Protecting the spaces where ‘Local’ is grown

How residential meets rural in one of Washington’s edge counties

By Whitney Pipkin


There’s an imperceptible edge when you leave the city, where the skyline gives way to subdivisions and then to larger and larger patches of verdant fields.  

Perhaps you’ve watched with a sigh as the scenery changed on your way to a wedding, winery or U-pick patch. But if you buy produce at a farmers market, this transition area is also where it was most likely grown—and it is no small feat to ensure that produce will still be grown there in the future. 

This ring of land just beyond the District’s suburbs is a patchwork of open spaces surrounding still-pressing development. A growing portion of it is being protected from development by a mix of government and private programs to preserve farmland or open spaces, but their success can be subject to the whims of a new county board or the funding of a state program. 

But all this pressure also makes these transition zones—as Loudoun County, Virginia, calls its—an ideal place for a new breed of agriculture: vineyards, hops-growing breweries, produce and pastured animals — all sold at a premium to nearby Washingtonians.  

Chip and Susan Planck, now in their mid 70s, began growing produce in that local-food radius of DC 40 years ago at Wheatland Farms, their farm in Purcellville, Virginia.  

“The thing that no one likes to talk about is this: If it weren’t for a well-off Washington clientele, we would not have made the living we did,” says Susan Planck, whose farm sold produce at more than a dozen farmers markets in the Washington area and mentored several of the farmers who are still selling today. 

The couple’s storied farming career led to an interest in preserving the sort of landscapes that had been the basis for their business.  

Before the 1970s and ’80s, “nobody was really protecting farmland, unless it was historic,” says Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic director of the American Farmland Trust, which has helped preserve more than five million acres nationwide since its start in 1980. “People realized there was an existential need to not pave over all of our farms.” 


Loudoun County

While residents might agree on the farmland-is-good premise, when and where to preserve it is another story. Many counties have seen their building boom come and go, but Loudoun County is still in the midst of an iconic land use debate. 

Eastern Loudoun County continues to pursue rapid development while, west of Leesburg, Ashburn and far from Dulles International Airport, a new vision for the county is unfolding—one that is built on the potential of a rural economy.   

“The county sees the economic potential of a local food system,” says Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), which advocates for land preservation in the region. “And this is the same county that has the fastest-growing high tech industry and land loss to sprawl in this area. In the same place, you have both those things going on.” 

The county’s split personality is not an accident. Its comprehensive plan lays out dual visions for the suburban and rural sides of the county, with a transition area in between.  

At the center of that transition zone, where highways 50 and 15 meet, is Gilbert’s Corner.  

A pit stop next to a roundabout that looks primed to welcome a Sheetz gas station, PEC envisions a regional food market instead, one that features the bounty of Loudoun’s farms. To that end, they’ve been painstakingly preserving and acquiring the nearby land for 20 years to make it a gateway to the county’s rural areas and a demonstration of their potential.  

With the help of investors, PEC recently conserved a 140-acre farm south of Route 50 where fall produce was being planted into black plastic mulch one evening in late July. Nearby is a regional park and more land owned by PEC where cattle are grazing on rolling hills.  

“Imagine the value,” says Chip Planck, standing near the corner with his wife, Susan. “Thousands of people go by and you can demonstrate sustainable vegetable growing on one side and pasturing on the other.” 

Not far from the corner, the Willowsford housing development, which features a farm stand and vegetable production—rather than a golf course—at the center of new homes, is also growing food.  

Preserving agriculture on high-value lands has also meant finding a way to add value to those crops. One of the most popular ways? Turning them into booze.  

“When I got a degree in agriculture, I never thought I’d be spending this much time on beer,” says Kellie Hinkle, agricultural development officer with Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development, who has seen dozens of farm-based breweries and wineries open in Loudoun’s rural zone. “To me, the craft beverage industry is the ultimate direct-market-value-added option at this fringe of urban-suburban sprawl.” 

With the help of state funding, brewers in the county now have access to locally grown hops and locally malted barley, too—not to mention hundreds of thirsty visitors from Washington and its suburbs. 

Though driving through Loudoun’s rural areas might look different today, with rows of corn turning into rows of grapes or hops, Hinkle says the changing view represents a stronger farm economy that can push back against the pressures of development.  

“In 2016, in this area,” she says, “this is what ag looks like.” 

A Locavore's Guide for Day Tripping to Bluemont, Virginia

By Chelsea Moore, Photography by Yetta Reid. From our Spring Issue 2016. Yetta_Reid-edibledc_spring_issue-_general_store_2

There’s a little village nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that is making a name for itself as a destination for wine and food lovers. Located in western Loudoun County, it’s home to a quaint village, expansive farmlands and stunning country views.

In the early 1900s Bluemont was the last stop on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, and was a popular destination for Washingtonians seeking to exchange city life and sticky summers for cool mountain air. With the development of air conditioning, Washingtonians had less need to seek shelter from summer heat, and Bluemont became a sleepy town. Whether you bring the family or seek a romantic getaway, a visit to the village of Bluemont will leave you refreshed.


Dirt Farm Brewing

A rustic farm brewery, Dirt Farm Brewing serves hand-crafted beer and savory treats. From IPAs to a Sweet Potato Stout and a Cherry Ale, Dirt Farm’s brewmasters aren’t afraid to experiment. Coming soon in 2016 are cucumber and apricot beers. As a farm brewery, Dirt Farm grows their own hops, and plays around with vegetable beers flavors. But beer isn’t the only thing they do well: When you visit, you can feast on their on snacks like flatbread pizza, nachos, pretzel bites and boiled peanuts.

Come for the farm-to-growler beer and stay for the incredible views of Northern Virginia.

Great Country Farms

One of the most popular U-pick farms in Loudoun County, Great Country Farms makes a fantastic family activity. In season, they have wagon rides, a catch-and-release fish pond, a cow pie putt putt, there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Just a short ride from DC, you can be on a farm with the full experience: feeding the farm animals, picnicking and picking your own produce. This is a great place for kid-friendly activities that parents will enjoy too. Be sure to stop by the farm market and pick up apple cider donuts and kettle corn, two favorites of local residents.

Great Country Farms grows 60–70 varieties of crops a year and they have a CSA program that was voted the Best of Loudoun in 2014 and 2015. Pick your produce up at the farm, or at one of the community group sites located throughout Northern Virginia.

Opening for the 2016 season on March 19, their spring U-pick crops are strawberries, cherries and black raspberries. Great Country Farms, 18780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont, VA.

Warm & sweet doughnuts from Great Country Farms

Bluemont Vineyard’s sweeping views and award-winning wines keep guests returning again and again. Their tasting room also sells charcuterie, cheeses and other local snacks to enjoy while sipping your wine. Be sure to make time to sit outside, the views here will leave you breathless. On clear days, you can even glimpse the Washington Monument.

As a farm winery, Bluemont Vineyard plays around with more than grapes, offering apple, peach, strawberry and blackberry wines—all grown at Great Country Farms. To honor their farm roots, they’ve even named some of their wines after farm animals and included drawings of the animals on their labels.

“I love the culture around wine, and the way it brings people together,” said Bluemont Vineyard Winemaker Jennifer Trovato Shailor. As a pet- and family-friendly venue, Bluemont Vineyard has certainly mastered the art of bringing families and friends together. The tasting room is open Wednesday through Monday, 11am to 6pm.

Bluemont Vineyard, 18755 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont, VA.

Wild Hare Hard Cider

Blink and you’ll miss it—but you’ll be missing out. Located in an old mill, the 450-square-foot micro-cidery transforms heirloom apples from the Shenandoah Valley into unique drinks. The Wild Hare team produces four craft ciders, all of which are dry. The three classic blends are Hatch, Windrush and Hopscotch, the latter being the most popular thanks to its beer characteristics.

Up next for Wild Hare is a Cherry Cider, which will arrive in time for the Cherry Blossom Festival. As a dry cider, it’s made with cherries and GoldRush apples and infused with cherry blossoms.

Watch for Wild Hare to roll out their Lemongrass, Spanish-style, Elderflower, Rhubarb and Grapefruit flavors later this year.

“We’re not afraid to experiment, try different things and see what works,” said founder Jay Clement. The cidery is generally open on the weekend, but check for specific hours via their website or Facebook page.

Wild Hare Hard Cider, 33735 Snickersville Turnpike #104, Bluemont, VA.

A relaxing afternoon at Twin Oaks Tavern Winery

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery

If you’re in the mood for adventure, spend an afternoon hiking on the Appalachian Trail—and be sure to visit the overlooks at Bears Den or Raven Rocks for stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley. When you’re ready for a rest, make a stop in Twin Oaks Tavern Winery for wine, food and beautiful hillside views.

Bring a picnic, your kids and your dog and enjoy live music each weekend. On warm days, cool off with their popular Spice Wine Chiller—an adult Slurpee—a unique blend of Zinfandel, Raven Rocks Red, mulling spices, cinnamon and sugar.

Or buy a bottle to accompany your picnic: Both their 2013 Chardonnay and Raven Rocks Red received gold medals from the Virginia Wine Lovers 2015 Wine Classic.

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery, 18035 Raven Rocks Rd., Bluemont, VA.

The Bluemont Store

Although the name and owner have changed, The Bluemont Store has been open since 1840. It’s nine miles to the closest grocery store, and locals enjoy the ease of dropping by to grab items for a quick dinner. This store sells a little bit of everything—and a lot of local products, including their own eggs and local grassfed beef and Trickling Springs Milk—and serves as a hub for community. Don’t forget their most loved item: hand-dipped ice cream! They also sell Guinea hens, “the best alarm system and tick annihilator on the planet,” but call ahead first. The store is open daily, from 6:30am to 7pm.

The Bluemont Store, 33715 Snickersville Turnpike, Bluemont, VA.

Wine tasting at Bluemont Vineyard



Virginia Sparklers Rise to the Occasion

By Jennifer Knowles , special to EdibleDC

Photo by Victoria Milko

Photo by Victoria Milko

Sparkling wine is extremely well suited to the table. Its complexity and texture make it an amiable partner to a whole world of cuisines, especially when using seasonal vegetables. While choosing a sparkling wine means deciding what will work best for your specific purposes, consider your local options this year.

Having worked with Virginia wines very closely for the past five years, I have been continuously impressed and excited about the sparkling wines making their way to the retail scene. Interest in this category is steadily rising as more producers try their hand at this challenging style of winemaking.

Photo by Victoria Milko

Photo by Victoria Milko

Still wine is made during one main fermentation and can be released within a year, or less, after harvest. Sparkling wines go through two fermentations and also need lengthy aging before release, which ties up both winery space and equity. Of course there are many other facets that contribute to the cost of these wines, but I know from experience that our Virginia bottlings can stand tall next to their counterparts from California, France and beyond. Although the sparkling wine chapter in the tale of Virginia wines is just starting to be written, it is one filled with stories of passionate local winemakers willing to take a chance on a wine that often plays a large part in our fondest memories of celebration and joy.


The words “sparkling wine” and “Virginia” cannot be spoken in the same sentence without the mention of Claude Thibaut, the man who helped forge the future for bubbly in the commonwealth. After studying in the heart of the Champagne region of France and cutting his New World teeth at both J and Iron Horse in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, Claude was brought to Virginia by Patricia Kluge in 2003 to try Champagne-method wines at her estate outside of Charlottesville (now the site of Trump winery). In 2005, he began his own winery in partnership with the Janisson family from Champagne and has been focused solely on sparkling wine for a decade.

Blancs de Chardonnay NV (around $30 retail)

100% Chardonnay from the Monticello AVA, this is the wine served at many White House dinners. Aged for two years in the bottle, it shows green apple and crisp Bosc pear aromas along with a balanced toastiness and a long lemon-peel finish.

FIZZ NV (around $20 retail in NOVA only, no DC retail right now)

Fizz was made in a more fruit-forward style specifically for mixing. It has a richer texture and marries perfectly with both fruit juices and liquors for any drink that calls for sparkling wine.


Dennis Horton is a pioneer in the world of Virginia viticulture and was the first to bring many of the more esoteric grapes to the region, including a grape from the Northern Rhone Valley in France called Viognier. The only other area growing Viognier at the time was Northern California and they were often treating it more like Chardonnay, which with higher acidity can stand new oak barrel aging and the creamy tones imparted by malolactic fermentation. Dennis saw the lower natural acidity of the grape, as well as its floral aromas and marzipan-like flavors, and tried to maximize freshness in the resulting wine. In 1998, the weather was so hot and dry that the Viognier crop became unwieldy and the need to cut back clusters arose. So not wanting to sacrifice the beautiful fruit, he decided to create a sparkling wine with the younger, less ripe fruit, and he continues today.

Horton Sparkling Viognier(about $25 retail)

After aging in the bottle for 18 months, this 100% Methode Champenois Viognier is redolent of pear blossoms and crisp white peach balanced by a slight bitter almond note on the palate that brings an unusual and welcome texture to the wine. It is quite dry but also has a lovely balance of fruit that makes it perfect with charcuterie and cheese paired with fruit compotes and mustards.


Andrew and Patricia Hodson founded their winery at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 2002 and after bringing in Claude Thibaut to consult with them on a crazy idea to make bubbly wine, they ventured out on their own in 2010. This is truly a family partnership: The Hodsons’ daughter Emily created the winemaking “team” with her father after finishing her Master of Enology degree at Virginia Tech and Patricia makes her mark in the vineyards. There are many reasons to visit Veritas, including The Farmhouse, an adjacent B&B that also houses the talents of Chef Andy Shipman, who brings the farm to the table utilizing bounty from local Nelson County farmers.

Scintilla (about $30 retail)

Predominately Chardonnay with a touch of Merlot juice pressed on the skins, Scintilla was a term created by Emily to describe the “little bright dots of light” that are interwoven within the fabric of the wine. Aged for 24 months in the bottle, classic aromas of crushed hazelnuts and yellow apple are lifted with the scent of Mirabelle plums and balanced by crisp acidity and a beautiful creamy Meyer lemon–like finish.

Mousseaux(about $30 retail)

The name of this rosé sparkler comes from the term used in the Samur region of the Loire Valley of France for their wines made with Cabernet Franc. This is 100% Merlot and produced with the time-intensive saignée method where the color is bled’ from the skins of the grape during maceration. It is aged for 18 months and the pale salmon color belies its amazing complexity. It is richer than the Scintilla and a bit more fruit forward showing light strawberry and white Rainier cherry aromas balanced by pomegranate acidity and red apple flavors on the palate. Perfect for those who love dry styles of Prosecco, but want more flavor.

Jennifer Knowles is wine director of The Jefferson DC. She was wine director at The Inn at Little Washington and named Best Sommelier by the International Academy of Gastronomy. She is deeply involved with the Virginia Wine Council and is a regular judge o the annual Govenor's Cup.

A Dinner in the Vineyard

By Karly Murphy special to EdibleDC DSC_6153

Dinner under the stars is pretty hard to beat. Even more so when it consists of handsomely prepared, locally-sourced dishes paired with wines grown and made a few hundred feet from the dinner table.


Early Mountain’s lower barn before sunset.

Last Friday, a beautiful, crisp October evening, Early Mountain Vineyards hosted their first Winemaker Field Supper in Madison, Virginia. Presented by winemaker Ben Jordan and Chef Harrison Keevil of Charlottesville’s Brookville restaurant, along stylists Joy Jaynes of Mornings Like These and Rebecca Gallop of A Daily Something.

The night began with a glass of sparkling Virginia wine and a stroll through the vineyard to the barn, where we enjoyed a selection of hors d’oeuvres around a fire pit as the sun went down. Rappahannock oysters, kim kim glazed pork belly bites and a wonderfully creamy spice-roasted butternut squash bisque were paired with Early Mountain’s 2014 Block Eleven white wine. Once the sun had gone behind the mountains, we made our way back down the hill to the dinner table, set on the lawn beneath twinkling lights and the darkening sky.


The next course, an Edwards Virginia country ham & caramelized onion tart topped with local micro greens, was paired with a duo of 2014 Pinot Gris, grown in different parts of the vineyard and each expressing a unique set of flavors. Our main course, sourced entirely from the state of Virginia (apart from the salt), consisted of Buffalo River beef, roasted root vegetables, and Woodson’s Mill grits. This family-style course was served with a beautiful red blend, the 2012 Eluvium. To follow, a glass of 2014 late harvest Petit Manseng pulled right from the barrel was paired with Meadow Creek Dairy's Grayson cheese and estate apple butter. Finally, a special Charlottesville-made Gearharts’ dark chocolate infused with EMV Eluvium finished out the meal. Kudos to all, it was a very special evening that will not soon be forgotten. I look forward to my next visit to Early Mountain.

Winemaker Ben Jordan explains the wine pairing selections


KarlyMurphyKarly Murphy is a photographer and amateur gardener based near Charlottesville, Virginia. On her days off, you may find her on a walk in the woods with her husband and their dog, or perhaps out sampling some of Virginia’s tastiest wine and food, but rarely will you find her sitting still. (Instagram @karlymurphy_)

A Day in the Field with American Lamb

by Eden Stiffman, special to EdibleDC Lamb6

Virginia Sheep and Lamb Producers Find Niche Markets

The American Lamb Board, an industry association for sheep and lamb producers, organized a field trip designed to educate food influencers about local lamb. And so, a group of around 15 DC-area food writers, bloggers, chefs and their friends boarded a bus in Clarendon on Sunday, October 4 to visit Virginia sheep producers. Our trip also included a butchery tutorial, whole animal utilization discussion and a lamb-centric lunch.

Our first stop was at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, VA owned by brothers Bill and Chris Hatch. These farmers also have Mill Road Farm, which produces pasture-fed Angus, lamb and honey just a short walk away. The group sampled wines while nibbling on savory bites of rosemary-flavored lamb sausage made by Patchwork Pastures in Luray, VA.

Gary Hornbaker, Loudoun County Rural Resources Coordinator and owner of Mutton Bustin' Farm in Berryville, VA shared some of the changes that have taken place in the regional lamb industry in recent years.

Lambs have gotten larger, to where a restaurant-grade animal may be 120-140 pounds. There's been a shift towards hair sheep, which tend to be leaner than wool sheep.

There has also been a focus on selling to ethnic communities in the region. While in the past, many farmers would try to have their lambs ready by Easter or Christmas, there is now a recognition that the Muslim holiday calendar also increases demand; family celebrations often feature lamb. Many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, especially Muslims, favor lamb or goat over beef. And at the retail level, Muslim and Hispanic food markets control a large part of the sheep and goat industry.

One of  the fastest growing areas of lamb sales is direct to consumer at farm markets or sold from farmer's own on-premise stores. According to the American Sheep Industry, one-third of all lamb is now sold direct from producer to customer. Many farmers have carved out their own niche, from raising lambs for fiber to selling to grass-fed lamb to restaurants to raising the animals for research purposes, as Hornbaker does.

But one thing has remained the same, he said: “Everybody loves lamb chops.”

Lunch featured platters of sliced leg of lamb, rib chops, shanks, and burgers with seasonal vegetable sides.



The meal was followed by a whole-lamb butchering demo by Matt Levere of Silver Spring's Urban Butcher. Levere broke down the animal as he would for the restaurant, to maximize the use for both the kitchen and butcher shop, as the group gathered around a table outside, including Zatinya chef, Michael Costa and the Maketto kitchen staff.


Eden Stiffman is a reporter for the Chronicle of Philanthropy where she writes about nonprofits. She's an avid home cook, and freelance food writer focused on food and farming.

Slow Flowers: Field-to-Vase Dinners Promote U.S. Flower Farmers

VA Pop-Up Field Dinner One Stop on 10-City Tour


By Susan Able, Edible DC

On an eighth-generation heritage farm, flower farmers Andrea and Lou Gagnon, owners of LynnVale Studios in Gainesville, Virginia, hosted a dinner on Thursday evening for two hundred guests in their flower fields. The stunning event and dinner was all part of a national promotional tour to highlight the Certified American Grown flowers program and the farmers who grow them. As explained by the event organizers, Certified American Grown, which is a coalition of American flower farmers, the event was designed to focus attention on fresh, local and sustainable flowers in the same way that a farm-to-table chef sources the freshest regional and seasonal menu ingredients available.f2vdinner_invite

The national dinner series was designed to make locally grown flowers the focal point of the evening discussion. So why do we care about at "Slow Flowers", American-grown flower movement? Well, for many of the same reasons we care about local food. We import 80% of flowers sold in the U.S. These low-cost imports from South and Central America have hurt our U.S. flower industry--59% of U.S. flower farms have gone out of business since 1992. When we lose farms, we lose jobs and farm land. While we may save money on cheap imports (roses are the number one flower import), we create a huge environmental footprint in shipping them--a less sustainable way of having a bouquet than buying locally. Over 200,000 tons of flowers come into Miami International Airport, that is 40,000 boxes of flowers a day that come in on seven daily flights, six days a week. Supporting farmers who grow local flowers is a win-win, natural beauty from our own area that mirrors the seasons and supports a local industry and helps it gain traction again. More information can be found at, americangrown and

"The Field to Vase Dinner Tour puts a face on the flowers, introducing the farmers and highlighting why it is so important that flowers at the center of the table be as fresh, local and sustainable as the food on your plate. That's a powerful experience," said Kasey Cronquist, administrator of the Certified American Grown brand.

And now back to the Field to Vase dinner. The evening also celebrated locally grown food and locally produced wine and beer, with fantastic representation by Crooked Run Brewing out of Leesburg with a grapefruit saison and a 100% chardonnay sparkler from Stone Tower Winery. Catering was fresh and local and kudos to Michael Kozich, Executive Chef and owner of Blue Water Kitchen in Bluemont, VA and his team for a wonderful meal, with flawless table service on a very warm evening. Chef Michael featured a fresh from the garden meal featuring local vegetables and lamb.

Andrea Gagnon gave a tour of the farm and did a floral design demo. Their flowers are sold (and have a huge following!) at the Burke, Dupont Circle and Palisades farm markets. For more information about their farm, events or flowers, go to

Andrea Gagnon does a demonstration.

Want to support the Slow Flowers movement, U.S. flower farmers and buy local? Look for the Certified American Grown brand and logo on your floral purchases.

The dinner setting on Andrea and Lou Gagnon's flower farm in Gainesville, VA.

AbleinCarSusan Able is the Publisher and Editor in chief of Edible DC. In the summer, she’s always recipe testing and can be found running around from farm market to farm market looking for perfect tomatoes.