It Takes a Village (of Farmers) to Make A Rake's Progress

Chefs Gjerde and Crooks talk sourcing local

By AJ Dronkers, Photography by Jared Soares

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DC locavores, whether foodies or artisans, awaited the opening of the new Line Hotel in Adams Morgan anxiously. The hotel was built to showcase the work of local makers all round, and the positive reception has proven the concept. Each of the rooms was individually curated with both furnishings and art. And that level of individuality was also given to the plan for food service: two restaurants by award-winning chefs, bringing together Chef Erik Bruner-Yang to open Brothers & Sisters and Chef Spike Gjerde and team from Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, renowned for bringing sourcing local to the highest levels.

The Gjerde restaurant group, Foodshed, spent $2.1 million with local growers in 2016, a number that they estimate is to grow with their new operations. We sat down to talk with Chef Patrick “Opie” Crooks and Chef Spike Gjerde to hear more about their inspirations and how they are making it happen.

Edible DC: Before you opened, you held a “Growers Banquet” with all the farmers and producers that you source from here. Why was that evening important to your team.

Chef Opie: For us, it started years ago. Many of these growers are people we have been using since the beginning. For over 20 years we have had them in for dinner at Woodberry Kitchen, but never as a group. It was really important for us to start off this way—because the food we source from this group goes into banquets, employee dining, and our two restaurants at The Line Hotel, A Rake’s Progress and The Cup We All Race 4. And our commitment to local sourcing is how we wanted to kick things off in a very public way. The hotel has been really supportive of our experiments and loving things like our pickled beets.

Chef Spike: The cool thing was how much it meant for our team. I didn’t anticipate that. But the Growers Banquet generated this huge, positive energy—the hotel and lobby were full of farmers, families and their kids. The hotel felt radiant with their presence all night. For days and weeks after, people kept saying how special to them it was that they were there that night. We are feeding big groups of people via banquets with this all-local food. It’s challenge for us and not many people can do it. We had a tech company the night after the Growers Banquet and they had the same food and were very happy. We celebrated a proof of concept that actually works.

“This group has shared a table for many years at Woodberry Kitchen but never shared a table together. Rake team, meet your farmers; farmers, meet the team.” —Chef Spike at the Growers Banquet, a night celebrating all the farmers and producers before the restaurant opened.

Edible DC: From how many producers do you currently source? As you extend into a new regional area (DC) with new restaurants and a sizable operation, how did that change your sourcing and supply chain strategy?

Chef Opie: As of last year, we work with 156 farmers. We’ve gone deeper into Virginia. We were buying some stuff once a week that we now we need twice a week. We buy whatever they need to grow. Dead of winter is the roughest time. We work with co-ops since they can pull from many different sources to meet our demand. Two weeks ago I randomly got a hold of 10 dozen duck eggs. So within a day it had to be something with duck eggs on the menu; I came up with duck grits.

Chef Spike: Asparagus, rhubarb and ramps are bellwether for us; they really mark the shift in seasons. On a daily basis, Opie is adjusting and reacting to what’s available. April is frustrating because the world turns green but farms are still catching up.

Edible DC: When you buy what the farmers produce, instead of selectively picking fan favorites, how difficult is it to push patrons toward potentially unknown or unpopular produce?

Chef Opie: I try to sneak in stuff that people don’t know, sprinkle it in to support the farmer. Add rare leafy greens to mix of lettuce or use as a garnish. Heinz Thomet of Next Step Produce was out of the classic orange sweet potatoes but had a white one. People freaked out about this white sweet potato that actually originated here on the Eastern Shore. But on the menu, we’ll just say “sweet potato” to simplify and help sell what we get.

Chef Spike: The most compelling reason to get stuff on the menu is because a farmer grows it. What ends up on our menu is so connected to that—I will never stop thinking in those terms. There is absolutely an economic compulsion here—not just creative. Get it on the menu so we can sell more. Especially if a farmer comes to us with “I have a lot of this and it’s not selling at market,” that’s our call to action. Zach Lester of Tree & Leaf Farm had a lot of savoy cabbage and we came up with a dish to help him push through his supply. Takes a fair amount of communication between Chef Opie and farmers. Daily texts on what’s happening in the field and what he can use.

Edible DC: The menus offer daily updates from the farmers and notes about weather. Why is that important for you to share with your guests? 

Chef Spike: The notes are a low-key way for us to start conversation. The farm lists at some restaurants seems so basic now and we wanted to go a step further.

Edible DC: Chef Spike’s philosophy has always been “local only”—how do you swap out things like limes, lemons and avocados for local produce?

Chef Spike: So far so good. If we are doing it right, we are giving people plenty to think about and try. We wow them with what we have and they don’t miss what we don’t have. The best defense is a good offense.

Edible DC: Any reactions/updates since you opened? 

Chef Opie: We are going to do what we do. The implications of what we do go so much further than our table. We are returning value to our food system. If we get a bad critique about a specific item, I don’t take it off menu. The implication would be that all of that food from a farmer is trashed. We can tweak and react based on feedback but we don’t abandon this supply chain. The core of what we do is source local.

Chef Spike: There is no alternative from buying from local farms. The urgency in what we do is not speculative – it’s economic. We have to pay farmers for what they do or they can’t exist.
 

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Preserving the Piedmont by Putting It to Work for Local Food

By Whitney Pipkin

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Photo by Paula Cole

Chris Miller thinks about progress in 15-year increments. That sort of patience is required to helm the Piedmont Environmental Council, a nonprofit created in the 1970s to preserve a singular landscape that spans nine counties in the shadow of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The organization, whose territory stretches from Loudoun County in a wide swath south to just beyond Charlottesville, for decades worked to save the natural spaces increasingly at risk of being transformed into suburbs.

But it became clear that keeping development at bay was not enough. Residents needed to develop a vision for a rural economy that could sustain these places—one that’s built on agriculture and food production.

“In the time I’ve been at PEC, Loudoun County has gone from about 80,000 to almost 400,000 people,” Miller says, citing growth that’s part of both the problem and the solution. “Those people are one of the best markets for local food, so we need a food system that’s more focused on meeting the demand of this population.”

The organization has since embarked on a handful of projects aimed at connecting the dots between those lands and the farmers, markets and infrastructure necessary to keep them productive.

We talked to Miller about all the agricultural irons PEC has in the fire—and why land conservation should matter to consumers of locally grown food.

Why focus on the Piedmont?

When I started working [at PEC] in the 1990s, the Piedmont was still that hazy stuff outside the beltway. Literally, growing up in Alexandria, I didn’t quite know what was out there, and I had no real working knowledge of its geography. Part of the fun of my job is learning how fascinating the stretch of land is and all the ways it’s played into American history.

Monticello, Montpelier, UVA [The University of Virginia], half of Shenandoah Valley National Park—they are all a part of this landscape. And it’s a huge area: 175 miles by 100 miles.

How did food production become such a big part of protecting these lands?

The folks who lived in the Piedmont liked it and were trying to keep it rural. They understood that, in a rural economy, agriculture and food production are part of that from the very beginning.

Then, in the ’90s, we ran into a crisis and that’s the competition between traditional agricultural practices and development. You can call it sprawl or you can call it community growth, but the reality is you had landowners starting to choose between farming and development. So PEC really focused on tools to help with conservation of the land.

From 1985 to the current time, we’ve been working on trying to conserve about 50% of the land base so we can have a rural economy. If you stabilize the land, then it allows for innovation and investment, and there’s a hope that you can transition from what was essentially commodity production on a global market to something that might be more economically and environmentally sustainable: a food system that’s more focused on meeting the demand of this growing population.

What obstacles remain?

Where we’re all stuck is not on the production. We’re good at producing grass-fed beef; we’re good at growing produce at a certain intensity. We’ve always been an orchard-and-vineyard kind of environment. But the challenge is how do you get that to the market? People have experimented with a lot of different things, but the challenge is that you don’t have an existing network of manufacturing and distribution to tap into [in this region]. We’re competing with Lancaster, PA; and New Jersey, where food manufacturing has been part of the economy for years.

The other big challenge is getting young farmers onto land. We have a program to try to link up innovative farmers with landowners who are looking for creative ways of using their property. But it’s hard. Landowners want a stable, reliable partner who mows the perimeter. For an innovative farmer, that’s not the big concern. They’re focused on improving soil and getting better production.

How is PEC working on those issues?

Our big contribution has been Buy Fresh Buy Local, which we started about 12 years ago as a guide (in print and online) to help people identify the farmers that are producing and then let them sell directly. That’s great for the local economy because, with any type of produce, the return on investment for the farmer goes way up.

Now, we are ramping up a project at Gilbert’s Corner in Loudoun County called Roundabout Meadows. The goal is to address food security in the county by using volunteers to produce food on this land that’s been conserved, similar to Fauquier Education Farm, where they use volunteers to grow hundreds of pounds of produce for local food banks in and around Fauquier County.

We think that if we do this in every jurisdiction where we work, we can help address the 10% of families that need a more stable source of local food.

What are some of the wins?

Everybody is starting to work together. It’s taken 15 years to get to this point, but we’re making a lot of progress—and I don’t see the local-food thing flattening out. I see it still growing.

The grocery stores are now competing with each other to offer local food. We’re at a point now where Wegmans is coming to us to identify local producers. Now, that’s what you’re hoping for, because they’ll figure out the manufacturing part. They already know how to do that.

They came to us three years ago and said we need 45,000 carcasses a year; do you know people who grow cows? We just put them together, and I think 10 or 15 contracts came out of that. That many carcasses a year is Fauquier County’s entire cow-calf production.

It doesn’t all come from one county, but it gives you a sense. The scale is meaningful.

 

Celebrating DC's Colorful Side at the 4th Annual Eat/Drink Local

By Thomas Martin, Edible DC Contributor Photos by Jai Williams

 Guests enjoying our food themed photo booth designed by Limonata Creative and photographed by Tom McCorkle.

Guests enjoying our food themed photo booth designed by Limonata Creative and photographed by Tom McCorkle.

Some would say that summer begins on June 21, but DC foodies know that the true harbinger of summertime is EdibleDC's Eat/Drink Local event. Hosted once again at the Long View Gallery in Shaw, our fourth annual celebration put the theme of color front and center this year. From sultry red wines and pistachio green macarons to drag queens clad in pink boas and guests dressed in saturated shades, the festive embrace of all things colorful was front and center that night. In true EdibleDC fashion, a thunderstorm swept into town just as the event began. But even the rain could not dampen our excitement. 

 BITE ME marquee letters by BRIGHTLY Ever After. 

BITE ME marquee letters by BRIGHTLY Ever After. 

Guests enjoyed drinks and bites from restaurants, wineries, distilleries, and breweries from throughout the DMV, and made everlasting memories with our photo booth. VIP guests went home with yellow jute EdibleDC gift bags overflowing with goodies. We'd like to give a special thanks to both our sponsors and our vendors—this event wouldn't be possible without you. See a photo recap of the event that follows. 

 Blue Duck Tavern dessert. 

Blue Duck Tavern dessert. 

 Carlie Steiner of Himitsu and guest enjoying the "District of Color" event. 

Carlie Steiner of Himitsu and guest enjoying the "District of Color" event. 

 Welcome Thibaut-Janisson sparkling for all guests brought to you by the Mandy & David Team.

Welcome Thibaut-Janisson sparkling for all guests brought to you by the Mandy & David Team.

 Incredible cheese spread by Cheesmonster.

Incredible cheese spread by Cheesmonster.

 The Spring issue of EdibleDC Magazine. 

The Spring issue of EdibleDC Magazine. 

 Spicy tuna pillows from the Fish team.

Spicy tuna pillows from the Fish team.

 The incredible Mandy & David VIP gift bags.

The incredible Mandy & David VIP gift bags.

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 Lyon Distilling and Gray Wolf Distilling. 

Lyon Distilling and Gray Wolf Distilling. 

 Lyon Distilling and Gray Wolf Distilling. 

Lyon Distilling and Gray Wolf Distilling. 

 O-Ku tuna tartare. 

O-Ku tuna tartare. 

 Republic Restoratives Borough Bourbon and other local spirits. 

Republic Restoratives Borough Bourbon and other local spirits. 

 The Mandy & David team enjoying the photo-booth.

The Mandy & David team enjoying the photo-booth.

 Service Bar punch.

Service Bar punch.

 The Homestead team. 

The Homestead team. 

 Troegs Brewing Co on deck with various beers including their Crimson Pistil IPA.

Troegs Brewing Co on deck with various beers including their Crimson Pistil IPA.

 One Eight Distilling with their newly designed bottles and labels #DistrictMade. 

One Eight Distilling with their newly designed bottles and labels #DistrictMade. 

 A guest snagging social media pictures at the event. 

A guest snagging social media pictures at the event. 

 Chef Tony Chittum from Iron Gate Restaurant. 

Chef Tony Chittum from Iron Gate Restaurant. 

 Doi Moi serving local oysters with naam jim mignonette.

Doi Moi serving local oysters with naam jim mignonette.

 The Smith, now with two locations in DC, serving toasted ricotta gnocchi with white truffle cream and their Frozen French 75 slushee. 

The Smith, now with two locations in DC, serving toasted ricotta gnocchi with white truffle cream and their Frozen French 75 slushee. 

 Drag queen Helluva Bottom Carter poses with Libby Living Colorfully and Diego Downtown. 

Drag queen Helluva Bottom Carter poses with Libby Living Colorfully and Diego Downtown. 

 Bitches Who Brunch, Libby Living Colorfully, and Holley Simmons dressing in theme for the "District of Color."

Bitches Who Brunch, Libby Living Colorfully, and Holley Simmons dressing in theme for the "District of Color."

 The Astro Doughnuts team served crème brûlée and strawberry rhubarb minis doughnuts.

The Astro Doughnuts team served crème brûlée and strawberry rhubarb minis doughnuts.

 Sloppy Mama's BBQ brisket.

Sloppy Mama's BBQ brisket.

Thanks to our amazing event partners which include:

Download your photo booth photo/videos here!

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream Opens a "Friend-chise" in Mt. Pleasant

By Thomas Martin, EdibleDC

 The mount desert ice cream team: Brian Lowit, Melissa Quinley, and Linda Parker

The mount desert ice cream team: Brian Lowit, Melissa Quinley, and Linda Parker

Just in time for summer, the Maine-based Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is opening a new "friend-chise" in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Founded in Bar Harbor by Linda Parker in 2005, Mount Desert Island was named one of the "Best Ice Cream Spots in the U.S." by Food & Wine this year. After having opened two additional locations in Maine, the Mount Desert Island team is ready to storm the District with unique flavors such as blueberry basil, Maine sea salt caramel and cinnamon cardamom. Brian Lowit and Melissa Quinley, DC locals and longtime friends of Parker, will helm the new DC location.

"We like to pair unexpected flavor combinations but not at the expense of being sensational," Lowit said. "We also honor the classics such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry."

The Bar Harbor location received national attention when President Barack Obama and his family stopped in for cones while on vacation in Maine in 2010. President Obama ordered toasted coconut ice cream in a cone, the former First Lady chose chocolate.  

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream will offer a rotating cast of flavors, both traditional and unconventional, as well as vegan options. The Mount Pleasant branch will also sell hand-packed pints of ice cream to-go, and will introduce drip coffee and espresso in the coming fall.

The store is located at 3110 Mount Pleasant Street NW, and its hours will be 12-9 pm Sun-Thu, 12-10 pm Fri, 11 am - 10 pm Sat. 

 

Edible Afield: Baltimore - Charm City Hot Spots to Savor

By Marisa Dobson + Photography by Tom McCorkle

 Raw bar and a "Sharkbite" at Dylan's.

Raw bar and a "Sharkbite" at Dylan's.

Skip the clogged summer highways and hop on the MARC train to Baltimore for a surprisingly vibrant and exciting urban adventure—one that’ll have you questioning all you thought you knew about “Bmore.” Recently named one of the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018,” I’m not the only one who has fallen in love with Charm City.

Baltimore was and is a haven for industry (visit the Museum of Industry or sign up for a tour of OpenWorks), has a rich literary and artistic history (note the love of Poe, and tour the Baltimore Museum of Art for free) and is a cultural and social locus for many in the African-American community (W.E.B. DuBois resided near Lake Montebello; before there was the NMAAHC, there was the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture).

Far more than hons, crab cakes and arabbers, Baltimore is a complex tapestry of different cultures, ethnicities, accents and neighborhoods. Nowhere is this more on display than in our city’s restaurants and bars. But first, where to drop your bags?

If you’re not on a budget, stay at The Ivy. Baltimore’s only Relais & Chateaux delivers on its promise of romance and intimate luxury. There are only 18 rooms in this gorgeous boutique hotel, so make your reservation early. Check in in time to enjoy afternoon tea and schedule a service at the spa. Pick up a map from the concierge to orient yourselves to the Mount Vernon neighborhood.

 Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

Staying in Mount Vernon is ideal—it’s centrally located, packed with charming historic buildings and steps away from attractions like the Washington Monument, the Walters Art Museum (free admission), the George Peabody Library (an Instagram mecca) and unique retail. Another buzzy hotel is set to open in this neighborhood this May: Hotel Revival. With 107 rooms, it should be a little easier to score a reservation, while still providing a boutique guest experience. Two new dining concepts are slated to open in the hotel, helmed by Executive Chef Wilbur Cox and Bar Manager Chelsea Gregoire. Square Meal will serve New American repasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Topside is a much-anticipated rooftop bar, pairing seafood-centric dishes with local craft beers.

 Hotel Revival to open this spring in Mt. Vernon. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Hotel Revival to open this spring in Mt. Vernon. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Start sliding into staycation mode at Wet City (223 W. Chase St.). This minimalist bar is filled with blond wood, great drafts and even better snacks. Owned by siblings, the collaborative spirit is all-encompassing as evidenced by frequent guest chef pop-ups.

If an iconic dive bar is more your scene, head up the street to Club Charles (1724 N. Charles St.). The crowd is always diverse, fun and welcoming (if you’re lucky, you’ll spot John Waters). The drinks are as strong as they should be, and the couches are surprisingly cozy.

When you’ve drunk your fill, feed your soul at Ida B’s Table (235 Holliday St.). One of Eater’s “Hottest New Restaurants,” this happening spot serves modern soul food as conceived by Chef David Thomas, and hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night. Start with the delectable Octopus Po’Boys, and order a weekend special like Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast with fried Brussels sprouts tossed in balsamic bourbon, served with three hoecakes and caramelized curried apples. Indulge in one of Tonya Thomas’ seasonal bread puddings, and a nightcap from the ever-evolving cocktail menu by Joseph Weeks and his team.

Sleep soundly knowing you spent your first day well, and that tomorrow requires a little more adventuring! If it’s Saturday morning, head to the Waverly Farmers Market (400 E. 32nd St.). Hands-down my favorite farmers market in the city, it’s also the best place to order unforgettable biscuit sandwiches from Blacksauce Kitchen (you’ll know it by the line). Zeke’s Coffee is right across from the Blacksauce stand, and there’s also Love Water Juice if you’re in need of an all-natural pick-me-up. Most weekends there’s also fresh local flowers, donuts, handpies, lox and an array of organic produce and pasture-raised meats.

 Famous breakfast sandwiches from the Blacksauce Kitchen at the Waverly Farmers Market.

Famous breakfast sandwiches from the Blacksauce Kitchen at the Waverly Farmers Market.

 Jams at the Waverly Farmers Market.

Jams at the Waverly Farmers Market.

Keep your options open with a pit stop at R House for lunch (301 W. 29th St.). This new food hall is offering whatever you’re craving (pizza, poke, hearty vegan salads, bibimbap) and has a regularly rotating pop-up stand to keep things fresh. In the warmer months, they open up the garage doors to make a lovely wraparound breezeway, perfect for sipping a cocktail al fresco. A block or so down the street is BWillow (220 W. 27th St.), a dreamy plant shop owned and operated by Renaissance woman Liz Vayda. Pick up a few babies to restock your terrarium, or take home handmade decorative crafts by local artisans.

 R House food hall.

R House food hall.

You’ve earned your queso fundido. Now it’s time for dinner at Clavel (225 W. 23rd St.). Don’t be put off by the industrial surroundings; you’ll be completely transported once you’re inside. Handmade tortillas (a fifth-generation recipe!) wrap carnitas, cochinita, huitlacoche, lengua and more. An open kitchen lets you observe the masters at work, and you’ll probably spot owner Lane Harlan as she roams the dining room. The mezcal program is unmatched in the city, so take your time and sample something new.

Perhaps it’s Sunday morning now, and you’re sipping coffee in your pillow-stuffed hotel bed. If you drove in and feel like living like a local, I have three far-flung recommendations.

Silver Queen Café (5429 Harford Rd.) in the Hamilton-Lauraville neighborhood is the best kind of family-friendly joint, with inventive daily specials that overdeliver every time (think Chorizo Fries with Jalapeño Mornay Sauce). A devoted play area means that you get to enjoy every last bite while the kids are occupied. Cocina Luchadoras (253 S. Broadway) is brand new to the Broadway strip. This woman-owned Mexican counter and takeout has taken the city by storm with its tamales and tacos. Within a couple months of opening, Rosalyn’s tacos ended up on the cover of Baltimore magazine. Minnow (2 E. Wells St.) in South Baltimore is the latest venture from La Cuchara chef/owner Ben Lefenfeld. A seafood-focused spot (with a crunchy chicken sandwich to boot), the brunch scene here is a scene—and fun flashy cocktails like the Velvet Underground keep the Boomerangs bouncing.

If you’d rather stick to exploring one neighborhood, head on over to Hampden. “The Avenue” is famous for its restaurants and shopping. You’ll want to snap a pic of the giant flamingo outside of Café Hon. Pop into Atomic Books (3620 Falls Rd.) for its awesome array of graphic novels and art books and grab a cold cider from the back bar. Or maybe it’s time for something cold and sweet? The Charmery (801 W. 36th St.) is everyone’s favorite, for good reason. Inventive flavors like Old Bay Caramel tickle your fancy while the aroma of fresh waffle cones beckons.

 "The Avenue" houses shops and restaurants for visitors and Baltimore locals alike.

"The Avenue" houses shops and restaurants for visitors and Baltimore locals alike.

Next, check out Union Collective (1700 W. 41st St.). Set to open in May/June, this 138,000-square-foot space will house Union Craft Brewing, Well Crafted Kitchen, The Baltimore Whiskey Company, Earth Treks (should you feel the urge to work off some of your indulgences on the wall) and more. Or, grab a coffee and fancy toast at Artifact (1500 Union Ave.); this all-day café from Spike and Amy Gjerde brews Counter Culture coffee and has an adjacent green space for an impromptu picnic.

All this walking and sampling has hopefully helped you work up an appetite by now, so you’re ready for dinner at Cosima (3000 Falls Rd., Mill No. 1). Follow the neon sign around the cobblestoned hairpin turn and hand over the keys to the valet (complimentary!). Longtime beloved restaurateur Donna Crivello continues to impress with a high-end Italian program. The indoor grotto-like space is wonderful for date night, while the deck overlooking Jones Falls is perfect for people-watching on summer evenings. Make a reservation for Sunday night and indulge in Mangia!—a Sunday-night special that’s an absolute steal: three courses, served family style for $35 per person.

 Cosima offers a Sunday night special with three family-style courses for just $35 a person.

Cosima offers a Sunday night special with three family-style courses for just $35 a person.

You might also try Dylan’s Oyster Cellar (3601 Chestnut Ave.). My favorite raw bar in a city for seafood, it’s worth splurging on the Kusshi oysters from Washington or the Cherrystone clams from Virginia. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the Coddie, a traditional favorite that’s been updated just enough. Beautiful handmade ceramics dot the tables, and the decor somehow feels up-to-the-minute trendy while also feeling very Baltimore (maybe it’s the polished booths and tiled floors?).

 The Season's Change cocktail at Dylan's.

The Season's Change cocktail at Dylan's.

End the evening at The Bluebird Cocktail Room (3600 Hickory Ave). This sexy, literary-themed bar offers a seasonal cocktail menu, ranging from $10 to $16. The spring menu features Miss Havisham (a twist on a pisco sour), White Rabbit (carrots and amaro), the Santiago (Old Fashioned with a limited-edition rum) and more. Entry is first come, first served and on weekend nights, there may be a wait. But, they’ve smartly provided porch swings and fairy lights to keep spirits high. Once inside, the velvet couches and chandeliers provide the perfect Old World setting for peacocking about the latest novel you’ve read.

 The Bluebird Cocktail Room. Photo courtesy of The Bluebird.

The Bluebird Cocktail Room. Photo courtesy of The Bluebird.

It’s checkout time, but before you head out of town, grab a late breakfast or early lunch from The Corner Pantry (6080 Falls Rd.). One of the best casual lunch spots (and fortunately open on Mondays!), this British-inspired café can always be counted on for inventive salads and properly satisfying curried chicken sandwiches. Or, swing by a Baltimore legend: Attman’s Delicatessen (1019 E. Lombard St.; free parking in adjacent lot). Since 1915, this classic joint has been slinging corned beef, pastrami, crunchy pickles and western fries. All of Baltimore comes through here for overstuffed sandwiches—and in a city divided and rapidly changing, it’s a wonderful reminder of our common humanity.

Pro tip: Much like #ACreativeDC, check out the #MyBmore hashtag or the Instagram account @TheBmoreCreatives for an up-to-the-second account of what’s happening around town.

Too Much Rain Has Caused Pain for Local Farmers

Strawberry crop losses are well over 50%

By Susan Able, EdibleDC, photos by Sarah Culver

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This rain has been a spring bummer for us weekend planners—but have you wondered about what it has done to local farming conditions and yield?

At the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market last weekend, there were no strawberries to be had. Karl Shlagel, of Shlagel Farms in Waldorf, MD shrugged and said to me, “I told you a couple of weeks ago if we had more heavy rain, it would all be over—and it was. We lost over 50% of our crop.” Shlagel Farms, a popular pick-your-own strawberry spot and supplier of DMV restaurants, wrapped up their strawberry year early, a financial hit.

“My granddaddy always said better a dry year than a wet one. As farmers, we can always add water to crops through irrigation, but we can’t take water away. And while plants need big drinks, too much and they drown or get sick.”

 Russ Shlagel walks his strawberry fields in 2016, a much higher yield year for the Waldorf, MD farm. 

Russ Shlagel walks his strawberry fields in 2016, a much higher yield year for the Waldorf, MD farm. 

According the VA Department of Agriculture, parts of Virginia received two months’ worth of rain in two weeks. They issued a statement about the wet conditions last week saying, “Too much rain for too long a time can be devastating to an agricultural operation. It affects different farms differently, depending on location (top of a hill vs. the bottom), soil type, crops produced or animals raised, the time of year, and where a farm is in the planting, growing or harvesting schedule.”

Anne Geyer, owner of Agriberry, a Virginia berry farm said, “The storm systems helped keep temperatures down, which is good, but heavy rain damaged strawberries and made them less resistant to mold attacks. While high heat can be a problem, we absolutely need sunshine to help sweeten the berries and deepen their flavor. But our hearts really go out to many of Virginia’s cherry growers this season. They were on track for their best harvests in more than a decade, only to lose most of their crop right before the harvest. Heavy rains caused the cherries to swell and split open.”

Too much rain creates problems for farmers in three ways: Heavy periods of rain can rot berries and vegetables on the vine, increase the chance for fungi to grow on for wine grapes and other plants, or just kill plants with root rot. Second, soil that is over-saturated with water makes planting or harvesting difficult if not impossible, particularly when farmers are using heavy farm equipment. And if farmers need to replant, the season is shorter with reduced yields. Third, for farmers who are raising animals, too much rain can flood grazing fields, disrupting grazing while destroying hay and other feed. Wet conditions for extended periods of time increase chance for animal disease, encourage conditions for parasites and foot problems, such as hoof rot.  

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder issued a press release on May 31, reminding Maryland farmers that they should report any losses from recent storms and cool weather to their crop insurance agents as soon as possible. 

Weather makes or breaks a farming season. More than almost any other occupation, a stretch of bad weather is not just an inconvenience. It can make the difference between a good year and a disastrous one.