Local farms, vendors showcase products at Groundhog Day celebration
In Punxsutawney, Pa., throngs of people gather each year on Feb. 2 to observe the behavior of the international celebrity rodent known as Groundhog Phil.
If Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, tradition has it, there will be six more weeks of wintery weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.
Meanwhile, around the same time of year, Leslie Hart, business development specialist for agriculture, hospitality and tourism in Washington County, said people in the area are tiring of winter and longing for warmer weather and festivities that come with it.
“I work very closely with farmers’ markets. People tell me there is nothing local going on in the wintertime, only in the summer when stuff is growing,” she said. “That’s just not the case.”
To prove it, several years ago, the county began hosting a Groundhog Day celebration of its own showcasing local farms and agricultural vendors. The first two years, the event took place at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville.
“We simply ran out of space,” Hart said. “We sold out of tickets. We were cram-packed.”
Now in its third year, Washington County’s Groundhog Day celebration will take place Friday, Jan. 31, from 5 to 9 p.m., at the multipurpose building of the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg.
“The whole concept of the event is to let local consumers know that there are some really great local products year-round, 12 months out of the year. Nothing was happening around Groundhog Day here, so the two came together,” Hart said.
The county invites local farmers to provide samplings to participants.
“They provide a bite-sized thing or two then consumers can buy it,” she said. “They can taste it and say, ‘Oh my gosh. This is the best thing I have ever had. Where can I buy this?’ Well, it’s right here.”
More than 20 vendors will participate. In addition to Big Cork Vineyards, the event will feature wines of Red Heifer Winery and Blue Mountain Wine Crafters Boutique Winery, and beers of Cushwa Brewing Company and Antietam Brewery.
Leiters’ Fine Catering of Williamsport will offer local fare. Waltz Family Farm of Smithsburg will offer samples possibly including pork, lamb or beef and cheese.
“There might be a little cup of pork. It’s usually spicy and delicious. People can buy meat – chops, beef, lamb,” Hart said.
Hagerstown-based Palmyra Farm will serve cheese and offer cheese blocks as well as cheese and cracker trays for purchase.
“We have a honey guy coming. You can taste his honey on tiny crackers and buy his honey,” Hart said. “I have a baker coming. I have not had them yet, but I hear her sticky buns are amazing.”
Williamsport’s Delightful Dairy will have specialty milks with flavors including pumpkin spice, chocolate, strawberry, mocha, peanut butter, cookies and cream and more.
New to the event this year are food trucks and live music. The Cramer Brothers with Tim Haines will play acoustic sounds.
“We have the space so we added a band,” Hart said. “They play locally and have a huge following.”
The only stipulation for food trucks, she said, is that tasting must include local products.
“The food trucks will be close to the exits so they can cook, bring it in and serve it,” she said. “People won’t have to go outside to the truck.”
Though the event is just in its third year, it already has developed a following. In past years, capacity was around 140 people. The larger venue can accommodate up to 350 plus vendors.
“Vendors look forward it. Number one, it gives them another revenue stream in the winter months. It’s nontraditional, not a farmers market. So it helps build their client base in the winter months when a lot of people don’t think about buying local,” Hart said.
Attendees look forward to it as well.
“It’s usually cold out. Everybody’s got a little cabin fever,” she said. “Some people think this is an outdoor event, but it’s all inside, warm and lighted. It’s relaxing. It’s fun. It’s good food.”
Tickets cost $15 each for groups of five or more or $20 per person.
“For 20 bucks,” Hart said, “you get to taste, eat. You get to buy, enjoy the music, hang out. It’s just a really good evening.”