Depending on the season, rolling rows of lavender, herbs and other aromatics stretch almost as far as the eye can see at Star Bright Farm in the hills of northern Maryland. Taught by lead farmer Peter Elmore, everything is harvested by hand and processed using traditional methods. Growing up on the 130-acre rural idyll, Elmore’s love for the land runs deep, with countless childhood memories cemented there – picking fresh vegetables in the fields with his brother and the mornings of weekends working for his aunt and uncle at the local farmers markets.
Unsurprisingly, this early exposure to the earth, nature and the elements led to a passion for organic agriculture and food systems. Eager to better understand the science and business side of agriculture, Elmore majored in sustainable agriculture and community entrepreneurship at the University of Vermont, then changed course and headed west to pursue his other passion: skiing.
“I loved my life in Oregon, skiing and climbing, but eventually I wanted to focus on something else that was close to my heart,” Elmore told InsideHook. “Out West, I worked as a middleman helping farmers get their produce to local restaurants and grocery stores, but I always knew I wanted to be a farmer and decided it would be more meaningful to pursue this dream in Maryland.”
Owners of a former 1850s farmhouse, Elmore’s parents purchased the property nearly three decades ago, lovingly restoring the house, its barns and outbuildings. For Elmore, it was a decision of huge consequence – and a chance to work alongside his “greatest inspiration and mentor”, Uncle Drew, who grew organic vegetables on 60 acres of family land adjacent to Star Bright.
“The first year was a transition. I left something quite meaningful in Oregon and, with the youthful naivety, maybe I didn’t quite have the experience, but I felt ready to do anything,” he says. By planting lavender and blueberries, he learned a hard lesson about winter-hardy perennial crops. “The following spring we had lots of blueberries, but 80% of the lavender had died, so we took a step back and started to develop our product line around other crops.”
Alongside the small and dedicated ‘Star Bright Farm Family’ – which includes his girlfriend Leah Corbin, a filmmaker who also creates videos for the farm’s website – Elmore puts in the lion’s share of the work, planting, raising, harvesting and processing over 24 varieties of herbs and plants on three acres. Lemon verbena for teas and oil infusions, sage and sweet marigold for hydrosols, their famous “seeds to finish floral waters”.
He also hosts workshops on garden planning, greenhouse growing, and “distillation for home cooks or budding bartenders,” including The Loves of the Plants Series: Seed to Still to Sip, a recent partnership with the Bluebird Cocktail Room in Baltimore. Despite having 18-20 hour days on the land, Elmore, who loves to cook and is an avid runner (the eight- to 10-mile range is his forte), still returns to Oregon a handful of times each year.
“I mostly do off-piste skiing these days, the resorts are overpriced, but Leah and I recently camped in the Alvord Wilderness and hiked in the foothills of Steens Mountain,” he says. In spring, it’s all back on deck long before mid-June, when Star Bright’s lavender fields are in full bloom, with kaleidoscopes of butterflies reaching out to the nearly endless sea of purple blossoms.
Aside from the holiday season, it’s the busiest time on the farm, with crowds coming for pop-ups, farm-to-table dinners, and to shop for produce at the Barn Market. Filled with home and garden products, from body butter to bath salts, Elmore says anything with lavender is a bestseller.
“Eventually the goal is to have more take-out, maybe chickens for fresh eggs, and I’d like to get into regional grocery chains and distill hydrosols into fizzy drinks,” says -he. “Four years later, this business has evolved into something a little beyond what we all initially thought, but coming home to Maryland and inspiring people to care more about the earth, where our food comes from and how it’s grown, and supporting local businesses has always been my dream. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter will look like.
This article was published in the InsideHook DC newsletter. Register now to learn more about the Beltway.