Letter: The hands and hearts behind the Farm Tour

Alex Henze puts in a pizza in the handmade clay oven at Happy Henz Farm during last weekend's farm tour.Cathie Shiff | Rappahannock News
Alex Henze puts in a pizza in the handmade clay oven at Happy Henz Farm during last weekend’s farm tour.

Farm tour weekend began in true Rappahannock County fashion with a traffic tie-up on U.S. 211 near Sperryville, when Molly Peterson of Heritage Hollow Farm moved 80 head of rather unhurried sheep, cattle, a llama and a donkey across the roadway from one pasture to another.  She was assisted in the process by an ecstatic Beth Hall, two tow-headed lads from the suburbs and her loyal border collie Mick. The process was complete by 9 a.m., when Beth arrived at the county visitors’ center to make sure the vendors were in place for the Artisans’ Market.

Dismal weekend weather predictions plus heavy rains in some areas just before daybreak made some of the market vendors wonder about their prospects, but they loaded up anyway and were open for business by the 10 a.m. start. Almost a dozen vendors, plus representatives from RappCats, shared the green by the highway defined by the picturesque stone wall.

A visitor from Ohio is entranced by the beauty of the dahlias growing at Wendy Murdoch's Little Gardens in Washington last Saturday during the farm tour. Wendy grins in the background.Cathie Shiff | Rappahannock News
A visitor from Ohio is entranced by the beauty of the dahlias growing at Wendy Murdoch’s Little Gardens in Washington last Saturday during the farm tour. Wendy grins in the background.

Meanwhile, farmers collected the last eggs and readied displays of fruit, produce, herbs and homemade products. At Happy Henze Farm, Alex Henze fired up the outdoor clay pizza oven that would reach almost 800 degrees, baking diminutive pizzas with crusts made with grain grown and ground on their mountaintop farm. Rachel Summers of Crowfoot Farm rushed to finish the milking of their two Brown Swiss cows, the stars of the family homestead’s educational displays this year. Teresa Boardwine of Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine put out fruit cordials and prepared urns of herbal teas, while Kelly Atlas-Bauche of Woolf Lavender Farm started up her still to produce a new batch of lavender and Queen Anne’s lace essential oils and hydrosols. Orchardists topped off apple boxes in their sales barns while John Burns at Goat Hill Farm harvested almost two dozen types of tomatoes for tastings.

Perhaps one of the happiest farmers on Saturday morning was Linda Smet of Windemere Farm, who hastened to the barn to check on two miniature donkeys born during recent weeks. Brooke Parkhurst of Triple Oak Bakery celebrated the opening of her own “baby,” a charming café, by preparing batches of warm orange donuts. At the same time, the Marchiones at Magnolia Vineyards placed rows of lugs for harvesting Cabernet Franc grapes, while Wendy Murdoch at her Little Gardens in Washington saw that bees had found the buckwheat blooms and there was a second swallowtail caterpillar munching the parsley.

John Burns shares samples of heirloom tomatoes to farm tour visitors at his Goat Hill Farm.Cathie Shiff | Rappahannock News
John Burns shares samples of heirloom tomatoes to farm tour visitors at his Goat Hill Farm.

Do you perceive an undercurrent here? Working (and often dirty) hands, commitment, heart and vision. Many area farm tours feature just four or five venues. We had 30. I heard a comment during the tour that there were not many “farms” on the list. Hmmm. I cry fowl (sic)! (Sorry, Susan Blake Henze. I won’t touch one of your layers!) Many of the county’s largest farms are not really set up for visitors (I’ve talked with many of them). Even so, I still count 22 farms by anyone’s definition — family homesteads, organic produce operations, grass-fed livestock producers, vineyards, orchards and a very special farm school.  

Some venues will inspire suburban dwellers, while others purchase locally grown inputs for production or sales. Moreover, the level of expertise represented by decision makers at some of the venues has made them prominent on the national and international level. For additional perspective, the US Department of Agriculture defines a farm as a piece of land (some entries include a one-acre minimum size) which annually produces $1,000 in product. We have something magical in our farm tour that is increasingly recognized by tourism leaders across the Commonwealth. Let’s be proud of our unique event.

Who created the magic? First and foremost, the 30 venues who signed on to extra work and expense in order to open their farms to the public. A third of them were new this year, giving a freshness to this, the ninth year of the event. The 2015 venues were: Windemeer Farm, Crowfoot Farm, Magnolia Vineyards, Narmada Winery, Muskrat Haven Farm & Store, Merry Moo Market, Bean Hollow Grassfed, Caledonia Farm 1812 B&B, Lee’s Orchard, Little Gardens in Washington, the Farm at Sunnyside, Goat Hill Farm, Gadino Cellars, Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine, Little Washington Winery, Freestate Llamas, Waterpenny Farm, Copper Fox Distillery, Heritage Hollow Farms and Farm Store, Valley Green Naturals, Woolf Lavender Farm, Happy Henz Farm, Sharp Rock Winery, Jenkins Orchard, Belle Meade School and Farm, Central Coffee Roasters, Triple Oak Bakery and Café, Beech Spring Fruit Stand and Thornton River Orchard. Many thanks also to the vendors at the Artisans’ Market who bucked the weather forecasts and now report the weekend a success and want to come back next year.

Teresa Boardwine of Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine discusses the properties of a favorite medicinal plant growing near her yurt during the herb walk on Saturday during last weekend's Rappahannock County Farm Tour & Festival.Cathie Shiff | Rappahannock News
Teresa Boardwine of Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine discusses the properties of a favorite medicinal plant growing near her yurt during the herb walk on Saturday during last weekend’s Rappahannock County Farm Tour & Festival.

Who did the work? I would like to thank my fellow farm tour committee members Rachel and Kevin Summers, Molly Peterson, Carol Felix, Beth Hall and Cherl Crews. In particular, I appreciate Carol’s talent, vision and commitment in designing our beautiful tour guide book, plus the ads and promotional materials we used during the entire organizational process. And she never missed a deadline while losing a beloved dog far too young to cancer. I also thank artist Geneva Welch for her generosity in allowing us to use her artwork on the guidebook cover. Finally, I thank my “sister” Beth Hall for organizing the artisans’ market each year — we touch base in May and then she’s on her way.

Who paid for the farm tour? In addition to the $1,500 in county funding, we received generous support from local businesses and individuals. I would like to thank our official and major farm tour sponsors: Tula’s off Main Restaurant & Bar, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate III, Rappahannock Real Estate Resources, Union First Market Bank, Headmaster’s Pub, CFC Farm Store, Living Sky Foundation, Little Washington Winery, Wine Loves Chocolate, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Flint Hill Public House and Country Inn, Beech Spring Gift Shop, Cooter’s in the Country, Knit Wit Yarn Shop and Comfort Gifts, Rappahannock Media, Cheri Woodard Realty, Triple Oak Bakery, Horse ’n Hound, Molly M. Peterson Photography, Ridge Line Designs, Glassworks Gallery, Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine, Griffin Tavern, Freestate Llamas, Heritage Hollow Farm Store, Flourish Root and Wild Roots Apothecary, Thistle Hill Farm, Hunt Country Local, Pen Druid Brewing, Rappahannock County Artisan Trail, the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm, Taylor R. Odum, Thornton River Grille, Sperryville Corner Store, Magnolia Vineyards, Bean Hollow Grassfed and Foster Harris House.

Our business supporters were Morningside Press, Jan Makela of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate III, Hall’s Orchard & House, Burdick Equine Veterinary Services, RH Ballard Gallery, Laughing Duck Gardens & Cookery and Hopkins Ordinary B&B and Ale Works. Private supporters were the hale gents of the Rappahannock Cider & Debate Society, Gwen Cody, Wendy Murdoch and Bradley Schneider, Jim and Liz Blubaugh and Susan M. van den Toorn. Final thanks to the Rappahannock Lions Club for allowing us to use their wonderful tent at no charge — they’re all good looking and above average!

This will be my last year working on the farm tour. I am proud of what we have accomplished in the past three years and know that I leave this very special project in capable hands. Right now, those hands are few and they carry a lot outside of the farm tour. If the event is to continue into the future, more people will need to step forward to help — more working (and often dirty) hands bringing heart and vision.

Kindest regards,

Cathie Shiff
Farm Tour chair

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