John Biscoe returned to his childhood home, Glenburnie Farm in Spotsylvania, after owning and running a silk screen business. He grows vegetables, microgreens and peppers to sell at the Spotsylvania Farmer's Market and to area restaurants. (Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star)
BY KATIE THISDELL
The best way to tour a farm is by taste, says John Biscoe.
How else would you know the blue spice basil has a bubblegum aftertaste?
Or that the lingering June strawberry may be the best you’ve had all year?
And the edible pansies may dress up your plate, but it’s the nasturtiums that carry a peppery bite.
“They taste completely different off the plant than they do the next day,” explained Biscoe, who sells at Spotsylvania County farmers markets.
Micro mustard greens, growing in the greenhouse at Glenburnie Farm.
Biscoe grows organic produce on his family’s 800-acre Glenburnie Farm in western Spotsylvania, including a greenhouse full of tiny vegetable plants called microgreens.
Local chefs rave over Biscoe’s microgreens, which are served in several downtown Fredericksburg restaurants, along with top dining spots in Washington.
“His microgreens are amazing—he has all different varieties,” said Blake Bethem, owner of Bistro Bethem on William Street.
“He’s a small farmer. That’s what chefs are looking for. The small guys support each other.”
Biscoe, 46, grew up swearing he’d never be a farmer.
He spent his childhood on Glenburnie Farm, which has been in his family since at least the late 1850s.
Now, his brothers Bill, 61, and Bruce, 60, keep a herd of 500 cows.
He left the area for a while to study English at Virginia Commonwealth University, and then was a screenprinter for 10 years.
By 2000, he desperately needed a change.
John Biscoe at Glenburnie Farm in Spotsylvania.
“I was sick of what I was doing,” Biscoe said.
A friend proposed an idea: What about growing organic herbs and microgreens? Biscoe was sold.
The two men had a business divorce a few years ago, so now Biscoe runs the farm on his own.
Surrounded by fields of corn grown by his family sits a greenhouse filled with trays and trays of tiny plants.
The 2-inch-tall greens don’t look like all that much, but they anchor Biscoe’s business.
Restaurants and home chefs often use microgreens in salads or as garnishes. Their itty-bitty leaves and thin stems add a crunch and burst of flavor to dishes, such as Bethem’s crab and avocado salad.
“It’s a good little accompaniment to something without having to change the whole dish,” said Bethem, who has bought assorted produce, greens and edible flowers from Biscoe off and on since his restaurant opened in 2004. “And everyone likes something that’s small and petite.”
Among the trays of plants at Glenburnie Farm are arugula, buckwheat, red mustard, pea shoots, purple kohlrabi, cilantro, a few types of basil and more.
The seeds germinate quickly, and the fast-growing greens are cut every two weeks—less frequently for some varieties.
Every few days, Biscoe fills the empty trays with a fine soilless mix that includes peat moss and gypsum, and then sprinkles on the small seeds with a restaurant-style Parmesan cheese shaker.
“This is much more of a factory process than a seasonal vegetable,” Biscoe said.
But he does have other seasonal vegetables—some that he sells, others just for his own use, like the row of ground-hugging strawberry plants.
You’ll also find Yukon gold and Pontiac red potatoes hiding under straw; squash and zucchini of various sizes (Biscoe says the short-shelf-life flowers are the main attraction); assorted heirloom beans; and of course, lots of spring onions and garlic.
Peggy Hyland of Fredericksburg volunteers one day a week at the farm, and blogs about her experiences learning about the farm and where our food comes from.
One morning in late June, Peggy Hyland rhythmically cuts off the dark green tops of the onions and trims off the roots, soil still clinging on.
She and Biscoe joked that working on a farm requires being a “multitasking monkey.”
Hyland, 41, a longtime friend of Biscoe, had back surgery two years ago. Recovering and bored, she asked to help out one day a week. A handful of others also work for Biscoe.
The two credit the popularity of farmers markets and the campaigns for local foods with connecting more consumers with the roots of what they’re eating.
“You’re getting food that’s fresher, and you’re getting food that hasn’t been trucked across the country,” Biscoe said about eating locally.
Celebrity chefs are leading what he describes as a “general rebellion” in the country as more and more people mistrust “big-box anything.”
But Biscoe has no aspirations to sell in bulk. Already, he’s selling nearly everything that he grows, thanks in part to Madison-based Fresh Link, a distributor that connects small farms to chefs in and around Washington.
That’s how his produce makes it into the kitchens of some of the city’s top restaurants.
“Everyone can grow stuff. Being able to sell it and get a fair price for it is challenging,” said Biscoe, who hopes to add one more greenhouse to keep the focus on microgreens.
But he’s also a niche farmer.
His 10-acre section of the farm is host to more than 100 types of hot peppers, along with a handful of sweet Italian and bell peppers.
John Biscoe grows a variety of hot peppers including 'Bishop's Crown.'
“He really is the pepper guy,” Hyland said.
Walking through rows of potted peppers, she points out various names: yellow brain strain shaped like tiny brains; bhut jolokia and naga morich, both known as ghost peppers; datil peppers with a citrusy flavor. She notes that some other names could be mistaken for Italian wine.
Hyland pauses to check the black pearl peppers, which look like olives. Over time, the peppers mature from red to black.
“I love seeing how they’ve changed each week,” Hyland said.
One day, Biscoe may get into the online seed business, selling the seeds from dried peppers.
“The pepper industry has blown up so much recently,” Biscoe said.
When Biscoe started farming, he said he didn’t have a plan. Now, he does.
And after a back injury forced him to a desk job a few years ago, Biscoe is glad to be back to working the earth.
“I don’t see myself doing anything else at this point.”
Read Peggy Hyland’s blog: gofarmtotable.blogspot.com
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
BY BEVERLY MEYER
Beginners and experienced home cooks will appreciate Jeffrey Saad’s encouragement in expanding their ability to draw out more interesting flavors in the “Global Kitchen.”
Based on the premise that “every time you use a spice, you partake in a culinary and cultural history that goes back thousands of years,” Saad’s purpose is to increase the home cook’s understanding of what he or she can do with seasonings.
Visiting various culinary hotspots—France, Spain, Italy, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, to name a few—he identifies the core spices that define each region’s cuisine and offers mouth-watering recipes inspired by those spices.
And none of them need be over-the-top in terms of heat or sweet.
The book opens with a primer on cooking basics: using the various salts (kosher, sea, etc.), using temperature effectively in sautéing, roasting, braising, etc.), thickening and reducing sauces properly, grinding and toasting spices, and much more.
Once those basics are understood, the reader can confidently dip into the next sections of “Global Kitchen,” which are chapters and recipes highlighting various areas of the world.
Saad highlights some Mexican treats: Pineapple–Habanero salsa, to be served on fish or fish tacos, especially; grilled achiote veggie tostadas, which are as colorful as they are delicious; tortilla soup, a comfort food extraordinaire; and seared scallop tacos with green chili chutney.
Dishes from the Middle East have a special place in Saad’s repertoire: He’s of Lebanese descent, and his wife is Iranian. The spices he favors include cardamom, harissa, turmeric, thyme and saffron. The half-dozen recipes he features in the book include Persian beef and eggplant stew.
Many of the Italian recipes are variations on familiar dishes—with names that include bruschetta, risotto, pesto and penne—like open-face lasagna with mushrooms and asparagus.
Further culinary travels include France (beef bourguignon, white pepper cassoulet), Spain (crustless sweet onion and potato tart), Asia (savory crab pancakes with sweet and spicy hoisin sauce, hot and sour soup), India (garam masala chicken pot pie, turmeric grilled scallop pitas), and, of course, the “Melting Pot, America” (toasted coriander chicken noodle soup, BLT with oven-dried tomatoes and harissa mayo).
Eggs get their own chapter because of their “bodacious” versatility.
Closing with a nod to the sweet tooth (tiramisu, Nutella crepes), this soft-cover, full-color cookbook will add a sophisticated simplicity to entertaining or family dining.
By DONNIE JOHNSTON
EACH YEAR I get questions about gardening from readers. I don’t pretend to know all the answers but I offer the best advice I can based on years of working with the soil.
Here are a few of the questions I get from beginning gardeners.
When should I plow my garden?
I plow my garden in the fall, usually in late October or early November. This allows the dirt to freeze and thaw all winter and it is soft and crumbly when I work the garden in spring.
Another advantage to fall plowing is the fact that I am always just 30 minutes away from planting. When the late winter winds blow and the ground is dry enough to work, all I need to do is hook up the disc (or crank up the tiller) and in a few minutes I am ready to put seeds in the ground.
I have a friend, however, who sows a cover crop on his garden each fall and then plows it in the spring. The advantage of this is that the cover crop, when turned under, will help hold the moisture if the season becomes dry.
The dead grass will also add nutrients to the soil.
The disadvantage is that the cover crop will hold moisture in the spring and make the ground too wet to plow. That sometimes prevents you from getting cold weather crops in as early as you might like. And early is important for crops like broccoli that will go to seed when the hot weather hits.
Spring plowing in general is too iffy for me. I’ve seen my grandmother have her garden plowed wet and the dirt ended up as nothing but clods when it was disked. I like plowing in the fall, both for convenience and for soil condition.
How early should I plant cold weather crops?
It all depends on the soil. I have planted peas, potatoes, onions and beets as early as Feb. 20. I like to have all those crops in the ground no later than March 15.
Soil condition is the key factor for me. If I find a day after Feb. 20 when the earth is dry enough to work up well, I plant.
Peas, potatoes and onion don’t need a lot of heat to come up and beet seeds will resist germination until conditions are right.
I plant two crops of potatoes. In late February or early March I plant those I have left over from the previous year, the ones that have shriveled up and sprouted in the basement.
I pull off any long sprouts and plant the potatoes whole.
Before I cover them up I spread a good dose of wood ashes (that I have saved from my winter fires) on them. This both adds fertilizer to the soil and helps cut down on the Colorado potato beetle crop.
I plant a second crop in early April using store-bought potatoes that I cut before planting. Even if I let the potatoes dry for a few days after cutting, they are more likely to rot during a week or cold and wet conditions than the ones I plant whole. Since the weather is usually warmer in April, the cut potatoes then have a better chance of survival.
As for beets, well, just make sure you don’t plant them deep. What I do is smooth out my soil with a rake and drop the seeds on top of the ground. Then I walk on them, allowing only the bottom of the seed to come in contact with the soil. I get an almost perfect stand of beets every year.
What about cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower?
I try to transplant all three of these by March 15 (although I usually don’t plant cauliflower). As I said earlier, you want broccoli in early. Cabbage also does well in the cool weather.
Will cold and snow damage these crops?
Potatoes will take three weeks or so to come up so the weather will be milder by then. Still, there are cold snaps and I’ve seen temperatures drop to 17 or 18 degrees with my potatoes three or four inches tall. Yes, they get burned and turn black but they always come back out and bloom on schedule.
When their roots become established (in four or five days), the temperature will have to get below 20 degrees to harm cabbage. And I’ve had it snow 6 inches deep on my cabbage with no ill effects.
Once they are up, peas seem to withstand anything, short of hail, that nature throws at them.
And the only way to destroy beets is to plant them too deep.
There you have my answers to some gardening questions I get annually. They may not be the right answers for you but they work for me.
If you have questions, email them to me and I’ll do the best I can to get you an answer.
Donnie Johnston is a staff writer and longtime gardener in Culpeper County. He will answer readers’ gardening questions in Farm & Garden, which appears
in The Free Lance–Star the first Friday of each month.
People who raise chickens love the pastoral scenes the birds provide, as well as the eggs and meat.
By CATHY DYSON
Raising chickens has ruined Lisa Biever’s dining-out
experience, at least when it comes to breakfast.
If she orders eggs—poached, scrambled or sunny side up—she finds they look and taste rather anemic compared to the ones she plucks from nests at home.
“The eggs are pale and have no flavor—they just kind of taste like the box they came in,” said the King George County woman.
She’s not clucking when she says they bear no comparison to the farm-fresh eggs her hens provide.
“It’s as if they’re not even the same thing,” Biever said. “It’s the difference between a homegrown tomato and what you get at the store.”
Biever and her husband, Jason Gallant, are among seven families who make up an informal egg co-op through the King George Farmers Market.
Each family provides fresh eggs to sell for $4 a dozen, and members take turns manning the egg stand at the market, held in the parking lot of the King George Elementary School.
Each Saturday from May to November, the group sells just about every carton members bring—about 30 dozen eggs a week, said Amy Robie, who heads up the co-op.
“We’ve found there’s a lot of demand for the eggs,” Robie said. “I think a brown egg kind of appeals to people.”
GREEN EGGS, BUT NO HAM
The hues of the hens’ eggs in Robie’s flock range from beige to burnt orange and almost every shade in between. Robie also has a variety of hen that lays a pale green egg, and customers appreciate the Seussical quality, even though there’s no ham to go with it.
Robie and other co-op members are among a growing number of Americans who enjoy the “extremely popular pastime” of raising chickens, according to the website raisechickens.org. And, it’s not just for people in the country; “urban warriors have taken to keeping chickens in the thousands,” the site reports.
As livestock go, chickens are relatively easy and inexpensive, according to the King George growers. They don’t require a lot of room or special care, and they do provide a source of eggs as well as meat.
Biever has even added a few turkeys to the flock, and her family enjoys them on Thanksgiving and beyond.
“I like having them in freezer,” she said. “For any recipe that uses chicken, I use turkeys.”
SAFE FROM PREDATORS
About the only thing that bothers chickens is predators, and both women have unusual systems for keeping their broods safe.
Biever and her husband turned an old passenger van into a chicken coop. The vehicle already was out in the yard, so the couple tore out the seats and shag carpet and added roosts on one side and laying nests on another. Gallant built a boarding ramp so the van can be shut up tightly at night.
“Every animal loves chickens: snakes, raccoons, possums, foxes, hawks, eagles, stray dogs, even cats will get the little ones,” Biever said. “The van is impervious to predators.”
Biever, whose backyard is wooded, had more problems with winged predators. She copied an idea from another farmer, who criss-crossed strands of string from one tree to another. From the sky, the strings look like nets, which hawks and eagles tend to stay away from.
Then, Robie hung brightly colored CDs from the strings, which catch the sun as they blow in the breeze. They look like giant eyes, another image raptors don’t like.
FINDING SPECIAL EGGS
One of the biggest appeals of farm-fresh chickens and eggs is the manner in which they’re raised. Instead of being housed in factory-like conditions, under constant light so they’ll produce more eggs, hens are free to scratch around the yard for bugs and kernels of cracked corn. They’re not given hormones or antibiotics. They’re outside in the dirt all day and go to roost at night.
The care the chickens get means a lot to consumers.
“I like knowing that the eggs I buy are from chickens that are being raised humanely,” said Yvonne Lewko, who regularly buys eggs from Robie. “I like being able to see that the hens are healthy and vibrant. It’s nice knowing where my food comes from and that we are supporting a local farmer.”
Robie also enjoys the sound of roosters crowing, although the noise gets old when it goes on into the night. (Roosters will crow at any light.)
And she likes the presence of feathered friends.
“It’s really nice to pull up in the yard and see chickens all around,” she said.
PETS OR LIVESTOCK?
Biever said she’s glad her young children are learning where food comes from and what’s involved in raising animals. She and Robie both walk a fine line between treating their chickens like pets.
Robie said she’s learned to give names to only those who become a permanent member of the flock. The chickens raised for meat aren’t handled the way the layers are, nor are they given names. It’s very clear, from the start, what their purpose is.
Robie tries to sell eggs throughout the year so the money she gets covers the expense of feeding about 60 chickens year-round. Biever tends to give most of her eggs away, saying she becomes a popular friend when she’s handing out cartons.
She also likes the idea that friends come to visit and let their children pick out their own egg from a nest. One child was determined that his “special egg” not be eaten.
“I think it lived in their fridge so long,” Biever said, “they had to toss it.”
TO GET STARTED: Websites such as backyardchickens.com provide step-by-step instructions for people wanting to set up their own flocks. Amy Robie went for variety: a couple Ameraucanas, Australorp and red sex links (bred to be a certain color so you can tell the males and females apart). Cornish Cross is the standard meat chicken.
HOW MANY? For first-time growers, the website suggests buying chicks from feed stores because employees can help with advice. They’re usually sold in batches of 25.
HOUSING: The website sunset.com says that each
chicken needs 10 square feet to run around plus 4 square feet of house. Consumers can buy pre-made coops, which can be expensive, or use materials on hand to build their own. Lisa Biever and her husband, Jason Gallant, of King George County, turned an old van into a coop. Robie uses an old pickup truck shell as a house for her meat chickens.
DIET: Laying hens typically are fed a mash or crumble of some kind, cracked corn and ground oyster shells, which make their egg shells tougher.
BYPRODUCTS: Chickens also produce a byproduct that gardeners love. Their manure makes a great fertilizer. When Robie butchers chickens, she composts the feathers and saves the iron-rich blood to pour on the roots of fig trees.
FRESHNESS: Fresh eggs are almost impossible to peel. Robie says she leaves eggs in the fridge for up to three weeks before using them for deviled eggs or egg salad.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
A monthly look at what’s coming available from area farms and farmstands
WHAT’S IN SEASON
March: Most area farmers markets won’t open until late April. This is the end of winter, when hardy greens, winter storage vegetables and the very first peeks of spring greenery can be found, including: Swiss chard, collard greens, garlic scapes and green garlic, green onions, kale, leeks and some lettuces.
IDEAS FOR KITCHEN
Make “kale chips.” Trim kale leaves from the thick stems and chop into bite-size pieces. Toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt and spread on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the edges of the leaves are brown, but not burnt. These are a little like potato chips.
Quickly blanch a bunch of Swiss chard or other hardy green and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Whir up the greens in a food processor with typical pesto ingredients (pine nuts or walnuts, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper) for a cold-weather version of this summer spread.
Garlic scapes are the tall, curling stalks that garlic plants send up around this time of year. They are usually cut off by gardeners, but they are edible. Use them as you would scallions, either raw on salads or sautéed in other dishes.
Look for next month: Asparagus
BY RICHARD AMRHINE
Get ready for plenty of “re” words in this story—
like recycling, reusing and reclaiming—because all of those activities play a key role in the construction of a log cabin at Farley Vale Farm in King George County.
According to Edward and Weber Taylor, who have owned the 932-acre property since 1957, many of the materials being used were already there, from excavated rocks that have lodged there since the beginning of time, to the railroad ties from a track that has come and gone more recently.
“We wanted to reuse as much as we could of what was already here,” said Weber Taylor about the project, whether it occurred naturally or was otherwise a part of the property’s history.
The plan was to provide son Letcher with a place of his own to live on the family farm, which borders the Rappahannock River. The family settled on building a log cabin, because they like the rustic nature of a cabin and felt it would fit nicely on the historic property. Weber Taylor loves the the beauty of the wood.
Letcher Taylor explained that his mobility has been limited by an issue with hip-replacement surgery. But what he loves to do, and by all accounts does very well, is cook. To let him pursue that talent, most of the cabin’s main level will be a kitchen. Among other things, the kitchen will include a 60-inch professional stainless-steel range. There are also large windows that will provide ample views of the “vale” and the Rappahannock.
But that sort of information is for the next story, when the cabin is completed.
HIRING BARNES CUSTOM
Perhaps because they live on a farm that was settled in 1794, the Taylors appreciate something that has lasting quality. So they called on John William Barnes III, who owns Barnes Custom Inc. of Montross, which, as his business card indicates, “specializes in custom and log homes.” This project is both.
“We have always appreciated the old way of doing things,” said Barnes. “Some companies will give you a kit and say ‘Here you go,’ and you’re not going to be happy with what you end up with.”
There’s no question this cabin is being built for keeps, starting with the poured concrete foundation that creates the lower level. Barnes engineered a firewood window to supply a wood stove, the main source of heat.
Plumbing was roughed in down there for future use.
Watching Barnes and his crew work, the confidence they have in what they’re doing is obvious. Last week they were building the log walls, which are 6 inches thick and will provide an R–value in excess of typical stick-built homes.
The Eastern white pine logs, Barnes’ preferred material because of its predictable nature, come milled and grooved to fit tightly together. Prior to construction, the logs are coated with the wood preservative borate. The exterior side is then stained to provide a rich appearance.
Barnes said cedar is a natural choice for cabins because of its weathering and insect-repellent properties. Unfortunately, he notes, “There are no big cedars anymore. They’re all gone.”
Once in place, the logs are screwed down tightly with oversized bolts. Even though they’ve been kiln-dried, Barnes knows that the logs will shrink up to an eighth of an inch over time as they continue to dry, and he takes that into account. Window and door frames are built accordingly, and sticky-sided foam weather stripping is used between logs to automatically expand and fill any gaps left by shrinkage.
Earlier this week the crew installed roof trusses with the help of skilled crane operator Kenny Jones of King George Welding.
Before long, the corrugated steel roof will be added. Barnes said that with its baked-on finish, the biggest difference between it and a standing-seam metal roof is the lower cost.
Materials from the property are being used all along the way. For starters, recycled railroad ties from the track that once ran across the property were used for retaining walls, terracing and outside steps. Weber Taylor gave son Letcher credit for designing and building those.
In a field nearby, stones pulled from the ground during the ongoing sand and gravel operation on the property sit waiting to be used for the kitchen fireplace’s surround and other decorative applications.
Weber Taylor said a barn that may have dated to the 1700s had to be taken down years ago, but the boards and the huge hand-hewn center beam were set aside for future reuse.
The reclaimed barn boards have been milled and planed and will become the cabin’s flooring. The beam will be reinstalled across the length of the cabin’s vaulted ceiling, adding to its rustic appearance.
Letcher Taylor, who was named for grandfather D. Letcher Stoner—owner and operator of Fredericksburg Hardware for a generation—said the whole project has been about reusing materials from the farm because of the history involved.
Weber Taylor said she is fascinated by the property’s history. Arrowheads found on the property attest to its early use by American Indians.
Later, in the 18th and into the 19th centuries, the property was owned by the Corbin family. In 1858, one member of that family, Spottswood Wellford Corbin, married Diane Fontaine Maury, daughter of Matthew Fontaine Maury, the famed “Pathfinder of the Seas” whose family lived in Fredericksburg.
“There was a lot of shipping and receiving done here” that served the young nation, Weber Taylor said, and there were warehouses built near the river.
She said that although there were at one time some 10 slave houses and an overseer’s quarters on the property, there was never a plantation house. The operation was run by the owners of Moss Neck Manor, directly across the river in Caroline County.
Some Civil War relics also have been discovered on the property.
More recently, thanks to the Taylors, some will recall Farley Vale as the $1, $2 and $5 fishing hole.
GOOD FIT FOR BARNES
Barnes is effusive about the opportunity to build the cabin, not only because of the history of the site, but because of the Taylors’ desire to use reclaimed materials. To limit his commute back and forth to Westmoreland, he stays several nights a week onsite in a converted school bus with a designing table on board. It “helps me connect” with the cabin, he said.
“We always like to replicate the way things used to be done,” he said, and that has been the key element of this project.
“I liked how we all sat down at the table with the architect and we all knew how it was going to be done,” said Barnes, who also runs Warsaw Glass in Richmond County.
Despite the project’s complexity, he expects to have it completed sometime this spring.
Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406
BY EMILY FREEHLING
Over the past few years, several community groups have sought to harness a growing public interest in local and sustainable food.
Local farmers markets banded together to build a website and enhance low-income families’ access to fresh local produce.
Fredericksburg officials and businesses worked together last summer to create the Family Table festival, offering local food activities and restaurant deals to all age groups.
This year, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library hopes to lead the community in a comprehensive, region-wide exploration of local food resources around Fredericksburg.
“Cultivating Community” is an eight-month series of events that will take place at all library branches from March through October 2012.
The centerpiece of the series is a communitywide “CRRL Big Read” of Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” The book is a first-person account of the year Kingsolver and her family spent eating only what they grew or could buy from local producers.
Barbara Davison, branch manager of CRRL’s Salem Church library in Spotsylvania County, said library staff had wanted to organize a communitywide discussion on a topic that would appeal to a variety of area residents. They’d read about growing interest in farmers markets and farms, and had seen more and more references to local food on the menus at area restaurants.
That led them to choose local, sustainable food as a topic.
“We perceived that it was a rising interest in the community,” Davison said. “Our goal with the whole series is to provide information.”
That starts March 29, with a panel discussion at 7 p.m. at the Salem Church Library that will include Spotsylvania farmer Emmett Snead, area farmers market managers, and a representative from the Virginia Tech Extension Service. Farm-to-table practices and highlights from “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” will guide the discussion.
In May and June, the library will host a film series at the England Run branch in Stafford County that ties in with the theme. “Fresh,” a documentary about the local food movement featuring writer Michael Pollan and Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, will be screened May 17 at 7 p.m. Other films in the weeks after that will include “Truck Farm,” “Farming Forward” and “The Egg and I.”
Throughout the eight-month event series, library staff will use the theme of local produce and farming in children’s story times and other library events.
Branches will host gardening workshops and the Porter branch in Stafford County will even host a demonstration garden run by volunteers. Produce from the garden will be donated to SERVE, the Stafford-based nonprofit that provides aid to low-income families.
Library staff will man booths at area farmers markets, with books on farm- and food-related themes that library members can check out on the spot.
In September, library staff are planning an outdoor garden festival at the England Run branch. Davison said they hope to bring together farmers market managers, chefs who can perform cooking demonstrations with local produce, information on canning and preserving, an expert on seeds, plus other activities.
In October, the series finale will be a community discussion of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” Oct. 8 at the library’s downtown headquarters led by University of Mary Washington professor Steve Watkins.
There will be no charge for any of the events.
Many of these events are still in the works, and brochures on the series should start appearing at branches soon. For more information, and to keep up with the “Cultivating Community” events as they evolve, visit the library’s website at librarypoint.org.
BY EMILY FREEHLING
Fredericksburg has a full slate for its first year hosting a public community garden site.
The city’s parks and recreation department started taking applications in January for 20 plots at the tip of the old Cossey Water Plant property, near Kenmore and Grove avenues, which is now being developed as a botanical garden.
The last of those plots were taken last month, and Parks & Athletics Division Manager Michael Ward said the department has a waiting list for interested gardeners.
The site is designed for downtown homeowners and apartment-dwellers who might lack space for a garden. The plots are open to city residents only.
Gardening season kicked off Thursday. All plots must be planted by May 1, and the season ends Nov. 30.
The plots are 10 feet by 20 feet, enough to grow hundreds of pounds of vegetables. All plots are to be organic, and no pesticides or herbicides will be allowed in the community garden.
The $50 plot fees are expected to cover the costs of the program. Garden applicants must also pay a $25 refundable cleanup deposit.
The idea for the gardens came from City Council members, who listed them among their quality of life initiatives. If this season proves successful, it’s possible the city could expand to other sites in years to come.
The concept of the community garden is one that is growing in popularity nationwide, as people seek a more direct connection with their food, and aim to cut costs at the grocery store.
Also in Fredericksburg, Downtown Greens, a nonprofit that has long maintained organic gardens and run educational programs near the intersection of Charles and Dixon streets, also plans to offer community garden plots to the public this year.
Downtown Greens President Bob Lowry said the group is still finalizing plans for this program, but should have more information in the coming weeks.
Two years ago, the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank started working with a regionwide network of community gardens, including locations at the Hazel Hill and Heritage Park apartment complexes in Fredericksburg.
The gardens provide a food source for the residents who work them, and they also help stock the food bank’s shelves with nutritious fresh produce.