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Looking for a Volunteer Opportunity? We Need Sorters!

We don’t have a magic hat like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter. Or even a magic cooler or paper bag. But we do have a magically wonderful group of people who help make sure that all of that beautiful local food gets into goes where it belongs on Thursdays for pickup. That’s how the eggs from one farm and the radishes from another end up in the same bag for you to take home.

Are you good at organizing things? Do you enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded local food folks? Consider putting your talents to work for our non-profit local market. We could use the help!

Truly, our Thursday afternoon sorters are an essential part of the Fall Line Farms & Local Roots operations team. Every week, we rely on them to organize and bag customer orders at each of our 28 different pickup locations. Without our magical sorters, pickup day would be a very different experience. You’d have to rummage through piles of items, searching for the ones with your name on the label. Lucky for us, our sorters work hard to make sure that every single customer order is complete. Their work means that you can just show up, pick up your order, and then go home to enjoy it. Quick and easy. We love our volunteer sorters--and we need more!

We’re looking for detail-oriented individuals who are available on Thursdays in the afternoon. Depending on the pickup location, sorters spend anywhere from 2 – 8 hours organizing and handing out orders each week. Locations where we currently need sorters include Ashland, Belgrade, Bon Air, Goochland, Mechanicsville, Scott’s Addition, and Stony Point. Opportunities at additional locations may also come up as former pickup sites start to reopen and/or new locations are added.

Enjoy getting to know others who care about the Fall Line Farms and Local Roots mission: making sure that small farms in Central Virginia thrive. It’s all about giving these amazing farmers a strong retail outlet for their produce, meat, and other goods. You’ll have fun while you perform a much-needed community service!

But wait! There’s more! All Fall Line Farms and Local Roots volunteers receive a free annual membership to the market. In addition, volunteers are granted free access to all Homestead Series classes through the Center for Rural Culture.
You already support our non-profit with your orders. Join our team and give even more support to the fabulous local food producers here in Central Virginia!

Interested? Send an email to ruralcultureva@gmail.com with the subject line “Call for Sorters.” We’ll be happy to give you more details.

Many thanks for all that you do to help preserve Central Virginia's small farms!

Published: 07/03/2020

Underwater Farmers: A New Producer Profile on Purcell’s Seafood

“I’m a farmer. I just do it under the water,” says Richard “Rich” Harding, Vice President of Purcell’s Seafood. Our Fall Line Farms and Local Roots Members have been enthusiastic about the addition of this “water farmer” to our producer lineup. The crabs and oysters Purcell’s brings to our online market have sold well, so they fit right in as another great local food. But the folks at Purcell's Seafood are also a fit because of their commitment to good stewardship of the land . . .oops! . . .water in which they farm, not to mention their status as a family business that takes great pride in offering the very best food they can to those who want to eat both sustainably and well.

Purcell’s Seafood is less than 100 miles from Richmond, in the little hamlet of Burgess, VA. It sits right on the banks of the Little Wicomico River, in Northumberland County, where the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River meet. The closest town is Reedville, a fishing town that sits at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River. Seafood and fishing are woven tightly into community history there. Rich points out that “In the 1920’s and 30’s, we had the highest catch of Menhaden per pound in the country.”

“We work 400 acres of oyster grounds in the tributaries of the bay,” Rich says. “I’m the third generation to work this business. My son is the fourth. My grandparents started it in 1972, and it has been passed down to each generation since.”

Rich’s initiation into the family business came early. As a young boy, he’d go out with his grandfather, who taught him to catch soft crabs. “We’d get in the boat and go out around the shoreline,” he said. “The crabs molt[1] in shallow water. Your eye gets trained to see them. Then you scoop them up into the boat with nets, all while being eaten up by mosquitoes.”

In spite of the mosquito and other, larger obstacles—like the problems with oyster die offs in the Bay in the 1980s and 1990s—Richard is enthusiastic about what he does. His deep appreciation for the environment he works in and the crabs and oysters he brings in are obvious when he talks about his livelihood. Like our vegetable farmers, he has an intimate relationship with the water he works and is something of a naturalist: "I haven't figured my wife out yet,” he laughs, “but I know the river!”

“We’re an oyster farm and shucking house,” Rich says. “We have both wild and farmed oysters. We started with aquaculture in 2008, and we’ve always done the wild oysters. In the 1980s and 90s, there weren’t a lot of wild oysters. Two diseases came in from outside—MSX and dermo. They’re parasites, not indigenous to the Bay. The oysters with dermo would get to be about 2” and then just die. MSX lives best in the waters with high salinity. Dermo is found more in the waters with low salinity. It was hard to keep afloat, but we worked with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and other organizations, and now we’re producing 2-3 million oysters a year. The bay got dirtier because of the diseases and the die offs. Now it’s cleaner again. Oysters actually clean the bay. A 3-inch oyster will filter 50 gallons a day. Both of these diseases are still in the water, but what’s happened is that the oysters have become more resistant to them. Now they’re really coming back.”

“It takes 2 to 3 years for oysters to grow to market size,” Rich explains. “You have to get in there and move them around, rotate them, to get the best results when you’re farming them. You have to cultivate the beds. When these oysters start out, the seed is about 1 millimetre in size—about like a grain of sand. Once they grow to 5/8 of an inch, we put them in cages and begin to work them. 30% of them grow really fast, 60% of them grow normally, and about 10% of them are slow. The largest ones take the most food. So you have to pull the cages up and move them around—sort them by size—so that the large ones aren’t taking all of the food from the smaller ones. You also have to put them in the right sections of the river. There are some places where the oysters grow fast, and some where they grow slowly. When they’re about 3 or 3 ¼ inches, they’re ready for market.”

“The old folklore is that you only buy or sell oysters in the months with an ‘r’ in their names,” says Rich. “Part of that is because they spawn in early summer, around the end of June, and the meat quality can be poorer then. It’s also because back before there was refrigeration, it was harder to ship them anywhere safely when the weather was warm. That’s because of vibrio, a bacteria that would grow in them and cause them to make people sick. Now, we have refrigeration, so that has totally changed. The bacteria don’t grow in cool temperatures, so the oysters we sell are plenty safe to eat any time of year. In fact, we have a paper trail on every oyster from harvest to the consumer.”

And speaking of eating oysters, Rich’s favorite way to eat them is the tradition where he’s from: “Oyster fritters. They’re kind of like pancakes with oysters in them. It’s pretty old school—the way people on Tangier Island used to eat them. They’re really good. You use Bisquick, just the boxed mix, and make batter like you’re making pancakes. You stir the oysters right into the batter and fry them, like blueberry pancakes, but better! I just put salt and pepper on them and eat them that way.”

For a more “newfangled” twist, Rich suggests using a muffin pan and putting an oyster in each cup. “You can add whatever you like,” he says. “Barbecue sauce, lemon, spinach, whatever you want. You can even do a different flavor in every cup. Then you bake them at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Delicious!”

Of course, along with the oysters, Purcell’s Seafood also brings us crabs—most recently the soft shells that coastal and central Virginians view as evidence that spring is actually here. The “soft crab” season lasts from mid-April to October, according to Rich, and we’re just past the peak of it.

“The first shed is the biggest,” he explains. “It starts in April and then slows up at the end of May. There will be a second shed around the end of June, first of July—then a third one in August. It will go on, to some degree, until cold weather. But the biggest season is in May. I have to give a shout out to a local waterman, Matt Smith, who goes out every day on the bay so we can have delicious soft crabs!”
As many of our members know, these soft shell crabs are delicious when they’re breaded and fried. What the Hardings do is dip them in an egg/milk mixture and then dredge them in some sort of seasoned flour. The next step is frying them to golden brown perfection. “Around here,” says Richard, “we eat them in sandwiches with white bread and mustard. That’s the local way. But you can put any kind of sauce on them that you like—mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, whatever.”

Along with the soft shells, our members have been enjoying the heck out of the crab cakes they’ve purchased from Purcell’s. As the comments have come in, it’s clear that Purcell’s crab cakes are a winner. In fact, one of our members posted this glowing review on Instagram last week: "Purcell's crab cakes were simply outstanding! We had, a few weeks ago, got suckered in with a display of crab cakes at [a local retail chain] . . . and when we sat down expecting a big joyful mouthful o' sweet crabby deliciousness we were met with the least-flavored concoction you could imagine! [The local retail chain] is now off my list for awhile. We bought Purcell's, and the taste of that crab was a whole different world! We are some lucky pups to have them and Wright’s [on Fall Line Farms and Local Roots]. Kudos to all who've brought [Purcell’s Seafood] to us!"

Rich was thrilled with this comment and several others that appeared on our pages in praise of his crab cakes. Asked why his crab cakes are so much better than what you usually find in retail chains, he says, “We co-op with a local company, Little River Seafood, where these are made. Kelly Lewis, the person who runs it, has been in the business as long as we have. She’s our neighbor. She uses local Chesapeake Bay blue crab meat from local folks like us. She’s very well-respected, and there’s a really good ratio of crab meat in the cakes, with great spices.”

Rich Harding is genial, funny, knowledgeable, and very serious about delivering great seafood to our members. He does whatever it takes to run his family business well, so he’s a little bit farmer, a little bit folklorist, a little bit naturalist, and a little bit chef, along with being a good businessperson. We know that our members will continue to enjoy the great items that Purcell’s Seafood brings to Fall Line Farms and Local Roots!

You can follow Purcell’s Seafood on Facebook.

Published: 06/12/2020

“Behind Every Great Shrub, There’s a Great Mother (or Four or Five)”

It turns out that Meredyth Archer is not the only “mother” associated with her award-winning business, Mother Shrub. To being with, there’s the “mother” (or the fermentation sediment) in the bottom of each bottle. It’s there because Mother Shrub uses top-quality ingredients, including organic apple cider vinegar from White House Foods in Winchester, VA. This vinegar is raw and unpasteurized, so it ferments to create the mother that grows in the bottle, lending a little gut-healthy microbial matter to each bottle of Mother Shrub.

Meredyth makes her shrubs right here in Goochland. We’re pleased to offer it on Fall Line Farms and Local Roots, our non-profit online market, because it fits so well with our other offerings. Anything that’s both delicious and LOCAL is right up our alley! It’s also handmade in small batches with the kind of attention to craft and creativity.

You’ll find several delicious flavors on our pages, perfect for cocktails and mocktails. Currently, Mother Shrub offers Cranberry, Grapefruit, Lime, Ginger, Black Cherry, and Salted Honey shrubs on the FLF&LR buying pages. According to Meredyth, her shrubs are easy to mix, and she describes them as “familiar flavors with an unexpected taste.” Don’t worry about which one to try first. You just can’t go wrong!

One of the simplest options for trying Mother Shrub (and trust this writer, one of the most delicious) involves choosing whatever you’re in the mood for and combining it with ice and seltzer. It’s the perfect backyard patio sipper on a hot afternoon. The lime shrub is delicious this way, with a twist of the real fruit as a complement. If you want to get really fancy, you can add a shot of the cranberry shrub for a flavorful, grown-up riff on cranberry limeade. If it’s a cocktail you crave, that’s easy to manage. Just go to the Mother Shrub web page (see link below) and choose a recipe to suit your taste. These lovely mixers combine magically with a range of liquors. How about a Greyhound, made with grapefruit shrub? Or a ginger rickey? The possibilities are endless. And a recipe card is included with every order !

Meredyth constantly creates new recipes and comes up with suggestions for using her shrubs to complement other foods and beverages. But that’s not the only creative challenge she faces; it turns out that shrub-making itself is an art. Meredyth says, “I’ve learned by doing, and I feel good about where I am now. The flavor needs to be pretty consistent, and that’s the hard part. I’ve managed to figure that out. Mostly. Sometimes my ginger has little chunks of ginger in it, sometimes not—I worry about things like that.”

Despite Meredyth’s concern, the ginger shrub sells like hotcakes. (It sold out on our list last week.) Neither the ginger bits nor the mother in the bottom seems to deter people’s hankering for this delicious stuff! In fact, Mother Shrub has received accolades both locally and across the nation. The Salted Honey shrub has been featured on Bon Appétit’s Healthyish blog and on the web by The Kitchn, a web-based food magazine with a huge following. It’s also had a great mention—with an interview—on Public Radio’s popular food show, The Splendid Table. The Grapefruit shrub also won recognition from the Good Food Foundation, an organization that advocates for small food businesses and healthy food systems. [Links provided below.]

Mother Shrub has plenty of stories and a lot of family history behind it, including a long list of strong and influential women--literal mothers--who each have inspired Meredyth and undergirded her success in significant ways. Her West Virginia childhood, which Meredyth remembers fondly, had a huge influence on her.

“I was so lucky!” declares Meredyth Archer. “I had three grandmothers into my twenties. Three great examples and three great teachers. They were basically our after-school care when I was growing up. My parents worked, so these women took care of us if one of us was sick and couldn’t go to school. We loved going to see them, because there was always someone home at one of their houses, and we knew where they kept all the cookies and candy. We could just ride our bikes any time we wanted and walk right in. They taught me how to sew and cook. Such amazing women!”

“My grandmother on my mother’s side—her name was Mattie Ardenia—used to give us vinegar mixed with honey to cure everything,” says Meredyth. “She made shrubs. She was our back-up daycare when we were sick, because my mother worked. She’d make us drink vinegar with honey in it.”
Meredyth laughs, saying ,“Maybe that concoction was to cure us, but I suspect that maybe it was also to make sure we were really sick! It wasn’t until years later that I developed a taste for it and started making my own from an old recipe I found that reminded me of her. My salted honey version is close to hers.”

Also important in her life were her great-grandmother Myrna and her paternal grandmother, Ella Mae, who was a home economics teacher in Dunbar, West Virginia. Meredyth says, “Ella Mae had apple trees. We all helped make apple butter and apple sauce on the weekends there. I remember running around barefoot under the apple trees as a kid and running over the rotten apples. We helped cook everything at her house. These were powerful women, determined to do what needed to be done! At the age of 90, Myrna was out tarring her driveway.”
Another huge influence was Meredyth’s own mother, Martha Walker, who has recently retired and who still lives in Charleston, West Virginia with Meredyth’s dad. Martha just turned 80, and those eight decades have been full of impressive accomplishments.

“My mother is six feet tall,” says Meredyth, “and people used to call her ‘six feet of rompin’, stompin’ hell’ because she knew how to get stuff done. She was in speech therapy and audiology, and she also owned a gift shop. She was a well-respected politician in the state of West Virginia, too—she recently retired, having once served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services for the state.”

Meredyth is careful to point out that it isn’t only the women in her family who’ve had an influence on her creativity and success. Her father also owned and ran a small business, so her parents were a double whammy in providing her with the entrepreneurial genes. Her oldest son actually came up with the name “Mother Shrub ” for her business. Her husband, Fielding Archer, is a fine artist who has been instrumental in designing her beautiful, eye-catching label: “Fielding drew the drawing of the sun and the trees and fruit that started it all. He included the sun because my nickname growing up was Sunny—Mattie Ardenia and her sisters used to call me that because they said I was a ray of sunshine. That crazy sun has become my logo now! Also, Fielding hand letters the words. He’s also done all of my cocktail recipe illustrations. I was struggling to take photos that I liked. He came up with the watercolor illustrations that you see on my website and my recipe cards.”

Like her mothers before her, the creator of Mother Shrub is intrepid and entrepreneurial. “ When I started, I had a lot of passion and a good work ethic, but I was learning as I went,” Meredyth admits. “For my first food and beverage show—the Virginia Department of Agriculture show—I took some cranberry shrub. I didn’t even have a web site up yet. But I won an award. I’ve just kind of taken it from there. I have been lucky in being able to use all of my work and life experiences to build Mother Shrub into a business that I can be proud of.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a quick pivot for Mother Shrub, which was the shift toward selling online through organizations like FLF&LR. “I was doing a lot of events, wholesale shows, and selling through brick-and-mortar retail outlets. When all this happened, some orders were cancelled. I had to rethink my approach. It had been in the back of my mind to work with you for years.”

“I am very happy with sales on FLF&LR. There are definitely more people buying online right now. I have loved seeing how people hear about me online. My shrub goes out to Boston, Los Angeles, and tons of other places across the country. This current situation lets me revisit the local food scene. After all, it’s the support of the local community that helped me start my stuff. I feel like it’s all come full circle.”

Talk about special ingredients! Combine five strong mothers (Meredyth, Martha, Mattie Ardenia, Ella Mae, and Myrna), a couple of strong and brilliant men (Meredyth’s dad, her sons, and her husband Fielding), that magical fermented vinegar mother, a good helping of inspiration, a 19th-century recipe, some fascinating family history, organic pressed fruit juice, and organic raw sugar and you have the result: a set of shrubs that’s become popular not only here in Virginia, but across the country. Once you try Mother Shrub, you’ll see why.

Published: 05/30/2020

“The Flavor is Up to the Cheese”: A New Producer Profile on Twenty Paces

A product of well managed sheep and four partners who share a commitment to making great cheese, Twenty Paces is a business that we can really get behind here at Fall Line Farms and Local Roots (FLF&LR). This delicious sheep’s milk cheese is produced in a way that prioritizes the health of the animals and the responsible use of the land they graze. Located in Albermarle County, nestled in the rolling hills between Charlottesville and Scottsville, Twenty Paces is one of three agribusinesses that operate on Bellair Farm, a 1200-acre farm established in the 1700s.

For our members who value artisanal foods, Twenty Paces is sure to become a favorite. There just aren’t many cheesemakers in the country who focus mainly on sheep’s milk cheese—only about fifty in the whole United States. That already makes Twenty Paces unusual. But it’s the rest of their story that makes Twenty Paces such a good fit for Fall Line Farms and Local Roots. We think our members will fall in love not only with the taste of this absolutely delicious local, artisanal farmstead cheese, but also with the love, thought, and care with which it is produced.

“We make farmstead cheese,” explains Kyle Kilduff, who oversees the cheesemaking part of the business with his colleague Bridge Cox. “Farmstead cheese is produced on a farm and made solely from milk that’s produced on that particular farm. It’s a European artisanal model. It compares roughly with estate wines, made on a particular estate with grapes that were grown on location.”
Great farmstead cheese requires deep attention to the farmstead itself, and that element of the business is handled by Tom Pyne, who, with his wife Melanie, make up the other half of the Twenty Paces partnership. Tom’s background is in grassland agronomy and forage-livestock systems. He designed and oversees the Management Intensive Grazing model followed by the partners. This system ensures the good health and milk production of their sheep, while also contributing to the taste and flavor development of Twenty Paces cheese. As the pastures change throughout the growing season, the changing flora influences various components the milk produced by the grazing ewes (notably fat and protein). This, in turn, results in nuanced textural and flavor changes in the cheese.

“Management Intensive Grazing, or MIG as it’s called in the livestock world, is a pasture-based system that’s way more specific than the broader practice of simple rotational grazing,” explains Kyle. “Rotational grazing, done the normal way, can sometimes mean that one part of the animal’s pasture gets pretty beaten up and bare. At Twenty Paces, we pay attention to what’s growing in the area during different times of the year. Even in one field, there are differences. For example, one area of an individual pasture might have more growth and different plants in it because it gets more sun.”

“Our animals are moved twice a day, after each milking.” Kyle explains. “We used netted fences that are easy to move around. We do that for pasture health, to keep the sheep from grazing down to the dirt. That helps with internal parasites [a common issue with sheep production in Virginia], because they don’t stay in one place long enough to pick them up from the ground. Also, new forage entices them to graze more. They sort of compete with one another to get the new food, so you get more milk. It’s a good system for the animals and for us. If we used a more traditional rotation method, we’d have to feed more grain and hay in the [milking] parlor.”

According to Kyle, focusing on the forage means that, for the most part, grain is offered only in the parlor during milking: “For us, it’s all about the health of the sheep. Animals in great shape give great milk. We supplement with some grain while they’re milking so that they’re healthy and get a little extra nutrition beyond what they gain from the forage. Because we milk twice a day, the small amount of grain they enjoy gives us insurance that they have top-notch nutrition.”

Twenty Paces will be selling three types of cheeses on our pages. The first is a feta, which they have only been making for about a year. Their feta is dense, crumbly, salty, and acidic. They’ll also be selling an aged pecorino-style cheese that they call Hardware. This is a raw sheep cheese made in the style of pecorino and aged 12 months. It can be enjoyed by itself of shaved in salads or pastas. The hardware and feta will be available year-round.

Their delicious and delicately textured ricotta, a seasonal cheese, was previously available only to restaurants and chefs through wholesale. Sarah Adduci, cheesemonger at RVA’s Belmont Butchery, says that she considers Twenty Paces ricotta a “signifier of spring,” with its delicate texture and flavor and its ability to blend with both sweet and savory garden-fresh elements.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Twenty Paces will now be offering this lovely cheese through sellers like Fall Line Farms and Local Roots and other local outlets. What a treat for us!

“We had always meant to offer it for retail sale eventually,” says Kyle, “but the pandemic has changed our plans. Now we hope that local folks will enjoy adding it to their market shares. It’s delicate and it can’t be shipped, unlike the aged cheeses.”

Twenty Paces ricotta will be available only from April through October, as it can be produced only while the sheep are lactating. Unlike cows, which lactate for 12-14 months and goats, which lactate for 9 months, sheep only provide milk for six months. That’s one of the challenges in focusing exclusively on sheep’s cheese.

“It’s a fast and furious cheese-making season,” laughs Kyle. “Sheep’s milk is almost double in fat and protein compared to goats and cows. It allows lambs to put on their growth faster. All of this is why we focus on aged raw milk cheese and not just fresh. If we made only fresh, we’d only have a 6 or 7 month window for production and sales. Making aged cheeses allows us to go all year. We try to lamb and begin milking in mid-to-end march because we know we can put the animals on pasture then. Then we finish up milking in September. We can sell the aged cheese when the fresh isn’t available.”

Twenty Paces works hard to be a good neighbor to other local food businesses. “We have a unique situation,” explains Kyle Kilduff. “We leased land from Bellair Farm, which is a private property, and built on that leased land to create the rest of our operation. We formed our LLC in 2013 and began with both sheep and goats. In 2015, we built the creamery and produced our first aged cheese. We’re separate from the Bellair CSA, but we work closely with them and they sell our cheeses. It’s a good relationship.”

They have another close relationship with Caromont Farm, which just joined FLF&LR recently. Bridge and Kyle began making cheese professionally right down the road at Caromont, and they maintain a cordial and cooperative relationship with Gail Hobbs Page. In fact, it was Gail who suggested that they contact FLF&LR to consider selling through our pages. They will be coordinating to deliver products of each farm to our market each Thursday, further showing that they fit right in to the collaborative community that we value here at FLF&LR.

So order your Twenty Paces cheese and get ready for a treat. There’s a lot of imagination, good faith, and great practice that leads to delectable, noteworthy sheep’s milk cheese!

Published: 05/24/2020

Good Energy! A New Producer Profile on M Henry Design

Catherine Fleischman, owner of M Henry Design, is pretty much Cumberland County’s version of the energizer bunny. She takes a run most days, is active in a number of community organizations in her native county. She serves as President of the Board of The Center for Rural Culture (CRC). In fact, on Thursdays Catherine has recently pitched in and become part of the intrepid crew of volunteers handling deliveries for Fall Line Farms and Local Roots (FLF&LR), one of the CRC’s major programs. Catherine is an avid horsewoman and once served as first whip for the Hounds of Deep Run Hunt Club. She and her husband Luke also run a vacation rental business and a farm together. And as if that isn’t enough, she also runs a floral design business: M Henry Design.

Fortunately for the members of FLF&LR, M Henry Design now sells their beautiful fresh bouquets through this non-profit online market. Right now, there are regular- and large-size bouquets of fresh flowers and greenery available for sale. And members who want to honor a frontline medical professional in the Richmond area can order a bouquet and have it delivered by the M Henry Design staff!

Catherine runs her business with the same civic focus that’s evident in her personal life. For the last two months, M Henry Design has shown up every other Friday at the Cumberland Community Cares food bank with arrangements to go home with the folks who come there for food.

“Everybody loves flowers!” Catherine declares. “They’re a great way to brighten someone’s day. Flowers are what we can share, and we enjoy sharing with our neighbors.” Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, M Henry stepped up their game and they now deliver every Friday. “On Friday, volunteers and people picking up groceries are brightened and excited by this. It’s the least we can do,” she says.

Catherine’s mother, Carolyn Stonnell Baber, introduced her to the art of floral arrangement early on: “Mom was a passionate entertainer and a committed garden clubber. Flowers were everywhere when I was kid, and there were Christmas decorations every winter.” With a laugh, she adds, “We were foraging before it was cool!”

Catherine Fleischman got her first taste of being a florist as a junior in college. She worked for The Tropical Treehouse on Cary Street. She stayed with them several years, eventually becoming the manager of their store in the West End. In 1989, she left floral arranging to purchase and run Richmond Saddlery.

Ten years ago, Catherine met Mary Henry—the founder of M Henry Design. Mary had moved to Cumberland from Baltimore and the two became neighbors, then friends, and eventually colleagues. Catherine began helping Mary with the business part time, while still teaching full time at Cumberland High School. When Mary was ready to step back, Catherine stepped up and purchased the company. The two friends still work together, making beautiful arrangements for weddings, parties, and a number of special events.

“We use a lot of local flowers,” Catherine explains. “We order from local growers. And we’re working to grow more of our own, too. That’s our big thing. We love arranging flowers, but we also love gardening. We’re not afraid to get dirty!”

FLF&LR members can order bouquets to be delivered with their other items on Thursday, but they can also order flowers to be sent to those who are working on the front lines of the pandemic. M Henry Design will deliver them to medical facilities around the Richmond area. Asked about offering FLF&LR members the opportunity to send arrangements to medical folks, Catherine says, “This is the evolution of our business, changing to fit needs. We have been a wedding and event florist, but COVID-19 really changed things for that industry. We’re having to reinvent in order to be essential. To me, locally sourced flowers are a way to be essential.”

According to Catherine, flowers are especially important now because “they make people feel good, and this is a time when our society is waiting and seeing. It’s hard. And these medical workers are absolutely scrambling and putting themselves in harm’s way for others. This is one way that we can give back and let them know we’re grateful.”

Civic-minded is one keyword when it comes to the philosophy behind M Henry Design. Another one is “sustainable.” One of the first solar installations in Cumberland County was on the farm where Catherine lives with her husband, Luke. Now, she’s made a second investment in green energy by installing solar panels on her business.

“Choosing to go solar at the shop is my way of combining all of my passions and strength and energy into what I want to do for the next 10 years,” says Catherine. “Being green is important to me as a master naturalist, teacher, renovator, wife, community member, artist, gardener, and citizen. I feel fortunate to be able to make this come together by growing flowers and putting them in vases and bringing them into people’s lives. We’ve been generating on our farm since 2006, and that decision came from being aware of the environment and the impact humanity has. For me, being in the golden years of my employment, I am just interested in doing what I really feel needs to be done. Solar is a no-brainer for me. Our planet needs it; our economy needs it; our flowers need it.”

Catherine runs her business in a way that meets her overall mission in life—making her community better. As the President of the Board of the CRC, It’s a point of pride for her that the organization contributes to maintaining and strengthening the rural economy in places like Cumberland County: “Independent small farmers who feed their communities are the neighbors that I want to have,” she says. “I want to do everything I can to make sure that our economy—which is actually sustainable—is nurturing to nature. That’s the economy we need. The COVID situation is proving that. We are realizing that local farmers can offer a superior product in taste, freshness, and artisanship. Not just good food, but valuable food.”

Each bouquet of flowers from M Henry Designs has power behind it. Yes—solar power. But also the power of ensuring that local farms and small businesses are here to feed us—both body and soul. As Catherine says herself, “It’s not that we need to consume a lot—it’s that we need to consume purposefully and meaningfully.”

You can feel very good about a bouquet from M Henry Design, and not just because it’s beautiful.

To learn more about M Henry Design, visit their website at www.mhenrydesign.com and follow them on social media: @mhenrydesign.

Published: 05/10/2020

New Producer Profile: Caromont Farm Goat Cheese

Since 2007, Gail Hobbs Page has been making goat cheese at Caromont Farm in Esmont, Virginia, just outside of Charlottesville. This cheese makes people sit up and take notice! We’re overjoyed to add this artisan, small batch cheese an option at FLF&LR. When we added it to our producer list last week for its “soft opening,” it was clear that Caromont Farm already had a following among our members. In fact, several folks sent messages thanking us for adding it to our list.

“We’re small,” says Gail, “We have a 5-person staff. But our cheese does have a national profile. Until COVID-19 hit, we’d done well selling through distributors in the region: Richmond, Charlottesville, D.C., Williamsburg. The pandemic has changed how we do things, though. We’re having to reconfigure, like a lot of other small businesses. My husband was the restaurant manager at Hamilton’s [on the downtown mall in Charlottesville], and I used to be the chef there a long time ago, before I started doing this. Obviously, he’s not working there now, and we’re not selling cheese to restaurants. That’s why we’re looking for opportunities through organizations like Fall Line Farms and Local Roots. We like to sell as much as we can locally, so this fits our business model well.”

If this week’s sales were any indication, Caromont Cheese is a good fit for us, too. Lots of it went home with our members—and sales are brisk again this weekend. This cheese is everything we hope to offer to you—delicious, local, and lovingly handmade in small batches by an artisan who loves her craft. And her goats!

“We have 100 goats in our herd,” says Gail. “There are Alpines, Lamanchas, and Saanens on our farm. People love the goats, and they bring visitors here, too. We had already sold a lot of tickets for agritourism events for this summer when this [pandemic] hit. We’re just waiting to see what we’re going to be able to do about letting people visit the farm.”

Isabella “Izzy” Zechini, one of the staff members at Caromont, confirms that the goats—especially when they’re little—hold a strong attraction for visitors. “The snuggle sessions with the baby goats are really popular,” she says. “But people have been very understanding. Lots of people who purchased tickets to the farm have donated them back to the farm. We’re going to plan events for the fall to thank the folks who are sticking with us.”

Sadly, we can’t bring you a baby goat to snuggle. But we can bring you this award-winning local cheese that’s surrounded by a national buzz. In case you haven’t already perused the list, here’s the lowdown. Caromont offers 7 different options. Five of them are in the Chèvre category: mild and creamy Farmstead Chèvre with no added flavorings; an Herbes de Provence Chèvre log, rolled in herbs and perfect for cheese plates; Piquillo Pepper Chèvre, featuring sweet piquillo peppers; and Truffle Chèvre, with white Italian truffle. All of them are delectable! There’s also the Mt. Alto--a traditional Greek-style feta that’s briny and creamy, but perfect for crumbling. Last but not least, there are two types of queso de campo, or country-style cheese that’s semi-hard and a bit less salty than the feta. You can order your queso de campo plain or with olive oil and chili. You can’t go wrong either way. Seriously.

It may sound cheesy, but we’re thrilled to have Caromont Farm on FLF&LR. From the looks of it, our members share our enthusiasm!

Published: 05/08/2020

New Producer Profile: Clean Conscience Chocolate

“Our chocolate is not candy,” explains Steve Kennedy, “It’s real food.” Not many chocolatiers can make that claim, but Steve and his wife Mary have a valid argument.

Clean Conscience Chocolate is a small artisan chocolate company in Gordonsville, Virginia, not far from Charlottesville. Every piece is made by hand, and the term “small-batch” really fits their process. Mary has been a professional chocolatier for more than fourteen years. The company is nearly 2 ½ years old and was created when she and Steve decided to focus on making healthy snacks that aligned with their lifestyle.

They focused their first year on developing and perfecting their recipes and methods to make their chocolate snacks absolutely the best they could offer. They also worked to make sure that their products reflected their personal commitment to being both clean and green. (Yes--all of their packaging, including their labels, is actually fully compostable!)

When the pandemic hit and social distancing drove people into their homes to stay safe, sales began to drop precipitously. Because most of their business was wholesale they’ve had to rethink their marketing and distribution plan. Like all small businesses in the local food economy, they had to pivot. That’s why their chocolate made it to our pages more quickly than anticipated.

Steve and Mary are scrupulous about their craft. They use only 100% natural ingredients. The chocolates are vegan, non-GMO, paleo-friendly, dairy/gluten/soy-free, and don’t contain any refined sugar or preservatives. “It’s clean eating,” says Steve, “and we’re proud of that. In fact, that’s why we chose our name. You can really feel great about enjoying our chocolates. It’s really good for you, and it’s filling. In fact, it’s my lunch almost every day!”

All of the chocolate is single-origin and comes from a grower in Ecuador. “It comes from the only certified biodynamic chocolate source in the world,” says Steve, “so it’s a step above organic and fair trade in that they have only sustainable, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly practices in their entire supply chain. The chocolate is actually raw so it has more nutrients than traditional chocolate We don’t add any fillers, so it’s also good for people who have food sensitivities. We use raw organic cane sugar and maple syrup as a sweetener for the fillings, and so little of it that some diabetics consider us diabetic friendly.”

But it’s the delicate floral flavor of the chocolate, which is naturally dried by the sun rather than roasted, that makes their products distinctive.

Their peppermint patties were an early bestseller and are particularly popular with women, followed by their peanut butter cups, almond butter cups, and coconut joys. According to Steve, each of their creations has a following, and all are now running neck-and-neck in popularity. They even offer a sipping chocolate, perfect for the few nippy days left in spring.

This is chocolate that has been carefully researched, then with great care and love, incorporated into the recipes. It’s also very thoughtfully presented.

“We were also really intentional about the packaging,” Steve notes, “as we wanted to make sure that we stayed completely in line with our goal of creating a guilt-free food. We go a bit against the grain on presentation. You won’t see fancy, eye-catching packaging. Instead, we keep it simple and--literally--transparent. And our packaging is compostable, too.”

Stay safe, stay well, and eat your chocolate. With a clean conscience, of course!

You can follow Clean Conscience Chocolate on Facebook: @cleanconsciencechocolate. They're also on Etsy.

Published: 04/26/2020

Bloody Brilliant: The Local Social Enterprise Behind Back Pocket Provisions

A NOTE FROM THE INTERVIEWER/AUTHOR

I know I’ve said this before, but it really bears repeating: one of the coolest parts of being me (Marketing and Promotions Director for Fall Line Farms and Local Roots) is that I get to interview our producers and talk to them about what they do, then introduce them to you. It never fails that after talking with every one of them, I’ve come away inspired, informed, and feeling very optimistic about the possibility of making local food an even larger part of the economic picture in our region. Together, we can preserve farms and make great food even more widely available--just by enjoying it! Back Pocket Provisions serves as just the right kind of business model for bringing something delicious to consumers, while also providing critically important economic opportunity for tomato growers across the state of Virginia. And let’s not discount the fact that, in creating such a tasty line of Bloody Mary mixes, Back Pocket Provisions is winning converts to local food all of the time just because of the taste!

In this interview, I spoke with Will Gray, the CEO of this impressive social enterprise. I hear you asking already: “Social enterprise? What is that? Read on and you’ll learn the definition, plus a lot of other cool things about Will, Back Pocket, and how this product’s benefits go well beyond just the enjoyment of a wonderful drink.

THE INTERVIEW

Katie: Thank you so much for talking with me today, Will! I know our members will be excited to learn more about your product, which they already seem to be enjoying without even knowing the story—or should I say stories—behind it. Can we start with the name of the business: Back Pocket Provisions? Where did that come from?

Will: (Laughs.) Well, there isn’t really too much of a story. Sometimes I like to say that we came up with the name because we source ugly tomatoes, so the farmers love keeping us in their back pockets! (Laughs.) And that’s really part of it. But it actually all started when I was first in D.C. and working as a private chef. Not a classically trained chef—just a proud line cook. I cooked professionally for number of years. I just love the alchemy of turning food into other food! Anyhow, I was doing some small event catering at the same time. It was a side hustle. Cooking—making food—was the skill that I kept in my “back pocket” while I was looking for work in the food system.

Katie: That’s a better story than you think it is, actually: we love a company founded on inspiration and a love of good food! Can you tell me a little bit about the beginnings—who and what was involved in getting this off the ground, and who is involved now?

Will: My sister, Jennifer Beckman, worked with me early on. She’s a longtime supporter and Bloody Mary drinker. She’s also an attorney and an award-winning recipe writer. She helped us get up and running. Our current crew is small but mighty. Trey Corrin handles our back office work and manages markets in Charlottesville. Heidi Chaya works out of Front Royal; she’s a content writer and digital marketing expert. She’s the one collecting and presenting our farmers’ stories. Kevin Zeithamlis based in Richmond, and he handles RVA-based events and in-store support. And COVID moved Sam Eldridge into our art and external-facing production from his home office in Upstate New York.
Katie: Well, you’ve come up with a great idea for reducing food waste and helping farmers make money. For example, you use "ugly tomatoes," meaning the tomatoes that taste delicious but may be misshapen or have other superficial flaws that keep them from being retail-worthy. I’m curious about those tomatoes and about how you achieve consistency in the taste of your product when you’re sourcing different tomatoes from different farms. Do you even worry about that?

Will: I love that question! We definitely care about consistency in quality, because we want our customers to have an amazing craft cocktail experience. We want their reaction to be, “Wow! That’s really fresh!” But guess what—if we make a batch that’s 50% Hanover Slicers, then it’s going to taste different from a batch that’s 50% Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Different batches will definitely have a different taste. That’s why we always say, “Shake before pouring. Appreciate subtle differences.” The differences are a feature, not a flaw!

We’ve all spent a lot of time eating way over-processed tomatoes and products with exact scalability. For big companies, it’s all about predictability of taste. Not ours. It’s all about the tomatoes, and come on--they’re different every season! Back Pocket Provisions’ Bloody Mary mix won’t taste the same every time you try it. That’s just not how nature works. That’s not how food works. Who would trade all the wonderful nuances of seasonality and flavor to make sure that the food is identical every time? If we’re sourcing from Appalachian Sustainable Development, the tomatoes are going to taste different from those grown in RVA and Hanover. We go with what’s great and what’s in season. Terroir is the point of an heirloom tomato!

Katie: Can you talk a little bit about your product line and how you come up with the ideas for each delicious Bloody Mary mix? And please tell us more about your collaborative projects—like the Bloody Blue Ridge that you worked with Ian Boden of The Shack to make. Will you be doing more collaborations?

Will: [Bloody] Brilliant is our flagship, and that won’t change. It’s pretty much the classic. Bloody Baja was our second recipe, and it was kind of a sleeper favorite for us. What sets it apart is the corn juice and the texture. The smokiness and heat make it fun and different--different from most Bloody Marys that people have had. Maybe it’s the bartender in me, but I think Baja is really fun for making cocktails. And Bloody Bangkok has that Asian flair. Great for making a distinctive Bloody!

Bloody Blue Ridge was a collaborative effort for us, as you pointed out. We came out with it last fall. Ian makes a fabulous ghost pepper and sorghum hot sauce, and Bridget Meagher of Catbird Sauce Company in Charlottesville makes the vegan Worcestershire that gives the mix its umami. And yes--it was such a great experience working with them that we have nothing but plans to do a whole series! Unfortunately, COVID-19 has kept us from being able to do it the same way we did with Blue Ridge, so nothing this year. But we’re looking for other ways to collaborate. And we’re doing another run of Blue Ridge, same recipe. We’ve just been blown away by the positive feedback.

We originally envisioned that we’d only do [the collaborative mixes] only once, but the response has been so good that we may just keep adding to the lineup. (Laughs.) Our entire life is a test kitchen right now. So, yes—we will do another collaboration, as soon as it’s feasible.

Katie: When I first saw your mission statement (“Our mission is to make life more healthy, delicious, and fun by helping small farms succeed”), I just knew you were going to be a great match for FLF&LR. I hope our members will go to your website (link provided below) and read more about Back Pocket Provisions and the philosophy and thought behind it. So impressive! Can you talk a little about your inspiration for starting the business?

Will: Absolutely! I had been working in the local food system for about 12 years. I came to this as an eater. I love to eat and drink. They’re two of the great passions of my life. I was lucky and had the opportunity to get into food service young. I spent time working in kitchens when I was in college in Charlottesville, and I became fascinated with the stories behind the food, the culture of the food—where it all comes from. I began to think about that, and I also began to notice how broken the American food system is. It became really clear to me that it was—and still is—very difficult to make a living as a farmer. I was privileged to grow up in a family who owned land. My father was a bit of a back-to-earth guy, a gentleman farmer. We grew up valuing food, growing it ourselves. Lots of gardening! As a ten-year-old, I didn’t pay attention. Not yet. Then I kind of lived it through the restaurants where I worked. And it all eventually sunk in. Now I feel called not only to pay attention, but to take action to make things better for farmers.

Katie: Yes, And, in turn, for people who appreciate a good Bloody Mary and other great local foods and beverages, right?

Will: Right. The whole time I was working in food, I was thinking and learning. I worked for a while at The Rock Barn, a Nelson County farm-to-table catering company that pivoted into sustainable nose-to-tail hog processing. Later, I worked for a national food non-profit in D.C., The Wallace Center. It was at the Wallace Center that I began to see problems on a national scale. While I was still there, my sister and I launched Back Pocket Provisions as a side project. We feel so lucky to have been able to create this—something that practices local procurement and is useful to farmers. It was about a year and a half ago that I made the jump to full-time CEO.

Katie: On your website, you say, “Back Pocket Provisions is a social enterprise. That means that while we’re a for-profit company, we make decisions about how we work based on furthering our mission, not just increasing our margin.” I know that our members would be interested in knowing more about how that plays out in the way you do business. Tell me about that.

Will: We really are a for-profit social enterprise. We use the mechanism of capitalism and business, but rather than maximizing profit for shareholders, we try to optimize for social good. In our case, the social good is our mission. The problem that Back Pocket Provisions is trying to solve is that it’s hard to have a successful life as a small farmer without compromising on certain values. We don’t want our farmers to have to compromise, and we want them to make a good living. So we operate Back Pocket Provisions in a way that serves our farmers. We use the financial levers of the market, creating business that serves social good. We like to joke that we’re unusual, because at Back Pocket, the customer comes second. Our products and our customers are our means—supporting a stronger food system is our end.

Katie: I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed talking with you, Will. And I can’t tell you how pleased we are to be working with you. I hope you’re enjoying the Fall Line Farms and Local Roots experience!

Will: We are really happy with it. Sales have exceeded our expectations. But I have to say that one of my favorite things about being part of this is the Thursday producer drop-off. I think it’s such a great opportunity. In a business, it’s so easy for everything to be so intellectual, but seeing this giant group of growers and makers going this way and that way every Thursday morning, exchanging fresh flowers and tomatoes and veggies and stuff—I have really enjoyed it. It’s a great community-led effort to distribute community-made-and-grown goods.

Katie: Thank you so much for your time, Will. It’s been a pleasure. And I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Will: Thanks. I’ve enjoyed it, too.

ne last bit of local food wisdom from Will—a reminder of what seasonal eating is all about: “Eating locally is an ideological and political act, but it’s also treating yourself. Rather than wanting to have everything all the time it’s the opportunity to have the best things when they’re available and at their best.”


What can I say? The guy is, well, Bloody Brilliant!


Shop for Back Pocket Provisions on our FLF&LR buying pages:

Visit the Back Pocket Provisions website https://www.backpocketprovisions.com/ where you’ll find information on their farmers and products and some wonderful recipes for cocktails and mocktails!

You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram at @backpocketprovisions.

Published: 10/02/2020

Producer Profile: Snowing in Space Coffee Company. Not the Usual!

“We’re a bunch of scrappy dudes,” says Amber Slaughter, Assistant Roaster and Jill-of-All-Trades at Snowing in Space Coffee. “We run on a skeleton crew. We do everything differently. We’re weird in a good way. Kids at heart, really. Our curiosity as a company never dies!”

You can hear the smile in her voice when Amber, an enthusiastic spokesperson for her employer, talks about what their small team has accomplished over the past three-plus years: “Snowing in Space was established in 2016 by two friends, Paul Dierkes and Joel Artz, who turned their new-found love of cold brew into a business. And thus, Snowing in Space Coffee began.”

The two friends are film buffs, which shows up in a couple of interesting ways. First, there’s the name of Snowing in Space Coffee. Laughing, Amber says, “These guys are all about all things Bill Murray. The phrase ‘snowing in space’ came from an obscure line in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray’s character was trying to make a call from Punxsutawney, PA. He can’t get a connection, and he is frustrated and wonders out loud if it’s because it’s snowing in space.“

It turns out that these two scrappy dudes have also had some excellent adventures together, enjoying success along the way. (No wonder two of their coffees are named “Bill” and “Ted.” )

“Joel is a graphic designer and web guy, and Paul is great at talking with people,” Amber says. “They’ve worked together to build Snowing in Space, and it reflects their humor and their sense of fun.”
Almost everything about this company is playful. Just take one look at the Snowing in Space Coffee website [link below], and you’ll see the humor and creativity that Amber both admires and reflects. Mail order customers can choose the style of bags that they prefer. Hit the “Shop” button, and the lines that introduce you to the page are, “These bags don’t match your shoes—only your level of rock ‘em, sock ‘em. From bantam to heavyweight, choose your preferred level of Kapow! and how dark you like your magic. Then choose which style—Creature or Rainbow—you want to greet on your doorstep.”

The Snowing in Space Coffee website is entertainment in its own right. Seriously. Even the bags are quirky and fun!
“Joel is the creative director. You can see his influence in the packaging, which he has designed. We have three different kinds of bags: the metallic finish rainbow bags and the creature bags came first. Now there are the new puppet bags, which go along with the rainbow metallic theme.”

Each of the coffees is named after one of the company’s “caffeine creatures,” each of whom has a backstory that’s original to Snowing in Space. Even Bill and Ted, whose names are borrowed from the classic buddy film, have their own Snowing- in-Space-specific personalities.

“These caffeine creatures are definitely part of our brand”, says Amber. “If you go on the website and scroll past the bags, you’re introduced to the creatures and their bios. Big Blue comes off as a stoner who’s oddly pretentious about jazz. Gimme Dat is a rambunctious kind of guy. Halfsies is a gal who’s kinda all over the place. No telling how Joel and Paul came up with this stuff. Joel is just amazingly creative in a direction that no one else takes.”

Amber began in sales, but her perfect fit with the sensibilities of the company soon led to her becoming Assistant Roaster and Head of Fulfillment, as well as being a self-declared Jill-of-all-trades: “I do whatever it takes,” she declares cheerfully.”You’ll find me working on E-commerce, roasting—even on the canning line when that’s what needs to be done. I learned to roast from Ericka, our head roaster. And that’s just the coolest thing—we’re an anomaly in the coffee industry. Ericka and I are both female roasters. There aren’t many of us in Virginia. Actually, there aren’t many of us, period.”

So that’s just one more charming and unexpected element of Snowing in Space Coffee.

Clearly, Snowing in Space is not your usual coffee company. Their website is a great example of how talented they are at drawing you in. You actually want to explore more and to read the whole thing because it’s just so funny and interesting. It’s a great mind-break during a pandemic, for sure. But for all the humor, you also see the seriousness with which the folks at Snowing in Space take the quality of the product they offer. All of the fun and creativity are for naught if the coffee’s no good—and this coffee is really, really good.

Turns out that the scrappy dudes know what they’re doing in choosing and roasting the beans, which are all certified fair trade and single-origin. They buy organically grown beans, and are working on the certification for that, too. Their practices certainly make them a good fit for the Fall Line farms and Local Roots producer lineup—not to mention the fact that our members love good coffee.

Our members can purchase this “supercool power fuel” in whole bean form on our pages, or in cans of nitro cold brew. Either way, they’re sure to enjoy the experience of “refueliing their rad” with this “super-amazing power fuel.”

Party on, dudes! Snowing in Space will provide just the right coffee for your excellent adventure.

*************************

To learn more about the caffeine creatures and to pick up the rad vibe of Snowing in Space Coffee , visit their website: www.snowinginspace.com.

You can also find them on social media: @snowinginspace.

Published: 09/11/2020

Peaches, Apples, and Family History: Drumheller's Orchard

Oh, the taste of summer peaches and the crunch of a crisp fall apple! The Drumheller family knows these pleasures well, and they’ve worked for five generations now to bring them to you, too. We think they’re a perfect fit for our Fall Line Farms and Local Roots community. They’re a small local business, family owned and operated. They expand our offerings of seasonal fruits and they use that fruit as the basis for some wonderful handmade, small-batch, value-added products. (Have your tried the pluot jam? A revelation!) And like the rest of our FLF&LR community, Drumheller’s Orchard is committed to the kind of collaboration and community that makes our non-profit local food market work to the advantage of others in Central Virginia’s local food system.

Less than a hundred miles from Richmond, Drumheller’s Orchard is just far enough away from RVA and has enough higher altitude for apples and peaches and pluots to thrive. Morgan Drumheller Johnston, a fourth-generation orchardist and the spokeperson for the business, is proud of what her family has accomplished and is excited about being connected with the other producers in the FLF&LR family.

“Dad (Kevin Drumheller) handles the orchards,” explains Morgan. “I handle the berries. I’m getting ready to send tissue samples off to see how they’re doing. That way, I can find out what they’re lacking, what they need for balance. Our blueberry and blackberry patches were planted at the same time. They’ve done well. We offer pick-your-own berries only right now, but I want to plant a wholesale patch sometime soon. I’m always thinking about how to expand. We’ll probably increase the size of our pick-your own operation and add wholesale at the same time. It’s all about what our customers want!”

The Drumhellers have become quite good at figuring out what their customers need and want, and there’s a lot of pride and joy for them in delivering it.

“When I was a kid, all I remember is working around the orchard with my family. We grew up helping out. That’s why we have such a work ethic now,” Morgan explains. “In the 1980s, we took out all of the peaches and grew apples only—five varieties. I was born in 1987, when Dad was 23. He and his two brothers worked here with my grandfather. Dad ran the orchard part of the business. My uncle worked here and ran the retail part. Back then, we also grew for grocery chains and packed the fruit to go off to grocery stores. That’s not our business model anymore. We’ve stopped selling to grocery stores altogether now. We sell through the farm and other smaller outlets like FLF&LR, though there are beginning to be some ‘local’ sections in grocery stores again. Right now, we have 21 different varieties of apples. We carry a wide variety to accommodate canning, cooking sauce, cakes, and eating out of hand. It’s all about meeting the needs of the people who support us.”

This family business began in 1937, when E.O. and Eva Drumheller decided to take on an abandoned farm in Lovingston, Virginia and bring it back to life. They began pruning and caring for the fruit trees that had been untended for so long. In doing so, they mingled their own family’s roots inextricably with those of the trees. Those roots have borne beautiful fruit, and we’re not just talking about apples and pluots and peaches. Four additional generations of Drumhellers have lived on this property and run the family business ever since.

Laughing, Morgan shares a family story about her great-grandfather and the beginnings of Drumheller’s Orchard.

“He didn’t even know everything he had when he took on that farm,” she says. “He was pruning trees on the farm he had just bought, and he had hired two local men to work with him. At the end of a long day, he made what he thought was the last cut. He looked at the men and said, ‘Well, we’re done.’ They looked back at him and said, ‘No, Mr. Drumheller. You have another side of the hollow to do.’ Turns out there were about 500 more trees to prune!”

About her great-grandfather, Morgan says, “I didn’t know him, but they say he was a firecracker. A joker, ornery and fun. I knew my great-grandmother, though. She passed away when I was 15. She was a very wholesome, humble lady. She never drove. She was a homemaker, made everything from scratch. I remember she used SunHigh peaches for preserves and pies. They were her favorites for that. She also loved to read. I loved spending time with her. We’d sit and watch The Sound of Music together. When my great-grandfather died, she decided to travel and went to Disney World. She was 89 when she passed away. She was a person you could go to with your problems. Calm, humble. I was lucky to have known her.”
Doris Drumheller is Morgan’s grandmother. “She’s 80 and goes like she’s 50,” Morgan laughs. “She and my grandfather ran the orchard and inherited it when his parents passed away. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She works just as hard as the rest of us!”

Right now, the hardworking crew at Drumheller’s Orchard brings apples, peaches, and pluots for sale to our members. For those who care to take the beautiful drive to their gorgeous Lovingston property, all of these fruits are currently available in their farm store, and there are also u-pick blueberries and blackberries.

You never know when they might add some new varieties to their already impressive array.

“While we were selling to grocery stores, it was apples only,” says Morgan. “We added peaches back about 20 years ago. We saw a need, and the peaches let us get back to our roots, back to how the orchard began. Now we have two very large peach blocks—all hand planted. There are about 500 trees per block. We added the pluots when we added the peaches. Then about 7 ½ years ago, we tried another large block of peaches, and we found the ones our customers preferred. Once we know what people like, we plant those in the larger blocks.”

Nothing at the orchard goes to waste, and because they’re good businesspeople, the Drumhellers understand the importance of value-added items that can be sold all year. Morgan says, “Our pluot jam is really great. We make it here in small batches. I made jam for my daughter with them, and she loved it. I use the variety of pluot that’s green on the outside and purple on the inside. They’re both tart and sweet, so they have a distinctive taste. This jam is great for a marinade on a roast or in salad dressing. It’s also great on toast of course—or in a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.”

Asked if she knew that she was destined to be a fruit maven, Morgan says, “Yes. It’s all I’ve ever known. I grew up here, riding tractors, hooking up equipment. I’ve been on the farm with my dad almost my whole life. I worked here while I was in high school, but I made good grades the whole time. I also worked away from the farm for two, two and a half years. But I came back. This isn’t an easy job, but what job is? It’s just so gratifying knowing that you work with your family. My dad’s my hero—my biggest inspiration for doing what I do. I’m really proud to be his daughter. Not too long ago, a guy came out to work on our refrigeration unit. He gave me the biggest compliment he could ever give me when he said, ‘you’re just like your dad.’ I hope I am!”

At the same time, Morgan admits that life in the orchard isn’t always, well, peachy: “There are some pretty hard times. I ask myself why we do what we do sometimes, meaning this family business. I’ve really mulled it over. It comes down to this: we do what we do for the people who appreciate the way we grow our fruit and the kinds of fruits we choose to grow. Like an older person who wants a really good piece of fruit, the kind that brings back memories for them. An older variety. We also do it for the people who appreciate knowing where their food is coming from. They’re getting a really good quality piece of fruit, and they know what’s behind it. It’s really gratifying to help that family learn about the different varieties of each fruit and which is best for each purpose. I love knowing that they can come here if they want to and see where their fruit comes from. They can walk out back and see the orchard and the views. We love it when they want to visit!”

Along with directly connecting to visitors to the orchard, Morgan has come to appreciate what it means to be a member of a market like FLF&LR and our sister hub in the Williamsburg area, KelRae Farms: “I like knowing that we’re in a community with a lot of other family farms and businesses, helping support each other.”

It’s clear that Morgan loves what she does. She loves the connection to her family and her customers. And though times can get tough, she considers it all worthwhile: “Mother Nature is a tough boss,” she says. “You just have to have faith. You pray for the best, for good crops. You have to be positive, creative, and willing to take on any kind of situation whatsoever. You have to always look in front of you, never look back.”

We’re happy to have them aboard, strengthening the ability of our non-profit market to support rural culture and small farms by expanding our offerings of great local food, lovingly raised.

Learn more about this great business by visiting their website: www.drumhellersorchard.com.

Published: 08/21/2020