Eat the Farm
Oct 20, 2014 11:34AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
By Gail Greco
Photography by Tom Bagley
“Plunk, snap,” downloads the toaster, doing the bread work for me so that I can turn away and make the coffee. Five minutes ago there was a whirring handful of ‘Rise-Up’ beans that I transferred, now freshly ground, to the bottom of a glass carafe so I could bring the hot water from the tea kettle, screaming, “Wake up girl, I’m reaching the boiling point…!” to the French press. Plunge and presto, after just four more minutes on the timer, possibly the best coffee anywhere is brewed before my eyes right here on the Eastern Shore.
Hunks of bacon sizzle in the pan, thanks to Berkshire pigs, who roam nearby woodlands at Cabin Creek Heritage Farm in Upper Marlboro. The strips are thick with the sweet natural taste of the meat; little fat. Farmer Lori Hill sells her pork loins and chops, artisanal charcuterie, and fresh sausage, plus poultry products from whole chickens to eggs at area farm markets.
Smartphone nearby, I touch-screen a two-minute count-down, and pour Nice Farm’s cream-line whole milk (you have to shake the jug) into a waiting mug and take a first lick of coffee. I gently spoon two freshly laid eggs from Carol Bean’s heritage brood at Pot Pie Farm in Wittman into a pan of water to simmer quietly amidst the early-morning rush of preparing breakfast from scratch.
Carol manages the St. Michaels Producer-Only Farm Market, ringing a handbell to kickoff the trading every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. It’s a quaint part of what shopping direct from the farmer creates: health, well-being, and good spirits, too, as shoppers chat, swap foodie ideas, and make new friends while they wait and exchange cash for a bounty of great nutrition. I’m like Carol in one way—a born-again foodie for some 20 years now, seeking healthy eating. Although it’s more work for me, to heck with the rest of the day’s schedule. But, of course, Carol raises and grows the healthy food all week and I just have to pick it out and pay for it on market day.
Our family priority is eating our way through the day—every day—with only what is produced locally. It’s something you can do year round in our part of the Chesapeake, making our food supply one of the most significant on the East Coast and one of the most important reasons to live here, experts say.
“Click, pop” jumps the toaster, uploading bronzed slices of Doug Rae’s Evergrain Bread, still yeasty with the baker’s mark from across my shoreline. “Scrape, crackle,” sounds the toast as my family heirloom spreader (this butter deserves nothing less), is shimmied into every crevice of the hand-sliced multigrain I went 40 miles to buy at the Chestertown bakery, and 25 miles in a different direction to Federalsburg for the butter.
Simple Abundance and the Easy Miles to Well Being
The rewards of taking the road less traveled even if long on distance are better health, a fountain-of-youth, and a blissful self-indulgent way to cook with vibrant food that’s a joy to work with, not just eat.
So I’m in, and if you live here you can be too, eating everything fresh from A for Asian pears and asparagus—to C for carrots, cabbage, and collards, F for figs, K for kohlrabi, lima beans, to micro greens, melons, peaches, snap peas, even juiced stone fruits and watermelons for your 5 o’clock cocktails or after-school snack smoothies for the kids, and fresh-churned ice cream for everyone—right through to the letter Z for zucchini.
At the farm markets the variety is wide enough. I also buy handmade bread from Magnolia Breads of Sudlersville that grows Eastern Red Winter Wheat on the farm that’s been in the family since the 1760s—can’t get any more local than that. Bonaparte Breads from Savage Mill also sells baguettes, boules, rolls, and croissants at local markets if you don’t mind waiting in a long line. I’m not the only one who does what it takes to eat real food. “You become obsessed by taste and when you have the opportunity to buy such good food, I don’t mind the wait,” says St. Michaels Farm Market enthusiast David Leavitt.
The butter I’m smoothing over my bread is from Nice Farm Creamery, and it’s worth its weight in gold to travel for the half-pound bricks. Pasture-fed cows produce the sweet and earthy flavor that sweetens baked goods, allows sautéed veggies to caramelize, and turns food gourmet, like pasta served just with the butter, mushrooms, and maybe some broccoli, all local of course.
For us, the drive to the farm, passing open fields of waving sunflowers and old picturesque barns is a pilgrimage to relish the area’s simple abundance. A long way to go for butter—but this isn’t just any butter. This butter is symbolic, at the core of what is available fresh locally, proving how if you live in the Chesapeake region, you almost never have to open a box of something.
“I don’t know when such agricultural growth—because of the desire to buy and eat local food [USDA’s definition is within 150 miles]—has been as passionate as it is now in our region,” says Shannon Dill, agricultural educator at the Talbot County University of Maryland Extension. “Consumers are wanting to eat close to the food source and not from another country, for health and good taste.”
Jimmy Reynolds, owner of Magnolia Bread, sees that “desire” continuing with the newer generations. “Especially in the hub of it all in Easton—it’s a lot of yoga mats and baby carriages now. Vendors are very happy because we go a long way to the markets, but now we are selling out to an additional population of young families who want to eat closer to the source. ”
The Miller family, who own the creamery at Nice Farms, represent the scores of small local farmers (too many to mention here) and fishermen, who do so much with Chesapeake soil and water. The Millers have only 30 cows, exemplifying the smaller producer whose TLC allows for the delicious products we get.
Roastin’ Beans and A Whole Lotta Chespeake Java
I’m still devouring the morning meal thinking about all of this. Taking another gulp from the mug, I muse, “How lucky is this to have a flavorful, fresh roasted coffee in my own kitchen thanks to the vision of Rise Up Coffee Roasters owner Tim Cureton who learned what real coffee tastes like while serving in the Peace Corps and wanting to bring the best in beans home—which he did by starting roasteries in Easton and Salisbury, and a drive-through kiosk in St. Michaels. The Cosmic Bean in Stevensville thinks similarly and also sells at the Kent Island Farm Market. In Annapolis everyone is talking about Café Pronto’s roasted beans, and ever popular is the long-standing City Dock Coffee with beans roasted locally.
They all can’t grow the berries here that become the beans, but that’s not what’s considered the “local” in coffee. It’s the artisanal blending and roasting, similar to why beer can also be local (and we have that too on both shores) because of its hands-on brewing methods. My comforting coffee is aromatic, dark chocolaty, chestnutty beans—that help my waking up until the rooster ringtones its phony alarm: “Cock ‘n doodle those eggs from the pot right now or else…!”
I swallow more coffee and swiftly decapitate the eggshells revealing soft cocks-comb orange yolks, blinking up at me with cartoon eyeballs, “You should be this wide-awake in the morning! Harrumph.” As a side dish, I spoon just-picked sweet blueberries from Phil Jones of Willow Branch Farm in St. Michaels with snips of fresh spearmint. (This time of year, that side is more like thin slices of crisp tangy apples from Caroline County’s Blade’s Orchard with a cloud of Nice Farm’s vanilla bean yogurt. )
And So, The Real Value of Chesapeake Real Estate …
Areas of the Chesapeake are touted for their high-end manor houses on former plantations, waterfront estates, chic beachy cottages, restored farmhouses, and historic quaint urban dwellings. Complementing the homes are designer boutiques, fine restaurants, landmark hotels, and a constant loop of leisure, cultural, and charity events, including an international car extravaganza—the Concours d’ Elegance. Major media even posture the Eastern Shore as having the lure of the Hamptons. Add to that something they haven’t mentioned—the area’s greatest gift of better health—and you double the real marketing possibilities for the area and reveal the secrets those of us who live here, know well.
“We have a great opportunity in Maryland because of our overall friendly climate, our fertile soil, and access to a great water supply,” Shannon Dill points out. Like no other area on the east coast, the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia area of the Chesapeake, has the most contiguous open land. “This is the real value of our real estate and some already are coming here for this reason.”
Among them is Paul Carini who just moved from Salem, Oregon. A job transfer to Horn Point in Cambridge where he is a microbial oceanographer, brought him and his wife, Kiri, and their three-year-old daughter, Lucia, to these shores to, “be within striking distance of organic farms and other locally produced foods. This is how we eat, and so it’s very important to us that we find multiple sources of good fresh food, or we would not have come here,” Carini says.
Eastern Shore resident Kay Perkins came in from California several years ago and she echoes what farm market followers who have taken up residence from all over the country feel: “We could buy fresh local food 365 days a year on the west coast. I would not be happy here if we didn’t have this wealth of good local food available. ”
Farm-to-Fork for Lunch and Dinner
At our house, our week’s menu is planned around what’s available locally—right down to the basic garlic and onions. So moving on from that breakfast earlier, for lunch, we are shaking it up with a healthy beverage based on kale from Charlene Dilworth’s Sand Hill Farm. She drives the family farm truck to St. Michaels from Greensboro every week with a variety of ingredients from quail eggs to honey, the latter being another one of those like-gold ingredients at the crux of our Chesapeake food chain.
If we need something mid-week when the local markets near us are closed, there are other farm markets and stands such as Emily’s Produce in Cambridge, where everything is grown there including this Fall’s fun and edible pumpkins and squashes. Full-time retails stores carrying local produce such as The Market House in Easton have as much local as possible all year long. Some of the St. Michaels and Easton local food stores such as Earth Origins, Graul’s Town & Country, and Lighty’s Village Shoppe, carry some of the farmer’s produce as well.
Although we can get our crabs and oysters from local fishmongers all over the Chesapeake, as well as rockfish and the rare flounder, we are big fans of halibut and salmon at our house, which don’t swim here. But, even these fresh-water fish are available because they are locally sourced by Chesapeake resident Jon Clucas who takes his wife, Rita, and their family of four to fish Alaskan rivers, flash-freeze their catch, and bring it to the Easton Market for sale all summer long.
So now I’ve reached the point in this story where it’s dinner time at our place. It’s 5:30 and I return to the kitchen this time with a glass of wine and something to crow about rather than rise-up. Bear with me. We pour a delightful young Cabernet from Crow Farm & Vineyard in Kennedyville, where the third generation of Crows also makes it possible to eat local beef as they raise Angus grass-fed. (Right now, in Fall, I’d be also doing Boordy Vineyards’ (Baltimore County) blend of spices and red wine they call wassail.).
But sipping the cab for now, my cooking partner slices into a fresh block of smoked cheddar by Eve’s Cheese’s, made at Fawnwood Farm, a fourth generation Kent County dairy. Tonight, I’m roasting one of Cabin Creek’s pastured chickens with a massaging of lemon and olive oil, served with mustard thyme dressing, I make with homemade broth and pan drippings.
I’m adding a side of purple majesty potatoes (purple in and out doubling the antioxidants) from Willow Branch Farm. A celery leaf pesto tops the tots. I created the pesto last summer, inspired by Charlene Dilworth’s heady-leafed celery that looks more like a botanical bouquet than a bulb of stalks—like nothing you will ever see anywhere but on the farm. Celery leaf pesto is one of the many recipes that result in using up every part of the food, like the resourcefulness that occurred in the old days when food was so scarce.
“I’m a more adventurous cook because of local foods,” agrees Margie Patrick. “I had never had fennel before and because that’s what was available that week, I had to figure out what to do with it. Now we look for it and shave it into salads, just like we do with Brussels sprouts. I’m not a fancy cook, but this turns me into a good cook because the ingredients are naturally so delicious that I can’t go wrong.”
While we are not huge eggplant fans, being able to eat a variety of whole foods, nutritionists say, is the key to a healthier diet, so I find ways to include all the veggies at market. Tonight, I have sautéed the eggplant with celery, onion, and tomato, to a nutty caramel and added olives, capers, and splash of balsamic glaze. I’ll sauce veggies with it later in the week as well as a chicken breast another night. Meanwhile tonight, the eggplant combo is a condiment for a bruschetta of Magnolia’s sweet potato baguette.
Lettuce is always on our dinner table from The Wilson family’s Certified Organic Butter Pot Farm in Cambridge. We buy hearty varieties of lettuce from curly red-leaf and summer crisp to Romains and arugulas. I am working on blueberry vinaigrette to whirl in the blender and serve over a mix of lettuces. Butter Pot’s cherry tomatoes make a terrific red tomato burst sauce, and their beets and sweet melons are other standouts. As I continue sipping that Cabernet, I stop a minute in awe again, offering up a private toast to our farmers.
Spirit of the Maker’s Market
The abundance of producer-only farm markets in the D.C. and DelMarVa Peninsula is largely the result of a non-profit organization called Fresh Farm Markets, created by Ann Yonkers and Bernie Prince who believed in finding ways for farmers to bring their own-grown locally sustainably produced foods to the general public. Today there are 11 of these markets in the area with more 110 farmers who farm more than 5,000 acres.
Margie Patrick’s four daughters were raised on food from these markets. “We were looking for a cheaper way to feed the family, so we went to local farmers,” she remembers. Fifteen years later, the kids on their own now, are fussy about how they eat—sourcing locally where they live. Piper, the newest family member, is eating baby food from what her mother buys at the farm market. Margie’s daughters rarely want to go out and eat, they say, “unless a restaurant is the likes of 208 Talbot and Out of the Fire,” who serve as much local as possible.
A restaurant is serving so many diners that it is hard to get all of its food locally but our area is loaded with chefs dedicated to adding as much local as possible. Chef Matt Cohey from The Narrows restaurant in Grasonville even goes to the point of highlighting in yellow marker on a mirror in the restaurant’s foyer, local ingredients he’s cooking with that day. Now Serving Local it announces: strawberries from Caroline County; lettuce from Chesapeake Green House in Sudlersville; tomatoes from Hummingbird Farms in Ridgley; peaches from Mallard Farm in Centerville.
Chef David Hayes who came to Bistro St. Michaels from Essex, England, came here to help a fellow chef for the summer, and decided not to return to England “when I saw how rich and abundant this area is in sustainable ingredients. It is part of my mission to educate diners to what it means to eat fresh, local food,” he says.
Chef Mark Salter, owner of The Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, is passionate about not only serving local, but helping area producers. He recently worked with Kim Wagner, owner of Black Bottom Farms in Galena, to create a sausage Mark wanted to serve at the restaurant. The result is a signature meat privy only to Mark’s diners and those who buy it from Kim at the Easton Farmer’s Market . When I cooked the sausage at home, I didn’t expect it to be resonatingly delicious. The texture is superb, not at all chewy and plastic-like with little gristle. And then I knew where I had tasted something like this before—my grandmother’s dinner table. She used to grind her own sausage and it was just like Black Bottom’s. I haven’t tasted the genuine real sausage since we lost her in the 1980s. Add to this, the chef’s outstanding flavors—he is a master spice mixer—and you can’t stop eating this. I served it with a side of caramelized onions.
The Chesapeake’s Got Cold Weather Covered, Too
Chesapeake growing season extends into winter now with hoop and green houses, “growing as much produce as we can get,” says creator and manager Diane Bedlin of the Kent Island Farmer’s Market, one of the only farm markets open all year. Diane wanted to feed her own family all year long, “to have total control over our food when we can shop fresh all year long,” she says. So she started the market located at Christ Episcopal Church held every Thursday. The market’s 300–500 disciples of better eating come from Annapolis and the Eastern Shore to buy the award-winning cheeses by Chapel’s Country Creamery, eggs from Triple J Farm of Federalsburg, and produce from Priapi Organic Gardens in Cecilton to mention a few vendors.
To ensure her family eats fresh all winter, Margie Patrick is like many local foodies who freeze, can, and pulverize their Chesapeake food to make summer last all year. She even bakes unique tomato chips and crocks of pickled cabbage, dill, and cukes, and doesn’t stop there, as she grinds up summer kale, and transfers it to a muffin tin to freeze in batches and then put that into shakes in winter.
Farm Meets Shore at a Fork-in-the-Road We Need to Face
The saying goes, that money can’t buy your health. But those who treasure hunt every week for fresh local ingredients argue that you can secure good health with your fork when you choose to eat local and it’s easier than you think. You never even have to lift a shovel, coax a seed, drop bait, forage a forest, grind wheat, or pull on a cow’s teat, to fill the pantry. It’s all done by the farmers/producers who couldn’t do it unless we had the land—the most important thing, perhaps, best summed up more than anywhere else in Gone with the Wind. As Tara burns, turning the sky a blaze of orange, it seems to Scarlett that her life is on fire too, burning with her foundation, her homeland, until her father turns to her. “Land, Katie Scarlett O’Hara,” he fights back with clenched fists and his own tears, “it’s the only thing that matters; the only thing that lasts…”
I’ve finished clearing off the evening dinner and pull out Scottish Highland Creamery Ice Cream, made in Oxford with local dairy ingredients by resident Victor Barlow. I’ve got a little Double Belgian Chocolate left and a new container of seasonal Pumpkin. With a cup of—now decaf –Rise Up in hand, I scoop the ice cream onto an apple pie (made at Easton farm market because I’m not a good baker) and think about my full day, eating again off the riches of our Chesapeake from morning until night, with this dessert—well the icing on the cake—and the hope that we all make sure that the land continues to be available, so that it will always matter—a fork in the road, we might all be smart in taking and paying attention to.
Local Eats Shopping Tips
Easing Into It
It’s hard when you’re working and so busy to eat everything locally. Try introducing one ingredient at a time and even that can make a difference.
Learning the Ropes
If just getting to know the area and it’s food supply, get yourself to a farmers’ market. They are all over the DelMarVa and are your best source to introduce the area’s bounty.
How to Pay
Get to farm markets early and bring cash, only some vendors have pocket computers to swipe credit cards.
Putting Up with It
Buy in double all summer long to have fresh local produce in colder months. Did you know you can even freeze onions? Chop or slice them first and freeze in a baggie.
Knowing the Differences
When you see a sign that reads: Fresh Produce, that doesn’t always mean local food; ask where the food was grown to know for sure. Not all farm markets sell strictly local produce. Some are producer-only and so no food can be sold that is not grown or produced by the seller.
WWW Dot: To Market You Go
To find a market in Maryland, go to this site that is categorized by county: http://visitmaryland.org/events/pages/marylandfarmersmarkets.aspx#queen
Farm Market Organizing
Sometimes you have to visit two or three markets to get what you need for the week. You can see how some of the markets stagger their days if you can’t do it all on a Saturday morning, the area’s most popular farm-market day.