Virginia Gambrell graduated from Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2010, assuming she would end up with a career related to her major in Spanish. Translating documents between English and the romance language of Spanish would have been acceptable for Gambrell, but she was hardly excited at the prospect of becoming a 9-to-5 desk jockey.
“That made me really uncomfortable,” she said.
After meeting some farmers at a farmer’s market, she began to volunteer her time where it was needed — in the great outdoors and picking fresh, earthly-grown food from the vines. After finding her firsthand experience in the fields, Gambrell turned to the Frys and the partnership has blossomed into a successful and burgeoning Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.
“The Fry family has given me so many opportunities and so much liberty and freedom to do what I want in the garden,” Gambrell said. “They basically just gave me a budget to work with and let me create my vision, and that has been so satisfying [and] more meaningful to me than I feel I could have ever felt translating documents.”
Maryland Sunrise Farm is active at several local farmers’ markets, including each Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon (through Dec. 20) and Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (through Sept. 30) at the intersection of Riva Road and Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis, and each Wednesday from 2 to 6:30 p.m. at the Piney Orchard Community Center at 2400 Stream Valley Drive in Odenton.
In order to ensure quick service and top-quality organic products, Gambrell employs the services of assistants, Kristin Johnson, Josh Higgins and Lis Cawley, the latter a 2010 graduate of Rockbridge Academy in Millersville. Cawley started working for Gambrell at Maryland Sunrise Farm in September 2013, and her desire to remain at one with nature and find solace in sustainability has led her to continue rising with the daily sun and tending to the acreage of organic produce.
“I feel so blessed and grateful [to be farming],” Cawley said. “I feel I’m most fundamentally human as I’ve ever felt. That could be because I found my niche. But it could also be because we’re participating in the cycles of nature.”
Among the produce items offered at the Maryland Sunrise Farm CSA are butternut squash, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, green beans, broccoli, peppers and carrots. The crops are constantly watered using a drip-line irrigation system. While deer, groundhogs and Japanese beetles have found nourishment among the farm’s delicious fresh foods, Gambrell and her team have employed rope fences and other natural mechanisms — including patience — to keep nature’s pests out of the garden.
“Nature has so many lessons to teach me,” Cawley said. “It’s like a living energy — it’s so powerful and I so respect it.”
Respect seems to flow throughout the three acres of CSA land, as much as quenching water to the crops. When families arrive to pick up their weekly allotment of crops at the farm (100 Dairy Lane in Gambrills), Gambrell and Cawley said they feel a wave of satisfaction seeing the happy faces and inquisitive clients ask questions when they receive an item with which they might not be too familiar. The reactions of the people — many of whom appreciate and take note of the recipes adorning the walls of the CSA pick-up center — are not unlike the feeling Gambrell said she has gotten from organic farming.
“Realizing where my food came from and seeing it on the plant was so significant for me and deeply gratifying,” she said. “It was such a deep connection that it baffled me that other people weren’t interested.”
Impressionable children play a part in Gambrell’s CSA farm. Each week throughout this summer, she has welcomed groups of summer campers from Severn School in Severna Park. Admittedly, Gambrell said she was hesitant to become involved in having middle school-age children involved in her business. But then she considered her own upbringing, and she considered the sizable impact that a firsthand knowledge of growing sustainable food might have on a child.
“I grew up eating white bread and cucumbers, and the most exotic vegetable we ever had was maybe a yellow pepper,” Gambrell said. “[The Severn School students’ involvement] actually turned out to be really cool and Lis is really excellent with kids, so she usually takes the reins.
“The children always love it because it completes nature’s circle,” Gambrell continued. “They get to see the vegetables; they get to work on helping the vegetables grow, and they get to learn a little bit about them.”
At the end of each visit, Gambrell and her staff cut up pieces of fresh fruits and vegetables and snack with the children and, according to Gambrell, “it’s always so much fun to see how surprised they are at how good it tastes.” There is little doubt in speaking with Gambrell and Cawley that they — along with coworkers Johnson and Higgins —feel a deep connection with the soil they till and the food they pick for themselves and for others, whether it be for CSA clients or patrons of local farmers’ markets. There is even less doubt that working in a field (no pun intended) someone feels passionately for can make life a whole lot sweeter, sort of like one of those fat strawberries grown at Maryland Sunrise Farm.
“As we care for the farm, it cares for us,” Cawley said. “We’re nourished with the food that we have here and the beautiful thing is that we get to share that with other people.” Follow Maryland Sunrise Farm on Facebook and Instagram. Contact the farm’s vegetable production manager, Virginia Gambrell, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-693-4431 or 410-923-0726.