Agriculture Supported Community
By Deb Dramby, Market/Retail Manager
Our farm started in late 2011, when the forward-thinking developers behind Willowsford, LLC decided to put 2,000 acres into conservation and put 300 of those acres into diversified vegetable and livestock farming operations. In 2012, during our first season, we grew only vegetables; on one property, for 40 families using the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model.
Today, we have expanded to serve more than 300 families in and around the Willowsford community, and our CSA offerings have grown to include eggs and chicken, as well as flowers and milk from our farmer friends in the area. Not to mention, we have developed a bustling retail market in which we offer all of these products and more, regularly, and a la carte.
The amount of land the farm manages has grown, too. We currently work on three separate parcels within Willowsford, and sell through our CSA Program and the Farm Stand, May through December. We tractor and haul between the farm on Founders Drive in Ashburn, home to mostly vegetables and the farm in Aldie, which is home to the hens, sometimes pigs, and to our small herd of targeted-grazing goats. Oh, and the farm on Route 50, which is home to more vegetables and some fruit.
Everything we grow – greens, tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, herbs, pork, chicken, strawberries, squash, onions, carrots, broccoli and at least 50 more vegetables – can be found alongside flowers, cheeses, yogurt, kombucha (on tap!), sauerkraut, milk, soups, sauces and jams at our Farm Stand. This year, we will be open four days a week and expect to serve more than 400 customers weekly.
It’s amazing to look back over the past six years at how it all started, how it has evolved and where we are today.
I didn’t come to the farm until late spring 2012, once I wrapped up my last semester at the University of Maryland, where I was working on a community garden dream under Ellen Polishuk. Ellen is a Loudoun County farm hero who consulted on the early concepts of Willowsford. What was happening at Willowsford sounded big. It was a new take on an old idea – building towns and homes around resources like food!
I had been considering if I really wanted to farm, if I could make a difference and contribute to the local food movement by doing so. I’d watched friends at WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) apprentice for another, give homesteading a shot, run out of money, give up hope and return to desk jobs. The generation of organic farmers before mine moved mountains, worked out production kinks, built empires. To become an organic farmer is not an uncommon dream, but land is expensive, risks are high, and in a lot of places (think California and Vermont), the market is already saturated.
What were once small-scale cooperatives frequented by few, are now household names. Big box stores have an organic section, non-profit farms are addressing food desserts, school lunches are under scrutiny and people are concerned with what they put in their body. Everyone wants to eat real, whole foods. Farmers need access to land and capitol, more direct-market dollars to make this work. Most of all, farmers need regular customers. In order to get them, we have to get fresh, real food into the kitchens of busy parents and help them figure out what to do with it. If only there was a place (again) where farmers could regularly interact with their neighbors and have these big conversations?!
That’s what Willowsford was creating, and what we do now at the store. Not long after my first visit to Willowsford, I found myself harvesting squash with Mike Snow, talking about the big picture here. Over time, he gave me the tools, support and guidance to create the Farm Stand that you know today.
Agriculture Supported Community is what Mike likes to call it. What we do here goes both ways. And if we continue to do it right, work together, give and take, bend and grow, I think we have a real shot at setting a nationwide example.
That first season, I met the Gonzalez’s, Noltons, Weisbergs, Terjesens, Cosmas, Sherrys and a handful of other families with whom we have grown year after year. They stuck with us through the egg shortage of 2014, the XXL chickens, the XXS chickens, the loss and resurrection of Popcorn the warrior chicken, the shorter CSA pick-up windows, the eggplant flood of 2017, and the ups and downs of it all. So many other families did too. I could name you all, but I’ve got a limited word count.
At CSA pickups, you guys share stories with us about your children. The son, who never ate broccoli before, who now eats it raw on the way home. And then his sister, suddenly in love with tomatoes after harvesting sungolds at camp and putting them into pasta sauce with Chefs Bonnie and Sue.
Whether we realized it or not, everyone here in our farm-ily, myself included, shifted our priorities to incorporate not just healthy vegetables and personal health, but education in seasonal eating, land management, and investments in the local food economy and the soils we live on.
None of these products or changes happen fast, and none of them would be here without Willowsford’s capitol investments and your decision to invest year after year in us, in your diet, and in this farm. Every year, when you buy a share, send us recipes, give us feedback on pickup hours, keep us up to date on the latest discoveries in food science, allergy research, and ask questions – all the right questions about our farming practices, animal welfare and our pest challenges – you are furthering this project. With your participation, I believe we have a shot at cracking this “agrihood” nut.
Having said all that, I hope you join or return this year. 2018 CSA Shares are on sale now. Visit WillowsfordFarmCSA.com for more information.
Cheers to making 2018 our best year yet!
Willowsford Ramblings is a blog by Willowsford, a community of new single-family homes in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia.55 and older communities, active adult communities, adult communities, agri-hood, agrihood, ashburn va new homes, Chantilly va new homes, Community Supported Agriculture, CSA, eat local, Farm to table, home communities, homes aldie va, homes for seniors, Loudoun County, main-level living, new build homes for sale, new home builders, new home communities, new home developments, northern virginia, over 55 communities, retirement communities, retirement living, senior independent living, senior living, Willowsford, willowsford blog, willowsford conservancy, Willowsford Farm, Willowsford Ramblings, willowsford va, Willowsford Virginia