Archive for June 13th, 2012

Farming + agriculture are a major attribute and staple to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delmarva community.  You will find plenty of friendly farmers and countless fields of wheat, corn, soybeans, strawberries, watermelons and so much more!  I love going to the local Farmers’ Market during the summer and picking up some fresh veggies.  We also have many CSA farms in Maryland that support local farmers.  Chicken houses and irrigation systems are sprinkled all over the Delmarva peninsula.  For many locals, a sure sign of summer is that first whiff of fertilizer as you’re driving down a back country road on a sunny afternoon.  So when I learned that our family farm used to grow and sell sweet potatoes- I had to know more!  Mom used to always make mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie and no family dinner would be complete without some sweet potato biscuits! :)  I even see local restaurants now serving sweet potato fries instead of regular.  After learning that sweet potatoes were what this farm primarily harvested, the huge four-story building on the back field made sense to me!

My dad always complained that we lived on a sand hill.  Which is true.  Most of farm’s fields do not have the ideal nutrient-rich soil needed for crops.  But the sandy soil is perfect for growing sweet potatoes! :)  After the potato farming boom, ‘potato houses’ were where farmers stored their harvest.  Before, families usually stored them in their basement to keep them cool and from freezing in the winter.  “Mom used to put her potatoes in a tall wooden basket and bury it in the dirt.  When she wanted to cook with them, she’d go outside and dig one up.  We were too poor for a basement,” Pop Pop began.  Then he shot me a grin.  “But we survived.”  The Riggin family, who lived on the farm before my family, used to store the sweet potatoes in bushel baskets on all four floors.  Below is an old photo of when they used the potato house.The basement, which I wouldn’t dare go down to, kept the sweet potatoes cool in the summer.  The ideal temperature for storing them is between 34 and 36 degrees Farenheit.  There are wooden ladders to get to each floor and there is a door on each level. If anyone wants to climb down there- be my guest! :)  I wasn’t going down there with any lights.  In the basement is the furnace that was fueled by coal in the winter so that the potatoes wouldn’t freeze.  The chimney went to all the floors and when the house was built, there was about an 8 inch gap left between the outside and inside walls to let the air circulate.  Also, they intentionally built the house with slatted, wooden floors to help with circulation.  In the photos below, you can see the original brick and mortar of the chimney and a spot in a door way where someone did a little book keeping. :)  Numbers and tally marks can be found all throughout this potato house from doorways to the wooden support beams.In the photo above I am on the third floor looking down to the second.  I love that this building is still in tact and that there are still a few more on Delmarva that are still in decent shape.  Farming has been and always will be an important element in this community.