Farm Bureau Brings Farmers to DC Suburbs

8/16/2014 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

STERLING, Va. — Everyone who buys, cooks and consumes food has a stake in Farm Bureau.

That was the message at Loudoun County’s second annual Main Street Agriculture festival, held last weekend at the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum grounds in suburban Sterling.

Very few children — or their parents — in this densely developed eastern part of Loudoun County have seen where their food comes from. The Virginia Farm Bureau’s Main Street Agriculture initiative aims to introduce them to their food and the people who produce it.

“We are trying to start a movement across Virginia, trying to connect the urban folks with agriculture,” said Philip Shenk, Virginia Farm Bureau district field services director for Northern Virginia. “We want people to know where local foods are available and to emphasize the importance of agriculture to their everyday lives.”

Tim Larkins came from Oakton, Va., with his two children.

“We walked in, drank some fresh- pressed grape juice, saw goats and rabbits. Now we’re watching some horses being fitted for shoes,” Larkins said.

Farrier Steve Mayer and his assistant, Lee Witscher, from Fauquier County, were putting new shoes on two horses on loan from the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program in Clifton, Va. Clouds of smoke wowed the gathered children as Witscher demonstrated “hot” shoeing — heating a shaped shoe red hot and then pressing it against the horse’s hoof so it will fit better. The wall of the horse’s hoof is much like a human’s fingernail — although much stronger — and feels no pain.

Alicia Logan from nearby Ashburn, Va., learned of the event from one of the numerous moms’ groups on Facebook and brought her two children.

“Autumn loves the animals,” Logan said. “There’s lots to see and learn here.”

She said her family tries to buy local and wants to learn more about proposals to label foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, something Farm Bureau objects to.

The vendors, down in number from last year’s inaugural Main Street Agriculture on a busy street in downtown Leesburg, included Northern Virginia Community College; the Farm Museum’s work horse exhibit; Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District; Virginia Tech’s College of and Agriculture and Life Sciences; Tyler and Harriet Wegmeyer’s Wayside Farm; George’s Mill Artisanal Cheese; Moonfire Orchard; a Farm Bureau face painting stand; Double 8 Alpaca Ranch; Lost Corner Farm; and the goats from Hog Heaven Farm.

Nancy Thompson, retired Extension home economist, set up a display of feed sacks inside the farm museum and talked to passersby about how farm families from the 1920s through about the 1950s recycled feed sacks into clothing and linens, and how the feed sack manufacturers responded by adding colors and patterns to the sacks.

Jean Hagen and her husband, Patrick, have been producing vegetables at Moonfire Orchard near Round Hill for four years, she said, but just this year they opened a farm stand and a community supported agriculture, or CSA, program. Their bright display of yellow banana peppers, heirloom tomatoes and various summer squashes attracted buyers.

Chris Van Vlack, secretary of the Loudoun Farm Bureau and district representative on the State Young Farmers Committee, manned the Soil and Water Conservation table, looking to drum up interest in rain barrels, which can help save money on water costs, enable the use of nontreated (free) runoff for water gardens or can be used to wash cars. The district sponsors multiple workshops throughout the year in the county’s towns to walk students through the process of setting up a rain barrel and using it.

“On a larger scale,” Van Vlack said, “car dealerships can install large systems to use for washing vehicles. It keeps excess water out of the storm water system and saves them money.”

He calls it “harvesting rain.”

Another goal of Main Street Agriculture, Shenk said, is to enable more urban and suburban dwellers to see the importance of agriculture in their daily lives and to join Farm Bureau. He said Farm Bureau gives the agricultural community a voice in Richmond and Washington, where laws are made that affect farms and ultimately the consumer.

“They have the satisfaction of supporting agriculture. More and more people these days shop at farmers markets, but they can do more by supporting Farm Bureau and becoming a member.

“We also have excellent discount programs for members, who will recoup their membership cost by taking advantage of them,” he said.

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