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Open house features Tabler Farm updates, first-year produce

By Staff | Nov 8, 2019

Tabler Farm volunteer Jamie Byron, left, talks with Butch and Yocencia Deal, of Shenandoah Junction, during the open house on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Tabler Farm held its second annual open house on Saturday, welcoming community members to come see its progress in the two years since its founding, and to take home some organic butternut squash or salad green with them.

Visitors were also encouraged to consider volunteering for a few hours each week at the farm.

“I helped establish the farm, and hope it will serve as an outdoor education opportunity for many local residents. I hope people will see this and adopt some of these ideas to grow their own food,” said farm manager Haroun Hallack, mentioning about 10 new volunteers are needed to join the farm’s five current volunteers. “Volunteers don’t need much experience in gardening, because we will be there to guide them. They would do all aspects of crop production: weeding, planting and harvesting.

“We have an orchard, green house and outdoor crops. Next summer, we’ll be ready to plant a variety of fruits and vegetables there–it takes a while to prepare the soil,” Hallack said. “Our focus will be on growing high value crops that we can sell to specialty retailers. Next spring, we will plan on growing ginger and turmeric in the green house. The whole idea is for the farm to be self-sustaining.”

The farm also has a beehive and solar installations to produce power for the property. Near the entrance of the farm, a bed of gravel marks the spot where standing garden planters will be set up, so wheelchair-bound students and community members can also learn about farming.

Right, Peter Vila, associate professor of environmental and physical sciences and director of the Veterans to Agriculture Program, talks with Charles Town resident Todd Coyle, left, and Shepherdstown resident Sarah Milcetic, holding 18-month-old Adelaide Milcetic, during the open house on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

“In the end, we’re part of the community. We’re trying to be a good part of the community and give back and show them what we’re up to,” said Associate Professor of Physics Sytil Murphy, in between giving drone rides with the university’s visual reality headset. “What we do with the drones isn’t drone rides–we’re just using that as an engagement piece. We’re trying to teach everybody what we’re doing.”

The most complex endeavor at the farm might be turning an old milking parlor into an Aquaponics Laboratory, under the guidance of Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Vila.

According to Vila, the laboratory will include tanks with native fish and tilapia, which will feed off of plants growing in the tanks. The hydroponic plants, in turn, will clean the water, so volunteers only need to interfere when the fish are ready to be caught and sold to local food distributors.

“All of the money from the fish will go straight back to enhancing the Environmental Studies Program and making it better for students. The Aquaponics Laboratory will aid in student research and development,” Vila said, mentioning the building will also be used to grow mushrooms.

To learn more about volunteering at Tabler Farm, email mhallack@shepherd.edu.

The interior of the milking parlor, partially converted into an Aquaponics Laboratory at Tabler Farm, which was open to the community on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

Community members wander through the green house and across the rest of Tabler Farm on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston