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If variety is your priority, visit LaPlata Farmer's Market for a wide range of goods and vendors./Explore Charles County

“Buy local” has never seemed as important as now, when the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping folks close to home. The good news is that fresh foods and opportunities for short outings are still available from local farms in Charles County, Maryland.

The county, a half-hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., has 25 farms involved in agritourism, with a diversity of grains, livestock and produce grown.

These days, it’s a relief to get outdoors and put some sunshine into your soul. Farm tours are fun and teach your kids that food doesn’t originate in grocery stores. Farm stores and stands at farmers markets offer other chances for you to get out of the house, eye the healthy, colorful products and converse with growers.

Of course, COVID-19 restrictions are in play now, so the protocols may change at various sites for safety reasons. You may need to pre-order products for curbside pickup, or order online for shipping or delivery. There may be last-minute changes on openings, hours or farm visits. Before you go, be sure to call ahead or check websites or Facebook pages for what’s new.

Here’s a sampling of what’s on tap this fall:

Fall foods, fresh air

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Explore Charles County

Pick your own pumpkin or take a hayride through the fields at Shlagel Farms in Waldorf, where strawberry and blackberry picking were surprisingly popular this summer.

“People want to get outside. They want an experience. So much has been denied to them,” said the farm’s Karl Shlagel.

The farm, which has been in business for more than 100 years, produces fruits, vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. The farm store is open on Saturdays. If you get on the farm’s email list, you can see what’s being picked that week and order in advance. The farm’s products also are sold in 10 farmers markets in the D.C. region.

For fall, look for items like tomatoes, eggplants, a variety of squash, potatoes, onions, cabbage, collards, sweet corn, beets, apples and watermelons. Shlagel recommends checking the farm’s Facebook page for updates.

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Serenity Farm has more to offer than just fresh, local products. Plan a trip for a look at farm life throughout history./Explore Charles County

Serenity Farm on the Patuxent River in Benedict has tours of farm life as well as insights on its American Indian, colonial, War of 1812 and Black history. Archaeological sites include a slave burial ground.

The farm store, open Saturdays through fall, sells beef, lamb and pork, fresh products and farm products.

Kasper’s Castle is a special event on weekends in October or other days by appointment. Families can enjoy hayrides, a Halloween Barn, petting zoo, candy, face painting, a hay bale maze and a pumpkin patch.

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If variety is your priority, visit LaPlata Farmer's Market for a wide range of goods and vendors./Explore Charles County

The LaPlata Farmers Market is a good place to buy products from a variety of vendors. You’ll find such things as fresh fruits and vegetables, homebaked goods, jams, jellies, pickled vegetables, local brews and spirits, homemade crafts and bath and body products. Food trucks are on hand with food and drinks to go.

The market is open Wednesdays in the parking lot north of Talbot Street in LaPlata and Saturdays behind the Charles County Courthouse.

Also having a presence at the LaPlata Farmers Market is Bowling Greenhouse at Jameson Farm. Look for a variety of of fruits and vegetables, jellies and flower baskets.

Hancock Family Farms sells its beef, chicken, pork, lamb, turkeys, eggs, cheese, produce, jellies and jams out of a storefront at 6 St. Mary’s Ave. in LaPlata.

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Are you a coffee connoisseur? Don't miss out on a fresh cup from Wee Bean Coffee Roasters./Explore Charles County

Have a yen for a distinctive cup of coffee? Wee Bean Coffee Roasters is a small-batch roastery that uses organically grown coffee beans from small farmers and cooperatives to produce a variety of flavors. Check out its new coffeeshop at 6580 Crain Highway in LaPlata or order online.

For an overview of the various farms and what they offer, along with addresses and contact information, check the county’s tourism website: explorecharlescounty.com/eat-drink/agri-tourism.

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