Drew Norman was that kid who always wanted to be a farmer. Growing up in rural Baltimore County, he was always watching the farmer next door, imagining his future riding a tractor, milking cows. Drew spent his high school years working on a dairy farm, and then majored in Agriculture at the University of Maryland.
At the University, Drew took courses in farming practice, where professors told students to “spray everything and kill it, and then put back” what plants need in the form of petrochemical fertilizers.
One visionary advised the students to work with nature, not against it, teaching Drew about the soil’s natural checks and balances and the value of beneficial microbes in the soil. A moment of truth came as Drew, working on a farm after graduation, read the warning labels on pesticides they were applying. The message that “one drop can kill,” told him he’d have to find another way.
Joan Norman grew up in Baltimore, often visiting a nearby organic farm run by an old German couple. It left lasting memories of wholesomeness and delicious cooking. She readily shared Drew’s dream of starting an organic farm, bringing boundless enthusiasm and energy to providing Members and customers with the healthiest food possible.
Organic Farming Takes Off
It was 1983. Little was known about organic farming. People laughed that it was a fad for hippies growing marijuana! But Joan and Drew persisted in their dream, learning everything they could, slowly putting the pieces together. They bought 83 acres of land in the fertile, rolling countryside of northern Maryland, and started growing vegetables with methods that respected the Earth and the soil. By 1986 they were one of the first Certified Organic Farms in Maryland.
In 1989, many consumers turned to organic produce when CBS reported that Alar, a pesticide manufactured by the chemical giant Uniroyal that was sprayed on apples, posed significant public health risks. As the organic movement took root, One Straw Farm blossomed, selling vegetables at the Waverly Farmer’s Market, and also to wholesale outlets.
In the late 1990s, organic farming got another boost as the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) idea gained traction around the United States. One Straw Farm began its CSA with just eight members picking up at Boordy Vineyards. Soon new customers learned about the convenience and value of a box of just-harvested produce delivered weekly to a nearby site, and the program grew like topsy. One Straw Farm added new CSA sites as fast as customers learned about it. There are now 28 sites serving 1400 Members.
At the same time, “Farm to Table” became the watchword of fine dining. Maryland’s leading restaurants put produce from One Straw Farm on their menus. Chefs also participate in the acclaimed “Days of Taste” program, which brings hundreds of children from under-resourced schools to learn about farming and food; for some it is their first chance to see how crops are grown and harvested. These are the healthy eaters of the future!
One Straw Farm has flourished with the Norman family. In 1994, Drew’s sister Helen and her husband Mark bought 130 adjoining acres, adding Star Bright Farm’s fields to their growing capacity. In 2013 the Normans acquired 23 acres of woodland for their son Andrew who began raising pigs and chickens to add pastured pork and eggs to their offerings. Then, daughter Sarah and her husband Mark returned to Maryland after a stint in the West. While Sarah works as a professional nurse, Mark uses his background in economics to manage the farm’s finances.
For years, One Straw Farm has grown the favorites: tomatoes, kale, collards, chard, eggplant, watermelon, and hard squash. Members now demand a wider variety, learning how to make delectable dishes with new and exotic produce. So One Straw Farm offers a wide variety of vegetables, providing easy-to-follow recipes with every CSA box and here.
One Straw Farm now anchors a broad-based sustainable food community. With the Norman family at its center, the community encompasses twenty long-time trusted employees, many leading restaurant chefs, hundreds of weekly farmer’s market customers, and, most importantly, Members, the 1800 families who support One Straw Farm through the CSA. This great extended family forms a network of people growing, harvesting, marketing, preparing and enjoying the Earth’s bounty at its best.