Harford County opens The Grove as new agribusiness incubator
STREET, Md. — Harford County recently announced the opening of a new agribusiness incubator, the most recent in a series of infrastructural projects aimed at the county’s farming community.
The Grove, which opens with a limited series of events this fall at 3525 Conowingo Road, is designed to help local small farms and agribusinesses serve niche markets without the pricey commitment of a storefront lease, County Executive Barry Glassman said.
“We thought about creating a concept where they can basically rent a stall and use it to launch their business and test out new products and stuff in an inexpensive manner,” he said.
The Grove is similar to a farmers’ market, but farmers and business owners can rent a stall for the rock-bottom price of $100 per month and set their own hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Its amenities include 16 stalls — 16 feet by 12 feet, 8 indoors and 8 outdoors — water service, electrical outlets, 24-hour camera surveillance, security cards and custodial services for the Grove’s common area. Coincidentally, it’s also coronavirus-friendly with large stall doors, high ceilings and giant fans that make for a well-ventilated space.
The $1 million facility, built with county tax dollars, is completely rented now, Glassman said. Among the vendors: a cupcake maker, a woodworker, a farm brewery and a meat distributor. He expects it to be a popular hangout for food trucks and Christmas tree sellers.
Due to the pandemic, the county has limited the opening to three events: a Halloween “Trick-or-Treat” event on Oct. 24, a Harvest Festival on Nov. 21 and a “Winter Wonderland” on Dec. 5. The county expects the incubator to become a full-time, 7-day-a-week destination for consumers next year while it completes the rest of the 86-acre facility, including ag-themed trails, a playground and a new Darlington Library, said Cindy Mumby, county spokesperson.
“Our plan is to sort of introduce the grove to the community through these events,” she said. “This is the launching pad.”
Last year, the county debuted an interactive, online map to help consumers find local farms selling retail to customers. In 2018, the county opened an agricultural center on the same site as the Grove that consolidated several local farm agencies, including the University of Maryland Extension and the county Farm Bureau, in one building. The relocated, historic Joesting Gorsuch House, which dates back to the 1700s and is one of the county’s oldest structures, is also on the same site.
Glassman, who joked he’s a “recovering sheep farmer”, said he’s looking forward to the entire block becoming a vibrant center for the county’s farmers and consumers.
“Farmers need these other outlets in order to survive, and as their operations become smaller they really need to be able to sell kind of a special product,” he said.
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