Chesapeake Farm-to-Fork: Know Good, Do Good — An Inside Look at Sustainable Farming Practices, Part One
Both the propane and wood-fired grills were blazing, as was the temperature, while the aroma of freshly butchered spatch-cocked chicken, sizzling on the fire, greeted the guests, with a spirited cocktail in hand from Lyon Distilling Company. They settled onto beautiful wood plank seating—complements of a local lumber yard. Even the farm ducks were perfectly choreographed—as if on cue, they marched out in a line of adults leading and ducklings perkily following. So begins an opportunity for “the farm experience” during a recent “Gals @ the Grill” class at Know Good Farm in Wittman, Maryland. Farmer and host, Carol Bean, created vegetable dishes from her own farm and added synergy with: Darlene Goehringer of Pop’s Old Place -- a century family farm in Hurlock, Maryland; Jaime Windon of Lyon Distilling Company; and myself, chef and author of The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up!. Bean’s efforts at connecting are more an act of love than a moneymaking venture, but it is her remarkable talent that brings in additional revenue.
Truthfully, “farm-to-table” has been around for quite some time, but it’s not mainstream or an ingrained part of our lives yet. Events on the farm are relatively new and really...how well do you know your local farmer? It’s not a simple task to keep a small farm going year-after-year—especially one without subsidies. For example, another farmer, Mark Toigo of Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, stated in a Washington Post article, “Farming is extremely difficult, and people talk about sustainability in many ways…Sustainability is also the ability to be here next year and do what you’re doing to make a living.”
Millions (yes, that is an ‘m’) of farms have folded as global economics and government policy have encouraged larger, more intensive farm operations, such as the factory farm model. For the small farm, profits are slim and sporadic. Farms are at the whim of Mother Nature (this aspect is wreaking havoc more than ever) and competition abounds: keeping customers, marketing, and distribution challenges can create huge roadblocks. In 2017, farmers are expected to be savvy at social media, while new distribution solutions are slow to take shape due to antiquated regulations.
Small farms face other challenges, too. Finding affordable land is a huge obstacle. Bean found a great arrangement at Pot Pie Farm just down the rural road and laments, “I wish there were more creative living arrangements available to enable other people to get a foothold into farming in this region.”
At Bean’s farm, one may find all kinds of experiential events to spend some time with this farm gal dedicated to connecting with her local community, while making sure the mortgage gets paid. Bean tells me, “One of the best parts about participating in the local food movement is the way it ties you to your community. You forge connections and are interdependent on one another. For example, places like Lyon Distilling and St. Michaels Brewery need farms to take their grain after processing and it is great for farm compost or to feed hogs. There is a natural way these food enterprises coexist.”
“Food brings people together. Nothing makes me happier than knowing food we’ve grown or caught is part of people’s holiday meals, or birthday celebrations, or just a regular Tuesday supper. I have formed wonderful friendships with people who consume our food and that feeds me on many levels.”
East met West when Bean connected with Mark Connelly, a local Eastern Shore boy in the restaurant where she worked. As a California native, Bean fell in love and married a man from a farm family who has worked as a commercial fisherman most of his life. He introduced her to all the foods this region is famous for and she was hooked on Mark, the farm lifestyle, and being as self-sufficient as possible.
“We lived and worked at nearby Pot Pie Farm in Wittman for years to enable us to purchase and renovate an old greenhouse property. We moved to our own farm a year and a half ago where we raise ducks, heirloom vegetables, and flowers. Mark operates his seafood business from here and we just received an oyster lease from the state to start raising and marketing our own oysters.”
Bean grew to love this region by participating in its food culture. Learning how to pick crabs, open oysters, and can tomatoes made her feel connected to the history and traditions of the Chesapeake. She states, “I named our place ‘Know Good’ because I want to encourage other people to embrace these traditions too.” Now, they host classes and workshops like “Oyster 101,” where they teach people how to shuck oysters and different ways to cook them.
Bean continues, “We live in an area where there is lots of development pressure, which puts rural land and traditions at risk.” Educating folks through a wide array of classes and workshops is a way to connect and bring in additional revenue from her booth at St. Michaels Farm Market and her small CSA membership, with plans for expansion as she grows her farm’s infrastructure. The on-farm class, “Gals @ the Grill,” was an idea brewing for years before it was hatched last summer with a slew of lively women who wanted to learn grilling techniques for 100 percent locally pastured meat and poultry.
Friend and farmer Darlene Goehringer, who grew up with her family growing all of their own food, discussed farming survival during the grilling class. She and her husband both work full-time with their off-farm jobs. She relayed one experience on a sultry summer day she was up at five a.m. to castrate hogs and then off to the paying job after a shower and a two-hour drive. She proudly says, “Even if we can’t make the bottom line work to sell our products, we will continue to raise our own food because it is just far superior.” She promotes the farm experience by giving tours and hosting events and is considering teaching “Homesteading” classes to show the lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
Co-founders and owners of Lyon Distilling Company, Jaime Windon and Ben Lyon, not only produce artisan spirits but must focus the majority of their time on marketing. They have created a retail storefront where they also educate by giving tours of the small distilling process in the back room.
Bean’s farm symbiosis continues year round as Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday Food Markets again unite nearby farms. Since she managed St. Michaels farmers’ market for eight years, it is natural for her to want to promote other farms in the area. Sharing her joy she states, “I hosted two holiday events at our farm last year to get as much local food as possible onto people’s celebratory tables.”
She summarizes, “Conservation efforts are important but I think that having a working landscape—keeping people fishing and farming—is tremendously important for the environment too.”
And so are people supporting these activities by shopping at farmers’ markets and buying local seafood. We need to keep getting the word out so folks truly know the value of the small farm...sharing and adopting Bean’s motto: Know Good, Do Good!
- Know Good Farm: knowgoodfarm.com
- Pop’s Old Place: popsoldplace.com
- Lyon Distilling Company: lyondistilling.com