Farm Bureau Brings Ag to Main Street

9/28/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

LEESBURG, Va. — Turns out you can take a farmer out of the country, if only for a couple of hours.

A sampling of Loudoun County farms, the businesses that serve them, and the clubs and government agencies that support them took over several blocks of downtown Leesburg Sept. 21

By dinner time, the farmers were back at home milking, feeding, reaping crops, cutting hay and repairing fence lines.

The Loudoun Farm Bureau sponsored Main Street Agriculture, the first of its kind in Loudoun County, with several goals in mind: Introduce all those “totally non-farm people” to what happens in the still rural western half of the county; increase farm bureau membership; and highlight the importance of local agriculture by connecting residents with farmers and vendors who put their activities on display.

The first Main Street Agriculture, held in Winchester, Va., last October, attracted 3,000-plus visitors to the Loudoun Street Mall. Last week’s event in Leesburg drew around 1,000 visitors. Cool, rainy weather and a lack of publicity hampered the turnout, but those who made it to the event liked what they saw.

Catherine Pizzarello lives in the Shenstone subdivision just west of Leesburg. She found out about the event on the Town of Leesburg Web page “and with the weather, thought it would be nice to come down here. The kids foraged themselves, for berries. This is their third pint since we got here. It’s a treat to see all the different farmers and see what they do.”

The Bowman family, who live just around the corner from the event, found out about it when their street was blocked off.

Several farmers were at the event, including Wegmeyer Farms, who grow pumpkins, gourds, pick-your-own strawberries and brambles; Willowsford, a 200-acre working farm as part of a 2,000-house subdivision; Endless Summer Harvest, who grow hydroponic greens and herbs; F & V Farm, who grow shiitake mushrooms; Milcreek Farm, who raise beef, lamb, broiler and layer hens, goats and rabbits; Lost Corner Farm, who grow a variety of fruits and vegetables along with meat eggs and honey; and Spring House Farm, who raise grass-fed cattle, heritage breed pigs and honey.

Also on hand was the Loudoun County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee with face painting and other activities for the younger visitors; George’s Mill Farm Artisan Cheese; Loudoun Valley Sheep Producers; and Loudoun County Rural Economic Development team. There was also an arborist on hand as well as representatives from the Leesburg Optimist Club, FFA and Loudoun Farm Bureau.

Browning Equipment in Purcellville, Va., set up a Kubota tractor and a zero-turn riding mower.

“I didn’t know there was agriculture here,” said one event visitor. “I live on King Street right here in Leesburg and read about it yesterday in Leesburg Today. We don’t go out to the farms and this is kind of making me want to go out and check it out.”

At the F&V Farm booth, farm bureau member and farmers market regular Floyd Blethen set out a chestnut oak log sprouting fresh, ready-to-cook shiitake mushrooms.

“This showcases agriculture in Loudoun County,” Blethen said. “It’s not all corn and soybeans, this shows the variety of things that are grown here. There’s a lot of us little niche-marketers, like the artisan cheese over there.”

The statewide push to bring agriculture to a larger, non-farm public started last October with Main Street Agriculture in Winchester.

“People have to go out to see agriculture, see where their food comes from,” said Farm Bureau Insurance representative John Dean, who was busy handing out farm bureau membership information and scavenger cards for visitors to fill out. “This is where the supermarkets get their food. And there are other ways to purchase food, other than at the supermarket.”

The event aimed to educate the public about the role farming plays in their lives and to build community relationships that enhance quality community life and boost local prosperity for farmers, businesses and residents.

Expanding the rural economy will do more than add to the county’s revenue, said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York, when he voted to adopt and support the Rural Economic Development Business Development Strategy earlier this year.

“It cuts costs — farms require fewer roads, schools, utilities and other services than do residential communities. A thriving agribusiness sector actually saves the county money in the long run,” York said.

Here are some interesting facts about farming in Loudoun County:

Average size of farm is 100 acres.

There are 1,427 farms in the county, more than half between 10 and 49 acres.

The county equine industry, valued at $208 million, is the biggest in the state.

There are 142,454 acres devoted to farming in Loudoun County.

The annual market value of farm production in the county is $33.8 million.

Loudoun ranks first in the number of Latino farm operators in the state, as well as the number of women farm operators and berry growers. The county is second in the state in the number of Christmas tree farms, alpacas, llamas and nursery stock production. It ranks third in berry production acres and Christmas tree acreage.

Source: 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture

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