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New Products Are Brewing on Baltimore County Farms

  Some Baltimore County farmers are looking to do something besides grow the traditional corn, wheat and soybeans. They’re thinking about beer, hard cider and medical marijuana. And the Baltimore County Council is making it easier for them to do that.

Take Millstone Cellars, for example. The company has about 500 oak barrels filled with fermenting apple juice-- on its way to becoming hard cider--stored in an old industrial park in Cockeysville.

Curt Sherrer, part owner of the three year old company, says they’ve gone from producing 1,500 gallons of cider to about 35,000 gallons this year. And they would like to double that. But Sherrer says they need more space than they have in Cockeysville and the small mill the company owns in Monkton. And it would be ideal to have a place more picturesque than a gray, nondescript industrial park.

He says he’s found the perfect spot, an old paper mill in White Hall in Northern Baltimore County that’s occupied by a construction company for the moment.

Sherrer says the paper mill's neighbors tell him they "would like all of those dump trucks gone and for you to plant apple trees and to have a place where we could drop in and have pizza and a glass of cider."

But there was a problem. County zoning would not allow them to make cider in the old mill. So the Baltimore County Council changed the regulations. Now Millstone will buy the property and move its cider operations there.

This followed recent votes to allow farm breweries and to let farmers in north county grow medical marijuana. Councilman Wade Kach, who represents the area, says times are changing.

"Farming’s a business," Kach says. "And we must make sure that our farmers have every tool in the book to be successful businessmen."

Kach says he knows of three people in Baltimore County who are interested in growing medicinal marijuana. But he expects the state to grant, at most, one growing license in the county. He adds any growing facility would be indoors and have to be secure.

A couple of people now want to start farm breweries. They will grow the hops that go into the beer they make.

Attorney Abraham Hurdle represents one of those people. Hurdle says now that farm breweries are legal in Baltimore County, his client plans to open one next year a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border, near Interstate 83.

"This law in particular has no drawbacks to anybody," Hurdle says. "It preserves farmland, helps agriculture, creates a new source of revenue for Baltimore County."

DaraiusIrani, Chief Economist for The Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, says if the farmer can own beer from ground to glass, he can potentially make more money.

"That glass of beer costing $3.50, $4.50, is really a huge amount of dollar value that the farmer gets in return basically for what they’ve grown," Irani says.

And it’s not just beer, cider and pot. Ian Mansfield, cellar master at Millstone says he’s seeing more people getting into growing other native plants, like herbs, vegetables and flowers.

"To be able to create food products, drinking products, hair products, care products," Mansfield says. "And a lot of people don’t understand that everything you see today probably originated from a plant."

Councilman Kach says he plans to launch a study of agri-tourism, to make sure the county strikes a balance between farmers expanding their businesses and keeping northern Baltimore County rural.

"And the last thing that I want to see is our roads widened and improved because once you do that you have put the rural character of the northern county in jeopardy," Kach says.

But there is one sticking point, he cautions. Will farmers be allowed to rent out their barns for blow-out events like wedding receptions?