As a student member of the Northern District Virginia Dietetics Association, I had the pleasure of touring Open Book Farm located in Myersville, Maryland. Mary Kathryn (MK) and Andrew Barnet started Open Book Farm in 2011 after gaining experience in sustainable and healthy livestock practices while apprenticing and volunteering at several farms across the country. They grow a little of everything including a variety of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, melons, peppers, herbs, garlic, a variety of potatoes, kale, cabbage, leeks and whatever else MK decides to experiment with. When we toured last weekend they had rows and rows of seedlings started in the greenhouse and numerous nutritional gems taking root in the field including potatoes, lettuce and leeks.
In addition to the produce, Open Book Farm also pasture-raises chickens, turkeys and pigs. I know many of you out there are vegetarians or vegans, but the looks on the faces of these “happy pigs” might just make you reconsider.
For those of you swearing to only feed your family organic, Open Book Farm awakens you to the challenges and costs local farmers face when trying to meet organic standards and opens your mind to alternative practices that might even been better than organic and help everyone’s pocketbook along the way. The following highlights a few of their farming practices:
- They continually rotate the land where they pasture their animals. Without rotation even eggs claiming to come from pastured chickens could be eating from the same plot of land with little to no new grass. Next time you are at your local farmer’s market, it’s not a bad idea to ask how frequently they rotate the animals they pasture.
- They use NO pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on their crops. Isn’t that what you think about when you think organic? The truth is there are a few of pesticides and fungicides that are permitted under organic standards.
- They also don’t use antibiotics, growth hormones, or parasiticides (“de-wormers”). Instead they concentrate their efforts on keeping their animals healthy and happy.
- They use no GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds. While many of the seeds they buy are organic, they prefer to keep their options open and buy seeds based on price and variety preferences.
Bottomline is that their growing and farming practices are, like their name. an “Open Book”. Don’t take my word for it, read more about their practices on their Open Book Farm website. They know they may not be for everyone, but take a look, give them a call and/or plan a visit to learn more.
I had two major takeaways from this whole experience.
- The first is to follow your passion. I still can’t get over that this couple found something they loved and put a plan in motion to make it a reality. While they get some help from neighbors and volunteers, they primary run their modest farm and CSA by themselves.
- Secondly, get to know your food. It’s clear that our disconnection with our food has got us all into more problems than we bargained for. We have let others make decision about what we eat without any accountability. It’s time to reconnect with our food!
Even if Open Mind Farm isn’t for you, ask more questions at your local farmer’s market, do research on your favorite supermarket brands or simply start reading your food labels to know what you are putting into your body – and your family’s bodies. The sooner we do a better job of getting to know our food and farmers, the sooner we start giving our health and nutrition the priority it deserves.