Eating (and Working) Local in Western Maryland

Baking day at the Riverside Hotel

Baking day at the Riverside Hotel

After a winter in small-town Vermont, we packed up the truck and headed back to the panhandle of Maryland for a season of farming. In this region it’s not uncommon to drive twenty miles to the nearest supermarket, and you won’t find a food co-op or natural grocery. But there are farms and good food to be found in the right places.

In April I dusted off my résumé and went looking for work. I had my eye on several businesses within a thirty mile radius of the farm, local food venues I hoped would have room for a baker from Montana.

I struck out at the Italian place in Frostburg (population 9,000) but small-town Maryland was happy to have me; I was able to piece together full-time work in Accident (population 325) and Friendsville (population 500).

My job description now looks a lot like Western Maryland’s local food scene at a glance. Between the farm, the hotel, the restaurant and the creamery, it involves a lot of driving, plenty of good people, and a whole lot of good food.

Savage River Farm, Grantsville MD

Grantsville (population 760) is really just the nearest town of any size that Ben and Hana Yoder could pin an address too. Their farm rests on the edge of the Savage River state forest on twelve acres of conserved land in eastern Garrett county. We spent a month there last fall as volunteers and returned this spring to join the farm crew for their second season.

Savage River Co-op spring offering

Savage River Co-op spring offering

The farm’s main focus is a free-choice whole diet co-op (their version of a CSA) that operates in the barn on Wednesdays. Members buy a share at the beginning of the season, but instead of receiving a box or bag of groceries each week they’re free to browse a selection of produce, meat, eggs, and baked goods, spending points on whatever they choose. Animals are free-ranging and the food is grown without use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

My gig at the farm was the one job I could count on from the start – I’d agreed to it before coming to Maryland. While Ian works full-time in the fields, I put in about ten hours a week in the kitchen.

Tuesday is my baking day. At the Wednesday CSA members can pick up loaves of whole-wheat bread, and occasionally brownies, cookies, and quick breads made with local and organic ingredients including our own farm-fresh eggs.

Non-members can still get a taste of Savage River’s produce and baked goods if they head to the Farmers Markets in nearby Frostburg (Fridays 9:30 – 1pm at City Place, corner of Water and Mechanic) or Cumberland (Thursdays 9:30 – 2pm at the Downtown Pedestrian Mall).

Savage River Farm booth at the Cumberland farmers market

Savage River Farm booth at the Cumberland farmers market

The Riverside Hotel, Friendsville MD

The Riverside Hotel garden, source of lettuce for salads and fruits for desserts

The Riverside Hotel garden, source of lettuce for salads and fruits for desserts

In 2003 Mike Palancar and Agnes Lichtner purchased a run-down property in Friendsville, Maryland and re-opened the historic Riverside Hotel. Guests can choose from three cute and cozy rooms upstairs, while the main floor serves as a restaurant in the evening. They serve vegetarian dinners on the porch with a view of the river, using fresh ingredients from the garden in their homemade soups and salad.

On Sundays and Mondays I show up at 2pm and roll up my sleeves, ready to bake. I prepare baskets of the warm, fresh bread that accompany their all-you-can-eat dinners, prep the salads, and usually bake a dessert or two. My favorite: strawberry rhubarb crisp, with ripe red berries pulled from the strawberry patch out back.

The Riverside is open seasonally, but well worth the stop if you’re passing through Western Maryland in the summertime or early fall. And as a bonus for those who love river rafting and kayaking, you can take a trip down the river during the day, finishing up just down the street and just in time for dinner at the hotel.

Riverside Hotel, Friendsville MD

Riverside Hotel, Friendsville MD

Moonshadow Cafe, Accident MD

Just fifteen minutes from Friendsville (a beautiful drive down a back road) sits the small town of Accident, Maryland. Highway 219 south (leading to Deep Creek Lake) cuts right through town, serving as its main street. Right on the main street sits Accident’s restaurant, the Moonshadow cafe. The cafe opened its doors in the fall of 2013, with an aim to source local and organic ingredients for a seasonally changing menu.

Mini blackberry pies made for the Moonshadow Cafe

Mini blackberry pies made for the Moonshadow Cafe

That winter the owner Lisa Jan bought the old bakery down the block and Markell Fichus got to work baking bread and cakes for the restaurant. I joined the team this spring, working two days a week at the bakery. We supply the bread for sandwiches, buns for hamburgers, and a variety of desserts including cupcakes, pies, cheesecake, mousse, and torte.

The best time to eat at the Moonshadow is summer, when their menu features produce, salad greens, berries, mushrooms, and eggs from nearby farms (Savage River among them). Ask about organic or local meat options, and feel free to substitute rye or whole wheat bread on entrees that normally use white. For dessert I recommend the mousse (rich and chocolatey) or the pie (my own creation, baked in a mason jar).

Their menu features local cheese too, made at this great place across the street…

Firefly Creamery, Accident MD

Early Saturday morning, I drive to Accident, Maryland and pull up by the loading doors to Firefly creamery. The back of the building is all clean white and cool stainless steel – this is where the magic happens. Here are the cheese chambers, temperature-controlled rooms for aging cheese and walk-in coolers where packaged cheeses wait to be shipped off or carted to market. I grab a cooler of cheese and head to Oakland, where the Oakland farmers market runs from 10 am to 1 pm.

When Mike Koch and Pablo Solanet launched Firefly farms in 2002 they became Maryland’s first artisan cheese producers. Today they source goat milk from six local farms and have won numerous awards in national and international tasting competitions. I sell five varieties of their cheese at the farmer’s market, from classic chevre to creamy brie and aged bleu. For someone who loves fine cheese but can’t afford it very often, this is pretty much a dream come true.

Manning (personing?) the Firefly Creamery cheese table at the Oakland farmers market

Manning (personing?) the Firefly Creamery cheese table at the Oakland farmers market

If you’re not into goats milk cheese (and you might change your mind after a taste of theirs), you can sample a whole range of cows milk cheese at the retail store on main street. While you’re there pick up a bottle of wine (they’ll be happy to suggest a pairing), some crackers and prosciutto for a picnic, or try one of their custom paninis for lunch.

If you’re not sure you want to commit to a whole wedge of cheese, walk across the street to Moonshadow and try it on a cheeseburger. But the Allegheny chevre is a safe bet for almost anybody – it’s Firefly’s most versatile, affordable and best-selling cheese.

Stay tuned for more news from the western Maryland food scene! Coming soon… a new farm-to-table restaurant in Frostburg, and guess who’s on board?

3 comments to Eating (and Working) Local in Western Maryland

  • Leslie Kain

    I’m so glad you found Firefly in Accident! Don’t you just LOVE their cheeses!! And they’re such wonderful people, too!

  • Jane Hilmer

    Wow…amazing article! So much fun to see all of your different jobs and hear what you are doing Kate. Keep the articles rolling. Send bread! Send cheese! Send veggies!

  • dad

    Mom could not work around the cheese and vegetables. She would eat it before it was sold. Did you know your great-great . . . .grandfather was a farmer in Maryland in 1775? He joined the Continental Army. I don’t know where he lived but I’m guessing it was in the eastern part of the state.