Category Archives: the eastern shore

crabs

is there anything more symbolic of summer on the chesapeake than crabs?  i certainly can’t think of anything, and considering how much i have been eating this trip i can feel my mercury level or what ever other toxin that crab accumulate rising in my body.  it is surly worth it, if only for my attachment to tradition than to the actual flavor.  but oh what a flavor.

a crab

picking crabs

my family met up with ma’s family and we all had a good time sitting around the table eating crabs.  for those not familiar with the tradition big piles of crabs are dumped on the middle of a table covered in craft paper.  then using mallets and knives the crabs are disemboweled and the meat removed and eaten.  one crab is hardly enough to fill a person up – and i think i at 3 or 4, which would hardly have impressed my teen self as i’m pretty certain i could eat at least a dozen.  but it’s quality not quality that counts, and these were by far some of the best crabs i have consumed (all thanks to ma’s brother david), and i had other things to eat beside crabs, namely corn.  we had acquired corn from greenbranch farm and it was great.  crabs, corn and beer the great maryland tradition.

summer on the eastern shore

the first summer in long time that we have visited back to the motherland – the eastern shore of maryland.  i certainly don’t miss the oppression of the warm weather and humidity, but still it’s nice to enjoy home with plants growing instead of the cold dreary weather of december.  ma and i split up with i visiting my folks and she hers and meeting up again on the 4th.

few locations are as ingrained in my psyche as much as pemberton park, a small stand of woods that my family and i would go for walks at almost every week.  i don’t think i have completed a visit to my folks house without at least one walk there, and often multiple walks.  so we had to take a walk there.  always on the look out for food – we foraged on black berries.

blackberries

warm from the sun, and complex flavored – not just sweet, but with some tartness, and a little bitter flavor of tannin.  i think i’m coming to realize that i like black berries much better than black raspberries, or perhaps it is just that the flavor of cultivated varieties lacks complexity – it’s flavor profile reduced to little more than sweet.

after pemberton and a lunch time meal of crab cakes (you have to gorge yourself on the crustaceans when i can), we headed out to visit greenbranch farms.  the owner/operator – ted also used to work for my farming mentor jay.  i wanted to check out his operation and see what other organic farmers were doing in the area.

i have to say i was impressed.  ted had a really nice farm stand, and a very diverse farm.

produce

price list

in addition to produce he also offered beef, chicken, pork and eggs from his farm plus milk and cheese from a local dairy.  ted was kind enough to take a bit of time to talk about his operation and the lay of the maryland organic land – at least as he saw it.  Seems that there is still a huge amount of demand, and in talking i saw several gaps in the food system mostly in processing and in distribution.  the same gaps that you see in urban areas you seem to be seeing in rural areas.  part of the reason f0r this is that both communities are trying to create system that are based on local small scale processing.

my folks and i took a quick tour of his farm.

a view from the south end of the fields.

about half of the fields were in diverse vegetables and the other half was in pasture.  these get rotated every couple of years so that the area that was in pasture turns into vegetables.

broilers

out in the field he had about a dozen chicken tractors with broilers in them.  these are moveable coops that each day get dragged to a bit of pasture that has not yet been grazed on yet.

eggmobile

in addition to the broilers he also had this movable coop for laying hens.

chickens

the livestock operation seems to be somewhat modeled after joel salatin’s work at polyface farm.  in the wood lot were pigs but they were not interested in anything to do with me.

later that night my mama

and i put together a peach cobbler – easily among my favorite of treats – peaches just somehow lend themselves to being cooked with dough so well.  i mostly just listened and took pictures.  this is from my grandma’s recipe.

the filling for the cobbler

mama making cobbler

the finished cobbler

look at it glistening – looks like something that should be featured in magazine or something like that.  when ma was recommending that we take a quick trip home for the fourth of july weekend, i thought it was much to short of a trip to travel that far, but even just one day with my folks is worth the trip.  what fun.

old skool garden

so i’ve had a new computer for i think 3 years now, which means it’s not new anymore, but considering that the last one i got was in 1998, it’s gonna be a long time before i think of it as old.  you can do a file transfer of all your stuff from one computer to the other when you first set it up, but i knew i had a bunch of junk that i wanted to get rid of before i transferred anything over so i didn’t bother.  i had one of those thumb drives that i was using to transfer over – but it only held 128 mb on it.  at the time of acquiring this thumb drive 128 mb seemed like a tremendous amount of memory to have on such a little thing.  trying to transfer all the files in 128 mb chunks proved to be a chore and i soon gave up in frustration.

over the holidays ma’s mom was kind enough to give me a new thumb drive that holds a gig worth of stuff.  a gig –  just sit back and ponder how much memory that is.  i remember having a computer with a 512 mb hard drive and thinking that there is no way they could every make a bigger hard drive.  there is no way i will ever be able to fill that thing up.

moving the files over from the old computer has revealed some gems – including these from about 12 years ago.

the east side of the garden

the west side of the garden

the garden that started me down this journey, the garden that made me want to quit my job the go work on a farm.  and man is it unimpressive.  well actually the little borders made of boards from pallets and the pins holding them in place made of bamboo are pretty impressive.  but nothing else looking to impressive.  many things were learned in this garden playing on my own.  my first battles with squash vine borer, my first battles with woodchucks, my first expose to quackgrass, my first exposure to fusarium wilt.  it’s a wonder i kept going.  i think i was a little over excited to use photoshop to label everything in these photos – a bit busy.

in the background you can see the vacant lot next to the garden where the billboard company used to store supplies.  i would collect black walnuts from the yard, take out the five iron i found in a closet when we moved in and hit them as hard as i could into the vacant lot.  the goal was to try to hit the metal billboards which would make such  a delightful thud noise when the walnuts struck them.

one day i came home from work to discover that the billboard company had gotten its revenge, they had expanded their parking area into my garden, grading the little hill i used to hit walnuts off and covering in black top.  wasn’t the first garden i’d lost to building, and it wasn’t the last.

assateague island

perhaps one of the things the eastern shore of maryland is best known for is its wild horses located on the barrier island of assateague.  knowledge of the ponies has entered popular culture mainly though the publication of the book “misty of chincoteague” and the follow up “stormy, misty’s foal”.  i’m pretty certain they are required reading for girls between the age of 8 and 12 that are into horses.  i’ve not read them, but i recall my sister reading them, and even making a pilgrimage to see misty’s preserved body.

i don’t really care about wild ponies, but i do always enjoy a trip to assateague.  since it is a national park, it doesn’t have the built up quality of other beaches in maryland.  assateague is where i would spend afternoons all though the summer playing in the surf, crabbing, claming and having a good time.

ma, my sister, and here girlfriend on the other hand were quite excited about ponies, and it was a good day for spotting them.  once you have spotted a couple of them the novelty wears off quickly, they are pretty much just horses that stand around and eat, they just happen to be wild.

a couple of ponies

technically i think these are horses, but after reading a little about horses and ponies, it seems like it’s a pretty grey subject, and really not that important, at least to me.  this guy on the left actually tried to stick his head in the car, thanks to my fathers quick reactions we were able to close the door in time and avoid having a pony in the car.  seems that regardless of the recommendations of the park service, folks feed and pet the ponies.  the ponies do bite and kick and more than a few folks have been hurt by these guys.  i find myself rooting for the ponies to take a little nip at these tourists petting the ponies just to teach them a lesson.  theses are the same folks that like to feed bears at yellowstone, and that could have much more deadly results.

ponds formed behind the dunes

we walked on the beach for about an hour and a half, collecting shells and chasing sand pipers.  it was bright and sunny and magical and amazing, and i wanted the moment to never end.  my sister and i pretended to talk on cell phones to each other made out of oyster shells.

after words we went on walks though the marsh, forests and dunes, all of which were short, and only one of which featured eastern europeans eating pringles.

sunset over the marsh

it started to get cold and dark and we headed back home to sit by the fire and eat take out chinese.

the upper ferry

more dispatches from the homeland  – and specifically the oddities of the westside

no one from the eastern shore seems to think much of the ferry system we have, there are several small ferries that cross various rivers throughout the area, 2 happen to be in wicomico county where i’m from and the upper ferry is the one i would often take to get to friends houses and cut out time in a trip.

in most places they would have long since added a bridge, but that does have the disadvantage of costing money, putting the ferry operater out of a job, and getting in the way of barge traffic.  as they say – if it an’t broke, why fix it.  while in college i would often take friends from out of town to see this little quaint slice of country living.  they always seemed shocked, and i took great delight in this shock.  i felt part of my role in being from the area was to act as a tour guide to the local scene.

the upper ferry seen from the shore

from this view you can see the ferry approaching with a mini van on it, and the operator booth on the left.  this is the upper ferry which is the smaller of the 2 ferries, it fits 2 cars, and only takes about 5 minutes to cross.  the other ferry over the wicomico is at whitehaven which is big enough for 3 and takes more like 10 minutes.

the view looking over the side of the ferry

a view looking over the side of the ferry

view looking out the front of the ferry

and a view looking out the front.  i always hoped to get the front position so i could pretend my car was amphibious.  i used to use the ferry as a short cut to ride my bike to friends’s houses that were on the westside.  i love the ferry

the westside

more of the back story, this is part 2.

the area of wicomico county to the west of route 50, north of the wicomico river, and south of the nanticoke river is generally refered to as “the westside”.  for the last couple years before leaving the eastern shore this is where ma and i made our home.  full of tiny fishing and farming communities, it is about as far away from the pace and lifestyle of detroit as you could get.  even though it is in same county it is also pretty different from the small town i grew up in, it was an adjustment for me to move there.

jay’s farm is located in bivalve, named after the product its fortune was built upon.  no one ever seems to belive me that it is the actual name of the place, and so, I took this photo of the village’s sign.

the sign for the village of bivalve coming into town

in addition to working in bivalve on jay’s farm i also used to live in a camper back behind his barn for about a year.  ma lived in a neighboring village of tyaskin.

downtown tyaskin

tyaskin, like bivalve is little more than a collection of houses, it does however have what it is able to hold over the other head of all the other towns on the westside: a bar.  i think i went there twice, as we had no money.

i particularly love the purple house with its huge sleeper porch, and of course the fact that it is located next to a bright pink house doesn’t hurt.  the small pink building is the old post office, the new post office is now just across the street.  tyaskin’s total population can’t exceed 100.

the house we used to live in

above is the house ma and i used to live in.  i should stop right now and point out that this is what the house looks like right now, this is not what is looked like over 7 years ago when we lived in it.  since then it’s been raised up about 4 feet, had a foundation laid under it, all the windows replaced, new porch, roof replaced, and a paint job, and that’s just the outside, i can’t imagine what they have done to the inside.  it pretty much doesn’t look anything like the house we lived in.  it was a cool house, but it was completely run down, when we lived there.

how much you want to know about the history of ma and i, i don’t know, but seems i’m gonna give you at least a little.  ma and i both went to the same school, both studied art, both had the same glass blowing professor.  but we were separated by a few years, and never met, likely for the best, we both needed to work things out.  our old professor used to live in the house you see above. i had spent plenty of evenings out at bonfires there hanging out.

after i moved into the trailer behind jay’s barn i spent some time just hanging out with myself.  i was coming out of a long relationship and felt it good to focus on myself,  that combined with the fact that i was exhausted from 12 hour farm days, ment i wasn’t going to go out and look for company.

when i did come out of my self imposed hiatus i went to visit my old professor.  he wasn’t there, he had moved out, but ma was, and we hit it off.  i want to thank my former professor for moving out, i might never have met ma otherwise.

things move fast, and before you know it i had moved out of the camper and into ma’s house in tyaskin.  she needed someone else to pay rent and i needed someplace with heat – as that in the camper wasn’t working.  and i was also spending every waking hour of the day that i could with ma so it only made sense that we live together.  i don’t want to make it seem like this was just a decision of economics, as it was all about the love.

life in tyaskin was good, we were only a few blocks from the naticoke river, taking nightly walks to look at the water. it was quiet and pretty simple.

the view from off the dock in tyaskin

i’ve often thought the eastern shore of maryland should be called the land where the sky becomes the water, the sight off the coast often looking more like a gehrald richter painting than a real waterscape.  i loved living in tyaskin in many ways, but both ma and i needed a change, and certainly detroit was a change.

jay’s place

a little back story over the next couple days, as i visited some sites formative to the adventure we are on.

a trip to the eastern shore is incomplete without a trip to see my mentor and friend jay.  i spent a couple of seasons working for him, first at his greenhouse operation and market garden, then helping to take down and move his greenhouses, and start up a csa.  i can’t say enough good things about jay, he is one of the most innovative farmers i know, has  a huge caring heart, really has a gift with words (as his wife kathy once said, he didn’t kiss the blarney stone, he ate it), and is well read and research on all aspects of sustainable agriculture.  i feel lucky to have been able to spend the time i did with him, learning so much about myself and farming.  even though i’ve never had any formal education in agriculture i feel as though i’m about as well educated as those that have been to formal programs.  i can count one hand the people who truly changed me as a person, and jay is certainly among them.

jay is not without his difficulties and few have made it though a full season working with him, he can be irritable, impatient, stubborn, and downright mean at times.  but he is fully aware of these things, and i genuinely think he works to reduce these traits in himself, many would just accept themselves and move on.

aside from the need to check in and chat, a trip to his farm is always worth it to see what new innovations jay has been adding to his repertoire.

mobile chicken coop

this guy is a mobile chicken pen which jay claims costs about 200 dollars and takes under a day to build.  it can support up to 50 meat birds, not seen in this picture is the tarping that goes over half of the structure to give the chickens shade and shelter from the rain, the waterer and the feeders.  it could be moved by one or two people or with a tractor, as jay does.  it seemed to me that if you just threw some plastic overtop of these they could become a pretty simple greenhouse, and if you had doors on either end, you could link them all together.  the chickens that jay had been using for forage go under several names, but the most common was the red ranger, pretty good foragers and come to weight relatively well.  this last year he has grown and processed 700 birds, and plans to continue expanding that, planting pasture out in the fields for him to forage.  he can’t keep up with demand for them, it seems it will be some time before the market is saturated with free range meats.

jay had also constructed this yurt.

a yurt

i didn’t think i’d be posting so soon again about a yurt.  this guy is much bigger than the one we stayed in, 24 feet across, and at least 12 feet high, and was manufactured by blue ridge yurts.  jay’s brother in law bob was staying in this along with his dogs.  it was being wired for electric, internet, shower, and a composting toilet.  this yurt also housed a secret.

a root cellar under the yurt

around the back dug out of the side of the hill is a root cellar.

inside the root cellar

the root cellar is full of sweet potatoes right now.  the eastern shore summers are pretty much miserable, hot, extremely humid and full of all kinds of biting insects.  with this knowledge and experience he is focusing on trying to farm more on the winter harvest and less on the summer.  between high tunnels, quick hoops, greenhouse, and the root cellar he can focus on the time that is more comfortable to farm, and the time when the market has less competition. to learn more about the csa jay is a part of check out this website.   here is one last view of the farm showing the high tunnel, the propagation greenhouse,  and chickens.  the market gardens are planted to the right of the high tunnel and the main acreage is over the ridge to the left of the propagation greenhouse.

greenhouse on the left, chickens in the middle, high tunnel on the right