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Farm to Table: Gunpowder Bison

Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. is a vendor at the Greenbelt Farmers Market.

Less than two miles outside Monkton, Maryland, an area known for its farms and scenic countryside, lies a bucolic 70-acre parcel of land that’s home to a creature best known to Western ranchers.

Trey and Angela Lewis, owners of Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co., could have opted for alpaca, ostrich or rodeo bulls — all considered when Trey Lewis was researching livestock to raise on the farm. Instead, bison was deemed the animal of choice, and the couple launched their dream in 2006 with eight females (cows) and one bull.

“Trey really wanted something different. He came across bison at a farm show,” Angela Lewis said, adding that her husband learned bison was making its way back into the market. “He took a gamble.”

The gamble appears to have paid off as the Lewises now own four farms — three have livestock, including bison, and one is used to grow hay. Three of the farms are leased to farmers including Twin Springs Market, which is the exclusive retailer of Gunpowder’s Berkshire pork and Highlander beef.

The Lewises also have a loyal following at approximately 13 farmers markets in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, including the Greenbelt Farmers Market.

“It’s our third year at the Greenbelt market. People love having the bison there,” she said.

The bison are pasture-raised, fed corn and soybean with no additives and are free of growth hormones and antibiotics. When the bison are ready for slaughter, they’re rounded up and transported in a special trailer less than an hour away to a Pennsylvania butcher.

“Bison does not taste gamey. In fact, it tastes a lot like beef, but tends to have a fuller, sweeter flavor,” she said.

Trey Lewis, born and raised in Monkton and whose grandfather built many of the houses in the area, wanted to raise livestock on the property his parents purchased 30 years ago, Angela Lewis said. She was born in Pennsylvania with no farming background.

“At first, being an animal lover, I wanted to be attached to them — hard for me to send off to slaughter,” Angela Lewis said. “They’re wild — it’s a business.”

She said that she tries not to let her emotions get in the way, adding that she, Trey and the staff keep the bison happy while they’re on the farm.

But the hard work and the rewards have not been without setbacks. Six months after the Lewises wed, Angela Lewis, now 33, was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 2 breast cancer. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy through mid-2009. After two years of doing all the markets, the wholesale business and the bookkeeping, she was forced to slow down, she said.

A new season with the promise of extending their reach — their product — out further and further is what currently excites Angela Lewis. Although the farm and the store keep her busy, her life among the bison is one that she clearly relishes.

Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. is open to visitors on Wednesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Items available for sale include bison meat, spices, seasonings and rubs to enhance your meat selections, and cookbooks.

This story is the second in a continuing series about the market this season. Also see: and . The market is open every Sunday, except Labor Day weekend, through Nov. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Old Greenbelt.

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