Urban Development Threatens Area Farms

By Kip Dooley and Orion Donovan-Smith

September 18 at 11:00 a.m.

LOTHIAN, M.D. — As growth in the Washington metro area spills out into rural areas, farmers in Anne Arundel County say their lifestyle and livelihoods are at risk.

Farmers say an influx of new homebuyers looking to escape the city for a rural lifestyle has brought a series of changes that could push them off the land their families have farmed for generations.

Kayla Griffith, who works about 600 acres with her parents in the town of Lothian, said increased traffic, crop damage from migrating deer populations, and rising land prices have put pressure on an already-fragile economic model.

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Kayla Griffith, of Lothian, MD

“People move here because they want to be in a rural area,” she said, “but we can’t sustain ourselves so the rural area is just gonna go away.”

The most immediate danger is reckless driving on the area’s narrow, winding roads, Griffith said. Her once-sleepy two-lane country road now buzzes with commuters going to and from Annapolis and Washington.

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Anne Arundel County sits squarely between Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis, making it an ideal place for urban commuters looking for homes in quieter areas.

Jerrett Collinson, a distant cousin of Griffith who raises cattle and grows soybeans in nearby Harwood, said impatient drivers have made daily farm work more dangerous.  While driving his combine tractor recently, a driver suddenly passed him without checking for oncoming cars. The driver narrowly missed a head-on collision right in front of Collinson by swerving onto the opposite shoulder.

He said rural drivers expect to slow up for farm equipment. It’s a simple matter of neighborly respect. Urban drivers, he said, could care less. “Pretty much every time we take the tractor down the road somebody flips us off, yells out the window, cussing at us,” he said, as his brother Johnathon nodded. 

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Jerrett Collinson with his son Oliver, brother Johnathon, and sister in-law Brittany

Brittany Collinson, Johnathan’s wife, raises horses in the area, and said a friend’s horse trailer was recently clipped by a passing vehicle. 

“Every time I take the horses out,” she said, “I’m thinking, ‘Is this gonna be the day that I get hit?’”

Development is threatening their crop yields, too. “The more houses go up, the less fields there are,” said Jerrett Collinson, which pushes deer populations onto farms where they feast on cash crops. 

“I know other farmers in the region who have lost tens of thousands of dollars to their fresh produce,” Griffith added. “We lose just as much in corn and soybeans.”

And, as low-income families in urban areas well know, with development comes rising property values.

Griffith said many farmers have left for Maryland’s Eastern Shore — or even moved to Iowa. “They want to keep the same way of life and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that here,” she said. “We might be the last generation of actual farmers in this area.”

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