by allison davis
The farm, run for 21 years by Anne Pomykala, raises culinary herbs such as sage, mint and basil.
The 7-acre organic herb farm has received USDA certification for Good Agricultural Practice and Good Handling Practice, making it only the second organic farm in the state to do so. The first is an organic strawberry farm on the Eastern Shore.
Koinonia Farm received certification from the Maryland Department of Agriculture in 1997. However, this spring, Wegmans approached the farm with an offer to sell produce in its Hunt Valley store, and that requires USDA certification, says Heather Saul, Koinonia sales executive.
Pomykala did not expect to be an organic farmer when she bought Koinonia Farm and adjoining Gramercy Mansion in 1985.
"I was a naive little child who fell in love with the land," Pomykala says. "You do strange things when you fall in love."
After purchasing the property, Pomykala took on both major renovations of the Gramercy Mansion, which is a bed and breakfast, and upkeep of Koinonia Farm. The farm, which has been in existence since 1951, was first used as volunteer training grounds for the Koinonia Foundation, a precursor to the Peace Corps.
Pomykala acquired the property through an auction and decided to maintain the farm because of its historical value, she says.
Although she comes from a "family of farmers," Pomykala did not have an initial opinion of organic practices.
"When I first started, I wasn't knowledgeable enough. Now, as I grow and learn more about it, I firmly believe in it," she says.
Her self-education paid off.
"We had a (USDA) representative come down for several hours, for $75 dollars an hour, to look over the farm," Saul says.
The representative considered all the farm's practices, from how crops are tended to packaging methods. Pomykala and her farm staff of four use all of the traditional organic farming methods, abstaining from any use of chemicals and pesticides - even USDA-approved organic pesticides.
Instead, they plant garlic barriers and use crop rotation to ward off insects. They use "green" manure instead of disease- susceptible raw manure. Green manure, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, is a crop that is grown, then plowed under and incorporated into the soil to both protect and improve the soil. Koinonia workers also weed manually, rather than use chemicals to kill weeds.
Maryland residents can purchase Koinonia herbs from local grocers. The herbs are not available for individual sale from the farm, but guests of the Gramercy Mansion inn are invited to sample them in dishes such as the inn's House Omelet, Saul says. Guests may also make the half- hour walk down to the farm and pick their own bag of herbs.
With accounts at Giant, Whole Foods Market and most recently Wegmans, Koinonia has "cornered the market on (local) organic herbs," Saul says. It is a market that, according to Pomykala, has recently become wildly demanding.