Organic Farm Odyssey

Spiral Path Farm's "Open Farm Day" featured a mini farmers market
Spiral Path Farm’s “Open Farm Day” featured a mini farmers market

Last weekend, while visiting my mom in my hometown, I joined my oldest friend, “FC,” on a visit to Spiral Path Farm for its “Open Farm Day.”

Sounds like a harmless enough excursion, right? Getting there was another story.

Spiral Path is located in western Perry County, PA, about a 45-minute drive from my mom’s house. The 255-acre farm has been a 100% certified organic operation since 1994. For the past 20 years, the farm has offered “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) memberships.

CSA members purchase a Large or Medium share of the farm’s weekly organic produce that’s delivered in boxes at drop-off points around the region. Memberships can cover the “Total Season” or just summer months (June through September). Members can’t choose what they receive – produce is whatever’s in season, but that’s usually a variety of popular fruits and vegetables.

Spiral Path’s membership areas include the DC metropolitan suburbs of Silver Spring and Bethesda in Maryland.

FC's bucket of fresh-cut flowers at Spiral Path farm
FC’s bucket of fresh-cut flowers at Spiral Path Farm

FC purchased a Medium share membership for her family this year, and she loves it. Spiral Path’s Open Farm Day was for members only, to enjoy some pick-your-own and other farm activities, but I was allowed to tag along. FC picked me up that Saturday morning.

Perry County is rural and the population is sparse with limited job opportunities. But it’s also beautiful, hilly country featuring some of the most fertile soil in the state. It was a perfect, sunny summer morning. We sipped coffee, chatted away and enjoyed the scenery.

It took time to realize we were lost. I kept reading FC’s written directions out loud to her, but at an important turn, I’d mistaken her cursive “L” for a printed “R.” When she’d discovered this, she laughed at me. I told her she’d always had lousy handwriting.

We turned around to backtrack. Again. And again. I can’t tell you how many times we pulled into the gravel driveway of a farm to make a U-turn, skidding off stones while cows lifted their heads for a lazy look.

We had driven over an hour; my friend didn’t know it, but I was getting nervous. I have NO sense of direction, and once we’d gotten off track, my imagination veered as well.

Pick your own at Open Farm Day
Pick your own at Open Farm Day

I hate to admit it. I began scanning farms and old houses we passed, looking for hostile faces in windows, or for the glint of an emerging shotgun barrel. We kept seeing Shermans Creek, a sizable waterway that meanders through the county, and I thought – if I see a boy on a foot bridge swinging a banjo by its neck… I’ll… just…

“I better look at my iPhone map,” FC said – finally! – wresting me from my own “spiral path” of panic. The map showed our car as a pulsing red beacon not far from the organic farm. Salvation.

And what a farm!

We were directed to park our car on a grassy hillside near a couple dozen others. We looked down upon an idyll – an array of large solar panels, a collection of tidy farm buildings and greenhouses, a pond, and a large stone farm house. White tents had been set up for a mini farmers market featuring items for sale from neighboring farms.

FC picked up her weekly membership share of produce from yellow bins under a tent. I helped her pick fresh basil in the herb patch, then I wandered around taking photos while she picked fresh flowers.

Two of ten types of tomatoes for the tomato tasting contest
Two of ten types of tomatoes for the tomato tasting contest

I bought a jar of organic strawberry jam for my mom. We sat on the lawn and sipped delicious sweetened iced green tea with fresh mint, while a boy fished at the pond’s edge.

There was a tomato tasting contest set up on the balcony of the farm house – ten types of tomatoes were chopped up for guests to taste and vote for their favorite. I voted for the yellow and red Striped German tomato, which packed a lot of flavor. But the winner was the Sun Sugar Cherry tomato, yellow orbs almost as sweet as grapes (second place went to the Cherokee Purple, and the Striped German tied for third with the Evergreen tomato).

Refreshed and sun-kissed and loaded down with fresh flowers, produce, and a crate of plum tomatoes that my friend had bought on impulse, we reluctantly trudged back up the hill to her car, to return to “civilization.”

The next day, FC texted, begging me to take some tomatoes off her hands.