Story by Rose Talbot and Photography by John Kite
Carrots thicker than coke cans. Tomatoes the size of softballs. Cantaloupes the size of basketballs. Yellow heirloom tomatoes, white and lavender eggplants, chocolate peppers and local honey-these are just a sampling of the treasures that can be unearthed at Southern Maryland's roadside produce stands. While you may need to hit the grocery store to find out-of-season fruits and vegetables, you'll find a wide variety of seasonal produce at roadside stands. Okra: yes. Lima beans: sure. Figs: if you're lucky. Peaches, apples and melons: yes, yes and yes.
Dunkirk mother-of-four, Tara Zwick, said "I prefer to buy local," at the produce stands when she stopped at Trott's Fresh Farm Produce just north of Dunkirk Town Center. She does admit though that she sometimes finds herself in the grocery store at 10 p.m. when she doesn't have to bring her kids along. Most of the produce stands welcome children to touch and smell-anything to get them excited about eating fresh, local produce and keep their parents coming back.
"People bring their kids," to the Funny Farm Market in Callaway manager Trish Combs says, "and we have a lot of repeat customers." The cheerful and quirky produce stand and farm is a consortium of local farmers who specialize in natural fruits, vegetables and free-range products and packaged goods. Its mission is using sustainable farming methods and promoting local growers, such as the Amish or Mennonite. Most of its seasonal fruits and vegetables are organically grown with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Another mission of the nonprofit farm and market is to provide employment for people with disabilities in the community. Surplus food is donated to the Three Oaks Homeless Shelter and the Camp Maria Retreat Center for the Disabled.
"We also rescue a lot of animals," says manager Trish Combs. This summer about a dozen chickens, several baby goats, a few cats and an aging Jack Russell Terrier named Elvis called the Funny Farm home. "Elvis thinks he owns the place," Combs concedes. He definitely rules the animals. Eventually, the goats will be brought to the front of the property for a small petting zoo area.
The Funny Farm is a newbie in comparison to the other produce stands in Southern Maryland. Although Combs grew up in the house on the property and can point out the evergreen that was the family's Christmas tree in the 1950s, the market has only been in business about five years.
This fall the Funny Farm Market will offer pumpkins, gourds, and mums that have been grown onsite. Winter crops such as beets and carrots were planted in one of two greenhouses this summer. "We'll close sometime in December and reopen in April. We really don't have a set schedule. The weather really predicts the small farm," Combs said. Last year the harsh winter did a number on the honeybees.
It's during those cold winter months that Combs relies even more on her employees to look after the animals. "It's very therapeutic for them, and in some cases, it's their first opportunity to really care for a living creature," she says.
Some of the tri-county's produce stands are blink-and-you'll-miss-'em small. Lorraine Catterton has been selling produce at her daughter Candi's stand in Owings for at least 10 years, but at age 81, she refuses to promise that she'll be back next year. "We just do the summer vegetables, and when they're gone, so am I," she says.
Some stands sell into the fall, while others boast permanent open-year-round structures like Chesapeake's Bounty in St. Leonard. Some spring-up like mushrooms after a summer rain, setting up in a vacant lot on a busy corner when the fields have been blessed with overabundance. Some stands are strictly cash-and-carry, while others take credit cards. Some even accept SNAP cards so people on public assistance can partake in the local bounty. A few operate on the honor system and keep a small, locked drop box for after-hours purchases.
One not-so-secret secret: Almost all the roadside stands supplement their offerings with produce and items from other vendors, whether from other local farmers, crafters, or packaged goods from out-of-state companies.
In the United States, food travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to consumer, according to research by Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The conventional food distribution system uses four to 17 times more fuel and emits five to 17 times more carbon dioxide than local and statewide systems. Most fresh fruits and vegetables produced in the United States are grown in California, Florida and Washington. They can spend seven to 14 days in transit before they reach your supermarket, Foodroutes.org reports. By contrast, most Southern Maryland growers pick their crops in the early morning and have them roadside just a few miles away by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.
Jacob Sunderland at Linda's Plants and Produce stand, at the corner of Broomes Island Road and Route 4 in Port Republic, says it's par for the course for his family to be in the fields by 5 a.m. to pick the day's bounty. The family sells seasonal fruits and vegetables and cut flowers that are grown four miles from the produce stand.
Green Things Farm Fresh Produce on Berry Road in Waldorf used to have a rooster named the General who knew how to draw a crowd. Owner Bob Hamilton taught him to crow on command and Wendy Rieger from Channel 4 News did a segment on him. Now the General's son, Loner, inherited the job, but Loner seems afraid of his own shadow and stays out of the spotlight.
Hamilton has been in business at this location for 40 years, but he doubts any of his three grown sons will ever take over his business. "When I go, the sale sign will go up, but not as long as I'm living," he says. "It's rewarding. You feel good inside, but your bank account doesn't grow too big.
"As a boy, I used to set out here and sell lemonade. I'd see maybe two cars go by an hour. These days, a rabbit has to be pretty quick to make it across those lanes," which number four across in each direction counting the turn lanes.
These days Hamilton sells seasonal fruits and vegetables; firewood; cherry, hickory and apple wood for barbeque smokers; hay and straw; McCutcheon's relishes and jams; and local honey and eggs. He'll stay open till Thanksgiving and sell turnips, greens like kale and cabbage, apples and pumpkins. "Once it freezes," he says, "the produce freezes. I don't have any way to keep it."
When tobacco was king, not many local farmers grew food crops for the public-tobacco was much more profitable. There were tobacco fields as far as the eye could see down every country road. After the state tobacco buy-out, a program that paid farmers to never plant tobacco again, many of those farmers sold their fields to developers. The farms that remained switched to food crops.
So when you're speeding down a divided highway and you come up behind a tractor, remember those tractors set Southern Maryland apart and make living in Southern Maryland special. We get the benefit of the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables at the very best prices just because we're close to the source. Supporting local farmers preserves the environment and protects Southern Maryland's farming heritage.
Area Roadside Stands
Here is a sampling of the many fine roadside produce stands in Southern Maryland, by county, roughly from north to south. Please let us know if we missed any.
Trott's Fresh Farm Produce
Southern Maryland Boulevard, Dunkirk
Lyons Fresh Produce
200 Chesapeake Beach Road, Owings
Homes and Gardens by Les
1025 Chesapeake Beach Road, Owings
7880 Southern Maryland Boulevard, Owings
Corner of Rt. 4 and Georgianna Lane, Owings
Cox Farm Fresh Produce
1935 Solomons Island Rd, Prince Frederick
Spider Hall Produce
3915 Hallowing Point Road, Barstow
Linda's Plants and Produce
Corner of Rt.2-4 and Broomes Island Road, Port Republic
Tettimer's St. Leonard Road (Rt. 765) and Parkers Creek Road, Port Republic
6415 St. Leonard Road, St. Leonard
Green Things 1065 Berry Road, Waldorf
10650 Berry Road, Waldorf
Corner of Holly Lane and Leonardtown Road, Waldorf
Middleton Manor Farm
5056 Leonardtown Road, Waldorf
6932 Serenity Farm Road, Benedict
7710 Crain Highway, La Plata
St. Mary's County
Yoder's Local Produce
29569 Three Notch Road, Charlotte Hall
29765 Three Notch Road, Charlotte Hall
Country Market Produce
27263 Three Notch Road, Patuxent
Budd's Creek Produce
26757 Thompson Corner Road, Budds Creek
Zimmerman's Greenhouse & Produce
Rt. 5, Loveville
Russell's Farm Fresh Market
23635 Bayside Road, Clements, and at the junction of St. Andrews Church Road and Fairgrounds Road, Leonardtown
Funny Farm Market
210570 Point Lookout Road, Callaway