“We grow plants the way I learned to farm, with respect to the land and the people it feeds,” says Gini LaMaster.
She and her husband, Brian, an engineer and gunsmith specializing in 18th- and 19th-century firearms, own Powder Keg Farms. located in High View on the site of an 18th-century homestead.
Crooked furrows plowed by horses can still be seen in fields lined with old piles of rocks.
The LaMasters rebuilt the house and fenced out the deer, while adding high tunnels, beehives for pollination and a propagation house for seedlings.
Some help came from Capon Springs volunteer firefighters, their “excavators,” and they have hired 3 workers — “our contribution to Hampshire County’s economy,” says Gini. Brian’s mother, Doll LaMaster, also works on the farm.
Gini grew up near Fort Wayne, Ind., the daughter of a sharecropper, and moved here to go to college, though her “real education came from life,” she says.
She learned farming from her grandmother, who raised and fed a family through the Depression, with enough left over for hoboes passing through.
Gini’s grandmother grew organically before anyone knew what organic was, says Gini, and today the LaMasters mix old ways with new — interplanting and saving heirloom seeds while gardening in high tunnels (in use year round), growing under lights and using modern tools and paper pots.
What they raise is “Certified Naturally Grown.” They can’t afford the high fees for organic certification, though Gini says they are actually more strict than organic certification requires.
Raising disease-resistant plants without chemicals is “all about the soil,” she says. Bushels of dark soil brought back from Indiana were added to her garden, along with some of her grandmother’s plants.
Recycling was her grandmother’s way of life, and the farm cleans and reuses Mason jars, hard plastic egg containers and net bags — though not the plastic bags in which salad greens were being packaged last week for delivery through the farm’s CSA program, short for Community Supported Agriculture.
The LaMasters encourage their CSA customers to compost, picking up compost on their deliveries that will be added back to the soil in which food is grown.
They started the CSA program 3 years ago, offering customers a share of the harvest for a price paid at the beginning of each 12-week season. Originally they grew just for the family and community.
Gini’s son was a chef at Charlottesville’s Ivy Inn Restaurant, and their 1st sales outside the community were to his restaurant. Sales grew to include other area restaurants and markets, and schools in Hampshire, Hardy, Grant and Pendleton County.
Then Covid-19 hit, and everything closed. Gini’s son now operates a food truck.
The farm’s CSA program mushroomed almost overnight from 35 customers to 75, now fluctuating between 75 and 100. Gini enjoys this because she gets to know all their CSA customers personally and considers them family.
Unlike other CSA programs, they deliver to the customer’s door, in Frederick County on Tuesday and in Hampshire and Hardy County on Saturday.
They also include special treats like jams, jellies and home-baked bread or cookies. Last week Gini was making her CSA customers fresh pasta with eggs from the farm’s chickens.
A special CSA website lets customers add or subtract items from their CSA orders online, including offerings from the farm’s partners — local farmers raising meat, mushrooms, or duck eggs, an apothecary farmer making traditional home remedies, and chocolatier Eric Hott.
The farm’s CSA program is now 100% of its business, and business is booming. At Powder Keg Farms, the spring season begins March 28.
They should know by Sunday (March 7) whether they will have openings for new customers, though many customers have stayed with them all 3 years. They normally rely on word of mouth, since there is no money to spend on advertising.
Anticipated spring crops include artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, blueberries, bok-choi, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, kale, leeks, lettuces, microgreens, mushrooms, peaches, radishes, rhubarb, salsify, scallions, spinach, spring onions and peas, strawberries, Swiss chard, turnips and onions, along with the fresh herbs, eggs and home-made pasta, breads, and baked goods, and a new addition to CSA baskets — puzzles and games to help customers pass the time as they wait for normal life to return.