The Caulders began growing for themselves and their friends and neighbors over 30 years ago. Their CSA program began with 12 families and has now grown to include 750. Breezy Willow Farm is at the Ellicott City Old Town Market Uptown at the Wine Bin on Saturdays!
“We began growing for ourselves and our friends and neighbors over 30 years ago,” says RJ Caulder of Breezy Willow Farm & CSA. The Caulders – RJ, her husband Kenny and their children, Jason & Casey – moved from Columbia to Breezy Willow Farm in 1984.
“With Jason and Casey in 4-H,” explains RJ, “we expanded into dairy goats – Nubians – which produce milk with a higher butter fat content than other dairy goats.”
“People started asking us ‘what are you all going to do with all that dairy milk?’” continues RJ who goes on to explain, “Casey had a skin problem with eczema and psoriasis. So, we started to experiment with goats’ milk soap, incorporated herbs, and developed a line of natural soaps, creams and body products for dry and sensitive skin conditions.”
During Jason and Casey’s 4-H years, the Caulders expanded their products from vegetables and berries to include homemade jams made with farm-fresh berries, honey produced by their own beehives, and cut flowers grown at Breezy Willow Farm.
“In the late 90s, we started in our first farmers’ market at the Interfaith Center in Columbia,” says RJ, “with our line of natural body products and then we brought in jams, cut flowers and honey.”
In 2002, when Howard County Growers – a newly formed Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) partnership of five Howard County Farmers – needed a value added product, they asked RJ to supply them with her value-added product, her homemade jams.
As Howard County Growers evolved and transformed, RJ started formulating her own plans for a CSA. Breezy Willow Farm’s CSA started with 12 families in 2004 when RJ's son Jason talked 12 of his Verizon coworkers into signing up. Thinking he had added more to her CSA program he asked, “Mom, how many people do you have?” Before she could answer, he said, “Please tell me you have more than 12.” She replied, “Twelve!” Astonished, Jason laughed, stepped up and started taking the boxed shares into work. Breezy Willow Farm now has 750 families enrolled in its CSA program.
“We love the sense of community that surrounds a CSA,” conveys RJ who enjoys the community-oriented aspect of working with a variety of farms. “It takes more than one farm to support a community and it takes a community to support more than one farm.”
Each week, members receive between 10 and 11 items which include an assortment of eight fruits and vegetables, a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread (or another baked good from local community bakers such as Great Harvest or The Breadery). Breezy Willow tries to include as much of their own farm fresh goodies as possible into the baked goods so you will often find their berries, honey, herbs and other Breezy Willow Farm products included.
Once a month, members may choose to trade their eggs for another farm fresh local product such as cheese, jam, cider, fruit butter, and honey. Fresh cut herbs are included in the shares when available. They are not counted as an item, but as an extra value. In addition, each member is allowed to trade one item per week if they see another item on the trade table that better suits the family.
If, by the end of the market week, the Caulders are faced with having a surplus of vegetables, they donate it to the Howard County Food Bank. Last year, Breezy Willow Farm donated over 12,000 pounds and was the largest fresh-food contributor to the food bank.
Keeping satisfied customers hasn’t been a challenge. “We rely on word-of-mouth referrals with no paid advertising,” says RJ who has seen the family business grow year-after-year.
In addition to Breezy Willow Farm’s CSA program, other farm fresh products are offered at their on-farm market which is open every Saturday, 10 - 2 pm, year-round. Items include fresh beef, pork and chicken raised by local 4-H families and small farms. “We also have honey, jams, local cheese, pasture-raised eggs from our heritage breed happy chicks and, of course, our natural olive oil and milk-based soaps and body products,” adds RJ.
Breezy Willow Farm also sells their farm-fresh produce at the Saturday Howard County Farmers’ Market at the Howard County Library’s Glenwood Branch where they have a great following of satisfied customers.
“It’s the sense of community, knowing the families and becoming friends with our customers,” says RJ, “that makes this worthwhile. We learn their stories and have become close-knit with our CSA members. Our CSA is much more than a business that provides for the community, it is a blessing and for that we are truly thankful."
Breezy Willow Farm was the recipient of the 2012 Howard County Business of the Year by the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Breezy Willow Farm sells their farm-fresh produce at the Saturday Howard County Farmers’ Market this season at the Howard County Library’s Glenwood Branch.
By Alice Settle-Raskin - Originally published in March 2009; Updated October 23, 2014
Meet Samantha Nuñez of Pong's Orchard - the 20-something granddaughter of Al & Mae Pong - who has been a welcoming face been at the Ellicott City Old Town Market on the Courtyards of Tonge Row since mid-June. Working for her grandparents, she's been learning the orchard business, from growing to selling, and everything in between. This article was written about Pong's Orchard over five years ago in March 2009 when I visited Pong's Orchard, Howard County's Secret Garden ...
Nestled on 27 acres in Fulton, Maryland is a hidden orchard. Like the “secret garden” one has to find their way down a long driveway guided only by a mailbox marked “Pong’s Orchard” in the Fulton Manor subdivision off Hall Shop Road.
Once inside, there’s an abundance of sweet smelling fruit trees and flowering plants.
Fragrant Fruit Trees
Imagine finding trees that bare juicy Asian pears, oriental persimmons, white peaches, kumquats, loquats, goji berries, blue berries, Japanese flowering apricots, and several varieties of citrus. Then imagine finding them here in Howard County, Maryland!
The Pongs, Al and May, grow a variety of exotic fruit trees that make the air so sweet smelling that one can almost taste the fruit by merely walking through the orchard.
“We wanted to grow flowering trees and shrubs that have a fragrance because other than roses and a few other plants, fragrance in the garden is amiss,” said Al Pong. “That would add another dimension to the landscape in which the gardener and landscaper often overlooked."
Fragrant exotic fruit trees aren’t all that Pong’s Orchard offers. The orchard is a cornucopia that provides its customers with several varieties of fragrant flowering trees, fruit, nuts, and a variety of flowering plants. Pong’s Orchard patrons may choose from the Chinese Tree Peony; Michelia Figo (banana shrub); Osmanthus Fragrans "Fudingzhu" (sweet olive flowers for six-to-nine months); Japanese Flowering Apricot; Chimonanthus Praecox (Wintersweet); Camellia (Tea Flower); Japanese Anise Tree; Japanese Flowering Quince; and cold hardy Gardenia.
Recently, Pong’s Orchard added Goji berries to its inventory of exotic fruits. “Goji berries,” said May Pong, “are high in antioxidants. The Chinese have used Goji berries for thousands of years for medicinal purposes.” In 2009, the Pongs added a sweet pomegranate that is very difficult to find to their collection of high antioxidants fruits and berries.
“I hope that the fruit will be available for tasting this fall and that the small trees will be available for sale as well," said Al Pong.
Pong’s Orchard also has white and yellow peaches, white nectarines, plums, Fuji and gala apples, Chinese chestnuts, almonds and English walnuts.
The Roots of Pong’s Orchard
Standing next to an orange tree, the former electrical engineer explains how it was that he and his wife started growing fruits.
“It’s like when one unrelated thing leads to another,” Al Pong said. “Our family-owned restaurant needed bean sprouts in the 1960s. We started out by growing what the restaurant needed.”
Soon after, the Pongs started growing Asian pears because they know there is a great demand for them. So, on their former property along New Hampshire Avenue in nearby Montgomery County, they started growing enough to sell at their roadside stand. That is, until a church bought the property, and in 2001, the Pongs moved their orchard to Howard County.
Although Pong’s Orchard isn’t a pick-your-own operation, “We will show anyone the art of growing and picking their own fruit,” said Al Pong.
The Pongs sell a variety of fruit, nuts, and trees at a few farmers' markets. Pong's Orchard is probably the only nursery where one can taste the fruit before buying the fruit tree.
Find Pong’s Orchard, Howard County’s “Secret Garden” located at 12305 Carol Drive in Fulton, Maryland. To learn more, about Pong's Orchard, visit their website at www.PongsOrchardMd.com, contact Al Pong at 301-854-9969 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MACBRIDE & GILL FALCON RIDGE FARM: A Sustainable Fruit Farm fulfilling Niche Markets
By Alice Settle-Raskin - originally published in Columbia Patch on September 6, 2013 - Updated October 22, 2014
Learn about MacBride & Gill Falcon Ridge Farm's sustainable practices and niche fruit. Chelsey MacBridge-Gill with Falcon Ridge Farm has been a guest vendor at the Ellicott City Old Town Market on the Courtyards of Tonge Row during the 2014 Market Season.
“I always wanted to own an orchard,” says Stanton Gill who owns MacBride & Gill Falcon Ridge Farm along with his wife, Nancy MacBride and his two daughters, Chelsey and Kelly. “The need to own an orchard goes back to my great grandfather in Pennsylvania who had his own orchard.”
In 2000, Stanton and his wife purchased the farm now known as Falcon Ridge Farm in the rolling hills of Westminster, Maryland. Once a multi-generational farm, the land produced corn and soybeans but had been fallow for several years since its last owner passed away. After months of work spent clearing, adding organic material, bring up the soil fertility and preparing the land, the new orchard was planted and has since flourished.
Stanton and his family have long been growing fruit on one acre at their home in Brookeville, Maryland before they expanded to owning the farm in Westminster. Stanton also brings a wealth of professional knowledge as an Extension Specialist with the University of Maryland, specializing in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Entomology, in addition to teaching classes as a professor with Montgomery College.
Falcon Ridge Farm’s growing season begins in June with asparagus, rhubarb, sweet cherries, sour cherries, and currants. Summer crops include blueberries, red raspberries and black raspberries, blackberries, peaches and seedless grapes. Fall brings over 40 varieties of apples, 11 varieties of Asian pears, oriental persimmons, pawpaws, and bogless cranberries.
Stanton’s personal favorite is the seedless grapes that come in August. The plump, high natural sugar grapes are not only beautiful on the vine, but are also very flavorful. Apples are the all-around favorite for eating in the family, with a range of flavors coming in from September through November. Although apples do very well at the farm markets, Falcon Ridge Farm’s most in-demand crop is peaches. “Growing peaches is not for amateurs,” warns Stanton, “People are not the only creatures that favor peaches. Insects and wildlife favor this crop making producing great peaches a challenge. Through careful attention to our crops we are able to produce high quality fruit.”
What sets Falcon Ridge apart from others, says Stanton, is that “we grow unusual things that are not found in the typical marketplace.” They grow native fruits such as pawpaws, persimmons and beach plums which are not run of the mill fruit crops. “It’s things like this – fulfilling that niche market – that, besides our high quality, also sets us apart.” His wife, Nancy, takes the fruit grown on the farm further by making it into fruit pies, fruit cakes, jams, and jellies. She also makes specialty products for those who are vegan or are lactose intolerant.
Bringing high-quality fruit to the farmers’ markets takes many steps, starting from the ground up. For example, to continuously improve the quality of the soil, leaf compost is brought in every year to be turned in to the shale-heavy soil, while daikon radishes are grown amongst the trees to aerate the soil. Falcon Ridge Farm has constructed high tunnels (looking like open sided greenhouses) over some of the fruit trees as a part of Integrated Pest Management as way to combat insect damage, reducing the need for insecticide. Farm maintenance, such as weeding, is handled by a careful hands-on work and constant assessment. Irrigation is done with a trickle system that provides the trees’ roots with just the right amount of water.
Falcon Ridge Farm prides itself on using sustainable practices such as the trickle irrigation system, and has taken it even further in recent years. Running the orchard uses a lot of energy; everything from tractors, irrigation equipment, and cold storage is needed. In lieu of taking electricity from the grid, “we produce our own,” says Stanton, who installed solar panels on both the barn and farmhouse to supply energy for the farm. “We often produce more energy during the summer than we use.”
Stanton Gill and his family look forward to continuing on as innovative farmers, introducing people to interesting, locally-produced fruit. "We pride ourselves in not just selling fruit, but also sharing in knowledge on improved ways of growing crops and sustainable agriculture," conveys Stanton. "We look forward to many more years of fruit at Falcon Ridge Farm."
MacBride & Gill Falcon Ridge Farm has been a guest vendor at the Ellicott City Old Town Market during the 2014 market season. They also sell at other area farmers' markets. MacBride & Gill Falcon Ridge Farm may be found on facebook at www.facebook.com/falconridgefruit.