Sharing life on `a real farm'

A mother and daughter tend animals, plants and visiting students in Hydes

October 29, 2006|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,Special to The Sun

Continuing their dream of living on a working farm, a mother and daughter run a 60-acre farm in Hydes dedicated to Guernsey cows, culinary herbs and hands-on education for children.

Hanne Chason, 62, and her daughter, Jo-Ann Chason, 35, who is a horticulturist, do most of the farm work, rent the grounds for social events and give school tours in spring and fall. They grow plants in the winter in a greenhouse.

ROHA Farm, named after Ron and Hanne Chason, overlooks Long Green Valley. The Chasons and their four daughters were living on 7 acres in Parkville when the old Kress Dairy Farm went to auction in 1989. Hanne Chason had little farm experience, and Jo-Ann and her sisters, Karen, Amy and Martha, didn't realize the amount of work involved, but all agreed that they wanted to move to a real farm.

"I remember sitting in fourth-grade class watching the clock and wondering if we are going to be moving to a farm," Jo-Ann Chason said. "It was just a dream come true. Both of my parents grew up in Parkville. ... It was my father's dream always to have a farm."

The four daughters learned a strong work ethic from their father, who would tell them when vacations began, "either go outside and work or read a book." They chose to go outside. All the daughters have worked with horses and live on farms.

Ron Chason died in 2004, but mother and daughter have kept the farm going with the help of family and neighbors such as Tommy Joe Lynch, who helps with planting and harvesting the fields of hay.

By agreeing not to develop the farmland, the Chasons received a Long Green Valley preservation payment that helped them pay off the mortgage.

It is a challenge as taxes keep going up, Hanne Chason said, as are the chores, which require many hands. That's where the next generation comes in. Jo-Ann Chason is teaching her sisters' children to love the farm. It's a heritage her mother shares, although in a different way.

"When I was raising the children and helping my husband with his heating and air-conditioning business, I could cook supper, order parts for an air conditioner, and run down to the barn and milk cows, and it all worked fine. But I cannot do that anymore," Hanne Chason said. Still, she was busily preparing for an event by helping with raking the grass.

When the grounds are rented for anniversaries and birthdays, a big tent goes up and everyone pitches in to prepare the surroundings. The rental income helps finance the family's other projects.

In the spring, both women lead school tours and teach about different ways of growing plants. They show the herbs in the fields, growing plants in containers, and growing in water, hydroponically.

Hanne Chason has found a niche in the herb market supplying fresh rosemary, chives, thyme, sage, parsley and oregano to local restaurants.

"I don't harvest until I have an order, so it's very fresh," she said.

Jo-Ann Chason also works part time two days a week in a feed store in Hereford.

Holding her Jack Russell terrier Ladybug, Jo-Ann Chason says, "Right now, we're seeing a trend where we're getting back to smaller farms. People want foods that are raised and produced locally."

There is a market building for sale of farm products such as produce, cider, jellies, even books and gift items.

The Chason family has created a lot to see on the 60 acres, including the daughter's grazing Golden Guernsey milk cows, the fields of hay, and culinary herbs in a setting similar to an 1800s English country estate.

Children can see ponies, donkeys, goats, Jack Russell terriers, rabbits and deer. Nestled amid the plants are sculptures.

The daughter credits a supportive horticulture teacher, Robin Eberle, at Hereford High School with the start of her botanical and agricultural interests.

"We got a sampling of doing greenhouse work. We had a greenhouse where we raised poinsettias every year; we did a little floral design. In recent years I've even done flowers for weddings, and that goes back to what I learned from her."

When Jo-Ann graduated from Hereford High in 1992, she went to the Institute of Applied Agriculture at the University of Maryland, College Park and studied horticulture.

A horticulturist and educator at Ladew Topiary Gardens, she has more experience with farming than most women. She spent several years in Texas working on a cattle ranch.

"I've been very fortunate to visit a farm in El Paso where they milk 5,000 cows a day, and I've been to some Mennonite dairies where they're milking them by hand, or they're running a portable milker by generator," she said.

Jo-Ann Chason returned to Hydes after she was seriously injured by a drunken driver in 2001. Told she would never walk again, tending the animals on her parents' farm and learning to walk again were life-affirming.

From the time she was 8 years old, Jo-Ann Chason has been raising and breeding Guernseys through 4-H clubs and she now is president of the Maryland Guernsey Association.

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