Monday, March 21, 2016

Washington Social Diary: Whitmore Farm

The adorable sleeping pigs in the dawn chill on Whitmore Farm.
by Carol Joynt

As we launch into spring, let’s take a moment to consider life on the farm.

Pop culture is rich with the trope of city folk who throw over urban life to become farmers.  The '60s TV hit, “Green Acres,” for example, also the film “Funny Farm,” and to some extent, too, “Field of Dreams.” If Hollywood is in the market for an update, someone should get in touch with Will Morrow and Kent Ozkum, the owners of Whitmore Farm, a beautiful 30-acre spread of land and barns and crops, and photogenic farm animals, that all are utterly ready for their close ups. Whitmore, with its good looks, pleasant spirit and humane mandate, is the splendid reality of many an urbanite’s farm fantasy.
Kent Ozkum and Will Morrow, city folk turned farmers. 
Whitmore Farm in a (much) earlier day, before Kent and Will bought it and started their renovation.
For these two farmers, though, there was serious city life before they pursued country life. Will and I met a decade or so ago when we both sat on the board of a popular city park. At that time Will, an environmental scientist at the EPA, and Kent, an anesthesiologist at a city hospital, made their home in Georgetown. They’d met in 1997 at the annual plant sale of the National Arboretum. Their shared interest in horticulture was the spark that led to romance and, eventually, marriage. They were well suited to city life but over time they started to think about owning a farm, “as a weekend house, not a working farm.”
Kent and Will on their wedding day, February 24, 2015. They were married at the courthouse in Frederick.
It was 2003 and it took looking at “a hundred” farms before they found Whitmore Farm just outside Emmitsburg, MD, in Civil War country, and just south of the Pennsylvania border. Its history dated back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and some of the buildings were period, with hand-hewn chestnut logs and local stone. The nearest big town is Frederick, MD, a half hour drive.
On the road to Emmitsburg.
The dirt driveway to Whitmore is at a quiet crossroads.
Whitmore Farm in the depths of winter.
Whitmore in January.
Whitemore in March. Dogs to the left, barns in the middle, cropland all around.
The house "doorbell," straight out of Downton Abbey.
The farmhouse is a feast of attractive details.
“Once we got it we gradually morphed into making it a full-time thing,” Kent said the other morning over a true farmhouse breakfast. In their stylish but homey country kitchen, they shared the duties of cooking the bacon and eggs (which Will walked over fresh from the egg barn), as they did the night before whipping up a delicious dinner of pork cutlets and salad. Most of the food, including the greens, was from their farm. The bread was from a neighbor. “We barter,” Will said. I brought the apple pie.

When I arrived I sent a pic of my guest room to a friend who knows a good-looking room. He texted back, “what’s the name of the inn you are at?” Not an inn, just Whitmore Farm’s handsome farmhouse.
CJ's guest room. Not an inn, but a handsome farmhouse.
The kitchen table.
The more formal dining room.
Farm fresh lemons and limes (go very nicely in a pre-dinner vodka cocktail).
For the cocktail hour, house made paté.
Will owns it. He cooks dinner with lard.
Fresh-baked bread, bartered with a neighbor.
Fresh greens.
Kent and Will make dinner.
Whitmore Farm pork made into cutlets.
Once breaded, into the sauté pan they went.
Apple pie, brought from Stachowski's in the city.
Does fresh apple pie with ice cream taste better on a farm? It tastes just right.
The den, where Will, Kent and CJ gathered by the fire after dinner.
The fire at full throttle.
The smiles are deceiving. We were watching campaign coverage on MSNBC. 
Bedtime. Will and Kent may be farmers now, but certain essential luxuries remain, such as getting the sheets ironed.
When dark as night means dark as night: the farmhouse after sunset.
The egg barn in the morning.
Will walks fresh breakfast eggs over from the egg barn .
Should you want to write a fan letter to the hens.
A fresh cup of coffee to start the day. Kent gets breakfast started.
Back from the egg barn with fresh eggs, Will cracks them into the frying pan.
A true farmhouse breakfast.
It was my second visit in as many months. During the first, in January, there was snow on the ground. This past week it was balmy, with the scent of spring in the thawed earth and the warmer late winter rays of sunlight, and of course, the baby animals.

When Will and Kent got the farm it was not a working farm. It was in a state of neglect and needed renovation. That took two years and they did a lot of the work themselves, such as laying the kitchen floor of glazed old red bricks. Once the main house was habitable, in 2005, they turned their attention to the barn, the pastures and fencing. “And then we began to add the animals,” said Kent.
Sunrise from the front porch.
At dawn. The original farmhouse kitchen, waiting for renovation. 
Whitemore Farm just after sunrise.
Relaxation among the sheep and chickens.
If there were a fashion magazine for and about animals, Whitmore’s animals would be the supermodels. The hogs are Gloucestershire Old Spots – noted for their “sweet” personalities, awesome drooping ears, large litters and pink skin that has a tendency to sunburn – and the rare Tamworth, also from England, among the oldest of pig breeds and at risk of extinction. In addition to adorable piglets, the two breeds mate to produce GOS/tamworth crosses that add what Will calls “a bit of hybrid vigor” to the stock; translation: a balance of meat and fat and lots of flavor.

Whitmore’s sheep are a breed known as Katahdin, which originated in Maine. As with the pigs and other animals they are very well taken care of, pampered actually, their good health is a mandate of the farm. They eat as well as a farm animal can eat, including high-quality hay (and other perks) during pregnancy. They graze in a field where the chickens also run about and hop in and out of their hen houses.
The "chicks maternity ward." 
Eggs ready to go in the incubator for 21 days.
Ah, the chickens. I still recall the first time I spotted a dozen of the Whitmore Farm eggs at a farmers market. They were almost too beautiful to eat. A palate of colors, and – a tradition that continues to this day -- signed with the hens’ names. I did eat them, though. Then and now, the best eggs ever.
Hello world!
Baby chicks, just minutes out of their shells.
After hatching and vaccinations, Will scoops the babies into holding pens.
Yes, there's even a Rabbitry.
The breeding rabbits in the Rabbitry.
The Whitmore Farm eggs are produced by four breeds: the Ameraucana from Chile, which are blue and gray; the Welsummer from Holland, with brown feathers; the Delaware from, yes, Delaware, with yellow feathers, and the Marans from France, which are gray and black. The eggs they produce are many shades of blue, gray, beige and speckled brown. In hatching season, which started last week and runs for six months, there will be approximately 500 chicks hatched each week, every Tuesday morning at 7:30. Half will be females. “I only need one male for every ten females,” said Will.
In the egg barn and market.
A refrigerator packed with farm products.
Fresh eggs.
Kent works the farm, he’s the head shepherd and pig herder, but also continues his career as an anesthesiologist, now with the hospital in Frederick. Will manages the farm full-time. He has one full-time crew leader, a part-time apprentice, and Rose Woodsmall, the “fiber arts director,” who knits clothing and accessories and signs the hens’ names on their eggs. There also are interns. The internships are cool, and what a fine opportunity if you think you want to be a farmer, or at least learn about the life.

The “short-term” internship, 4-6 months, is an introduction to farm life. The “long-term” of 6-12 months is all of that but also a more advanced program, with instruction in animal husbandry, crop and flower production and the nitty-gritty of running a small business. Both include housing, food and a small stipend. (Oh, btw, there’s WiFi. It’s limited, but it’s there).
Farmhands Jason Webster and Bethany Baker.
After breakfast I followed Will on his rounds, which included a morning meeting with the staff, a check on the animals. The pigs were sleeping, practically piled on top of each other in the hay, steam rising from their hot bodies in the dawn chill. Then, a couple of hours of hatching in the small room Will calls “my little chick maternity ward.”  As the baby chicks crack out of their shells, one little ball of fluff after another, Will injects each one with a vaccine. “These birds give so much to us, each produces 250 eggs a year,” he said. “We want to do all we can for them to keep them healthy.” I scooped up a few in my hands, and they were lighter than air, pure down, cheeping like mad.
Morning meeting.
From the egg barn we went to visit the mother pig and her many teeny-tiny, and thirsty, piglets, only a week old. When they weren’t scampering around like little puppies, they nursed on their mother, a mountain of a young lady (5 years old, actually). Looking at the babies, Will said, “This is why we don’t sell suckling pig.” I got the picture.
Pigs at dawn, sleeping in until feeding time.
Mama pig and her week-old piglets.
Will gives mama an affectionate scratch on the tummy.
A nose kiss for mama. 
Two more cuties.
A pre-dinner visit to the Gloucestershire and Tamworth and "hybrid" pigs.
There are two Great Pyrenees, who are the security guards for the other animals. They keep a very studious watch, patrol without prompting, rest when they can, and bark as warranted. There are barn cats, too, plus the occasional errant rooster, who wants to visit the henhouse one farm over.

Will has a dedicated and thoughtful manner with his animals, but he’s a farmer now, and in his head he understands the animals are adorable but they also are food and business, not pets. So, beyond the egg-producing hens, not a lot of the animals have names. But he and Kent, and the staff, are good to all of them and take pride in raising them humanely, and not giving them hormones, antibiotics or artificial supplements.
One of the two Great Pyrenees, taking a break after a night of farm patrol.
A farm cat keeping watch.
A peek inside to check out the spinach and other greens.
"Watch" cats keeping on eye on the spinach.
The commitment to quality is why Whitmore’s products are prized by the region’s best chefs. They include chef Bryan Voltaggio, who owns Volt in Frederick, and James Beard Award winner Spike Gjerde, who owns Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. In DC, Jeremiah Langhorne at The Dabney and Jon Sybert at Tail Up Goat have become customers. Will and Kent, or the interns, still faithfully show up at the Chevy Chase Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

My overnight getaway to the farm, watching the sunset and the sunrise, hearing the rooster (actually, roosters) crow at dawn, standing on the front porch at sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand, trailing Will from pasture to barn to pen, well, all that together makes an internship seem very appealing.
Sunset on the farm.
But if an internship is too ambitious, the good news is Whitmore Farm is open to the public every day of the week, more or less by appointment, and they have a farm store with eggs, chickens, and a range of pork and lamb products, as well as greens. They also sell breeding stock. The drive on a spring or summer morning – from Washington, Philadelphia or New York – is doable, and the countryside around Emmitsburg is sprawling and serene. Return home with a cooler full of good food and a head full of fantasies of owning your own farm.

Whitmore Farm
10720 Dern Road
Emmitsburg, MD 21727

Photographs by Carol Joynt

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt