Farming is one of the largest economic engines of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Last year the total farm product value for the Eastern Shore was in the many hundreds of millions of dollars , which even by today’s standards is serious money and pretty big business. But unlike the huge agri-businesses in other parts of the country, farms on the Eastern Shore are mostly family- run farms and farming is as much a lifestyle as a business. Potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans and other grains are the main crops, with secondary truck crops such as bell peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans and wine grapes following close on their heels. If you have ever eaten a Wise brand potato chip you likely have tasted an Eastern Shore potato. In the summer, if you’ve ever had the fresh salsa at Chipolte’s Mexican Grill, home to some lip-smacking good burritoes ( www.chipolte.com ), you have enjoyed our sweet Eastern Shore tomatoes (in the winter, fresh tomatoes primarily come from Florida). Farming is evident here all year round because basically the Eastern Shore of Virginia is just one big farm, with our lovely waterfront neighborhoods and our little towns interspersed into the open landscapes. Farms are not exactly part of the scenery– mostly, they are the scenery . ( Although there are only a few, we do sometimes have an Eastern Shore farm for sale. )
But at no time of year is farming more captivating to me than in the spring and fall. The earthen tones of the Eastern Shore’s fall landscapes are very appealing, strong golds and yellows, all the shades of browns, lots of deep greens, here and there a little cotton ready to be picked, looking for all the world like a field of white lollipops on brown sticks. Soybeans are not an especially attractive plant individually but a big field of soybeans in October, after the leaves have all turned yellow, is a delightful sight– when the soybeans are lit by the morning sun it’s like a looking at a field of gold, edible gold at that. One of my favorite sights in the fall is a freshly prepared field, the sweeping lines of the rows, so precise, curving around at corners, gliding up little knolls, designs created by John Deere on a massive earthen canvas, a study in rich browns. Really quite beautiful, with a deep, fresh aroma all its own.
By now, late November, the fields that were harvested early and planted with rye as a winter cover crop have all greened up, the rye already a few inches tall. Seen from a distance, a big field of rye in November looks like a vast emerald green lawn, like Ireland, maybe even greener. And as I drive to work each day this time of year, I am always struck by the various of stages of the lands I pass— harvested, waiting for harvesting, plowed, waiting for plowing, planted with the new crop, waiting for planting, each phase with its own special look, and by the strong hues of those stages, the yellows, golds, browns and greens, the fascinating textures and colors of fall farming on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.