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Digital Maryland

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A selection of photographs that documents the history of dairy farms in Montgomery County, many of which no longer exist.

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Collection Location: Richard Rowe Collection

Dairy Farm in Damascus

Collection Overview: Farming was the primary industry in Montgomery County until WWII. The primary crop for the early settlers was tobacco, but by 1830 the soil was depleted and they had earned the nickname "Sahara of Maryland". In 1944, Edward Stabler began to experiment with Peruvian guano in Sandy Spring. The resulting soil rehabilitation led farmers to switch to grains and livestock, including raising their own feed. Although refrigeration had been around since 1810, it was the completion of the B & O Metropolitan Branch that really gave a boost to dairy farms in Montgomery County, so much so, that it was known as the "milk train". This line made it possible for farmers to bring milk into their local rail station for fast delivery to Washington, D.C. After that, tanker trucks would pick up the milk at the farms. At one point in the 1950s, there were over 300 family-operated dairy farms in Montgomery County.

The second half of the 20th century saw a rapid decline in Montgomery County farms due to development pressures, ever increasing government health regulations, and a Federal Government Whole Herd Buy-out Program via the Dairy Termination Program (DTP). Families could make more money selling their land to developers or selling their herds than they could make farming. Although the county has been making efforts to limit development and to preserve farmland via its Agricultural Reserve, Montgomery County dairy farms continue to disappear. In 2017, the number of operating dairy farms in the county fell to four. To help preserve the history of dairy farms in Montgomery County, Richard Rowe has been photographing them and displaying the images at the King Barn Dairy MOOseum in Germantown, Maryland. Many of the farm structures he has captured no longer exist.

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