For Foothills Forum
On a recent Tuesday evening, the industrial insides of Pen Druid Brewing buzzed with a few dozen county workers. The brewery is usually closed on Tuesday, a sleepy day in a place whose food and beverage industry relies largely on tourism. But that was why many in the room were able to be there.
Industry Night, as the gathering is known, started as a way for people employed in the food and farm sector to get out and be social, particularly since their hours can be inhospitable — mostly nights and weekends — and the work demanding — lots of time spent on one’s feet.
It’s also a chance to build a community in a place that both relies on connections but can be isolating given big, open spaces and few establishments that cater to younger clientele on restaurant or farm worker salaries.
“A lot of it was just about trying to create more community in this age group and with these folks working in these industries,” said Stacey Carlberg, a co-farm manager at The Farm at Sunnyside, and one of the originators of Industry Night.
She and her partner Casey Gustowarow have been managing Sunnyside for five years and regularly hire in a handful of seasonal workers in their 20s and early 30s to help with food production, marketing and farmers’ market sales. Most stay on the farm a year or two, but by helping facilitate some connections, she hopes they might find a community that would keep them in Rappahannock a bit longer.
“After last year’s crew left, I was really thinking of how to connect these young folks more to the community and other people that are working in the county,” Carlberg said.
That led to a conversation one evening with Craig Batchelor, co-owner of the Sperryville Corner Store complex and Joneve Murphy, farmer in residence at the Inn at Little Washington, about ways they could connect their employees.
All three acknowledged one of the challenges with keeping people in the county was a lack of social network — even they struggle to find the time to make plans and meet with friends.
“There are young people here, and we do have things in common; it’s just a matter of connecting the dots,” Batchelor said.
And also raising awareness about what businesses are doing in the county.
“You think that we’re in this small community and we’ve probably all gone to each others’ businesses but there are still new introductions every month,” Carlberg said.
The Industry Night gathering at Pen Druid was just the third since the March kick off at Headmaster’s Pub. On a table at the back of the brewery sat aluminium trays of finger snacks prepared by chef Josh Riesner, who moved to Luray with his wife in 2017 and has been working at Headmaster’s since last summer.
He says he wanted to get involved because Rappahannock is such a small place and he’s seen the positive impact businesses can have on a community — even something like regular music on a weekend or a monthly First Friday event that gets people out.
“It’s seeing people outside of work that is different. Normally they see me and I’m just peeking over on the other side of the line,” Riesner said, referring to his chef’s station.
While creating connections was the impetus for the event — held on the second Tuesday of each month — Carlberg also hopes these gatherings will help people feel they’re a part of something bigger and could lead to future partnerships.
“I’m curious to see what could happen by getting this group in the same room,” she said.
Jordan Lysaght, the 28-year-old co-manager at Headmaster’s and a Rappahannock native, says she already sees the potential.
“I hope it means that we can fill our restaurant with more locally grown things and that we do more things as a community, and that we say, ‘Oh, let’s do this big event and let’s all be included’ because we all sat down and hung out and talked about it.”
For Jenny Mello from the Sperryville Corner complex, Industry Night is a chance to recognize the hard work she and her peers are doing and feel celebrated.
“When you’re in that room with everybody, there is no hierarchy,” she says.
The ability to connect is something Morgan Jackson, 27, who has been at Sunnyside since March immediately picked up on.
“Everyone is tired and works really, really hard out here — a lot of young people do awesome things — but it’s really nice to show up for yourself and also everyone else.”
Fellow farm worker Sophia Fast, 25, says the regularity of the event is a nice, formalized way of creating community. “You know people are going to be here, you don’t just have to show up and hope that you’ll meet people.”
While Carlberg was initially focused on connecting Rappahannock’s younger service and farm workers, the gatherings have brought out people of all ages.
That includes Sylvie and Keith Rowand at Laughing Duck Gardens & Cookery. They’ve been to all three events and say it’s nice to talk with new and different faces outside of a work setting.
“I’m a beekeeper and have been able to do some show-and-tell with people I ‘really’ met at the event,” Keith said.
Sylvie, a chef and micro-speciality farmer, says she’s exchanged planting tips and had the chance to catch up with some of her veggie providers. But mostly, she says, “I enjoy seeing and chatting with people in a relaxed atmosphere, not necessarily as ‘doing business’.”
Carlberg has started an email listserv that she sends out each month to roughly 60 subscribers, and she’s hoping some of the farms will host events this summer. The next gathering will take place June 11th.