Organic Farm Ventures Into Retail

7/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

SHARPSBURG, Md. — “Aliabaad” roughly translates to, “The place that Ali developed,” and Aliabaad Farm took one giant step forward June 29 when founding farmer, Ali Mohadjer, cut the ribbon and opened his new visitor center and farm stand on Mills Road just south of Sharpsburg, Md.

It all started in 2007 when Mohadjer, a city boy who grew up in Tehran, Iran, bought the historic farm — thousands of Union troops camped here during and after the Aug. 17, 1862, carnage of the Battle of Antietam. In 2008, he moved his office to the property and planted a few herbs. By 2009, Mohadjer launched his community supported agriculture venture, or CSA, with a grand total of three members.

Today, there are more than 100 members, and for the first time, with the opening of the farm stand, non-members will have access to Aliabaad Farm organic vegetables, herbs, fruits and free-range eggs.

The new project got off to an inauspicious start in April 2012, when the existing two-story barn burned to the ground, taking with it $250,000 worth of equipment, supplies and chickens.

But for Mohadjer and Leslie Hart, agricultural business development specialist with the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, that opened the door to a new plan — selling directly to the public from the farm. The farm stand opens its doors to shoppers Thursday through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hart was on hand for the grand opening on June 29 and noted that Aliabaad Farm, less than a year ago, earned an honorable mention in Washington County’s second annual Farm of the Year Award.

The award spotlights “good agricultural practices and good agriculture in our community,” Hart said at the time. “It’s what makes our community beautiful. It also feeds us.”

The CSA will continue to deliver weekly for 22 to 26 weeks of the growing season to farmers markets in Germantown and Potomac, Md., and excess production will continue to appear on the shelves of Whole Foods grocery stores.

As with any CSA, Aliabaad members share the vagaries of weather and bugs with the farmer. If there’s a drought or flood, the weekly deliveries might be smaller. If it’s a perfect growing season, everyone gets more. The CSA promises a delivery to feed a family of four.

“We are hoping, maybe in 2013, to convert it to a year-round CSA,” Mohadjer said. Produce today grows on seven to eight outdoor acres and in two greenhouses. Crops, all organic, include tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, cayenne peppers, garlic, green beans, purple potatoes, bell peppers, pumpkins, squash, corn, onions, asparagus, bok choy, greens of several varieties and herbs.

Mohadjer said he doesn’t really believe in the term “ethnic vegetables” — every settler to this country brought something, after all — but his repertoire includes some Persian herbs he grew up with: tareh, Persian chives and marzeh. Several varieties of dill and of basil, including one unique to his homeland, as well as parsley, fill out the shopping list. Just try them on a salad, he said, and you will be a convert.

Buyers can also shop online and pick up orders at the farm or if they can put together a group of five or more, they can arrange for a drop-off site.

Mohadjer inhabits distant ends of the professional spectrum. He is owner, president and CEO of Satways, a provider of high-tech telecommunications services, satellite and frame relay, with offices in Maryland and Ohio.

But he always wanted to grow things.

“I had the extreme desire to grow flowers and a vegetable garden,” he said. “That was always in the back of my mind, to have animals and grow things.”

Aliabaad Farm is also home to 10 goats, both meat and dairy, three sheep, a large flock of chickens and just this spring, two Angus steers. Like all the animals on the farm, the steers are free-range, grass-fed, and will not mature to market weight until age 24 months or more. Goats, sheep and chickens can be ordered whole, by the side or quarter, and the farm’s Web page lets other shoppers know when someone is looking for a partner for a purchase.

At the actual ribbon cutting, Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and author of “Antietam Revealed,” spoke about the history of the land — Gen. George McClellan’s headquarters for the Battle of Antietam is just across Mills Road from the new farm stand, and a spring house on Aliabaad Farm is in a photo of President Abraham Lincoln visiting the troops after the battle.

“One of the most famous people in history visited here,” Frye noted. “I know this land is in great hands today.”

Learn more about Aliabaad Farm and its CSA at www.aliabaad.com, or call Ali Mohadjer at 301-432-6863. Email at aliabaad@satways.com.


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