By Marianne E. Weaver
Whether hitting the farmers markets, subscribing for shares from area farms, planting backyard gardens or going out to eat at restaurants that source food locally, Prince William residents are increasingly looking local for their produce, poultry and other food items.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines “locavore” as a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally (within a 100- mile radius) grown or produced food. In practice, for most people it’s about incorporating more locally grown food into their diets and having a greater awareness of where their meals originate, versus never enjoying an out-of-season strawberry.
Advocates cite benefits such as a lower carbon footprint, more transparent food supply and better taste. “Locally produced food is going to be fresher, with more nutrients, better for the environment and local economy,” said Gainesville nutritionist Kelly Kurcina. “Also, the farmers can tell you how the food was grown.”
In PBS’s “10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore,” Jennifer Maiser, editor of EatLocalChallenge.com, advises to start small, choosing just five foods that you commit to sourcing locally. She noted that meat and dairy products can be found in most areas of the country throughout the year. Visiting farmers markets, subscribing to community supported agriculture (CSA) and growing your own herbs and vegetables are other steps that most anyone can take.
Manassas resident Bonnie Shilton, who grows much of her own produce, said that most of her fellow locavores are not set on eating 100 percent local food. “It’s more of a fun exploration of what’s available locally,” she said. “The more people learn, the greater the amount of local food they start to enjoy and seek out.”
Even with the growth Prince William has experienced over the years, there are still numerous farms and farmers markets throughout the region. Commuter lots, schools and shopping mall parking lots transform into farmers markets where shoppers can buy a variety of goods, ranging from produce, meat and poultry to baked goods, salsas and hummus.
The Dale City Farmers Market, located in the commuter lot on Gemini Way, is open Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April through December, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the winter. It is one of the area’s largest markets, connecting suburban shoppers with about 50 vendors. Open since 1987, it is a producer-only market: vendors may only sell goods that they produced. This means you won’t find oranges from Florida or jewelry re-sellers.
In Bristow, vendors set up tents and tables in the parking lot of the Montessori School on Devlin Road. Vendors vary from week to week and season to season, but regulars include Martin’s Angus Beef, Pappardelle’s (pasta), Rainbow Acres Farm (poultry and pork), Shade’s Farm (herbs, flowers, seasonal produce and honey), Uncle Roger’s (baked goods) and Zayna’s Delight (hummus).
Kurcina said she likes connecting with vendors at the markets. “I love the local farmers markets,” she said. “I look at the eggs, pork and produce, and I recognize how important it is to support local farmers and local business.”
Market vendors are more than willing to chat with customers and answer their questions. “I hear customers say they are trying to eat more healthy,” said Sally Holdener of Rainbow Acres Farm, whose tent is packed with eggs and other poultry and pork products.
“People are trying to get away from processed meats,” observed Matt Dautrich, from Martin’s Angus Beef, based in The Plains and a supplier of beef to farmers markets, butcher shops and restaurants throughout Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. “By coming to the farmers market they know their food is from a local farm. They can talk to the farmer, see the animals and know that they are being treated humanely.”
Fresh Produce by Subscription
Jay Yankey, owner and operator of Yankey Farms in Nokesville, has moved away from the multi-vendor farmers market, and has instead set up a roadside farm stand on Glenkirk Road. He has also instituted a CSA program, where locavores can pay in advance for shares in his crops.
“As a producer, instead of borrowing money to plant crops, I have the capital up front,” he said. “I don’t have to guess at how much I’m going to sell. With the CSA I know how many customers I have. We have added an additional 25 slots over last year—we are doing 75 this year. And we are more than half full now and that was just people from last year.”
Yankey’s CSA is a 16-week subscription with bushel and half-bushel options. The four-week spring harvest begins in May and shares generally include strawberries, lettuce, summer squash, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, cherries, cauliflower, kale, peas, beets, spinach and bok choy. The CSA breaks for two weeks before the six-week summer harvest, which typically includes peaches, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, green beans, peppers, eggplant, plums, melons, sweet corn, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries, summer squash and okra. After another two-week break, the six-week fall harvest begins, with shares of winter squash, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, pears, cabbage, collard greens, raspberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, apples, green beans, onions and pumpkins. For an additional cost, participants can also purchase cage-free egg shares that are included with each delivery.
Participants, he said, not only benefit from supporting a farm in the local community and keeping some land
undeveloped, but also by cultivating a connection to the source of their food.
“They can come and ask me questions,” he said. “This gives them a connection to where their food comes from and it gives them a quality of produce they can’t get at a store. We pick our food in the morning and that is what goes out in the box that afternoon.”
Gainesville resident Kim Strohecker is a subscriber to Yankey’s CSA. “It is a terrific feeling to know the farmer who grew your food, to know the land where the food was grown,” she said. “The veggies are not shipped in from across the country or across borders. It feels like a much more natural way to feed your family.”
From Farm to Restaurant
Despite the myriad options at the farm stands and farmers markets, few people want to cook every meal, every day. While you have to do some digging, there are more and more area restaurants sourcing food locally, at least in part.
The Potomac Mills Silver Diner relies on 15 producers from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to provide cheese, meats and poultry, produce, milk, bread, coffee and beer. Not Your Average Joe’s, in Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center, and Cock & Bowl in Occoquan are also among the Prince William eateries that source locally when possible.
In Haymarket, AKT (Annie’s Kitchen Table) Nourish relies almost exclusively on local producers to stock its kitchen. “People with health challenges – allergies, vegetarians, vegans – find it hard to eat out,” said owner Anne Thomas. “We try to offer whole ingredients that haven’t been in a factory.”
Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton and Martin’s Angus Beef provide the eight-table restaurant with beef, pork and poultry. Thomas gets honey from Gainesville beekeeper George Wilson. As for produce, she grows a majority of it at her farm in Delaplane: tomatoes, chard, peppers, corn, cabbage, eggplant, herbs, carrots, cucumbers and more.
“There is no GMO and no artificial fertilizers,” she said. “We tailor our menu to what we source.”
In Gainesville, Bad to the Bone Smokehouse (and its Manassas site, The Bone BBQ) source about 65 percent of ingredients from local producers, said Chase Hoover, managing partner. “We are a big support of local producers,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons, including cost, plus, if we buy local, we don’t have to ship across the country.”
For the beer used in its jalapeno hot sauce, the restaurant orders from down the road: Heritage Brewing in Manassas. In fact, many of the barbeque sauces also include beer brewed by this locavore favorite.
Sean Arroyo, Heritage CEO and co-founder, said he too looks nearby for ingredients whenever possible. Glassware, shirts and barrels are sourced locally, as are many of the hops he uses to make the beer.
Arroyo said he also works with the Virginia Hops Initiative, which educates growers, experiments with hop varieties and connects brewers with growers. “The more we source locally, the better,” he said. “It would be amazing to source locally 100 percent.”
Arroyo said he partners with the Smith Family Farm in Gainesville, by providing spent hops for use as feed for their animals.
Grow Your Own
Another rewarding way to eat more local food is to grow it yourself. It is possible to cultivate a backyard garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for a family.
Shilton began growing her sustainable garden in 2013. “It is a process,” she said. Initially, she started by shying away from packaged produce and visiting farmers markets to supplement her grocery shopping. “The main reason is to avoid the chemicals in the food. I can talk to the farmers and they are more likely to use organic practices, and the animals are more likely to be humanely raised. And the food isn’t trucked across the country, so they are not using [as much]oil and gas.”
However, Shilton said she discovered quickly that it was easier to find organically grown meat than organically grown vegetables. Suspecting that others in the community felt the same, in March 2013 she started the Sustainable Prince William Meet Up (meetup.com/Sustainable-Prince-William), which now has 119 members. The group meets monthly and covers topics including green house cleaning, beekeeping and gardening, and takes trips to local farms that offer sustainable gardens and pastured beef and poultry.
“I’m not an expert gardener,” Shilton explained, adding that she grows tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, thyme, basil, dill, oregano, cilantro, onions and summer squash, but has never had luck with broccoli. “I think of myself as a local food advocate. I started this group to bring together people with similar interests so we could all learn together.”
Her number-one piece of advice to new gardeners: Tap into the free resources provided by Prince William Master Gardeners.
Nancy Berlin, natural resource specialist/master gardener coordinator for the Virginia Cooperative Extension explained that the program is funded in part by the county and Virginia Tech, to provide research-based guidance to residents.
“We can provide them with a quick-start guide for vegetable gardens,” said Berlin. On the website (mgpw.org), visitors can download a planting calendar, read a blog about creating a sustainable garden and watch videos about preparing a vegetable garden. Also available is a calendar of free classes offered at The Teaching Garden at the Benedictine Monastery, on Linton Hall Road in Bristow. The “First Saturday in the Garden” classes are held from April through October and cover topics including composting, companion planting and starting a vegetable garden.
If a Saturday in Bristow doesn’t work, the Master Gardeners also set up shop at local farmers markets: Manassas Farmers Market on Saturdays and Dale City Farmers Market on Sundays, April through November.
“The farmers market is the great way to buy fresh, buy local andb support local farmers until you get your garden going,” said Berlin, noting that her group often fields questions from shoppers who bring in produce from their gardens for inspection. “We can take a look at their produce problems and troubleshoot there on the spot.”
In winter months, or for those without a yard, most herbs and some vegetables can be grown indoors. Products like
AeroGarden come complete with everything needed for hydroponic gardening. There are also a number of resources for putting together an indoor garden from scratch. It can even be as simple as a pot of basil placed on a sunny windowsill. Gardening “is a process of learning,” said Berlin.
And, according to Kurcina, it is well worth learning. “If you have room, grow your own food,” she said. “You know you are getting quality and it is always going to taste the best.”
Marianne Weaver is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University. She lives in Gainesville, Va., with her husband and two children. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.