Taking the Farm to the City

10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Dana Gochenour Virginia Correspondent

Winchester, Va., Hosts Main Street Outreach Event

WINCHESTER, Va. — In the midst of a growing movement to get city dwellers to return to the farm, Frederick County Farm Bureau is taking a different approach.

They recently brought the farm to the city, hosting the inaugural “Winchester’s Main Street Agriculture” event on historic Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall.

Winchester is one of 25 Virginia cities and towns that are designated as Virginia Main Street Communities. Frederick County Farm Bureau partnered with the Main Street program and Old Town Winchester to organize the event.

The partnership was a natural fit, because “there is a Farm Bureau and a Main Street in every state,” said Dee Cook, membership development specialist with Virginia Farm Bureau,

The event was designed as an upgrade to one of Farm Bureau’s previous outreach programs, known as “Farm Fun Day,” which had been hosted on different farms for the past four years.

Farm Bureau field services director Philip Shenk said the same people attended year after year, so the committee went looking for a way to shake up their formula.

“We are always looking for opportunities to partner with others,” Shenk said.

“It’s all about community awareness,” said Cook. “Having a fresh, local food supply is so important in the face of a growing population. We want to educate people about where their food comes from.”

More than 20 vendors set up booths to sell their farm products and provide interactive educational activities for the public.

Paul Anderson, president of Frederick County Farm Bureau, said the organizing committee focused on bringing in vendors who are already involved in direct marketing activities. He said he hopes to involve more farmers next year and use the event as an educational tool for farmers as well, providing a chance for them to gain experience in direct marketing.

Anderson hopes that next year’s event also will be able to include agricultural processors, like Winchester Kraft Foods plant and dairy processor Hood, as well as tractor dealerships and local banks.

He said the committee would like to hold next year’s event earlier in the year, when a larger variety of farm products will be in season.

When Anderson speaks on behalf of Farm Bureau he likes to ask for a show of hands from those who have a financial interest in agriculture, and he said that often very few people raise their hands.

“When I remind them that agriculture is food, fiber and forestry, and point out that they all have food on their plates and are wearing clothes, and then all of the hands go up,” he said.

Cook added that the committee only went outside of Frederick County to find educational demonstrations, such as the hydroponics display from Endless Summer Harvest in Purcellville, Va.

Endless Summer owner Mary Ellen Taylor said that she and her team are used to giving farm tours and demonstrating their “Scientist Farmer” cultivation techniques for groups large and small. At the Main Street event she explained differences between the 25 varieties of lettuce she grows and gave curious shoppers a quick primer on the ins and outs of hydroponic production.

Other interactive displays included grape crushing hosted by Fabbioli Cellars, a live beehive demonstration by Rodeo Bees, and a Farm-to-Fiber-to-Fashion station where Terri Rosenthal, a Loudoun County Farm Bureau member and the designer of Carasan clothing line, explained how wool and other animal fibers become clothing.

Cooking demonstrations featuring local meats, dairy and produce were put on by the chefs of several of the mall’s restaurants, including Violino Ristorante Italiano, Village Square, Thai Winchester and the George Washington Hotel’s Dancing Goat Restaurant.

“We are so blessed to have so much (available) in this area,” said Violino chef Riccardo Stocco of the large variety of local meats and produce on display.

Stocco’s demonstration included heirloom tomatoes from the local farmers market, eggs and milk from another local farm, and his latest discovery: beef from Piedmontese cattle, raised on a farm in nearby Stephen’s City.

For the kids there was a petting zoo featuring animals from Hedgebrook Farm, pumpkin painting, a peddle tractor maze and face painting. Many of Frederick County’s 4-H clubs were also represented, helping with the children’s activities and providing additional animals for the petting zoo. FFA members taught kids how to identify different grains and helped them make “grain art” jars to take home.

“We came out just for the animals,” said a Winchester couple who stopped to let their 2-year-old son pet the goats.

“This is part of a renaissance in agriculture,” said Cook. “It’s about bringing people home to the family table.”

But she also stressed the event is part of a larger, continuous process of creating and marketing “new, innovative concepts in food delivery.”

Another part of that process will begin this winter with the implementation of several workshops Cook is helping to develop. The courses will be known as the “Winter Agriculture Season of Learning” and will provide instruction for farmers, new and experienced alike, who are searching for ways to improve the profitability of their farm businesses.

Cook said that she hopes Frederick County’s successful Main Street Agriculture event will lead to similar events all over Virginia in the near future.

“This has been the pilot,” she said, adding that she will be meeting with Farm Bureau leaders from other counties to help them create their own Main Street program. “We hope to roll it out statewide next year.”

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