One of the things that I want to focus on this year is letting you know a little bit more about me. After all, how are you supposed to trust my suggestions for locals to support if you don’t know anything about the person giving the recommendations? Seems pretty silly to me.
And so I want to tell you why I’m featuring Maryland farms and farmers markets over the next few months, which started with this past feature on Local Homestead Products.
The simple truth is I’ve wrestled a few pigs in my life. And chickens. And cows. And stubborn sheep. No, I didn’t live on a farm, I did the next best thing: I’m a former 4-H’er. Honestly, you don’t spend ten years hanging out on farms and not have a deep love and appreciation for the people and land which grow our food.
Yes, while everyone else was going to soccer practice, I was loading up a station wagon with rabbits, shearing lambs, and mucking out cow stalls. I loved every minute of it.
There was something calming and fun about working on the various farms. You’re outdoors, enjoying the weather (or making the best of it), getting hands and clothes dirty and, pardon me for getting real here, looking your food in the eye. I was getting to know my food up close and personal before CSAs and farmers markets were mainstream. So I wasn’t surprised when the rest of the cool crowd wanted to shake hands with their local farmer.
It always made sense to me. You get to know who is growing your food, you can ask questions, get food in season, support local business—it’s a win for all involved. And it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body and those bodies around you. Who better to ask than the person who grew it?
But farming is more than food for me. It’s family and adventures, lessons learned and memories that I could touch.
I can still smell the odor of timothy hay, sweet corn mix and sheep. The metal enclosed barn with the dirt floor and sliding doors wasn’t the type found in typical farm paintings, down-home photography or story book pages. Instead it was a more modern building, metal and sound, to keep lambs safe from the elements when it rained or snowed. This is not to say that the barn was all walls and no pasture. It in fact opened to a spacious and well fenced pasture which lead to a stream (or creek depending on your definition). Mothers and their young would bound back and forth between the barn and field, depending on mood and feeding schedule.
That barn was light green and gray, dull sounding I know, but to me it had the look of life. It was a special secret safe place to me, even though it wasn’t that special and certainly not that secret. Being the farm that allowed non-farming kids to keep sheep, it was always overrun with children, visitors, parents and cars. There was never a time when it was just me and the barn. But still, it was a place that I loved to go to on Wednesday nights after school and Saturday mornings when other high school kids were sleeping their lives away.
Of all the nights the one I remember best, though, was the night that it poured. Heavy sheets of rain pounded the barn ceiling. Inside, warm and dry, listening to the kids chatter and giggle, the lambs munch and crunch their feed; the rain was just a soundtrack to the moment. It looked dark and foreboding outside, but it was really just a summer storm on a sheep farm.
I learned a lot through those farming years. Why it’s important for programs like BUGS to give inner city students the chance to grow their own food, how to tell an ethical farmer from the lot, and what’s a good price for corn. (Answers: so students know that food does not grow in plastic wrap, they let you on their farm and the animals are clean, any price is worth it—if it’s true Maryland Silver Queen!)
I may not show the sheep or wrestle the pigs anymore, but I still know where to go for great local food.
What could just B more tasty?