The Old Ways in Rappahannock
It is often difficult to find goods made in the United States, much less made locally by hand. But in Rappahannock County, there are people who preserve old techniques that were developed generations before industrialization. These individuals are not just protecting the environment and helping the local economy; they are also preserving American art forms. This is the third in a series of articles about Rappahannock residents who are proud to carry on the work of artisans of bygone days by doing things “the old way.”
“If it tastes good you’re likely to eat it,” says Sylvie Rowand of Laughing Duck Gardens and Cookery. And there are lots of tasty foods at Rowand’s home in Harris Hollow. All year through Rowand is planting, harvesting, preserving or preparing food. She must buy items such as coffee and olive oil from other regions, but most of the food Rowand utilizes comes straight from her farm, from neighboring farms and orchards, and from the wild, just like in the days before gasoline and supermarkets.
“It started as a way to save money and be environmentally friendly,” she said, “but this kind of life just makes sense to me. I mean, why buy peaches picked green from Argentina in December when you can buy higher quality and better tasting peaches here in July, and then preserve them for later?”
Rowand and her husband, Keith, moved from Washington, D.C., to their rural farm in Rappahannock County in 2006, where she eventually started Laughing Duck Gardens and Cookery. Although a master’s degree in business and work in commercial real-estate management gave her the know-how to start her own business, her upbringing on France’s Reunion Island, located in the Indian Ocean, greatly influenced her specialty.
“My parents were not farmers, but we had some land,” she said. “On the island, people who had land grew food on it. It made sense to utilize our natural resources rather than import everything.”
As part of her business, Rowand holds gardening, cooking and preserving classes and offers private tutoring. Her classes emphasize the use of locally available foods and sustainable agriculture. She also offers catering services.
“I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start the business,” she said. “But I saw a need and wanted to do my part to equip people with the know-how to utilize healthy, unprocessed, local foods, and that desire developed into a business.”
She’s also happy to be doing her part in passing on traditional ways of securing and preserving foods.
“It just feels . . . right,” she said.
In her workshops, Rowand stresses that people don’t have to make drastic changes in their lives to eat a more nutritious diet filled with local and regionally available foods.
“I tell people to start small, by visiting a farmers’ market,” Rowand said, “I suggest that they ask the farmers questions about what foods are in season. Often farmers will let you taste their produce, so you can get a feel for what you might like to buy.” Rowand said that once one has a sense of what’s growing locally, he or she is ready to utilize the many resources available to learn what do next.
“Online resources such as the USDA, the Virginia Extension Service, the National Center for Home Food Preservation and Food in Jars have a wealth of free information on growing, preparing and preserving food,” she said.
Rowand’s own site, laughingduckgardens.com, is an information-packed resource that contains menu planning ideas and other information specific to Rappahannock and surrounding areas. Another online resource to find foods grown or produced in Rappahannock County and other Virginia counties is Buy Fresh, Buy Local). Many area farms and orchards are listed, along with contact information and links to the websites.
“There are quite a few farms and orchards in Rappahannock County,” Rowand said. “And there are number of edible plants that grow in the wild. There’s just so much here to try and enjoy. It makes no sense to eat the same lower quality (industrially produced) foods that are full of chemicals and don’t even taste very good, when there’s so much wholesome, delicious food growing all around us.”