Calvert County Rural Lands Forum Draws Enthusiastic Crowd
It was a rainy and chilly on the evening of March 28th, but residents filled the seats of Calvert High School Cafeteria to learn about the importance of Calvert’s rural landscapes, the status of land preservation, and to discuss next steps.
Key points from the speakers:
Jason Leavitt, President of the Calvert County Farm Bureau spoke of “the Return, Re-Focus and Revitalization of CalvertCounty Agriculture” and the growth of operations of the next generation of farmers. He noted that there is an interesting thread that ties this list together. Most, if not all of these farms are preserved in either the County Agricultural Preservation Program, or one of the State Preservation Programs, or a combination of the two. It begs the question as to whether the opportunity for the next generation to return to the farm would even exist if the properties were not preserved.
This is an exciting time to be a part of our agricultural community. He added that “Our survival and successes are predicated on the fact that elected officials are cognizant of the viability of our local agricultural businesses in conjunction with the important role that preservation programs provide.” Between 2007 and 2012, there was a 90% increase in direct sales of local food in Calvert County according to the US Census of Agriculture and a 6,000 acre increase in acreage over the same period.
According to a BEACON report (University of Salisbury), the Agriculture sector in Calvert County produced a total economic impact of $15.7 million dollars in 2015, nearly double that found in 2008.
Amber DeMarr, Aquaculture Manager for PEARL at Morgan State said that oysters harvested since 1950 had been on a long downward trend. However, oyster aquaculture is the fastest growing seafood industry, an overall 1,019% increase in production since 2012. She explained that year round oyster harvests are permitted when triploid oysters are planted, so there is no more “R” month rule! Finally, she observed that there is better control of the final product, it is more labor intensive, there is a higher dollar value for water column produced oysters, and an oyster in the water is an oyster filtering water! According to a BEACON report (University of Salisbury), the fishery sector in Calvert County produced a total economic impact of $1.4 million dollars in 2015.
Joyce Baki, a Director of Calvert Nature Society, said that tourism is a vital part of a sustainable future for Calvert County, with all of its eco-tourism, agri-tourism, and heritage sites scattered throughout its rural lands. She stated that “Calvert County with its many open spaces and nature parks offers possibilities to visitors that would like to hike, canoe, kayak, and do nature walks” This type of tourism, known as “eco-tourism”, unites conservation, communities and sustainable travel. In addition, Calvert County also offers boating, sailing, fishing and water sports. Calvert County has one of the largest charter fishing fleets in the state.
Next, agri-tourism has grown in popularity. Agri-tourism includes farm stands, U-pick opportunities, farm tours, festivals, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, barn weddings, wineries and breweries. She said “new buzz words in tourism include ‘farm to table’ and ‘Bay to table’ giving opportunities to farmers and watermen to work with local restaurants to bring fresh foods to the table.
Finally, she said that heritage tourism is “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes cultural, historic, and natural resources.” Being one of the oldest counties in the country, Calvert has a plethora of historic buildings and rural landscapes that draw visitors. All together, tourism added $151 million to Calvert’s economy in 2017, according to the Calvert County Department of Economic Development.
Anne Sundermann, Executive Director of the Calvert Nature Society, pointed out that access to rural lands not only create jobs and income, they make us healthier. “At Calvert Nature Society, we represent families and individuals who are seeking to take advantage of all that nature has to offer, including a chance to re-charge, and in some cases, create a better “health” environment for their themselves and their families.” And there is need for improvement. She noted that “obesity is a $190 BILLION/year health epidemic that heightens the risk for heart disease, diabetes and various cancers.” In Calvert County, more than 30 percent of adults and 20 percent of school aged children were found to be obese, according to a recent health survey. She said that “The closer we are to green space, the better the chance that we will take advantage and receive the benefits to our physical, mental and developmental health.”
Chris Banks is the President of the Calvert County Historical Society. She began by reminiscing how as a child she came to learn about and care for history and cultural landscapes, even though she wouldn’t have used those terms at the time. She said that “Calvert has a rich cultural heritage here amid the forests, fields, creeks, rivers and Bay. It is where Captain John Smith explored between 1607 and 1609, where Puritans arrived in 1652 and established communities. Where skirmishes during the War of 1812 happened in St. Leonard Creek. Where Military housing and training grounds were established in Solomons to prepare soldiers for the invasion of Normandy in WWII.”
Calvert’s rural lands have provided a cultural heritage today that includes beautiful historic houses, tobacco barns, cornfields, oystering industries, churches, lighthouses, one room school houses, vernacular architecture, to name a few places of interest. These matter for their tourism value and they also matter for us as residents of the county so that we can understand where we came from . . .how we got here.
All together, Calvert’s resourced based industries (e.g. farming, fisheries, and forestry) and supporting businesses generate over $100 million, not counting the dollars generated from eco-tourism, agri-tourism, and heritage tourism. In addition, Calvert’s farm fields, forests, meadows, and marshes provide $228 million annually in ecosystem services, such as stormwater management, nutrient management, air pollution attenuation, and wildlife habitat critical for hunters, animal watchers, and the wildlife itself. These ecosystem services are greatly diminished as properties are developed.
- there is a moratorium on new agricultural preservation districts, so land owners and land trusts cannot use county programs to protect new lands.
- the Board of County Commissioners had created a fund for land preservation in 1999. That money was pulled into the general fund in 2010 and has not been fully returned into the land preservation program since, for a total loss of over $9 million in new funding needed for land preservation.
- In 2018, there is no new application for Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program, a highly effective tool for county land preservation.
He concluded with the Sustainable Calvert Network’s recommendations for revitalizing the Land Preservation Program:
- Create a strong implementation plan for the County Comprehensive Plan.
- Retain the goal of protecting 40,000 acres.
- Begin paying $4,700 per acre county purchased development rights. Each year, add another 3% to the value of TDRs.
- Begin using $1.5 million again from the recordation tax for land preservation.
- Add another $1 million per year from the general fund, as Calvert has done previously
- Add another $1 million per year to make up for the $9 million that was diverted to the general fund and use that money to match the state land preservation programs. That will double the value of our money and protect new lands at a faster rate.
The monies mentioned above represent approximately one percent of the County budget. He calls it the one percent solution. With 1% of the budget, the county could reach the 40,000 acre land preservation goal by 2040. It would cost even less if the county could revitalize the transferable development rights program.