Ashley's Adventures

Oct. 16, 2020, 1:16 a.m. | By Ashley Thommana | 1 year, 1 month ago

New ways to enjoy the fall season as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many outdoor activities.

It is that time of year again: Brightly-colored leaves are strewn across the ground, pumpkin spice lattes are steaming from the cup, and of course, eagerly anticipated trips to orchards and haunted houses are on our minds. Many of us are not rural residents, spending most of our time surrounded by tall buildings as opposed to flat farmland, but the magical season of fall has always offered us an oasis—the chance to go on a hayride, pick apples at the farm, or take a trip to the pumpkin patch.

Photo: Leela Mehta-Harwitz

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered the scope of outdoor activities. In the early months of the pandemic, countless concerts, picnics, and festivals were canceled. Summer, it seems, flew right by.

However, with a second chance of sorts as we move through the fall season, many events are being adapted. With ample space to allow visitors to socially distance outdoors, farms and other hosts of outdoor activities are continuing autumnal traditions in a unique way.

Blair history teacher Marc Grossman, who runs a local organic mixed vegetable farm, notes that farmers markets are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and buy produce. “You are outside, the air is well ventilated, [the food] is fresh,” he says. 

Moreover, despite the adjustments that had to be made early in the year due to COVID-19, these markets have maintained that festive seasonal environment. According to Grossman, whose local farmers market has required masks and enforced social distancing since early April, "they are fun, they are exciting, they are vibrant.”

Farmers markets are not the only way to enjoy seasonal activities. Butler’s Orchard, for example, is a farm in Germantown where guests can pick their own food. The orchard now requires reservations, masks, and social distancing to promote safety while still offering sweet fruit and a memorable experience—from pick-your-own pumpkins to private bonfires and hayrides.

Other local farms, like Summers Farm in Frederick, are hosting fall festivals complete with corn mazes and wagon rides, reminiscent of our pre-pandemic days. 

Craving a good scare? While trick-or-treating under a full blue moon may not be possible this Halloween, several outdoor haunted trails and fields remain open. Markoff’s Haunted Forest and Field of Screams Maryland, both in Montgomery County, are still operational and will be open until Nov. 1. 

However, engaging with the outdoors and traditional fall events isn’t just about enjoying the season for our own benefit. It is also about showing up for our local businesses and farms who have been supporting our communities. 

Early in the pandemic, many people took interest in the source of their food for the first time. “In those last two weeks of March, [people] saw empty shelves,” Grossman recalls. “And for the first time ever, I think there were a lot of people who asked themselves, ‘Where is my food coming from?’”

Since then, farms have been operating to support the community. “I have never before donated hundreds and hundreds of pounds of produce to Manna [Food Center], but I am this year,” Grossman says. He receives some compensation for the donations, which are a part of a program spearheaded by the Montgomery County Food Council.

While attempting to provide food to food banks, farms are taking a hit as the restaurant industry suffers. For Grossman, 15 percent of his revenue comes from restaurant sales—but not this year. “We made the call: We aren't going to sell to restaurants this year,” he says. His farm has been providing food to restaurants for a decade.

The pandemic has caused a “tidal wave of change,” as Grossman puts it. However, fall has always been a season of enjoying and engaging with the outdoors. Following safety protocols, we have the opportunity to make the most out of this unorthodox autumn while also supporting our local businesses and farms. It is the breath of fresh air we all deserve.

Last updated: Feb. 9, 2021, 11:26 p.m.

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