MAEF celebrates its 25th anniversary

Managing Editor

HAVRE de GRACE, Md. (June 24, 2014) — Using the occasion of its 25th anniversary to reflect on how far it’s come, the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation also set sights on a new goal for replacing its agricultural showcase trailer.
About 150 farmers and leaders in the Maryland ag industry gathered at Swan Harbor Farm on June 14 to reminisce and celebrate MAEF at the quarter-century mark.
From humble beginnings, the foundation has developed programs and educational exhibits to reach about 178,000 people each year.
It runs the state’s Ag in the Classroom program, mobile science labs, trainings for teachers and coordinates events in the Maryland FFA Association. MAEF was established in 1989, stemming from a Governor’s Commission on Agricultural Education recommendation for an independent organization to educate Marylanders about the important role agriculture plays in their lives.
Through the years, noted projects aimed at educating the public on agriculture include the “Take Me Out to the Cornfield” video, Maryland commodities map, the agriculture showcase from 2002 to the present and the creation of the Ag Tag license plate in 2000.
At the celebration, longtime MAEF board members and employees shared memories of the early years of the foundation.
Richard Price, a founding member of the foundation, told of meeting John Fisher, then CEO of Nationwide Insurance through Henry Holloway, a Harford County ag businessman and then Nationwide board member. The meeting resulted in a $50,000 gift from Nationwide to get the foundation operational, Price said, adding the support from agribusiness is still important.
“The same need is here today,” Price said. “It’s not just the individual farmers who should give to the foundation, we need to talk to others in the industry.”
Price, Ron Seibel and Martha Clark were the only founding members who remained on the board for MAEF’s first 25 years.
“I will never lose the interest in the foundation and the motives behind it,” Price told the crowd.
Steve Connelly, MAEF’s first full-time executive director, spoke of operating under tight budgets and battling snakes while they worked for a short time out of a Howard County farmhouse, but also recalled building up the mobile classroom program and working to get a bill for the Ag Tag passed through the state legislature, giving the foundation more funding.
“It was a great time to work for MAEF,” Connelly said. “I’m proud of where MAEF is today.”
MAEF’s longtime office manager and “resident expert in institutional knowledge,” Bonnie Werner shared memories of first working for the foundation out of the Southern States office in Locust Point then too Howard County and now in the long-term home in the Senator William H. Amoss Agriculture Center at Swan Harbor Farm.
“It was like watching an egg hatch,” Werner said. “It’s been fun at MAEF. It’s just been a really good ride.”
Looking toward the future, John Sullivan, MAEF president, announced the kick off of the capital campaign to land a new agriculture showcase trailer. With a price tag of about $300,000, the new showcase would have slide outs for more display area and use the latest technology for interactive learning.
“When the showcase is at fairs and shows, we want children to come running to it and leave knowing they have the best in agricultural knowledge,” Sullivan said.
The foundation has raised $124,000 so far, including a $36,000 gift from the Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association that was matched at the event by the Baltimore County Farm Bureau. Sullivan said the foundation hopes to unveil the showcase in the fall of 2015.