At Home in the Woods

Photo | Marylou Bono House in the Woods farmer Ilene Freedman holds salad turnips, which are great raw with hummus.

Photo | Marylou Bono
House in the Woods farmer Ilene Freedman holds salad turnips, which are great raw with hummus.

A visit to the serene House in the Woods Farm on the day of their organic heirloom tomato plant/seedling/you-pick flower sale in early May found the owner, Ilene Freedman, at the end of a long gravelly driveway near her greenhouse. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the certified organic farm that started as an idea for Freedman and her husband, Phil, in 1999.

As winners of the national Homesteaders of the Year award from Mother Earth News in 2013, the farm has generated a lot of publicity. Ilene writes a blog for the magazine, in addition to one on her website, about real food and gardening. The plant sale marks the start of the season for their CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share program where individuals can buy a share of the harvest and pick up produce every week. “It’s a ton of work,” Ilene said. “Growing your own food is a passion.”

Ilene describes the CSA as a unique commitment and relationship where community members meet the grower. “There is a connection to what you put in your body—no boxes, no Styrofoam. It wasn’t harvested weeks ago.” A CSA is farming without the marketing, and CSA members of all ages benefit from hands-on environmental education.

The Freedmans want to draw Urbana families into being part of the CSA and enjoying and sharing in the natural beauty and bounty of the farm. This summer they will partner with the Urbana library to present a family program—“a road show”—an evening activity in July where Freedman brings soil and seeds and shows kids how to plant and harvest. She also brings a variety of produce for them to see and touch. We want to “be that sense of adventure close to home—you can feel like you’re really out in the country when you’re here,” she said.

For the Freedmans, focus on people and the environment is paramount. Phil worked for the Fish & Wildlife Service in Minnesota and Alaska and is also a computer programming  consultant who always wanted to recreate his grandfather’s Pennsylvania farm. Ilene earned a degree in behavior and environmental psychology. The farm provides her with a setting for experiential environmental education, creating a community willing to touch the natural world and be touched by it.

“Much of my gardening has been in community settings, co-op plots and at a historic farm. I have worked in community events programming and arts in education,” she said. They run an On the Farm class series for 5- to 8-year-olds (age-range flexible) that allows youngsters to explore the farm, plant, harvest and visit the animals. “I have a passion to connect people to nature and their food source. It’s good for your spirit to know where your food comes from!” Ilene said.

Seasonal events include planting days in April when visitors can experience planting and  learn about sustainable farming and gardening, as well as digging sweet potatoes in the fall that Ilene said is like “treasure hunting.” There are also “come and help” days, mostly for CSA members, to participate in upkeep or harvesting. A day on the farm is an educational event and a community service rolled into one, which is what drives the welcoming Freedmans.

The farm sells plants and produce to The Common Market. They also participate in the Frederick Field Fresh Farmers Market at the Frederick Fairgrounds on Saturday mornings and at the Middletown Farmers Market on Thursday afternoons.

Ilene said the spirit of her family farm is in keeping with sentiments expressed by Sierra Club founder and nature writer John Muir: “Going to the woods is going home.”

Visit the farm at 2225 Park Mills Road in Adamstown and experience it for yourself. Check the website for events and hours at www.houseinthewoods.com.

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