on a first-come, first serve basis. For more information concerning SMADC funds email: email@example.com.