Where We Live

A Fertile Tradition of Living Off the Land

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 26, 2008

James Chesley Jr., a physician, has the serene look of a man who has found the perfect balance in life.

When not tending to patients and medical emergencies, Chesley raises ducks -- Muscovy, Peking and mallard -- and lives as a gentleman farmer on 10 acres along a winding, tree-lined, historic road in Glenn Dale, just two minutes from the bustling Route 450 corridor in Prince George's County.

His wife, Camille, a veterinarian, relaxes by riding and showing their American paint horses.

"People come and visit and say: 'Wow! I didn't know there was anything like this so close in,' " he said.

For 20 years, Chesley has also enjoyed the fruit of the labor of his property's former owner, a horticulturist. George Darrow (1889-1983) was a foremost American authority on strawberries. After his retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant introduction center in Glenn Dale, Darrow started one of the nation's first pick-your-own businesses in 1957 on what is now Chesley's land.

"This morning I had fresh plums for breakfast and heard the hens cackling," Chesley said recently. When his son Stephen, now a Howard University student, was small, the two would stroll the property and, depending on the season, pluck fresh mulberries, grapes, pears, persimmons or plums for munching.

Chesley also has a plentiful supply of black walnuts just outside his door -- that is, if he gets to them before the squirrels do.

Glenn Dale is an unincorporated community. "It's what's left over after you take out Bowie, Seabrook and Lanham," said Leland Bryant, a 20-year resident and retired Smithsonian photographer.

Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association, said, "It's the green belt between Greenbelt and Bowie."

That green belt is tightening. In 1995, there were about 1,400 households with a Glenn Dale address. Today there are more than 4,000, with several hundred more planned.

In 1928, the Glenn Dale Fire Association's first piece of equipment was a donated Model T with a bell, some buckets and rakes. Over the years, Glenn Dale firefighters have rescued horses mired in mud, passengers trapped in train wrecks and a pilot whose stolen plane skidded across the roof of DuVal High School. When a 1950s snowstorm trapped one engine crew, the men kept warm overnight in an egg truck from the Eastern Shore.

From 1908 to 1935, an electric commuter train ran from the District to Baltimore, with a stop in Glenn Dale. Today a bike trail follows part of that path.

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