Photo by Laura Chase McGehee
Those may be hip buzzwords these days, but what do they mean in Montgomery County? What’s really grown and made here?
One giant clue is right in our bucolic backyard—the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, created in 1980 to protect our agrarian heritage. What could have ended up as mini-mansions and shopping centers is now home to 93,000 rural acres, almost a third of the county’s total land area. There are an additional 4,000 acres of farmland that are not part of the reserve.
Commodity crops—such as corn, soybeans and wheat—horse farms and horticulture operations make up the largest chunk, but there’s an increasing array of farms producing food that people eat. From families who’ve worked the land for generations to a growing crop of career changers and young newcomers, Montgomery County farmers are selling their fresh wares at on-farm stands, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and, to some extent, to area restaurants and retailers, and at farmers markets. It’s also easy and fun to get the lay of the land yourself; a host of places and activities that allow the public to engage with our rural reserve are a short drive away. When it comes to beer, wine and packaged goods, the county is also making inroads, as former lawyers, bankers and others turn their talents and passions to small-batch food and beverage production.
On the Farm
The Dairy Farmer
Lemon, a Guernsey cow, lives at Woodbourne Creamery in Mt. Airy. The dairy’s milk is sold at Bethesda Central Farm Market and at Butchers Alley in Bethesda. Photo by Erick Gibson
Since it opened in 2013, Woodbourne Creamery has racked up a lot of “first” and “only” claims to fame. In a county where the number of dairies has decreased dramatically (from 275 in 1949 to four today), Woodbourne was the first all-new operation to open in 60 years. It’s the only farm in the county that makes its own ice cream, and when it opened, it was North America’s only grass-fed dairy with a robotic milking device. In addition, co-owner and Chevy Chase native John Fendrick is the first and only Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School graduate from the Class of 1982 to live in an 1803 farmhouse in Germantown, run an information technology firm, and start raising dairy cows as a way to spend quality, teachable time with his sons when they were growing up.
Gemini, a Guernsey like the other 65 cows at the Mt. Airy dairy, ambles into the milking parlor, a computer identifies the chip in her ear tag, and a camera and laser-guided hydraulic arm attaches cups to her four teats. She’ll spend the next 10 minutes or so getting milked while a control panel displays the volume and flow rate of each teat, her output compared with the herd average and other data.
Gemini’s milk flows into a cooling tank along with the contributions of her cow colleagues and then through a pipeline to a pasteurizer, a cylindrical vat that Fendrick’s wife, Mary, monitors. However, Woodbourne Creamery’s creamline milk is not homogenized, so when it’s bottled, the cream rises to the top. In an adjacent room, Mary also oversees the ice cream-making operation, which sometimes includes flavors from ingredients grown at the couple’s adjacent Rock Hill Orchard (the ginger ice cream, made from homegrown ginger, is divine). She runs the farm store and gives tours, too—robot included.
Woodbourne Creamery and Rock Hill Orchard’s on-farm market sells its milk, ice cream, homegrown produce and more; other offerings include pick-your-own produce and flowers, farm tours and fall hayrides. Woodbourne Creamery milk is sold at the Bethesda Central Farm Market and at Butchers Alley in Bethesda.
28600 Ridge Road, Mt. Airy | 301-831-7427 | rockhillorchard.com