Last weekend I visited my aunt and uncle in Calvert County, Maryland. They have a beautiful country-side home on a quiet inlet off the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the past 11 years, ever since they bought the place when I was 12-years-old. Many a dockside, feet-in-water, wind-blown hair, oyster-shucking and crab-eating memory has been made out there. With my move to Vermont in a few short weeks and their upcoming plans to put the house on the market, I decided it was time for a visit.
While making the drive from Durham, I thought about my visits over the years. There are two things I can always count on, 1) an abundance of love and 2) incredibly intentional and wholesome meals. Auntie Ann has always loved seeking out interesting flavorful recipes, cool fresh ingredients, and even cooler people who produce and/or sell said ingredients. She and Uncle Don garner much joy from preparing artfully crafted meals infused with suggestions from friends, memories from travels abroad, comforts of times passed, and whatever delights the season has to offer. On the menu this weekend were Maryland crab cakes, local sweet corn off the cob, seasoned heirloom tomatoes and onions, and a key lime pie (UD’s specialty).
This visit made it quite clear the extent to which food characterizes just about all facets of my life (work, read, write, play, eat (duh), family, friends, and the list goes on…). When I got in around 10 o’clock, I was met at the door with many hugs from AA, UD, and three of my younger cousins visiting from Atlanta. After the shower of love, I was given a full itinerary of food-related activities for the next day. On the list – a work day at Chesapeake’s Bounty and a visit to Spider Hall Farm.
On Saturday morning, my sweet 13-year-old cousin Annabeth and I ventured off to find Chesapeake’s Bounty, a local farm and farmstand serving up fresh local foods, seafood, and flowers and plants to the local community. It was about a 10 minute drive from the house, on a scenic corner right off the highway. There were many stands of fresh produce around the main building and a sizable nursery nearby. We gravitated towards the many raised beds and garden plots to the left of the main farmstand where a few others were gathered. Every Saturday Chesapeake’s Bounty hosts their Community Work Day, whereby any and all are welcome to work in the garden (weeding, planting, harvesting, and the like), and after a couple of hours are rewarded with a share of the collective bounty, some new friends, and a morning well spent in the soil.
We met Will, the founder and guiding visionary of the farm, which is a permaculture farm. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles based on the patterns and relationships that exist in natural ecosystems – permanent agriculture, permanent culture. It’s a way of looking at our natural world and placing ourselves within that landscape in ways that are congruent with what naturally occurs – rather than what the majority of society does, which is work in ways that dominate and work counter to nature’s processes.
The farmstand has been in Will’s family since the 1990s, but in 2007 he reopened Chesapeake’s Bounty with a new aim of growing, supporting, and promoting local farm-fresh foods from the Chesapeake Bay Region. The farm itself is situated on top of a landfill. Will has worked to build up soil over time, though various permaculture techniques of using local crab compost, rotational planting, cardboard mulching, and the like. Everything this season was grown with seeds saved from last years harvests, and very little is brought into the farm. It’s quite an impressive closed looped natural system he has going on. I especially appreciated his emphasis on supporting local producers and sustainable agricultural practices, all the while preserving the agrarian wisdom of the area.
“We believe in the health and economic benefits of local food, supporting local farmers, watermen, and other producers and paying fair-market prices (or better) for their products. Our goal is to find new and innovative ways of connecting local food producers with steady markets, while considering the ecological consequences of food production.”
After a couple of hours, Annabeth and I made a few new friends (including some precious baby rabbits), garnered a bag full of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, ground cherries, okra, and basil, and cultivated a strong sense of community and pride in having experienced the goodness that Chesapeake’s Bounty offers.
We also bought a beautiful bouquet of locally grown flowers destined to become flower halos later in the day, and drove off with some of the best chocolate milk we’ve ever had.
Spider Hall Farm
After returning to the house for a picnic-style lunch of vegan chill a la Auntie Ann, we headed over to the farmstand at Spider Hall Farm. Auntie Ann was eager for me to connect with the owner, Susan Cox, who has been involved in the local agriculture scene for many years. As the wife of a tobacco farmer, Mrs. Cox expressed having experienced the highs and lows of commodity crop farming. She and Mr. Cox have stayed in the tobacco business for many years, introducing agri-tourism opportunities that have been wildly popular on their farm, especially during the fall season with hay rides, corn mazes, and the like. Now, her daughters are planning on taking over the farm to continue their mother’s vision and work of sourcing and aggregating local, sustainable and organic products to share with the local community.
Spider Hall Farm is a 362 acre farm and is one of the few remaining working farms of its size in Calvert County. The farm produces wheat, barley, corn, pumpkins, soybeans and tobacco. Spider Hall also runs a farmstand that operates much like a food hub in that it aggregates locally produced dairy products, meats, veggies and fruits, soaps and lotions, hand-made crafts, and other delights in one place, connecting many local small-scale producers to the wider market. It was inspiring to meet Mrs. Cox and to hear her family’s story and journey with local agriculture.
On the way out, Auntie Ann grabbed some spicy pickles and sweet corn for supper while Annabeth and I picked up another beautiful bouquet of fresh cut flowers – we couldn’t resist the colorful draw of the zinnias, sunflowers and hyacinths.
What a day!
After our adventures and with the afternoon sun was still blaring down, Annabeth and I found a shady spot on the lawn and settled down to make flower halos and get to know each other. The last time we spent time together was when she was about 8-years-old. While we talked about places we’d love to travel, learning of our shared frustration with food waste in America, and our shared love of art, I thought about how fast time flies. It was not too long ago that I was thirteen laying on that same lawn, unsure of what the future would bring, but excited all the same.
With a family’s love, the beauty of nature, and good food, who could not be happy?