Volume XI, Issue 19 ~ May 8-14, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

The Seeds of Good Eating Are Still Growing
Update from May 1993, Volume I, Number 2

The seeds have been planted. Planted on those few dry days in spring by provident people who spent the deep season of hibernation planning and plowing for a sweet, long season of harvest.

Soon you will eat well.

Now the salad days are beginning. Spring onions are promising green filaments. Lettuces, started in greenhouses and set in as tiny plants, are burgeoning into juicy leaf. Spring-seeded spinach is not far behind.

Even now, the year’s earliest salads are ready for eating. First-planted radishes are crisp red globes; their early peppery greens are tender and good to eat. Perennial herbs — mint, garlic chives, and Amsterdam cutting celery — are jumping up.

Update: On May 6, 1993, New Bay Times introduced Lothian organic farmers Pat and Bob Bramhall, who were beginning their second year of devoting their land — a 15-acre farm on Brookswoods Road — and labor to ‘community-supported agriculture.’

After the drought year of 1993, the labor of producing locally grown, strictly fresh, toxic-free harvest at amazingly low costs overwhelmed the Bramhalls, and they retired as CSA farmers.

But the concept of community-supported agriculture continues to grow.

A decade later, more than a thousand organic farms across the country sustain themselves by sharing their bounty. Shareholders in the bounty invest in advance of the harvest. Then, starting about this week and continuing for four or five months, they receive weekly installments of their farm’s harvest.

Maryland boasts 18 CSAs, as they’re called, according to the count of Future Harvest, of Stevensville. With a web page — www.futureharvestcasa.org — Future Harvest is the information gateway to sustainable and organic producers not only of vegetables but also fruits, poultry and meat in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

“From the consumer standpoint, CSAs are the best way to get wonderful fresh produce, with more variety and real flavor and taste. Also people living in agricultural areas want to keep farming alive, and one way to support your local farm is by joining a CSA or buying from farm stands,” says Future Harvest coordinator Dawn Stephenson.

Two CSAs thrive in our area of Chesapeake Country. One, Mountains to Bay, beats the ups and downs of weather, crops and labor that bested the Bramhalls by pooling the resources of 13 small, family farms.

These farms literally stretch from mountains to Bay, and shareholders choose from three locations — Crownsville in Anne Arundel County County, Sunderland in Calvert County plus Cumberland County — to pick up their share.

At Mountains to Bay, shareholders pay $450 for 20 weeks of locally grown, certified organic vegetables, fruits and herbs. Amounts vary, with each week’s box containing seven to nine varieties.

Back in 1993, we also introduced Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro. Their CSA, From the Ground Up, has flourished over the decade. But their harvest still rides Mother Nature’s roller coaster.

Back in 1992, shareholders each took home 56 pounds of tomatoes, 46 pounds of potatoes, 40 pounds of green beans, 23 pounds of corn, 21 pounds of sweet potatoes, 19 pounds of winter squash, 14 pounds of beets, 13 pounds of both lettuce and Chinese cabbage, and four pounds of basil. That’s just a short list.

A decade later, drought made 2002 a thinner year. This year, weather willing, shareholders will get lots of greens, from salad to kale and collards, and plenty of root veggies such as white and sweet potatoes plus beets and carrots; herbs; and such summer favorites as corn, green beans and tomatoes.

Shares sell for $385, and half of From the Ground Up’s 300 shares go to users of the Capital Area Food Bank. That, explains farm community coordinator Lara Handler, is because “Our mission to promote healthy food and healthy people includes getting much-needed fresh produce to the low-income community of Washington, D.C.”

On scales large and small, for-table gardening is taking root in Maryland. Marylanders supported 74 organized farmers’ markets last year, up from 48 in 1993. Come summer, there’ll be as many fresh produce stands as turtles on Maryland roads.

Even as the number of Maryland farms declines — from 15,600 averaging 141 acres in 1993 to 12,200 acres averaging 172 acres in 2003 — the concentration of market garden-farms is increasing. Today there are some 820 fresh market growers in Maryland, doubling the 1993 number.

Maryland Department of Agriculture statistician Dave Knopf attributes the growth to three factors: “One, interest in locally grown fresh produce. Two, the health factor. Three, farmers saw potential for new market. ‘You can’t make money growing grains, let’s try something else,’ they said. Today, it’s become relatively easy to get fresh or organic food on a local basis, but it wasn’t always so easy.”

From the Ground Up: 301/627-4393 • Mountains to Bay: 301/855-0137. Both are fully sold for this year, but there’s always next year.


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Palms Up, Palms Down
April showers, May flowers: Chesapeake Country sprouts palms

It’s a rite of passage for people and birds to go south during winter, when escaping the cold, snow and ice is paramount. When warmer weather approaches, the trend is often reversed. Which may explain why we’re seeing palm trees in Chesapeake Country in the spring.

photos by James Clemenko
The tropical ambiance provided by shipping in palm trees from Florida is worth the expense — upward of $10,000 a year — says Calypso Bay owner Mike Brown.
As April ended, a truckload of palm trees drove into the parking lot at Calypso Bay in Tracy’s Landing.

“For four years I’ve been bringing in palm trees,” said Mike Brown, owner of Calypso Bay, where he cultivates an island atmosphere at the Bay’s edge. People drive in from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see the palms, party and relax as if they were in a tropical setting.”

Vera Freeman, owner of Vera’s White Sands concurs that palm trees add to the ambiance.

“I was the first to do it, and I’ve been doing it for the last 35 years,” said Freeman. “A friend brought some up from Florida back then and they were a big hit. So I’ve had them every year since.”

Many of the banana trees come in for winter, when Vera’s White Sands is closed, to return outdoors in spring.

Vera plants upward of 100 banana palms plus a half-dozen sapling coconut palms to line the walkway to her establishment.

Since Vera discovered the power of palms, the trend has spread in Chesapeake Country. Palms, though rare in these parts, can be seen at several locations with a beach or tiki bar motif.

Calypso Bay has followed the trend of enticing potential customers by offering a tropical atmosphere. Across Rockhold Creek, Skipper’s Pier sets out pots of annual palms. Catamarans Ribs and Seafood in Solomons has also brought in palm trees over the years. Catamarans used to purchase and bring palms up from Florida, but stopped due to cost.

Purchasing the palm trees is only half the battle. The trees then have to be transported from warmer climates. Calypso Bay’s truckload was this year’s order from the south.

photo by James Clemenko
‘I was the first to do it, and I’ve been doing it for the last 35 years,’ says Vera Freeman. Each spring Freeman has planted more than 100 palms at her restaurant, Vera’s White Sands. These saplings have just come out after overwintering indoors.
Each year, Calypso Bay orders its palm trees from Homestead, Florida. When shipped from Florida, trees are larger and more fully developed. Brown buys an assortment of palms from coconuts to bananas to royals in a range of heights from five to 25 feet. This year’s shipment of 56 trees filled two flatbed trucks.

With the first frost, the tropical trees perish. The dry, tan palms remain in place until their replacements arrive. “We leave them in the ground when they are dead so that we don’t have to re-dig any holes,” said Brown.

None of this is cheap. “I spent between $10,000 and $15,000 this year on the palm trees,” Brown allowed. But image is part of his competitive edge. Many restaurants go the extra tropical mile to draw customers. Others do not.

Apparently Annapolis’ image is secure enough that it doesn’t need palm trees.

“Palm planting isn’t anything that’s ever been presented to us, so it hasn’t been an issue — though we do stress appropriate plantings indigenous to Maryland,” said Donna Hole, the city’s chief of historic preservation.

— James Clemenko

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This Old House Wants You
But it won’t follow you home; you’ll have to take it.

“Free to a good home.”

That’s what the announcement says, and in this modern age of plenty, we’re accustomed to people giving away what they don’t want or don’t need.

But what we’re talking about here is not free puppies or kittens, but a free house. Yes, one two-story frame house, built way back in the first quarter of the 20th century, is free to anyone who will take it.

That’s the catch: you have to take it, literally. Because the house stands in the way of a planned subdivision, it will be demolished unless someone claims it. If that someone is you, you’ll have to move the house from its present location in rural Calvert County to a location of your choosing. California sounds good.

Consider this statement from a realtor quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 22 April 2003: “In Southern California, it’s not easy to find a house built as early as 1914.”

There is money to be made here, obviously. People want what they can’t have, and they will pay for it. A fortune may await the entrepreneur who will transport this old Calvert County house to Los Angeles where, obviously, a thriving market for old houses exists. Of course, you would have to do some kind of earthquake proofing.

However, just as you would not blindly take a free animal without first asking about pedigree, size and so on, you will want to know the details of this house before you walk off with it.

The house sits in what was once a rural setting, surrounded by a few trees and junk. An old pickup cap sits on the front porch among scattered debris. Pieces of old mufflers, an oil barrel and other rusting iron, as well as deteriorating lumber all litter the backyard. A propane tank sits at one side of the house, signifying, perhaps, that the house may have had fairly recent occupants. One and only one window is boarded up. Who knows what untold stories are hidden here? Where did everybody go?

If we were discussing a 17th or 18th century house instead of one built in the 20th century, we would talk about the history of the house and those who lived in it. Maybe a noted historical figure stopped here. Perhaps someone died in the house under strange circumstances, on (so we’re sometimes told about really old houses) a stormy, lightning-filled night when strange goings-on were noticed; to this very day, passers-by may hear what sound like low moans drifting from the gaping windows; sometimes a wispy shadow is seen.

Too bad we can’t say any of that about this house. The only sound to be heard is the occasional sparrow fluttering from one empty window sill to another. So far as is known, no one of note ever spent a minute on the property. But who really knows?

The house is described by the Calvert County Historic District Commission as “abandoned.” Abandoned it may be, but somebody still loves it. The house is registered as “The Sipe House at Oakwood Manor.” The commission has classified the house as a “historic property,” a category that imposes no requirements or restrictions on any future owner. The terminology is merely a statement that the house may have some historical interest.

Built-Rite Homes, the developer, has offered $2,500 toward the cost of moving the house. Prospective new owners must move fast. The move must be completed by the end of May 2003, or the deal is off.

Information? Calvert County Historic District Commission: 410/535-2348.

story & photos by Dick Wilson

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Way Downstream …

In Washington, the House last week voted to do something that Cecil County Commissioners have refused: Spend money to preserve historic Garrett Island, which is situated near the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Legislation sponsored by Congressman Wayne Gilchrest would make the island part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

In Virginia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scaled back a plan to kill vultures. The agency said this week that the Agriculture Department wouldn’t be able to kill an additional 3,350 black and turkey vultures. Instead of culling 4,000 they’ll have to settle for 1,250, which amounts to 600 additional birds. The flourishing scavengers are viewed by some as posing problems for boat ramps and power lines …

In Wisconsin, burglars apparently weren’t frightened by a two-foot-long pet alligator when they broke into a Kenosha home judging by a police report showing that the alligator was among the items stolen, the Associated Press reported …

Our Creature Feature comes from Los Angeles, where they’re not paying proper due to the “Dogs of War.” Hundreds of German shepherds, Dobermans and even an English bulldog named Sgt. Mulligan were trained at the old Fort MacArthur for military duty.

But the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that an old cemetery for military dogs at the site had fallen into serious disrepair, with graves vandalized, tombstones broken and a life-size bronze of a German shepherd guarding the site stolen. “There should be enough passion and respect in this town for a better place for these war heroes,” lamented Ft. MacArthur Museum director Steve Nelson.

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Last updated May 8, 2003 @ 1:43am