You Should Know About These Organic Farms in Virginia
Let’s face it…as far as trends go, we could do a lot worse than organic farming. The shift towards cropland consolidation in the United States means that farms are bigger now than they ever were, but it’s also created kind of a pushback. In the Greater Charlottesville area and in many other places around the country, there is a growing demand for fresh, organic, locally-sourced meat and produce. In many ways, it’s definitely a response to the growing detachment between the food that’s raised on these huge corporate farms and the food, we as consumers get at the grocery store and take into our own kitchens and dining rooms. The land in Albemarle County is well-suited for such an approach because of the thriving culinary scene in Charlottesville. It’s no surprise that the farm-to-table movement would land in Charlottesville; it’s a city often celebrated for its cuisine, and there is ample farmland around it. Here are a few local organic farms in Virginia:
853 acres is nothing to shake a stick at. About 11 or so miles south of downtown Charlottesville, this Albemarle County institution has been around and operational since the 17th century. They grow over 50 different fruits and vegetables, and it’s all clean produce that adheres to organic standards. They also raise pigs, chickens, rabbits, sheep and cows. Their livestock are raised in pasture, and the farmers forgo the use of GMO feed. Bellair works pretty hard to preserve the soil long-term, employing methods like crop rotation. Seeking to connect with the community, the fine folks at Bellair Farm started a CSA. This allows consumers to get fresh veggies below the market price for a period of 22 weeks while giving farmers capital that they’d usually be without until harvest season. Beyond this, you get to experience the farm firsthand; everything from talking to the crew to enjoying picnics on their scenic Albemarle County farm. If you join the CSA, you get to enjoy the Pick-Your-Own experience; you literally get to “pick up” your produce, grabbing cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, and herbs while perusing the almost 900-acre property in near Charlottesville. Bellair also offers community workshops throughout the year, open to anybody but cheaper for students, CSA members, and farm apprentices. These informative sessions include lessons on things like “Cooking with Seasonal Foods” (taught by Tucker Yoder, chef at established Charlottesville restaurants such as the Clifton Inn and the Alley Light) and “Kraut and Kimchi,” a session on fermentation. Sometimes, the owners of Bellair will lease land on their farm to other like-minded individuals. One prime example is the Twenty Paces creamery, which makes delicious ricotta cheese from goat and sheep’s milk.
If you’ve been to a restaurant in Charlottesville, chances are you’ve already tasted some of the exceptional pork, poultry, or beef raised at Timbercreek Farm. The farm is a few miles outside of town, on some farmland in Albemarle County and along scenic Garth Road. They provide products to some of the best spots in the city: The Whiskey Jar, Revolutionary Soup, Maya, Citizen Burger, and Lampo Neapolitan Pizza just to name a few. They also supply wholesale products to butchers like The Rock Barn. If you’re not from the Greater Charlottesville area, then I guess you’re out of luck, because these farmers are committed to community. That means they only use materials provided by local vendors and, by-and-large only serve local businesses. At the core of their personal philosophy is a reliance on both polyculture and permaculture. The former indicates that, contrary to many of the bigger farms, they diversify their products; rather than specialize in one or two areas to maximize profit margins, they have a varied list of offerings. This ties in with permaculture, the concept of a system of agriculture which either simulates or utilizes patterns that are naturally-occurring. In spring and summer when the ground is more moist, they use their pork to help manage trees and pastures, conscious of the pig’s natural tendency to “root.” They graze cattle on pastures and, once they’ve eaten the taller, tougher grasses, the farmers bring in the chickens which forage for insects and smaller grasses. This rotational grazing helps to keep the pasture healthy and vibrant. The cattle, typically derived from Angus genetics, are sustainably raised and fed on grass. The eggs are truly free-range, with hens going to roost and laying in mobile homes that move in rotation behind the cattle. All of this is done without the use of cages, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, antibiotics, hormones, or supplement feed containing GMOs. And you can taste the difference!
Situated about 23 miles south of Charlottesville, near the tiny town of Esmont, Virginia, the fine people at Caromont aren’t “kidding” around…they mean business! They work hard to raise a herd of goats which provide fresh and aged cheeses, often working with other local establishments to maintain high quality. It wasn’t an easy start, but since kicking things off in 2007, the Caramont crew have been hard at work. All the cheese is hand-ladled and made on the farm where it’s tended daily. The cow’s milk is sourced from nearby Silky Farms, in North Garden, Virginia…and the goat cheese? Well, it’s straight from the source! Owner Gail Hobbs-Page and co. raise Alpine, Saanens, and La Mancha goats. Most of their cheeses are made with goat’s’ milk, like the flagship chevre, a creamy lactic cheese that they launched when they first started in 2007, or the native Esmontian, a semi-firm, enzymatic tomme that’s aged for at least 60 days. Like the other farms on this list, Caromont has a commitment to community. The prevailing idea behind their delicious cheeses is simple: good cheese comes from good milk, which comes from happy goats and cows grazing on good, solid land.
Twin Oaks Tofu
Twin Oaks has been around since 1967, making it one of the longest-running intentional communities. Its inhabitants, little under a hundred people, support each other on their farm in central Virginia (Louisa County to be specific) through a well-crafted model of communal living. They used to generate most of their revenue through the sale of hammocks and other “casual furniture,” but since 2011, tofu has risen to become one of their main sources of income. Their product is available at a wide variety of grocery stores in the area (like Whole Foods), and makes its way to several local restaurants, Revolutionary Soup being a prime example. They take the process as seriously as any of the other members of our list, always using fresh, local, organic soybeans and eschewing the use of GMOs and any mechanization. That’s right…handmade tofu. The result is a high-quality product that has become prized in many personal and professional kitchens throughout the Greater Charlottesville area. In particular, Twin Oaks tofu is celebrated for its firmness. This is certainly a key component of tofu, and here’s why: with a wide variety of herbs, spices, and flavors, you can simulate taste with relative ease. You’ve got to know what you’re doing, of course but it’s not out of the question to apply the way something tastes to other items on the menu (clearly, the writer is not a chef). However simulating texture is a completely different beast. Oftentimes tofu is too soggy and limp. This is likely due to a confluence of factors: storage and preservation, cooking and preparation etc. But Twin Oaks is known for a very firm, easy-to-work with product that doesn’t require any pressing or drying out prior to cooking. They attribute this to their “artisanal” well-water, which is free of fluorides and chlorine. After all, tofu is 70% water. And if it’s from Twin Oaks…100% scrumptious.
Are you looking for an organic farm for sale in Virginia? Obviously none of these are for sale, but we’d love to help you find your new farm in Virginia!