Culture | March 11, 2022 12:04 pm

How This Backcountry Skier Became a Modern Farmer in Northern Maryland

Peter Elmore of Star Bright Farm decided to swap ski-town life in Oregon to pursue one lived off the land

Peter Elmore of Star Bright Farm in Maryland. Here's the story of how he went from a ski bum to a modern farmer.
Peter Elmore of Star Bright Farm.
Photo: Helen Norman

Depending on the season, undulating 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. Tended by head farmer Peter Elmore, everything is hand-harvested and processed using traditional methods. Growing up on the 130-acre rural idyll, Elmore’s love of the land runs deep, with countless childhood memories cemented there — picking fresh vegetables from the fields with his brother and weekend mornings working for his aunt and uncle at local farmer’s markets.

Unsurprisingly, this early exposure to the earth, nature and the elements led to a passion for organic agriculture and food systems. Keen to better understand the science and business side of farming, Elmore majored in sustainable agriculture and community entrepreneurship at the University of Vermont, then changed tack and headed west to pursue his other passion: skiing. 

“I loved my life in Oregon, skiing and rock climbing, but eventually felt like I wanted to focus on something else I cared deeply about,” Elmore tells InsideHook. “Out West, I worked as a middleman helping farmers get their produce into local restaurants and grocery stores, but I always knew I wanted to be a grower, and I decided it would be more meaningful to pursue that dream back in Maryland.”

Owners of a once-tumbledown 1850s farmhouse, Elmore’s parents bought the property nearly three decades ago, lovingly restoring the house and its barns and outbuildings. For Elmore, it was a move of tremendous consequence — and a chance to work alongside his “biggest inspiration and mentor,” Uncle Drew, who has farmed organic vegetables on 60 acres of family-owned land adjacent to Star Bright.

Star Bright Farm
Star Bright Farm in Northern Maryland
Photo: Helen Norman

“The first year was a transition. I left something pretty meaningful in Oregon, and, with youthful naïveté, perhaps didn’t quite have the experience but felt ready to do it all,” he says. Planting lavender and blueberries, he learned a tough lesson about perennial crops making it through the winter. “By the following spring, we had plenty of blueberries, but 80% of the lavender had died, so we took a step back and started building our product line around other crops.” 

Alongside the small and dedicated “Star Bright Farm Family” — which  includes girlfriend Leah Corbin, a filmmaker who also creates videos for the farm’s website — Elmore puts in the lion’s share of labor, planting, raising, harvesting and processing over 24 varieties of herbs and botanicals across three acres. Lemon verbena for teas and oil infusions, sage and sweet marigold for hydrosols, their popular “seed to finish floral waters.”

He also holds workshops on garden planning, greenhouse growing and “distilling for at-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 putting in 18- to 20-hour days on the land, Elmore, who loves to cook and is an avid distance runner (the eight- to ten-mile range is his sweet spot), still makes it back to Oregon a handful of times each year. 

“I mostly backcountry ski these days, the resorts are too expensive, but Leah and I recently camped in Alvord Desert and hiked in the foothills of Steens Mountain,” he says. Come springtime, it’s all hands back on deck well before mid-June, when Star Bright’s lavender fields are in full bloom, with kaleidoscopes of butterflies tending to the near-endless sea of purple flowers. 

Holiday season aside, it’s the farm’s busiest time, with crowds coming for pop-ups, farm-to-table dinners and to shop for products at the Barn Market. Filled with goods for homes and gardens, from body butter to bath salts, Elmore says anything with lavender is a best-seller.

“Eventually, the goal is to have more pick-your-own type of stuff, maybe some chickens for fresh eggs, and I would love to get into regional grocery chains and distill hydrosols into sparkling beverages,” he says. “Four years in, and this venture has evolved into something a bit beyond what we were all initially thinking but coming home to Maryland and inspiring people to care more about the land, where our food comes from, and how it’s grown, and supporting local businesses has always been my dream. I’m excited to see what the next chapter looks like.”