Lancaster County Tour
Marietta Travel Tale
by Lorry Patton
Lancaster County: Garden Center of America
Of all the farmlands I have seen in my treks across North America, none has left such a lasting
impression as the
bountiful gardens of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. I blissfully drove along the uncluttered
country roads, shaded
with elm trees and covered bridges, utterly mellowed by the absence of high-rises no matter in
which direction I faced.
Even properties using power equipment had a relaxing and mellowing effect. Aging towns like
Ephrata and Intercourse
and Lititz and Strasburg interrupted the sweeping greens and golds of the season with captivating
from another era, like time capsules in a historical museum. Late summer blossoms bloomed in
cascaded from hanging baskets and bordered entrances -- not that the colonial villages needed
these decorations to stand
It was September, and like every morning (except Sundays), from April to November, Leola
Produce Auction's parking
lot was crammed with farmers and their produce. A procession of pickups, flat beds and
horse-drawn trailers waited in
line for a turn past the auction block, their containers heaped with pumpkins, sweet watermelons
and yellow corn. One
at a time, the farmers paused before the auctioneer. Buyers from near and far briefly inspected
the bounty and the
auctioneer rattled off their bids smoothly and professionally. The attentive audience was made
up of mostly men --
mainstream farmers practically dressed in denim, plaid shirts and peaked caps and Amish and
sombrely dressed in dark or white shirts, black suspenders and straw hats. Teenage girls
wearing bonnets and cotton
frocks, and smooth-faced boys, replicas of their bearded fathers, watched from a distance.
Curious visitors stood out in
their short shorts and tee-shirts.
The abundance of fruit and vegetables was overwhelming--on an exceptionally productive day,
up to 100,000 ears of
corn can go in one door and out the other. Shiny apples, smooth-skinned potatoes and the
plumpest and reddest
tomatoes I have ever seen filled the crates lining the concrete floor of the large open warehouse.
September is the
season for gourds and hundreds of these twisted and bumpy vegetables occupied rows upon rows
of cardboard boxes.
Traditionally used for ladles, bowls, and birdhouses, one variety resembled long-necked green
ducks, another variety
looked like hand-painted miniature pumpkins.
Lancaster County farmers have been tilling their land since the early 1700's. Although the
farmland has been shrinking
in the last few years, they continue to produce some of the nation's finest and most diverse
produce. Vegetables and
fruits and tobacco and grains flourish in a landscape of beautiful rolling fields rich in nutrients
and blessed with just the
right amount of sunshine and moisture. The grains feed an army of animals. In his book
"Lancaster County", author
Ed Klimuska writes: (Quote) Lancaster County has 45 million broilers, 10 million laying hens,
95,000 dairy cows,
250,000 beef cattle, 6,000 sheep and 335.000 hogs. In total, Lancaster County's farms have more
than 55 million
animals, more livestock than any other county in the United States. (End of Quote.)
Remarkably, the only horse-power working a third of the more than 4600 farms in Lancaster
County, is of the two and
four-legged kind--man and his horse. These farms are operated by a religious sect that believes
that a simple life is a
better life. Most even shun electricity, perhaps believing some things really are better left in the
dark. Their lifestyle
has changed little in the last 300 years. Voices of children can still be heard from the windows
schoolhouses, a lone farm wife still hangs the day's laundry on a rope attached to posts in the
back yard, transportation
is still a horse and buggy, and inside weathered barns, their wide doors gaping, the warm air still
dries tobacco leaves
on racks. Occasionally a tour bus rolls by, with all eyes of the passengers scanning the horizon,
hoping to catch a
glimpse of a field hand tossing hay into a wagon with a pitchfork.
With such a bountiful crop, roadside stands beckon with fresh fruits and vegetables and
home-based markets offer
delicious home-made breads and jellies. We stopped at Beaver Farm Market. Mrs Brubaker, a
young wife and
mother, makes all the breads, jams, compotes and jellies herself. Besides taking care of her
family, she even makes
time to bake the county's famous shoofly pie, a desert with a crunchy crumb top and a sweet
sugary bottom that
reminds me of pecan pie filling without the pecans.
Food is plentiful and delectable and restaurants proudly promote plain and fancy farm fare, like
fried chicken, smoked
ham, mashed potatoes and chicken pot pie, and, fresh from the oven jumbo pretzels, a speciality
of the county. Some
restaurants are in buildings that compete with the menu. For example, the 18th and 19th century
art on the walls of the
1933 Log Cabin restaurant, belongs in a museum. But then, this restaurant looks like a museum.
It has seven separate
dining rooms, each with its own distinct decor. I have never seen a log cabin quite like this log
I found Landis Valley Museum interesting, too. It sits on 100 acres and represents a village in
the early 1800's. The
grounds encompass a country store, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse, the home of Jacob and
Elizabeth Landis, and the
Heirloom Seed Project office.
The Heirloom Seed Project preserves nearly 200 varieties of seed and sells them to the public.
But not in abundant
numbers --some packets contain only four or five seeds. Heirloom seeds are not like the seeds
you buy at the garden
shop at home. Heirloom seeds are from plants that extend back to the early 1800's. Most of the
seeds are cultivated in
gardens belonging to volunteers. Some come from plants grown in the garden plot next to the
Landis home. I stood
under an ancient paw paw tree near the carrots and leeks and beets and tomatoes where Elizabeth
once stood. A stone
path led to the house. The setting was simple, still, serene and satisfying.
A few real but non-working farmhouses are open to the public, but I did not have to go inside to
get a sense of life on a
farm. It was the picket fence around the farmhouse . . . the whirring windmill, the child sitting
by bushels of cherry-
red apples, the farmer kicking up dust with his plow . . . I will never turn a shovel again without
Heirloom seeds are best grown in Pennsylvania soil, however, if you would like to grow some
yourself, you can order
the seeds from their catalog. (717-569-0410)
There are many campgrounds in Lancaster County, including some, like Beacon Camping
(717-768-8775), right on the
edge of farmland. However, if you don't have the time to travel such a distance in your
recreational vehicle, don't let
that keep you from this fascinating place. RV Life readers just south of the Canadian border can
take advantage of the
low Canadian dollar ( approximately .68 cents US) by boarding Air Canada (1-800-776-3000 ) in
Vancouver, flying to
Philadelphia and then hiring a limousine to take them to Lancaster County. I found the Limo
rates very reasonable:
Landis Luxury Coaches (1-800-325-9004). Only $30 each for two sharing.
I highly recommend the book "Lancaster County by Ed Klimuska" published by Voyageur Press.
Inc. If I haven't
convinced you to visit Lancaster County, Ed Klimuska surely will.
Write to Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, 501 Greenfield Rd., Lancaster , PA,
Lancaster County or
call 717-299-8901 for more information.