Nature The Teacher At Oak Hart Farm

by Annie Young

When is a farm more than a farm? When it’s a classroom! At  Oak Hart Farm the fields, hoop houses, kitchens, and streams are all places where learning happens. “Let nature be your teacher” is their mission. The whole family brings the philosophy into everything they do at the farm.

Shawna Hartsook, her husband Woody Hartsook, and father Rufus Rinker worked to create the farm model that operates today. But Shawna credits her whole family for making the farm run successfully. Everyone has a job on the farm—either helping harvest the CSA, building hoop houses, teaching the numerous children’s camps and programs, or preserving food. Even the grandchildren are young farmers! From a thriving CSA to children’s summer camps, field trips, farm dinners, even canning and weeding parties—learning is always on.

Oak Hart Farm grows a large variety of vegetables by using sustainable organic practices. It’s important to the farmers that they grow using methods based on healthy living and environmental practices. “I grow food that I feel good about feeding to my grandchildren,” said Shawna. It’s the combination of family values and sustainable growing practices that form the core of their health-based philosophy.

Shawna says  Oak Hart strives to balance rigorous organic practices with practicality. They grow vegetables that naturally grow well in the soil without the need for chemicals. “I am a sustainable organic gardener,” continues Hartsook,

“and I am a local eater.” Eating well and teaching others about healthy living is what the family values most as farmers.

One of the special offerings at Oak Hart is the CSA. The Community Supported Agriculture model is based on a customer buying a share and receiving a bag of vegetables every week. Shareholders receive whatever the farmers put in their share, depending on what is available and ripe. What makes Oak Hart’s CSA different is their Selectable Delectables. Each week shareholders get to choose from eight to twenty varieties of vegetables. From lettuce, carrots, radishes, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, beans, greens, sweet and hot peppers, and more, customers get to pick what they want in their share. The CSA season lasts from June through September. When customers get to choose, the Oak Hart farmers say, less food is wasted. It makes for a stronger relationship between farmer and customer too.

The CSA is not all that  Oak Hart has to offer. Their educational programs are popular with many families in the area. In 2011 more than 450 children participated in summer camps, cooking classes, and field trips. Even more children came in 2012.

Six certified Virginia teachers work together to plan and facilitate these programs. Some programs focus on local ecology, while others center on the garden or cooking classes using vegetables from the farm.

“My favorite camp activity at Oak Hart is Creek Mucking,” Bella Stem, a young camp regular told me. “We have discovered lots of neat critters in the Creek. We get to examine them and look them up on our reference sheets. I also enjoy cooking camps at  Oak Hart. I love that we go out in the fields and pick our ingredients to prepare our themed meals. They are so delicious! Farmer Shawna and all her Camp counselors totally rock!”

Creek mucking, vegetable picking, and preparing foods are typical activities that fuel the fun at the farm.

Teaching the connection between growing food and healthy living isn’t limited to children. Adults learn, too. CSA members receive recipe cards about how to prepare their foods. Shareholders connect with the growing process.

Naturally grown veggies look different than polished conventionally grown food in grocery stores. Loretta Stem, a CSA member says, “I love being able to run right down the road and pick up amazing veggies. They taste so much better homegrown on Oak Hart Farm. I also love that we get to see the operation in full swing and many times we are able to help harvest the vegetables right along with Farmer Shawna and her family members.” Tasting the difference is a great way to learn the value of locally grown.

Oak Hart Farm is a vibrant place where farmers are teachers, gardens are classrooms, and everyone is a student. Health, sustainable farming, family cooperation and community are the standards. And there are many opportunities to “let nature be your teacher.”

Oak Hart Farm is at 822 Shepherd Mill Rd. For information, visit or call 540-533-3096.

Keep Your Pet’s Christmas Merry

It’s holiday time. Pine trees, twinkling lights, shiny ornaments, brightly wrapped packages. And vomiting cats, obstructed dogs . . . Oh my!

There are always unsuspected dangers around the house, but especially during the holidays.

Tinsel, garland, ribbon. These are dangerous to both dogs and cats. Eating enough of any of these objects can cause a condition called linear foreign body. Many times, surgery has to be performed to remove them. so if you see any linear object coming from your pet’s rectum, DO NOT PULL IT! You can cause severe damage by pulling. See your veterinarian; he or she can determine the best course of treatment.

Strands of lights. These are a danger because of the electricity that runs through the cords. Pets might chew on them and receive an electric shock. Electric shock can cause fluid in the lungs, abnormal heart rhythm and even death. If you suspect your pet has been shocked, seek veterinary treatment immediately.

Fruit cake, chocolate, nuts, etc. There are many foods that humans can eat that can be detrimental or fatal to our furry friends. Fruit cake can contain raisins, which can cause kidney damage. Chocolate can cause GI upset, anxiety, seizures, abnormal heart rhythm, and even death. Certain kinds of nuts, including Macadamia nuts, can cause GI upset, muscle tremors and weakness. Fatty foods and those containing sugar can cause GI upset and pancreatitis. Even sugar-free products can contain artificial sweeteners that can be toxic to your pet. If you think your pet may have eaten something toxic, call your vet.

Christmas tree water. Some people add preservatives to the water to help their tree live longer. Depending on the ingredients, these can be hazardous to your pet’s health. If you are not sure, ask your veterinarian!

Batteries, small toys, etc. These can cause a choking and obstruction hazard to your pet. Batteries are also dangerous because of the chemicals they contain. If you think your pet may have swallowed any non-food item, call your veterinarian for advice prior to any at home treatment.

Rock salt, ice melt, etc. These can cause contact irritation like cuts or ulcerations to the paw pads, as well as GI upset if ingested in large quantities.

Anti-freeze. Many anti-freeze products are poisonous and can cause seizures, coma, permanent kidney damage, and death. If you suspect that your pet has ingested anti-freeze, take them to the closest veterinary hospital for treatment.

The holidays should be a time for celebration and family. Please keep your pets and their health in mind during this busy time of year. So many things that may seem harmless to us can be very dangerous to them. Never give your pet anything that you are not sure of, and always consult your veterinarian with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Jen Lauer graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007.  She practices at Valley Veterinary Emergency and Referral Center in Winchester, with interests emergency, critical care, internal medicine and complementary medicine.

En Garde!

by Claire Stuart

As a child, David Copeland was fascinated by the swordplay in Three Musketeers and the light sabers in Star Wars. He did not outgrow his enthusiasm. He has been fencing for about 20 years, first competitively, and for 15 years as a fencing teacher and coach.

He and his family live in Charles Town, a central location convenient for reaching his classes in Harpers Ferry, Frederick Md., and Berryville, Va. David serves as Head Coach for his Out Of Nowhere Fencing, and his wife Annette takes care of the paperwork. He reports that he usually has about 100 students, ranging in age from 9 to 72, divided among the three locations.

The Copelands stress that fencing is a mental as well as a physical activity. Says David, “Fencing requires quick reaction time. The mental aspect is different from anything else you do in life. You must be able to mentally process information faster than in any other activity. It’s chess at 200 miles an hour! That’s the best analogy I can give.”

Annette adds, “You are constantly learning, constantly engaging the mind. It’s great for kids with autism or Asperger’s because it forces them to focus. And there’s no team—a person is responsible for their own wins and losses. Kids come in shy and we see them develop comradery here. It improves math skills, too. And fencing usually attracts the top academic students.”

David explains that real fencing is not like the fencing we see in the movies, with swordsmen swinging from chandeliers. “We wish our opponents moved that slow!” he says. “When you are fencing, you are not out to entertain. You are out to win.”

All of the fencing is electric. Sensors in the fencer’s jacket and weapon are connected by wires to a scoring machine. A green light shows when a fencer is hit and a red when the opponent is hit. When a hit lands off the valid target area, there is a white light. David explains that it evolved this way about 50 years ago as a way to be fair and accurate. Previously, someone had to see what was happening. “Since electric fencing, speed has tripled,” he reports. “The timing between lights is less than three quarters of a second, and you have to respond in that time.”

There are three weapons used in modern fencing. The foil has a flexible, rectangular blade, similar to the light court sword that was used in training for duels. The valid target area is where the protective vest covers the back and front of the torso, but not the arms, head or legs. The epee is heavier than the foil and similar to the dueling sword. The entire body is the valid target. The saber is based on a cavalry sword, and the target is the body from the waist up.

People who know absolutely nothing about fencing can start with the beginner’s classes (for ages 9 through adult). The classes run 8 to 12 weeks, and beginners are not required to buy any gear except for a glove, offering an opportunity to see if fencing is for them before purchasing gear. Basic fencing equipment consists of a jacket, mask, glove and sword. Intermediate students buy one piece of gear each session.

For people who like to fence all the time, a fencing club is open five nights a week. Members pay one fee and can fence as many times as they wish. There are many competitions within a 200-mile radius, usually about three a month, David explains, and “It’s virtually impossible to compete going to practice only once a week. There are some high-level fencers in the area, and they do very well at state tournaments.”

David says some people are ready to compete in three months, although it usually takes closer to a year. He has seen some of his students go to the Summer Olympics and Junior Nationals.

“Fencing is not like other sports,” says Annette. “You can compete for the rest of your life. There are tournaments for veterans, for youth, for over-40s. And because it’s an indoor sport, it keeps people’s interest up because they can do it year round. And it is a sport that the entire family can participate in.”

Although 80 percent of fencers are male, Annette reports that the sport itself is actually gender-friendly. “If you are fast or can outsmart someone, you can win.”

Regardless of statistics, on this evening there were practically as many women fencing as men. Autumn Bergen, age 14, was practicing with David for a tournament.

Her mother, Lorri Bergen, declared, “He’s the best coach!” She went on to say that fencing was the best thing her daughter ever found. “Now she eats and sleeps it!”

Fencing is a safe sport, says David. “You are more likely to die playing a round of golf than from fencing! The commonest injuries are to knees and ankles because you are moving so fast. The first thing to learn is footwork. It’s the most intense game of tag you will ever play!”

For more information, visit the Out Of Nowhere Fencing’s web site:

Buying Local Is Good For You

by David Lillard

There are two hardware stores nearby. One is a big name-brand store that has everything I need, often at lower prices, open seven days a week. The other has hours — they close at noon on Saturdays — and prices are a little higher. They don’t have nearly the same selection either. So you’d think I’d shop at the super-convenient big box store on the highway. Nope. I’ve decided it’s in my economic self-interest to shop at the local mom and pop store.

Like many Americans, I face similar decisions several times each week, weighing the advantages of local vs. national chain stores. With the global economy still on life support, it’s tempting to vote for the quick savings promised by a national chain, which can make you think you’re doing the right thing for your family. But a closer look shows that the quick savings might cost more.

Here are ten reasons to think local, buy local, and be local, as listed by the American Independent Business Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable communities through strong local economies.

1. Buying local supports you and your family. When you buy from an independent locally owned business, significantly more of your buying dollar stays in the community and is used to make purchases from other local businesses, like local service providers and local advertisers (such as this newspaper!), which helps strengthen the economic base of your hometown. (Visit to see case studies supporting this claim).

2. When you buy from local businesses, you’re supporting local nonprofits. Studies show that small business owners give an average of 250 percent more dollars in donations to local nonprofits than do large businesses. This should be especially important to any soccer mom with a son or daughter on a team or in Scouts, or someone who enjoys local theater and the arts.

3. Buying local keeps your community unique. Where we shop, where we eat and have fun — all of it makes a community home. One-of-a-kind local businesses give a distinctive character to a place, and add to quality of life; they also bring in more tourist dollars. “When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace,” says National Trust for Historic Preservation.

4. Reduce your environmental impact. Locally owned businesses make more local purchases, which means less wasted fossil fuel for deliveries from afar. Also, when you shop in town or city centers, your purchases contribute less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution. You save money too, whenever you can walk instead of driving to buy.

5. Local business creates more good jobs. Small local businesses are the largest employer nationally, and the jobs they offer create stronger links to our communities. After all, where would you rather see a son or daughter work: at a local store where they might get valuable personal employer referrals, or at an impersonal national chain store checkout counter?

6. When you buy local, you invest in community. Local businesses are owned by your neighbors, people who live in your town, who are less likely to leave, and who — like you — are more invested in the community’s future. Local businesses provide very important community allies in tough economic times.

7. You get better service locally. Local businesses often hire people with a better understanding of the products they sell, and take more time to get to know customers. If a product causes problems, the local business is more likely to respond to your concerns in a personal way.

8. Buying local puts your taxes to good use. Local businesses, particularly those in town centers, require little public infrastructure investment, as compared to nationally owned chains built at the edge of town with taxpayer money for improved roads, water and sewer service.

9. You can buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy. A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan but on the needs and requests of local customers, assures a buyer-friendly range of product choices.

10. Buying local encourages local prosperity. A growing body of economic research shows that in an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive hometown character.

So, whenever possible, I buy local. Yeah, I may pay a little more for that new bathroom fixture at the local hardware, and deal with the occasional frustration of inconvenient hours. But I enjoy running into neighbors there. And nothing beats knowing the owner by name, and getting her tips on how to get a good seal on my pipe fittings. To me, it’s worth it.

A Safe Holiday For Pets

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. You have the day off and you are planning to hit the sales.  You wake up bright and early, walk into the kitchen and turn on the light. All around you is trash. Yesterday’s turkey carcass is in pieces and you notice that most of the bones are missing.  There is no doubt who did it because he normally meets you first thing in the morning for breakfast: your dog.  You are so angry because now you have to clean up this mess!  But first, you go looking for the culprit.  You find your beloved friend in his bed and he is obviously sick.  He has vomited multiple times and has even had diarrhea inside the house.  This is so unlike him!  You go to him to try to pet him and when you touch his belly, he cries out in pain!  Now what?  Your regular veterinarian is not open until later but your baby is very sick and in pain!

You decide to take him to the emergency vet where you fill them in on the last 24 hours:  the little bit of turkey and stuffing with gravy yesterday (it was Thanksgiving!), the pumpkin pie your kids gave him and then the trash, including the turkey carcass, overnight.   The veterinarian is astonished at what your dog has eaten.  She proceeds to tell you how dangerous these things can be, even in small quantities.  She goes on to explain that, in general, table food can be bad for your dog and can cause something called pancreatitis, and that he may have to stay in the hospital!  Radiographs (X-rays) show that the turkey bones are small and are not causing an obstruction or blockage.  However, the blood work indicates pancreatitis.

The pancreas is an organ that lies near the small intestine.  It has many jobs but one of them is to secrete enzymes to help digest food.  If these enzymes are released and activated prematurely, which can happen in response to a dietary indiscretion (i.e table food, foreign objects, etc), the pancreas can become inflamed.  With this inflammation comes pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  This is not to say that every dog with GI upset has pancreatitis but it has to be on the list of possibilities.  Blood tests can help to determine if the pancreas is inflamed or not.  This is important because if the pancreas is inflamed, called pancreatitis, your pet can be in danger.  Through loss (vomiting, diarrhea), dehydration, protein loss and electrolyte imbalance can occur.  These, in turn, can lead to other signs of illness and even death if left untreated.  Treatment usually includes IV fluids, electrolyte supplements, pain medication, anti-nausea medication and anti-diarrhea medication.  It can take days for a pet to fully recover from pancreatitis.  During this time, as long as they are not actively vomiting, they are fed very small amounts of a bland diet which is continued for a period of time at home.

All of this because of some Thanksgiving dinner?  Maybe next time you should just offer an extra dog biscuit or two.

Jennifer Lauer, DVM

Dr. Jen Lauer graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007.  Prior, she received her bachelor’s degree in Biology/Pre-veterinary Medicine from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2001.  After completing veterinary school, she moved to Northern Virginia where she practiced emergency medicine for 3 years.  She has been employed at Valley Veterinary Emergency Referral Center since the summer of 2010.  Her medical interests include emergency, critical care, internal medicine and complementary medicine.

Business Briefs

Fair Trade Gift Shop opens in Berryville

My Neighbor and Me, a new Fair Trade gift shop in Berryville, opened its doors in September at 317 First Street (Boom Road) in Berryville across from the old box factory and down the street from the Opus Oaks art studio. Nestled in the enclosed porch of Christina Kraybill’s 1875 railroad house, it features products from Ten Thousand Villages, SERRV International, Global Good Partners, and Good Paper.

The idea for the shop grew out of Kraybill’s  “desire to work with small fair trade groups. Small size should not mean limited opportunity,” says Kraybill. “I knew groups existed whose size was just too small to be represented by organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages.”

As often happens, says Kraybill, answers come almost before the question is asked. “Enter the Mennonite Women and their connection to Threads of Hope from Guatemala and My Sister’s Company from The Gambia.” Both groups wanted assistance in selling their handcrafted items more frequently through face to face interactions. Threads of Hope Weavers’ Co-op is twenty-five K’ekchi Mayan women who provide handcrafted tablecloths, table runners, basket liners, and bags woven on back looms.  My Sister’s Company is a group of Muslim and Christian women from The Gambia who make batiks, clothing, jewelry, aprons, bags, and potholders for businesses in the United Kingdom and United States.

My Neighbor and Me features handcrafted gifts from around the world for all ages: home furnishings from Guatemala, The Gambia, and Zambia; clothing from Peru and The Gambia; jewelry from The Gambia, Kenya, and Uganda; cards from Malawi, The Gambia, Rwanda, and Philippines; whole-bean coffees from Winchester Coffee Roasters; Mennonite cookbooks; baskets from Bangladesh; soap from India and Israel; kitchen accessories from Vietnam, India, Kenya, and The Gambia; and chocolate from Ghana/Germany, plus many more unique gift items including some for pets.

My Neighbor and Me is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10am–8pm.  For information, call 540-955-1711, or visit or see Facebook under My Neighbor and Me.

Cookie Guy ready for holidays

It’s been nearly a year since Dan Lantonio’s Cookie Guy opened on Crow Street in Berryville, where he bakes an assortment of cookies, brownies, and cakes fresh from scratch. Since then the shop has become a popular morning spot for coffee and a sweet treat. Lantonio recently added a few tables to create a café atmosphere that invites patrons to stay awhile and jawbone over their morning Joe.

Now he’s gearing up for his busiest time of year shipping holiday gift boxes that had long been popular when Lantonio’s business was based in Loudoun County. “When you order a gift box, you know you’re getting something that was baked and shipped in the same day,” he said.

Lantonio admits his cake prices are a little higher than can be found in big supermarkets. “Anyone can bake a cake a lot cheaper when, for example, their butter cream comes from a five-gallon bucket,” he said. And those butter creams include hydrogenated oils and preservatives, according to Lantonio. “I make mine from scratch on the day I bake the cake,” he said.

Lantonio is also a personal chef, preparing meals and dinner parties for customers in their own kitchens. That’s how the Cookie Guy business got started. His customers loved his desserts so much they were asking for gift boxes for the holidays. Then he started getting requests to supply treats for office parties, which led to even more gift boxes.

“I don’t use any artificial ingredients or preservatives,” said Lantonio. “In fact, I refuse to freeze my cookie dough.”

Lantonio also brews fresh Virginia-roasted Cabin Creek coffees available by the cup, and he stocks the brand in convenient half-pound packages. Cabin Creek’s espresso roast is featured in the chocolates he makes onsite. “My homemade hot chocolate has been a huge hit with kids, too,” said Lantonio.

“I love this town,” he said. “The people here are terrific.”

The Cookie Guy is open Tuesdays, 11am–6pm, Wednesday–Friday 8am–6pm, and Saturdays 9am–6pm at 23 Crow Street (571-230-6418). Order for shipment at, and find out which cookies and coffees he is serving up each day at


Coming In November!

The Observer of Clarke County is a new community monthly mailed free to every household in the county, and distributed in coffee shops and eateries in Clarke, Loudoun, and Frederick counties.

The Jefferson County, W.Va., edition has been published since 2003. Owner David Lillard opened an office in Berryville in May 2011, and loved the Clarke County scene so much, he decided to start an edition here.

Our office is above the Fire House Gallery, next to Rose Hill Park. Yes, we’re small! Like the towns and hamlets of Clarke County. And our writers are people you know.  People who live in Clarke County, work here, worship here, and add color to life here.

Our advertising manager Jennifer Welliver lives in Berryville. Business owners, give her a call at  540-398-1450 to promote your business to every household in the county.

What you’ll find inside The Observer:

  • A monthly listing of arts and entertainment produced in partnership with the Barns of Rose Hill.
  • A calendar of community events and activities.
  • Features on local businesses, artists, entrepreneurs, and the people who make Clarke County so distinctive.
  • Columns by terrific writers covering topics like schools, the environment, farms, real estate, technology, and more.
  • As a monthly, we’ll provide a lens on the news of the month. Our coverage of local issues is respectful and low-key. When we cover current events, our aim is to create conversations on the street, not shouting on the web.
  • Advertisers like the fact that The Observer is a monthly. Your ad stays in front of readers all month.