A 13-year-old’s pursuit to make the persimmon the state fruit

March 20, 2024

The Baltimore Banner

The persimmon could become the State fruit of Maryland.

The persimmon could become the state fruit of Maryland. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

The inspiration and advocacy of a 13-year-old from Charles County may mean Maryland soon has a state fruit.

The American persimmon still has a chance to become the latest state symbol after a bill just beat a Monday deadline to pass the Senate.

Eighth grader Ada Marciniak was happy to hear that the bill she inspired had reached a significant milestone. Watching the bill move through the General Assembly has been “a pretty amazing learning experience,” she said.

It’s now up to the House of Delegates to decide whether it becomes official.

Marciniak said she’d be disappointed if the fruit doesn’t join the Baltimore oriole and the white oak, commemorated in law, but questioned that possibility.

“Really what’s the reason for not having the American persimmon as Maryland’s state fruit?” she said.

Ada Marciniak, 13, gives testimony before a Senate committee on Friday, March 8, 2024. Also pictured: Sen. Arthur Ellis, a Charles County Democrat; Rachel Jones, director of government relations for the Maryland Department of Agriculture; Josephine Marciniak, 10; and Port Tobacco Village Commission President Andrzej Marciniak. (Brenda Wintrode)

Marciniak, her younger sister Josephine Marciniak, 10, and their father, Port Tobacco’s top government official, Andrzej Marciniak, came to Annapolis earlier this month to testify in favor of the bill that has become part civics lesson and part family passion project.

As the teen spoke, she made sure members of the committee knew they were hearing straight from the source.

”The idea of having a persimmon as Maryland’s official state fruit originated with me,” she said.

This lack of honorary produce stuck with her. Until one day she had a eureka moment while picking persimmons in her grandmother’s backyard. The fruit that has made special memories and delicious desserts for her family could possibly fill the void.

Making her case, she tied the state’s history and its economic potential to the sweet, crunchy fruit.

The native variety had been used by Maryland’s indigenous cultures, and having a state fruit could promote culinary tourism and state pride, she told them. Polling she’d conducted among family and friends revealed overwhelming support.

“Some of them have provided written testimony already,” she said.

“Let me also say this bill is budget neutral,” she said, perhaps welcome news for lawmakers who had learned just one day prior that Maryland is facing a growing gap between revenue and expenses over the next two years.

Not only did the girls have the support of their family and friends, but of Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks, who sent his director of government relations to speak on behalf of the bill.

Atticks is a “huge fan of the persimmon and of this bill,” Rachel Jones told the committee. Should senators pick the fruit to represent the state, Jones said local agricultural industries could see an economic boost if the bill’s passage sparks an increased demand for persimmons.

The youngest Marciniak, Josephine, said after the hearing that she did get a little nervous speaking in support of the bill because there were “a lot of important people” listening to what she had to say.

Past state symbol bills

Bills like this one can take a few years before it lands on the governor’s desk, something Sen. Stephen Hershey said he understands.

Last year, the Eastern Shore Republican passed a bill designating Maryland rye whiskey as the state spirit. But it took a few tries before it became law.

He said it’s always nice to work on a “fun” bill such as his state spirit law after working on weightier policy issues, and especially one that could boost Maryland rye distilleries.

Along with a host of his colleagues, Sen. James Rosapepe made Smith Island cake a state symbol and walking the state exercise. The Democrat who represents Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties said the designations can benefit state morale and tourism.

Ada Marciniak, 13, pictured in the tree, and her sister Josephine Marciniak, 10, standing on the ground, pick persimmons from their grandmother’s tree in Indian Head, Maryland, in Charles County. (Courtesy of Andrzej Marciniak)

Lessons beyond the legislature

For the Marciniak family, Ada is still surprised that what started as a family conversation could possibly become a state law. But she credits her father with making it happen. Marciniak was the one who shared his daughter’s thought with Sen. Arthur Ellis.

The Charles County Democrat is an avid organic farmer and has a property flourishing with fruit trees, including persimmons. Gardening has become a therapeutic outlet for him, he told his colleagues while introducing the bill in the Education, Energy and the Environment Committee.

The senator said he was “very impressed” with his young constituents and how prepared they were. He said they represented their teachers and parents well.

Montgomery County Sen. Cheryl Kagan was impressed, too.

“I loved their interest in engaging in democracy and their confidence,” she said. “Either one of them could run for office one day.”

The bill has been a civics lesson, but also a political one. During the Senate debate it became clear the persimmon needs to boost its name recognition.

Six senators voted against the bill, and some questioned whether the fruit is well-known enough for such an honor.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican representing Harford and Baltimore counties, said he spent the weekend asking people about the persimmon.

“Some people thought it was a tea,” Jennings said.

The state’s other official symbols, such as the black-eyed Susan or the Chesapeake Bay retriever, are “iconically Maryland” in a way that the persimmon is not, he argued.

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier countered that the designation will help boost the profile of the persimmon. And besides, she noted it was important to Ellis, the bill’s sponsor.

“You could have festivals and everything,” the Baltimore County Democrat said. “I think that’s really a good thing.”

Before the Senate vote, Klausmeier recommended a little more retail politicking from Ellis to get the bill across the finish line.

“People have never seen them, so maybe sometime in the next week or so, you can bring us some persimmons?”