Maryland’s first tea farm offering unique presents
WOODBINE, Md. — The week after Thanksgiving, there wasn’t a whole lot to see in the acre and a half field enclosing Heron’s Meadow’s 1,200 tea plants.
The plants had gone dormant. Around the edges of the field and in between the rows, the grass had been allowed to grow up to give the hardy tea plant variety Lori Baker grows additional protection from the coming winter months.
Inside her pottery studio though, Baker was crazy busy preparing for the upcoming weekend’s Carroll County Artists’ Studio Tour and the Countryside Artisans Studio Tour, which would also run the following weekend.
Both the tours and this year’s Christmas season provide an exclamation point to a successful year for both of Baker’s ventures — Mud Pi Studio, her burgeoning pottery studio, and BLTeas LLC, Maryland’s first tea farm.
According to Baker, the former actually prompted her adventures into the latter.
“I had always liked pottery and when I decided to try it and take a class, I was hooked” Baker said.
The farm part emerged when Baker, an engineer by trade who owned her own engineering consulting company, began to consider what’s next. “I knew I wanted to get a farm and do pottery full-time,” she said.
“Initially, I looked into grapes and vineyards,” she continued. “After some research though, I discovered that not only can [grapes] be very finicky, but they also are hard to do organically.”
Add in that “from [her] standpoint the whole idea was becoming overdone,” and Baker knew that she needed to look elsewhere for the “niche market” she was seeking for the farm half of her plans.
That market materialized during lunch at a café on a vacation to North Carolina with her then boyfriend, now husband.
Both avid tea lovers, he suggested growing tea on her farm.
Intrigued by the idea, Baker did “some research and bought five plants and put them in the ground” at the house she then owned in western Howard County.
When the plants managed to survive two really cold Maryland winters, Baker knew she had her farm concept.
Fortunately for the Bakers, they were able to find 43 acres of preserved farmland just a few miles down the road from her prior house to begin executing their plans.
This December, the Bakers will also celebrate their fifth anniversary at that farm, which they named Heron’s Meadow after the blue heron often found hanging around the pond and stream that runs through their property.
More importantly, this past October, the Bakers celebrated the first harvest of their own tea plants.
This actually represents a considerable milestone given that even the seedling plants Baker has been purchasing each year need to be in the ground for three to four years before they are mature enough to sustain the plucking of their leaves.
Indeed, given the small volume of this year’s tea harvest, which the Bakers gathered from their most mature plants this past summer through the early fall, they decided to package it as a straight green tea in single-serving tins.
Nonetheless, they sold out immediately.
Based on that success, the Bakers plan to start harvesting again next May or June and, of course, anticipate having more plants mature enough to pluck for that harvest.
“It’ll probably be another three to four years before we reach critical mass with our own teas,” said Baker.
In the meantime, Baker is hand-blending and flavoring tea leaves that she said she carefully sources through a California import company. “We try to find varieties that pair well with the flavors we’ve developed” using essential oils and the herbs that the Bakers also grow on their farm.
Although Baker noted that they are still learning and experimenting with how to process their teas to achieve the most desirable flavors, their efforts have begun bearing considerable fruit.
They’ve worked with and had their teas featured as part of the Elkridge Furnace Inn’s monthly tea parties held at the well-known restaurant in Elkridge, Md.
That opportunity, as well as several different events held this summer and fall at the farm, has led to having several people contact them about doing a signature teas for them, including specialty teas for weddings and other special events.
Although they’ve only really been open for about two years, the Bakers’ ultimate goal is to turn their farm into a destination place, where folks can enjoy the peace and tranquility of the farm’s set-back location.
She’s hoping the Nepalese tea seeds, which were due to arrive the first week of December, and will, of course, add additional excitement to her farm’s busy Christmas season, will give them a huge step forward towards achieving that future goal.
Until then, she appreciates the enthusiasm of her local loyal customers and looks forward to sharing her passion for all things tea — and clay — with even more Marylanders during both the upcoming Christmas season and the New Year.