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A golden anniversary, opportunity (Editorial)

by | Feb 14, 2020

Fifty years ago this week, the Maryland Agriculture Dinner began.
In 1970, Maryland Agricultural Commission Executive Secretary Ronald Johnson told The (Hagerstown) Daily Mail, “Only Maryland grown agricultural products are on the menu, which we hope will be one of the most exclusive, and delicious, buffets ever served to the governor and legislators.”
The inaugural event was held on Feb. 19, 1970 in the Clubhouse Ballroom at the Marlboro Fairgrounds in Upper Marlboro.
Gov. Marvin Mandel attended, reportedly with more than 100 members of the General Assembly.
The event quickly became a fixture for both farmers and lawmakers.
In 1980, The (Baltimore) Sun reported that, “Legislator after legislator in the crowd of nearly 1,000 people who journeyed to Martin’s West in Baltimore to partake of the bounteous fare provided by the state agriculture industry said the dinner is the one affair of the hundreds put on by lobbyists each session that the politicians make it a point not to miss.”
It was reported that more than 90 percent of Maryland’s 188-member General Assembly attended the 1980 dinner.
Five decades after its inception, the Taste of Maryland Agriculture, as it is now called, remains popular.
This year’s golden anniversary event on Feb. 6 drew more than 800 people from across the state and all sectors of agriculture.
Roughly a quarter to a third of the General Assembly has attended in recent years, which is still a significant turn out, considering the dozens of other events vying for legislators’ attention.
And while the dinner is one of the more exclusive and delicious buffets of what the state’s farmers produce, the food enhances the venue but is secondary to the Maryland Agriculture Council’s mission.
The purpose of the event, as it was in 1970, is to bring the agriculture industry and legislators together.
The Taste of Maryland Agriculture is about celebrating the achievements in the industry and connecting on timely issues.
Since 1970, Maryland’s population has increased from 3.9 million people to just over 6 million people.
During the same period, the number of farms in the state has declined by nearly 30 percent from 17,181 farms in 1969 to 12,429 farms in 2017.
Though the number of Maryland farms has decreased, the industry’s influence has not.
At the golden anniversary event last week, Gov. Larry Hogan said that Maryland’s “thriving agriculture industry does not go unnoticed.”
It is events like the Taste of Maryland Agriculture that help keep the industry visible.
Quantifying the impact of the event is likely impossible.
There’s no tally of how many introductions and conversations have lead to a productive relationship that translated into sponsoring a bill that helps agriculture or terminating one that doesn’t.
It’s value — just like that of the annual Delaware Agriculture Industry Dinner and the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Legislative Banquet — is in its existence, the opportunity to make those needed connections.
Likewise, the impact of not having it would also be hard to measure but it would cost the state’s farming industry greatly.

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