At eight forty-five Saturday morning a small group of Blue Antler Studio regulars loaded a cooler into the back of my sister-in-law’s SUV, then all five of us piled into the car and headed down the gravel road and off the ridge. It was a hot day for the local back roads farm tour but our spirits were high; at least the ride would be air-conditioned. We had done our homework and had mapped out several of the fifteen or so small family run operations we wanted to visit, including a small organic farm, a horse ranch, a cattle farm, a beekeeper and three wineries.
Within fifteen minutes we were pulling into Greensleeves, a twelve acre sustainable farm and our first stop of the day. We were met by sweltering heat and an enthusiastic volunteer as we got out of the car. After registering and sticking on our nametags, we were directed toward a small building surrounded by several other structures: a couple of small barns, a greenhouse and another shed or two. Tall grasses and flowers, both wild and self seeding cultivars, were competing for space and sun alongside the buildings and pathways, giving the place a slightly unkempt appearance.
Inside the building a long low table filled with produce, jams, jellies, flavored mustards, raw cheese and soap stretched out beneath a canopy of drying herbs and flowers that hung from low rafters. Gretchen, the farmer and our guide, led us on a very informative and inspiring tour starting with the barn; where we met Valentino, the resident sheep, and saw large cloves of garlic drying in racks. As Gretchen explained the principles of permaculture, we strolled through the gardens; where a few hardy volunteers were defying the heat, pulling weeds by hand so not to disturb the soil. There was evidence everywhere of the competition between unruly weeds and the crops, but Gretchen picks her battles wisely; truly organic practices involve maintaining a delicate truce between nature’s disorderly behavior and a farmer’s attempt to coax a living from the land. We then walked by a small orchard populated with apples, pears and peach trees. As we passed back through the yard we stopped to see the crowing rooster and his harem of hens, before finishing up our tour back at the produce building.
In the produce shed, Gretchen took us into her cold storage, a cool piece of heaven on such a hot day, where the cheeses, berries and greens were stored. Then after loading the cooler with our purchases and promising to return to help pull weeds, but not before the heat wave had passed, we were off to our next stop.
As we pulled into Little Rock Farm they were grilling up goodies in the yard. For a buck fifty we tasted some of their home-grown beef-burgers; grass fed, antibiotic and hormone free: fifty cents more treated us to corn-on-the-cob, hot off the grill. Also for sale was some home-baked zucchini bread and local honey. They keep vacuum packed, frozen beef stored in a freezer right there in the barn. A payment box is permanently mounted on the wall by the door so customers can help themselves, if the family’s not around you just pay on your way out; self check out farm style. If its produce or fresh eggs you need, simply step into the cold storage at the other end of the barn, get what you need and drop your cash into the box; country life is a blessed life.
The next stop was our first winery of the day. I prefer dry red wines, and my experience has been that small family run operations tend toward milder, sweeter selections: Not Camp Springs Vineyards, they produce a full range of wines from sweet to dry. After tasting, and purchasing a few bottles, we wandered through the small art gallery, in the loft of their tasting room, enjoying the artwork and visiting with the artists. Local photographer, Don Wiedeman whose preferred subjects are the historic, German, stone structures of the area, voiced an interest in seeing the log structures out on the ridge, including Blue Antler Studio. Then an unexpected down pour forced us to wait out the rain over a glass of Merlot in the tasting room: Isn’t summer time sweet.
I also found wines to my liking at our next two stops; StoneBrook and Seven Wells. Each offered a full-bodied red that I enjoyed. As the afternoon began to slip away we made our last stop at the impressive LazyK horse ranch. The LazyK is a beautiful facility offering boarding; riding lessons; an impressive, dust-free, indoor arena; and riding trails. But the heat and the wine were taking their toll so we headed back to the ridge, content in our decision to plan a visit to the Beezy Bee farm on another day.
On the ride home we made plans for one more gathering at Blue Antler Studio before my sister Jane goes back to her life in California and me back to mine in Florida. While we’re always a little sad to leave our family on the ridge, our roots run so deep in this rocky soil that no matter how long or far we travel we stay grounded with a good sense of place. After this wonderful summer together we carry away with us the memories of creative gatherings and time shared, keeping the ties that bind us to our family and friends on the ridge ever strong.