A 350-Year-Old Farm Goes Modern

You may have heard whispers about a haunted house somewhere behind Cape St. Claire Elementary School. If yours is one of the 2,500 families living in the Cape, you probably have. If your children heard the stories, they may have even headed up there for an adventure.
    Fact is, a whole world existed — still exists — back there, through what used to be pastures, along a path that goes through vine-covered shrubs and small trees and emerges on the other side. If you look toward the west then you will see it, a house on a hill.
    Every place has a spirit. This place, now known as Goshen Farm, has many, having perhaps provided a seasonal camp for First Peoples before Virginia Puritans, invited by Cecil Calvert to help stabilize the colony of Maryland, settled here in the mid-1600s.
    Driving along Cape St. Claire Road today, you could miss the long driveway that leads back into the woods. In 1663, the farm was known as Leonard’s Neck and amounted to 290 acres. In the time since, it was farmed by family after family — Gardiners, Tydingses, Brices and others — decade after decade, until it was passed to the Radoffs in 1942.
    Dr. Morris Leon Radoff was Maryland’s state archivist; his wife, May, came from a Baltimore family that got its wealth from silver. Dr. Radoff died in the home, and May lived there until her death in 1991.
    Since then, the house has seen its share of vandals and gossip.
    Maybe it’s the spirit of a place that blends with a story or two to draw us in. That’s what happened to Barbara Morgan, who grew up in the Cape.

The Radoff nieces, Linda and Olivia, worked the farm in 1955, top.

    “I had no idea that it was post-Revolutionary War era,” she says. “I became slightly obsessed.”
    Her obsession led to the formation of the Goshen Farm Preservation Society in 2006, a Cape St. Claire-based non-profit with the mission of restoring the main house. Morgan is its president; its 66-household membership ranges from children to retirees.

Gratitude in Action

    Does anyone ever ask land what it wants? What it needs? Does the land and all that’s in it appreciate when humans take an interest? All the more when that interest goes beyond mere use, as when one is gardening, and takes a moment to enjoy a bumblebee hunting for nectar, or the wind caressing the trees, or the call of a male cardinal.

In the modern age, Devon Burke, 12, turns soil in her family’s sharing garden plot at Goshen Farm.

    Maybe, most of all, it’s not the products of the use, but these immeasurable kinds of experiences that call certain people to the land.
    Nicole Neboshynsky is another. She grew up in mid-coast Maine, where her grandfather farmed strawberries and blueberries. On moving to Maryland, Neboshynsky had hoped to find similar lifeways to pass to her two sons, Aiden, 6, and Gavin, 4. What was easy in Maine — finding an affordable old farm — was not so likely here.
    She yearned to garden. Even that eluded her.
    “There are mature trees and sandy soil,” she says of Cape St. Claire. “Most people don’t have enough sun to grow a garden.”
    Goshen Farm, she learned, was a place where some locals would hike or walk their dogs, where students might pass going to school. She approached the Goshen Farm Preservation Society’s board: Could a garden be raised there? The board said Yes.
    Now the test was herself and her stamina. The land behind the house was fairly level but full of small trees and choked with vines. She began to cut by hand. It was too much.
    In May 2011, the Society’s former building chairman, Jason Brown, organized a cleanup and secured the donation of a Bobcat from Increte of Maryland to help clear the space. Neboshynsky started seeds and unfurled a rolled-up fence for some protection from the deer. With no running water — the pump didn’t work and the house didn’t have gutters to direct water to rain barrels — she carried 35 milk jugs of water up every other day.
    Her project raised some awareness, and the land raised some melons and squashes. Rabbits and vandals stayed away. The kids loved it. So did the folks at the nearby Cape St. Claire Volunteer Fire Company, who shared in the harvest.

Goshen Farm Version 2.0

    Goshen Farm’s future was years in the making. It took four years for the Goshen Farm Preservation Society to convince the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, which owns the land and the house, to lease them the farm. The 10-year lease (with five-year renewals) was a year old when Neboshynsky proposed bringing a garden back to the farm. The garden took on a life of its own.
    More partners joined in sharing the work. Two volunteers, Roy Benner and Terry Brandon, installed wood fencing repurposed from a community off College Parkway where a new fence was going up. They added a perimeter line between posts at the top to discourage deer. The garden has more than 50 plots, each 100 square feet. They rent to members of the Preservation Society for $25 each.
    Diane Velozo was one of the first to sign up. She teaches first grade at Cape St. Claire Elementary and oversees the Green School program.
    Velozo is not new to efforts that connect students with the land and green growing things; she and her brother, a farmer, helped set up greenhouses for an inner-city-Harrisburg, Pa., school some years ago, Still, she claims she’s “not much of a gardener.”
    Velozo says that hand-to-land connections are a fine way to teach children, because what they learn about soil types and nutrition will be reinforced by what they do with their own hands while tending the garden plots. It helps them know “where their food comes from” and also gives them a different way of looking at a place that has a reputation of being haunted.
    “This isn’t wasted land,” Velozo says.

You Can Take the Girl out of the Land …

    Corinne Bailey would agree. She was one of those kids intrigued by the house’s story. Like Barb Morgan, the more she learned, the more she wanted to learn.
    Now a Towson University freshman, Bailey’s most recent homage to Goshen was a short writing for her English class about her first visit to the place as a grade-schooler.
    Working around the property and learning the history have given her an “appreciation for old things.” Getting to know the house, which she describes as “wise,” means it’s no longer just an old house and the place not simply an abandoned piece of land. It’s “where I can go to think when I’m alone,” she says.

Goshen Farm Version 3.0?

    When you tune into a place like Goshen, it’s as if the heart becomes a sail, billowing in winds past and present. Whether the winds ahead gust or blow smoothly will depend on how many hearts the place speaks to, what they can envision — and whether they’re willing to work for it.
    It takes work to restore a house. To preserve an oasis in the Broadneck ’burbs where children can play and feel at home out of doors. To plant a sharing garden where neighbors can trade tips for growing bell peppers or try a new way of making compost.
    It takes luck …
    Imagine a late afternoon, as people gather to water their plots, to see what’s coming up. If May Radoff were alive, she might wander up and share tips. Maybe Dr. Radoff, dozing over a book and awakened by the voices, would rise to the doorway of his old farmhand’s quarters and look to see what’s going on. The former archivist would be pleased.

Learn more about the history of Goshen Farm, download a walking guide and join the Society at goshenfarm.org.