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Former educator brings West Virginia produce to DC's food deserts

Sharon Carey launched Sammy's Farm during the pandemic to link farmers with consumers inside the D.C. Beltway.

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — The low hum of whirling fans quickly drives home the point that this farm is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation. On an idyllic hilltop in rural West Virginia, Raynette Mock points north and tells me that we can see three states from where we're standing.

We can spot Pennsylvania's Seven Springs ski resort on a peak in the distance as we look past the valley of western Maryland's narrow neck and the town of Hancock where Interstate 70 snakes through. 

Raynette and Paul Mock have been atop this hill since 2005 operating Mock's Farm, a hydroponic greenhouse growing operation that produces tons of fresh produce year-round despite the unpredictable climate.  

"We sell directly to stores like Wegmans. Whole Foods, we get to deliver to their warehouse and then they put it on their trucks to forty of their stores in the Beltway and as far west as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati," said Paul Mock. 

Hydroponic growing doesn't involve soil. Instead, the produce being grown on Mock's Farm is maturing on elevated tables within the greenhouse and being fed a non-stop flow of nutrient-enriched water. About 90% of that water ends up getting reused, making this operation very environmentally friendly. 

"We won the Sustainability Award and we've also won the West Virginia Agriculture Conservation Award," said Raynette Mock. 

The Mocks grow Bibb lettuce, several tomato varieties, basil, watercress and more. They operate a farmer's market in Bethesda and Silver Spring most weekends. About 99% of the produce they grow ends up inside the DC Beltway. 

Mocks Greenhouse and Farm is just one of about 800 farms within a 25-mile radius of Berkeley Springs, said retired educator Sharon Carey. 

Carey recently teamed up with the Mocks in starting her own business, Sammy's Farm, which isn't a farm in a traditional sense. Sammy's is a go-between; linking a group of farmers near Berkeley Springs with consumers in the D.C. area who are seeking fresh produce. Her main mission, she says, is to get that farm fresh produce into the hands of those who have the least access -- specifically in D.C.'s Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River. 

"Just knowing that children are not eating properly. A lot of times they don't even know what certain vegetables and fruits are. It just touched my heart," said Carey. "We've only been in business a year. I want to reach out to them more so that everybody can have access to this so to get the word out!"

Sammy's Farm basically operates a mobile farmer's market that will bring produce from West Virginia to places within the D.C. area that are not looking for massive contracts and semi-truck loads of deliveries. 

"I really want to partner with people that can help us to reach out to food deserts because they're everywhere and there's absolutely in this day and age -- living in this area -- there's absolutely no excuse to either go hungry or eat badly," said Carey. 

"For example, like corn, we can find corn and we can purchase it, get it shucked and delivered to people or restaurants in one day. So it's a total game changer for how we think about food," said Jonathan Bustamante who works alongside Carey with Sammy's Farm. 

Farmers are obviously good at farming, but bringing their products to markets is a completely different skill set. Many don't have websites or social media pages for people to seek them out. 

That's where Sharon comes in, to bridge those connections. 

"One of our goals is to partner with food banks and pantries, food deserts -- because it's here and if we don't eat it, it's just gonna go to waste. And that's what keeps me up at night," said Carey.

For more about Sammy's Farm click HERE

For more about Mock's Farm click HERE.

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