Volume XI, Issue 32 ~ August 7-13, 2003

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Pat Bramhall - 1939–2003
by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Pat Bramhall answered our prayers.

Not as literally as she, a Jehovah’s Witness, would have understood prayer-answering, but just as effectively.

Our act of faith was Bay Weekly, which was still a forming image to be called New Bay Times when we first met Pat Bramhall in the frosty days of January, 1993.

Our unspoken prayer went something like this: If we create a newspaper for Chesapeake Country, ideas will come. Ideas and the amazing people who realize them.

Pat Bramhall came.

Literally, we came to her. Jumping into New Bay Times, we’d shown up at a meeting of the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association. Organic farmer Pat and her husband Bob were our reward.

In the days when organic was still a fringe idea, Pat was a pioneer. In transforming her 15-acre Lothian farm into a new Eden, she was not only working from the ground up, she was making a difference globally by acting locally. A decade later, because of early field workers like Pat, organic food has become a $7 billion business with state and federal certifications. More important to her, thousands of people reap the benefits of following nature’s way.

“Organic farming is taking 1,000 pounds of anything you can find and turning it into a teaspoon of soil,” she told us, teaching us the first principle of organics: feed the Earth.

In turn, we told Chesapeake Country, for by New Bay Times’ second issue (Vol. I: May 6, 1993), Pat and the Bramhall Family Farm had become a story.

We’d had the fun of visiting her and Bob on Brookswoods Road, seeing that great compression to gain a teaspoon of new earth from 1,000 pounds of leaves, mushroom compost, cover crops ploughed into the fields that grew them and wood shavings saved by an Annapolis cabinet maker.

We’d shared her February anticipation for the coming season. “Broccoli, red and green cabbage, lettuce, kale and onion plants have been ordered,” she told us. “Seed catalogues are covering the dining room table. The field has been laid out in alternating contour rows for vegetables and hay, and three long rows (150 feet) have already been tilled for peas and onions …”

By late April, we’d seen her asparagus stalks pricking sunward. “Pat Bramhall,” we wrote, “is expecting a bumper crop now that she’s fed her beds with mushroom compost, a rich, light mixture of horse manure, chicken droppings and gypsum.”

Bramhall Family Farm made a good story not only for what but also for whom Pat planned, toiled and planted.

“Feeding people is a mothering kind of thing,” Pat told us, and she was a good mother — not only to her four children but also to the families who shared the bounty she brought into being.

In 1991, she and Bob had dedicated their land and labor to a then-new idea called “community-supported agriculture.” Their community of support was 26 families who, each year over four or five years, bought shares in Pat’s harvest.

What a harvest that was! Asparagus, herbs and carrots; beans and beats; squash and spinach; peas, potatoes and parsnips; lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers; strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and gooseberries — and on top of all that, America’s rich agrarian heritage.

Each week, shareholders took a trip to the farm and back to the land. You’d drive up the lane, walk among butterflies and the mostly friendly dogs past the farmhouse lovingly restored by Bob to find your share freshly harvested, painstakingly washed and lovingly bagged. No matter how busy, shareholders made time to visit and marvel at the wonders the Bramhalls had wrought.

Such bounty couldn’t last forever. The work was demanding, and the drought of 1994 weighed heavily on Pat. That winter, she put in irrigation, but farming for shares had become too taxing.

We’ve learned this week that even a woman of Pat’s rich energy and ageless beauty cannot last forever. On August 2, 2003, cancer returned Pat Bramhall to Earth.


© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 7, 2003 @ 12:49am