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Custom may be put to pasture
With owner ailing, farm's hayrides, visits could be at an end
By Laura Cadiz
Sun Staff (State of Maryland)
Originally published October 22, 2001
At Cider Mill Farm - nestled in a suburban setting on 59 acres - a cow calmly allows children to pull on its udder, goats stand on their hind legs and beg for food from passers-by, and the staff brews thousands of gallons of fresh apple cider.
Many area families have made the farm in Elkridge part of their fall tradition - buying pumpkins, apples or Indian corn and taking hayrides around the farm.
But the future of the 85-year-old farm is in doubt. The owner, Tom Owens, 73, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage last year and is in a nursing home, said Cheryl Nodar, the farm's general manager. The family told her to proceed with this season, but it is unclear what will happen after this year, she said.
"It's definitely very uncertain," Nodar said. "But I'll still hope for the best."
The land in eastern Howard County is highly sought. The farm staff has handled regular calls from developers asking about its future, and the inquiries increased once Owens' health problems were known.
"I would love to see the county step in and do something," said Nodar, who has worked at Cider Mill for 11 years.
Two of Owens' relatives said the high taxes on the estate also are a factor in the farm's future, but they declined to elaborate.
This is Cider Mill's busiest time of year - 12,000 to 15,000 children visit during the fall, with about 500 daily in October. From September through November, the farm makes 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of apple cider and at least 5,000 pies - with the staff rolling crust and peeling, slicing and coring apples in a team effort.
Nodar estimates the farm sells about 1,000 pies for Thanksgiving alone. "I think half of the Howard County pies come from the Cider Mill," Nodar said.
Cider Mill's petting farm is home to at least 150 animals, including goats, pigs, ducks, donkeys and turkeys. One animal is a celebrity - Billy, a goat, starred in a commercial last year for the Army-Navy football game.
"It was very amusing to see my goat make the big time," Nodar said.
Amid the cute animals begging for attention and food - the public can feed the goats and sheep - Nodar also tries to make the farm experience educational to help fill a void for many urban children. During tours, children are taught about farm animals, how cider is made and about the daily life of Pilgrims.
"So many kids who come here don't know anything - I mean nothing - about farming," Nodar said. "They don't know anything about chickens other than Chicken McNuggets from McDonald's."
In one of the more hands-on parts of the farm, children can milk - usually with one squeeze - cows named Lady and Betsy. Many of the children usually balk at this point of the tour, seeking encouragement from their parents.
Eight-year-old Emily Schellin of Catonsville said she "kind of liked the cow" but was unsure how she felt about getting licked by it.
"It had a rough tongue" she said. "It felt like a cat's" tongue.
Nodar is afraid those educational experiences will be lost if the farm, which employs more than 55 people during the fall, has to close. She said not many farms in the area allow children such a close look at animals and agriculture at the price Cider Mill offers - $1.50 to walk through the petting farm.
"I see it as a real service, something the kids need more exposure to," Nodar said. "I'd hate to see it go."
Julie Schellin, Emily's mother, said she was impressed with the petting farm and that it would be "terrible" if the farm shut down.
"This is probably one of the biggest farms closest to our home," she said.
Tracy Cribbin of Ellicott City echoed Schellin's sentiments. She has been going to the farm faithfully for the past three years. This year her 1-year-old daughter, Aine, joined her.
"She would be here all day if she could - she loves the feeding," Cribbin said, as her daughter picked up a handful of goat food and dumped it on the ground, outside the goat pen.
"We look forward to it every year," she said. "It'd be a shame for the kids to not have a nice place to go to every year."
Cider Mill Farm is at 5012 Landing Road. Information: 410- 788- 9595.
Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun
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