Keeping the agricultural tradition alive at American Chestnut Land Trust’s Double Oak Farm
As Jeff Klapper walks among the rows of strawberries and kale, he snaps off a thick purple stalk of asparagus.
Seeing Klapper’s ease with the land and the food he grows, you would not imagine he came to Double Oak Farm after a career in commercial engraving.
Like Klapper, Double Oak Farm has seen some changes. In a previous life, the farm grew corn and soybeans under the hands of a local farmer. Double Oak Farm’s verdant acre is part of 15 acres of open fields among 3,000 acres of Calvert County wetland, forest and farmland preserved and managed by the American Chestnut Land Trust.
Prince Frederick to the Bay Overlook
For years, the American Chestnut Land Trust has maintained 15 miles of trails. These walking paths stretch along both the north and south sides of Parkers Creek. This April, the Trust’s trail system grew with the opening of the Prince Frederick to the Bay Overlook Trail, connecting Prince Frederick’s main street to the Bay via existing north-side trails and about four new miles of trails.
In 27 years, the citizen-run Trust has grown from preserving land buffering a single community, Scientists Cliffs, to protecting a contiguous 3,000-acre preserve surrounding Parkers Creek, the least developed, most pristine watershed on Maryland’s western shore.
Protection and preservation is the thrust of most of the Trust’s work on the land it owns and manages.
“We have a history of using agricultural fields,” says Karen Edgecombe, executive director. “We try to find a way to keep them productive while still keeping with the agricultural tradition.”
Back to the Farm
Rainstorms, drought, insects and deer harassed the new enterprise. Despite such challenges, the little organic farm has grown from a small experimental plot to a working acre, with raised herb beds, a timber-frame barn and the beginnings of a greenhouse.
Since 2010, the farm has offered a Community Supported Agriculture program, supported by people who pay an upfront cost in exchange for shares of produce throughout the season. Twenty-five people pay for their shares, and five work on the farm in exchange for their shares.
You won’t find your average grocery store beefsteak tomatoes and flat-leafed parsley here. Klapper takes pride in growing fruits, vegetables and herbs that are rare in the grocery stores. After growing his first heirloom tomatoes — German strawberry — he was hooked.
Any given share may include Jenny Lind melons (with dark green flesh), moss parsley (looking much like its name implies), delicata squash (striped and Zeppelin-shaped) or Lacinato kale (an Italian variety originating in the 1700s).
With the help of his cousin Bruce Cowie, a timber framer, about 18 volunteers and a crane, the timber-frame barn was raised in 2012.
“Getting everything to assemble correctly was like using a big erector set,” says volunteer Tom Tearman. “It required a lot of pre-thinking and strategizing. It was a real community approach — making sure that all the mortise-and-tenon joints and wood pegs came together.”
The barn still needs a little work, like putting the doors on hinges, but it is ready to serve as a trailhead, a pick-up spot for CSA shares and a home for a family of sparrows nesting inside.
Jeff Klapper tends the asparagus field at Double Oak Farm, a one-acre organic operation amid the 3,000 protected acres of American Chesnut Land Trust. The farm provides shares of the harvest with members of its community-supported agriculture program.
Volunteers not only built the barn but keep the farm running. Seventh graders at nearby Calverton School planted tomato and pepper seeds, tending to them in the school’s arboretum, then bringing them to the farm to plant as seedlings in the field.
Community groups also contribute. A local church, Shepherd of the Bay in Lusby, built the raised herb beds, and a 4-H club is working in the greenhouse.
“Over the years, I have noticed a growing concern over the standardization of food,” Klapper says. This sentiment is reflected by the growing enthusiasm in Calvert County over local produce. Two local restaurants, Dream Weaver Café and Saphron Restaurant, buy produce from the farm. The caterer for the Land Trust’s annual dinner and auction incorporates farm produce into the meal.
The farm is limited by its small size, but when the average American meal travels more than 1,500 miles before reaching the table, Klapper tries to bring unique, local food to his community.
“It’s a work in progress. It’s trial and error,” he says. “No one here is professional, but everyone here is having fun.”
American Chestnut Land Trust: www.acltweb.org.