Faced this spring with the pandemic and subsequent quarantining, I began to challenge my own food purchases with a desire to buy more local food and to examine the benefits of organic food. In April, my husband and I had visited Cottingham Farm, which produces certified organic heirloom vegetables and herbs on the banks of Goldsborough Creek near our home in Talbot County. We purchased carrots, beets, salad mix, and herbs from the farm. Afterward, when I read a Facebook post from my friend Linda Elben Adams about her unique experiences at Cottingham Farm in Easton, I wanted to know more. Linda’s post came at the perfect time.
Linda Elben Adams wrote:
“Many have asked about our association with Cottingham Farm. Six years ago, our neighbor, Tony, introduced my husband Terry and me to owners Cleo Braver and Allie Tyler when they needed help with trimming, weeding, etc. We had a grass mowing business and Cottingham Farm needed our help.
We’ll never forget the night we met! We ended up “herding” free-range chickens into their pen. The look on Terry’s face was priceless! The next day, I thought my Dad would roll over in his grave at us working on a Certified Organic Farm. I was raised on a traditional hog/grain farm.
The first year of mowing was rough – I didn’t know much about organic farming or greenhouses and got the mower stuck a lot. I even sucked one of Cleo’s beloved chickens into the mower, grieved, and was scared to mow for weeks. While on the mower, I had a deer jump over the front of the mower and a snake land on my shoulder, causing me to panic and have a mower accident.
The next year, the land and I began to get to know each other and I relaxed. Mowing, weeding, and trimming brings me peace and joy – you can see what you’ve accomplished almost immediately. It’s completely satisfying! Nothing like I felt working in an office for 30 years.
Cottingham Farm is an amazingly beautiful, sprawling farm with paths and trails to mow and explore. Wildlife abounds – with deer, wild turkey, eagles overhead, and tons of frogs, and snakes, oh my!”
For Linda, however, it wasn’t just the beauty of where Cottingham Farm was, it was how the food grown there has impacted her life. She continued to share on Facebook:
Now, to the point. I’m not a big veggie lover; in fact, I only ate corn and lima beans until I was an adult, specifically 21 years ago. Twenty-two years ago, I was very ill with a condition called gastroparesis. I’m not a Type 1 Diabetic, which often causes the condition however, my Dad was also very ill at the time and passed away in June of that year. Was it nerves? A premonition? No one ever knew. There were months that I couldn’t bear the pain and would not have been surprised or disappointed if I had passed. At under 100 pounds, I somehow pulled out of it and my body began to accept mashed potatoes, soft pasta, etc. Please never take for granted that you can enjoy food! At some point, I consulted a homeopathic nutritionist on Kent Island who suggested a different way of eating. I learned to like cooked vegetables. It was a process. Eventually, I began to eat raw greens – still not carrots, broccoli, etc. She also schooled me about organic foods.
As a Swann ‘cygnet’ and the daughter of a hog and grain farmer, I was absolutely skeptical. I changed my diet, but did not eat completely ‘organic.’
Then, Cleo of Cottingham Farm gifted us a beautiful cut of pastured pork. Was I shocked and a little ashamed to admit that it was the best pork I had ever eaten? Since then, we have grown to enjoy her organic eggs, the arugula salad mix, carrots, etc. I’m still amazed at the difference in taste in these organic vegetables.
I believe some of us are born with a love of the land, smelling the soil and wanting to put our hands in it. That’s me! This ‘gig’ may end tomorrow, but we’ll have wonderful memories of what we have learned, eaten, and enjoyed, and especially the quality time spent at my new “Happy Place – Cottingham Farm.”
When I later talked to Linda about why Cottingham Farm touched her so much, she commented, “Watching the personal care that Cleo and Allie give the land and the animals and hearing them talk to their customers about the value of the food they are growing has brought me more in touch with things and the beauty of what God has created. Experiencing this farm has opened my soul.”
So, now it was time for me to talk with Cleo and make another visit to Cottingham Farm to learn. This time, after reading Linda’s Facebook post, I wanted to learn more about the impact of certified organic products on our health. Cleo was eager to talk with me about her journey in growing her produce and why she believes how we grow our food is much more important than where we grow our food when it relates to our health. She and her husband Allie Tyler had already worked with Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage to plant buffers to improve the environment on the farm they had purchased on Goldsborough Creek. She had left a successful career as an environmental attorney to make her foray into farming the property. Her first efforts were selling heirloom black, pink, orange, and red tomatoes at the Easton Farmers’ Market that she harvested from about 20 plants she had grown on the property.
But it was the experiences during one specific week in 2008 that led her on a new journey. At the time, Cleo was reading Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, while also attending a Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference and attending a Maryland Department of Agriculture buyer/grower meeting. It was here that she learned that Whole Foods was looking for local organic vegetables. That year there was very little competition for growing organic vegetables. She decided that tomatoes would be the most nutritious and economic crop she could grow. Finally, after taking some classes in growing tomatoes and greenhouse construction, in 2009 she began growing organic tomatoes in her own greenhouses for Whole Foods, as well as Eastern Shore and Baltimore restaurants and specialty markets.
She recalls, “Our property was transformed in three years. If you take care of the soil, using natural and non-synthetic inputs, you can have healthy soil. Healthy soil produces healthy food. Healthy food produces healthy people. Mother Nature is way smarter than we are.”
“I got in on the ground floor becoming the only USDA certified organic vegetable producer in Talbot County at the time. Science is clear about how we are harming folks with pesticides. I wanted to sell clean food to my community. I am particularly interested in the public health piece and how pesticides affect our health. Commercial vegetable production in our country generally relies on pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. The Maryland Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations include these synthetics,” she adds.
Today, Cleo hopes people will consider finding out more about how their is food is grown. She shares that pesticides such as neonicotinoids kill pollinators; chlorpyrifos can cause damage to developing brains in children and autism, and atrazine can cause various cancers. She adds that the herbicide glyphosate has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She remarks, “If more people demand food produced without these synthetics, then farmers may begin to change their practices.”
Over time, Cleo and Allie have transformed the land at Cottingham Farm. Today, crops grow with no pests and no disease. Cleo states, “The land (now about 160 acres) has been transitioned from grain and corn to healthful sustainably grown and locally distributed fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We grow our produce using organic methods, with no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, surrounded by buffers of wildlife habitat and buffers for the Chesapeake Bay. We like to call it Real Food.”
She adds, “With the increasing concern with food-borne pandemics, with episodes of salmonella in eggs, E. coli in beef, campylobacter in chicken, and other foodborne pathogens, and now COVID-19, people are purchasing from local farms, recognizing the value of local food.”
Cottingham Farm produce can be purchased at the St. Michaels Farmers’ Market and at the farm on Tuesdays, 1 to 4 p.m., and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon. The list of produce available in July includes Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, Italian horn peppers, sweet melons, summer squash, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, carrots, mustards, radishes, turnips, green onions, leeks, eggs, basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, and lemon balm. This year, the farm will be selling quarter and half shares of pastured heritage hogs raised on the farm.
For further information, visit cottinghamfarm.com or call 443-463-1298. Cottingham Farm is located at 28038 Goldsborough Neck Road in Easton.
~ Written by Amelia Blades Steward.