HAGERSTOWN, Md. The picking and grinning of the local West Virginia blue grass band filled the air already awash with friendly voices extolling the virtues and great flavors of locally grown farm produce and meats at the first Annual Farm to Fork luncheon. Over 250 people attended the outdoor event held behind LJ’s Restaurant in Hagerstown as a fundraiser for the Washington County 4h and FFA clubs located in Smithsburg, Clear Spring and Boonsboro.
“We need to thank LJ’s, Chef Coble, Alexander Tisches, Megan Brown and all the staff at LJ’s who made this happen today,” said Leslie Hart the Hagerstown Washington County Economic Development Commission Business Development Specialist for Agriculture.
“Chef Lonnie Coble at LJ’s approached me about putting more local products into the restaurants and they decided they wanted to give back and do an event. It was easy to reach out to the 4-H and FFA chapters to get their interest as they were the ones responsible for selling the tickets and are here helping today.”
Mary Heizer from the Washington County 4-H Livestock Club was greeting and taking tickets while her son Shane was assisting with setup. “They wanted all the kids to come and teach the people about farm to fork and where all the food comes from,” Mary Heizer said proudly. “People get a great meal with dessert and they can try different flavors while the FFA and 4-H kids help explain how food gets from the farm to their fork.”
“My FFA Chapter is involved with the event,” said Carol Debaugh, Washington County’s Dairy Queen. “I am also a dairy farmer in Boonsboro so we have a huge attachment to agriculture. This event helps people understand what we do. Everything offered here today is locally grown and processed so people can understand where our food comes from. Agriculture is everywhere and we need it to survive.”
“We are a very firm believer in our youth and with all the challenges coming up today we felt that the 4-H and FFA students could definitely use our help,” said Chef Coble who along with his staff prepared the outstanding array of foods presented.
“The FFA and 4-H are the future as they will have to rectify the issues of the growing population of the world. They are already in agriculture and they need our support.”
The variety of foods were all donated by local farms and were integral to the event, but it took fast culinary thinking to get the menu prepared. “It was a big black box,” Chef Lonnie continued. “We didn’t’ know what products we were getting until Friday. We made a macaroni and cheese from local cheese, a couple of different salads from the local greens and fresh cucumbers and we knew we were going to roast a hog.”
They also prepared a fresh barbecued roast beef and goat burger sliders with a pepper jack cream cheese.
“The food is excellent,” said Laryssa Rhodes as she described her plate between bites of her salad. “This is a pork and goat sandwich, some pork barbeque, a salad with lamb and some goat cheese. We have never done 4-H so it is good to see the turnout. It is a learning experience for me and a lesson for my daughter.”
Abby Rhodes took a break from munching on her goat burger. “It is good,” Abby said. “It’s different from McDonalds.”
“I’m doing trash today,” said Jordon Davis, the Clear Spring FFA President who was busy doing his duty. “I’m telling the people all about the different things we do in FFA and how important farming is. I work on my grandfather’s farm where we raise beef cattle, lambs and hogs. We started a poultry project in our FFA this year.”
“Chef Coble our executive chef and I always wanted to do something for the community and we have been here at LJ’s for nine years now,” said Alexander Tisches the General Manager of LJ’s. “The restaurant is named after my father who was a great mentor of youth. Chef Coble said to me, We use all this local food, but what about the future farmers we will need in five or 10 years down the road to provide us with the produce and protein that we need?’ We wanted to do something that had meaning to us and since we support the local farmers we wanted to support the next generation.
“Being where we are in Western Maryland local produce is very seasonal,” Tische continued. “We try to really showcase the farm and the product - not just an ordinary entre. In the spring we use all local asparagus, a lot of spinach from a farm in Smithsburg, our goat cheese is from Caprikorn Farm in Middletown and another cheese is produced in Sharpsburg. Every winter we have an endive and apple salad and Evensong farms provide us with chicken.
“We try to use as much fresh local produce and protein as we can, but we do have to supplement when the local products are not available.”
“I was invited by one of the 4H leaders,” said Gary Harness as he finished up his meal. “I think they are off to a good start and I plan to come back again. The food was great and I really enjoyed it. I really liked the pork and I liked the idea of introducing the farm to fork concept. I am a retired large animal veterinarian and this is close to my heart.”
“We are only as good as the product we can get,” Tische said as he continued to reduce the pig to pulled pork. “And when you can start with a product only 15 minutes out of the field instead of being six hours away it is much better. Farming is one of those passions and I think it is a calling. It is a life dedicated to a difficult and hard discipline and they need the support. We need to make sure they succeed and survive because without them we would only have our frozen or processed foods.”
Dan McDougal was there with the Greensburg 4-H out of Smithsburg. “I have four children of my own and eight more from the club that are here,” Dan said with pride and enthusiasm for the event. “We are promoting local farming and one of the farms that provided produce today is from Smithsburg.”
Lonnie Thomas was part of the group from Boonsboro. “I helped earlier and now I’m just eating,” Thomas said politely as he gobbled up some pulled pork. “The pork was really pretty good. I live on a farm in Boonsboro where we raise 125 head of limousine cattle. Next week we are going to Missouri for the National Junior Show. I think we had a great crowd and we did pretty well.”
“All the benefits from this event will be donated to all the participating 4-H and FFA clubs in Washington County,” said Candy Mason the co-leader of the Washington County Livestock Club. “I think it is wonderful that LJ’s has sponsored this event.”
“These kids show respect for the land and respect for one another and I think that is great,” said Tisches as he finally gleaned the last bit of pork from that pig. “No one has ever been hurt by hard work whether in the restaurant business or in farming.”
The Following Farms donated foods for the event, Chesley Vegetable Farms,Caprikorn Farms, Palmyra Farm Cheese, Misty Meadow Farm Creamery, Hoffman’s Quality Meats, and Spriggs Delight Farm.