The idea for Rappahannock Industry Night first came to Stacey Carlberg as she was grabbing a drink at a local bar with friends in Sperryville, Virginia.
Carlberg, who co-manages the Farm at Sunnyside with her husband, Casey Gustowarow, was chatting with Joneve Murphy, the farmer in residence at the Inn at Little Washington, and Craig Batchelor, of Francis, saying that it would be wonderful to connect people from the three businesses.
Year after year, the Farm at Sunnyside receives seasonal workers, mostly young people, who temporarily call rural Rappahannock County home. Though the farm crews annually form a community among themselves, the 2018 crew noted they found it challenging to find community off the farm.
Rappahannock County is sparsely populated and heavily driven by agriculture and small businesses.
“Having a constant rotation of employees year after year is difficult,” Gustowarow said. “It’s nice to have (a community) connection.”
In March of 2019, the first industry night was launched to connect people working in the food industry across the county. The first gathering was hosted by Headmaster’s Pub and saw a crowd of 25 people. Carlberg kept it simple, collecting email addresses of attendees on a note pad and inviting local business owners to host at their space.
“People that we asked to host were excited about it, and then we started having venues approach us,” Carlberg said.
Hosting can be beneficial to local businesses, which have the opportunity to show what they have to offer and allow people to see their space, oftentimes after hours. Several businesses expressed interested in hosting in 2020, including Flourish Root floral studio, Naughty Little Goat Farm, Happy Henz farm, and the Inn at Little Washington.
Carlberg has gotten a lot of positive feedback from the first year of industry nights, saying that people think it’s a good idea to help younger folks meet people in the community and learn about local businesses.
“It was filling a need,” she said, adding that the largest industry night had a crowd of 70 and she now has 120 people on the email list.
A small organizing committee has formed between Carlberg, Murphy, Batchelor, Laurie Smith of Naughty Little Goat Farm, and Jennifer Mello from Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen. The attendees have been a mix of new faces and long-time locals, as well as a generational mix, with people ranging from seasonal or temporary employees to managers and business owners.
One thing Carlberg has done to improve for the upcoming year is to clarify what is and is not expected of hosts, saying that there is no requirement to offer free food or drinks, and compiled a list of how different hosts have done it in the past to demonstrate the many options for hosting.
“We’re still trying to get word out,” she said, saying that people mostly hear about it through word of mouth. For the most part she is happy with how it is, saying she likes that it is a flexible event with no agenda and has worked well being informal.
“When we’re really busy in the summer, it’s the one night a month I got off the farm. It’s nice to have it on the calendar,” she said.