One-third of Montgomery County, or 93,000 acres, is designated as the Agricultural Reserve. This unique area of contiguous farmland has special characteristics:

  • The zoning of the Agricultural Reserve (AR zone) limits development to one house per 25 acres;
  • 70,000 acres, or 75% of the land area within the Ag Reserve, is further protected through permanent easements that restrict residential, industrial, and commercial development;
  • 558 farms remain viable in a county with high development pressure and cost of living;
  • 454 farms produce table food crops or products, allowing county residents to enjoy locally produced food;
  • 10,000 horses provide competitive and recreational opportunities for County residents;
  • Views of thousands of acres of rural landscape enjoyed by tourists, bicyclists, hikers, artists, and other visitors

Montgomery County’s diverse agricultural industry is home to 558 farms, employs more than 10,000 people, and contributes $281 million to the County’s economy. AG Facts Below:

Commodity Grain Production: Grain farms (corn, wheat, soybeans, and barley) are the predominant agricultural use in the County, covering 34,526 acres. Much of the grain produced in Montgomery County goes to support Maryland’s poultry industry on the Eastern Shore and other livestock production in the region. In addition to this, wheat produced here is made into cookies, crackers, cakes, and bread products; corn may go toward ethanol production; and some barley is now going to local breweries for the production of beer.
Horticulture: Twenty percent of Maryland’s horticultural industry resides in Montgomery County, ranking us second in the State in total number of horticultural firms. This sector produces $154 million in gross sales annually. Horticultural enterprises include nurseries, landscaping/lawn care companies, arborists, sod farms, and greenhouse businesses.
Equine: Montgomery County is home to almost 10,000 horses, used for recreation, breeding, training, and sales. This represents a tremendous opportunity for local farmers in terms of the supplies, services, and products needed to support the horse population, which exceeds the population of all other livestock combined.
Livestock: There are approximately 375 livestock farming operations in the County raising beef, dairy, sheep, goats, poultry, hogs & pigs. Local dairy and meat products can be found at on-farm markets, regional city farmers markets, through community supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, or at local retailers.

Food Producers: According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, there are 454 farms producing table food in Montgomery County. The County’s food producers are essential and continue to play a vital role providing fresh, local food to residents including those in need through the Farm 2 Foodbank program. See the latest Farm2Foodbank Impact Report HERE.

Environmental Data: Best Management Practices (BMP) by Montgomery County Farmers. These practices help the County’s agricultural sector meet its Watershed Implementation  (WIP) goals as mandated by the Maryland Department of the Environment. These BMPs also have the co benefit of reducing green house gas emissions.

Information and featured photo courtesy of Montgomery County’s Office of Agriculture.

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Sugarloaf Mountain, a Stronghold property, has been closed since an attempted break-in at the Strong Mansion on August 19th. Stronghold Inc., the non-profit that owns and operates the property, has announced that it will be reopening the property with notable changes. “The Stronghold property will be open to the public under these conditions beginning on October 10th.  Please enjoy the property respectfully.” The changes, per Stronghold, can be seen below:

Notable Changes: Visitors will no longer be allowed to park in the crossroads or “square”. This change will keep the intersection clear of inappropriately parked vehicles, eliminate late night loitering, and stop after hours entry onto the Stronghold property. This change will also provide a needed staging area for all EMS vehicles during emergencies.

Park hours are from 8 a.m. to sunset. The front gate closes at 4 pm. If you are on the Stronghold property after sunset, you have overstayed your welcome. Please park only in designated spaces, no roadside parking is allowed. Vehicles parked on the property after sunset will be towed at the owner’s expense.

Directional traffic control spikes have been installed to prevent vehicles from traveling the wrong way up the mountain exit road.  This change was made for the safety of our visitors and staff.  Please pay special attention to all associated warning signs. Security cameras have been installed in key locations on the Stronghold property.  Photos will be captured of all vehicles that enter the Stronghold property, including tag numbers.  If you witness any type of vandalism or otherwise criminal behavior on the Stronghold property, please report it to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Stronghold Incorporated.

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Fall is here and the colors around us are about to change. Whether it’s the taste of a warm pumpkin-flavored latte, the cool breeze of a crisp fall morning, weekends full of football, or the yellow glow of the sun on a tall birch tree, autumn is often a contender for MoCo residents’ favorite season (however short it may be). Many locals are looking forward to combining all the best parts of fall and enjoying the foliage outdoors, so we’ve put together a small list of 11 where you can enjoy the foliage across the county:

Agricultural Reserve: A drive through the rural areas that the 93,000 acre Agricultural Reserve encompasses, along with the larger rural communities of Damascus and Poolesville and small crossroad communities such as Beallsville, Sunshine and Dickerson, are sure to give you your fill of fall foliage.

Black Hill Regional Park (Boyds): With over 2,000 acres of land for outdoor recreation and family gatherings, you can enjoy spectacular views of the foliage and Little Seneca Lake.

Agricultural History Farm Park (Derwood): You can find fall changes beyond foliage at Agricultural History Farm Park. The fields are golden brown and ready for harvest. Dahlias are in bloom next door in the Montgomery County Master Naturalists’ gardens. And, there are glints of red on a maple tree.

Rock Creek Regional Park (Derwood): Lake Bernard Frank at Rock Creek Regional Park is a beautiful spot for quiet and solitude right now. Pack in a chair or find a log and take in the crisp air and seasonal scenery. Yellow leaves are saturated at sunset.

Seneca Creek State Park (Gaithersburg): Th3 6,300 acre park extends along 14 scenic miles of Seneca Creek, all the way to the Potomac River. Clopper Lake offers boating and fishing, as well as trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. A 16.5 mile hike down Seneca Creek Greenway Trail follows the entire course of the creek.

Cabin John Regional Park (Potomac): Look high and low on the trails near Locust Grove Nature Center at Cabin John Regional Park for autumn color.

Great Falls Park (Potomac): Foliage and the Potomac River? Count us in. You can catch a little of everything at Great Falls this time of year.

Maydale Conservation Park (Silver Spring): In the eastern part of Montgomery County, there are hints of fall. Dabs of yellow are beginning to show on trees around the pond at Maydale Conservation Park.

Sligo Creek Stream Valley Park (Silver Spring): Crunch your way along Sligo Creek Trail. The paved path is covered in brown and yellow leaves which collect and disperse with the wind. The canopy is punctuated with hints of yellow and orange.

Brookside Gardens (Wheaton): Montgomery County’s incomparable, award-winning 50-acre public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park has plenty of foliage for visitors to take in.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (Dickerson): While the mountain itself is in Frederick County, the vineyard is in Montgomery County with amazing views of the surrounding area (as seen in our featured photo). As of press time the mountain is closed to the public, but you can still enjoy the view nearby.

Featured photo courtesy of @dronifyDMV

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Sugarloaf Mountain, a Stronghold property, has been closed since an attempted break-in at the Strong Mansion on August 19th. Stronghold Inc., the non-profit that owns and operates the property for the public’s “enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty”, has posted the following message:

The Stronghold property will be closed to the public until further notice.  Stronghold Incorporated will be focused on providing for and reassessing the security needs for the entirety of the Stronghold property.  On Saturday August 19, 2023 an unidentified individual attempted to make entry into the Strong Mansion between the hours of 8:30 am and 10:30 am.  Physical evidence was collected at the scene, including a DNA sample. Security camera footage is being reviewed.  If anyone happened to see anything suspicious or has any information pertaining to this situation please contact Deputy Wheeler with the Frederick County Sheriff’s office at (301) 639-4866, reference case number 2023-090125.  We appreciate any information as well as your understanding and patience at this time.

Per SugarloafMD.com:  Stronghold, Incorporated is a non-profit corporation, organized in 1946 by the late Gordon Strong. It owns and operates the mountain property for the public’s “enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty.” Sugarloaf Mountain has been designated a Registered Natural Landmark because of its geological interest and striking beauty. Stronghold agreed to maintain its natural state, and your help in this regard will be a most welcome contribution.

Funds for maintenance and improvement do not come from federal, state, or municipal sources. They come from a modest trust fund, from membership dues, and from gifts and bequests of folks like you, who are interested in preserving this priceless heritage.

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Watch Issued for Western Maryland and Portions of Central Maryland; No Mandatory Water Use Restrictions in Place but Voluntary Reductions Encouraged

Per The Maryland Department of the Environment: The Maryland Department of the Environment is urging citizens and businesses in a large part of the state to voluntarily reduce their water usage as a drought watch has been issued. “Water conservation is a good practice year-round, but we are asking residents and businesses to pay particular attention during the summer months when the State can experience hot and dry conditions,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Serena McIlwain.

“You can do your part by limiting the use and duration of sprinklers for lawns, taking short showers as opposed to baths, and not leaving the faucet running while brushing your teeth. These things sound simple, but it all adds up.” A drought watch has been issued for Western Maryland and portions of Central Maryland based on lower-than-normal stream flows and groundwater levels for this time of year. During a drought watch, MDE increases oversight of water supply conditions and encourages voluntary water conservation practices. No mandatory water use restrictions have been issued.

The affected region includes Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Washington Counties, except for areas served by the Baltimore City or Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission  public water systems.

At this time, the State currently has enough water to meet the needs of residents and businesses, but water conservation measures are being encouraged to help avoid any future water shortages. Recent rainfall in the area is not expected to have a significant effect in reducing the precipitation deficit. Homeowners should consider water conservation measures listed in our fact sheet. Recommendations on conserving water for certain types of businesses, such as restaurants and commercial buildings, are also available.

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The Frederick County Council voted for the approval of the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan on Tuesday, passing the plan to preserve Sugarloaf Mountain and surrounding land, but pushed back a decision on development restrictions in the area to the council that will take office in December, following the November elections (according to a report by Jack Hogan of the Frederick News Post).

The Washington Post reports that the Frederick County Council rejected a last minute compromise, 4-3, that could lead to further conflict between county officials and the property owner. Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner expressed disapproval of the compromise at the meeting, while County Councilmember Kai Hagan, who proposed the compromis, referred to it as “an effort to advance the strongest plan we can get”.

For now, Sugarloaf Mountain Remains open to the public.

Because the overlay was not a part of the plan when the council voted on it, there is no reason to close the mountain, John Webster, president of the Stronghold Board of Trustees, said in a phone interview with the News-Post.

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The Frederick County Council unanimously voted to postpone its decision on a plan to preserve Sugarloaf Mountain and its surrounding area during its meeting on Tuesday, October 18th. The vote on the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan will now take place on October 25th.

Original report: Stronghold,  a non-profit corporation organized in 1946 by the late Gordon Strong, owns and operates the Sugarloaf mountain property “for the public’s enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty.” The Frederick County Council is scheduled to vote in today’s meeting (October 18th) on whether to approve the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan that includes standards for development in the plan area and prohibits certain uses, including carnivals, shooting ranges and landfills, per the Frederick News Post.

At last week’s Frederick County Council meeting, attorney Noel Manalo, representing Stronghold, said, “If the Sugarloaf plan as presented for public hearing on Oct. 11 passes, Stronghold will cease allowing general public access to Sugarloaf Mountain, a privately owned property, to allow Stronghold to evaluate the effects of the plan on its operations, but if modifications are made to the plan prior to final passage, Stronghold will reevaluate its decision.

According to the Frederick News Post article, Frederick County Councilman Phil Dacey, R, proposed that the council exempt Stronghold’s 3,400 acres from the overlay, which covers the entire 20,000-acre plan area. County Councilman Steve McKay, R, introduced an amendment to strike 45 acres of Stronghold’s land from the overlay district. The council voted 6-1 against Dacey’s amendment and 4-3 against McKay’s. The full plan can be seen here and the Frederick County Council is scheduled to vote on it in today’s meeting.

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10/19 Update: The Frederick County Council unanimously voted to postpone its decision on a plan to preserve Sugarloaf Mountain and its surrounding area during its meeting on Tuesday, October 18th. The vote on the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan will now take place on October 25th.

Stronghold,  a non-profit corporation organized in 1946 by the late Gordon Strong, owns and operates the Sugarloaf mountain property “for the public’s enjoyment and education in an appreciation of natural beauty.” The Frederick County Council is scheduled to vote in today’s meeting (October 18th) on whether to approve the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan that includes standards for development in the plan area and prohibits certain uses, including carnivals, shooting ranges and landfills, per the Frederick News Post.

At last week’s Frederick County Council meeting, attorney Noel Manalo, representing Stronghold, said, “If the Sugarloaf plan as presented for public hearing on Oct. 11 passes, Stronghold will cease allowing general public access to Sugarloaf Mountain, a privately owned property, to allow Stronghold to evaluate the effects of the plan on its operations, but if modifications are made to the plan prior to final passage, Stronghold will reevaluate its decision.

According to the Frederick News Post article, Frederick County Councilman Phil Dacey, R, proposed that the council exempt Stronghold’s 3,400 acres from the overlay, which covers the entire 20,000-acre plan area. County Councilman Steve McKay, R, introduced an amendment to strike 45 acres of Stronghold’s land from the overlay district. The council voted 6-1 against Dacey’s amendment and 4-3 against McKay’s. The full plan can be seen here and the Frederick County Council is scheduled to vote on it in today’s meeting.

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New Book Highlights the African-American Town of Sugarland

 

A new book that highlights upcounty history debuted this fall: I Have Started for Canaan: The Story of the African American Town of Sugarland.

 

Located five miles outside Poolesville, the town of Sugarland was founded immediately after emancipation by freed slaves from the surrounding community.

 

At its height, Sugarland boasted a church, a schoolhouse, a store, a post office, and a practice hall for the town band, and more than 40 families owned approximately 200 acres of land between them.

 

Today the historic 1894 church still stands, and the legacy of Sugarland is overseen by the nonprofit Sugarland Ethno-History Project, which is run entirely by descendants of Sugarland founders.

 

Nearly 150 years in the making, I Have Started for Canaan tells the story of Sugarland from emancipation to the present day.

 

The book draws on a wide range of primary sources, including church registers, land records, military documents, family trees, artifacts, oral histories, and photographs.

 

As far as we’ve been able to determine, the book is the first full-length history of a Reconstruction-era African American town not just in Montgomery County, but anywhere in Maryland.

 

The book production team consisted of Gwendora Hebron Reese, the president of the Sugarland Ethno-History Project; vice president Suzanne Johnson; and writer Jeff Sypeck.

 

Gwen and Suzanne are direct descendants of Sugarland founders, and between them they’ve spent decades collecting, preserving, and researching Sugarland history.

 

In early 2019, when they decided to turn their vast collection into a book to share the Sugarland story with the world, they invited Sypeck to join them.

 

Author Jeff Sypeck is not a Sugarland descendant or African American, but does have a background in writing about history, and tells us he was honored to help bring their years of work the last mile of the way.

 

The book sells for $20, and all proceeds go to the Sugarland Ethno-History Project for upkeep of their historic property and future maintenance, construction, and educational projects.

 

The book is being sold by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance online during the pandemic, and copies can be ordered at their website: http://www.mocoalliance.org/buy-mca-gear.html
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White’s Ferry, the Last Remaining Ferry in Montgomery County

White’s Ferry is a cable ferry service along the Potomac River in the town of Poolesville.

The Ferry runs from the Maryland side of the Potomac River near Poolesville to the Virginia side in Leesburg, Virginia.

White’s Ferry has been in operation since the year 1782, and today it is open Year Round from 5 A.M. to 11 P.M.

The first known ferry operation at the location was Conrad’s Ferry (known as Coonrod’s Ferry by the locals), and after the Civil War the ferry operation was purchased by former Confederate Officer Elijah V. White.

The cost for a one-way trip across the Potomac River to Virginia is $5.00 for a Car, $2.00 for a Bicyclist, and $1.00 for a Pedestrian. The whole process takes approximately ten minutes.

We also hear that White’s Ferry Grill has one of the best burgers in Maryland, in case you’re hungry before or after your ride.

By Tom Merritt

10/1 Update: ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE CORRECT PRICE OF $5 PER CAR

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The Comus Inn Soft Opens on Wednesday, 10/28

UPDATED TO REFLECT OPENING DATE

Back in January we let you know that the Comus Inn at Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson was temporarily closed after being purchased by new owners.

They have made some major changes, transforming the Inn into a beer garden that’ll allow you to sip on local beers while enjoying food from their new menu, which was created by Chef Sammy D.

Sammy D was brought on to be the culinary director at the Comus Inn and is coming off of a successful run at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The menu will focus on local, seasonal ingredients, and will feature “something for everyone” (we’ve heard great things about their burgers).

They’ve also brought in pastry chef Brandi Edinger, who has one first place in multiple dessert competitions across the east coast, and executive Sous chef Scott Hines.

The Comus Inn dates back to 1862 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Looking out to Sugarloaf Mountain, the barn photographed below stands as a reminder of the property’s history and charm.

 

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