by Madeleine Hawks
Last weekend, I met my ets. Or something like that. Charlottesville has a vibrant locavore scene and I’m lucky to live in a place that gets real jazzed about food production and consumption. Meet Yer Eats was a farm tour day sponsored by Relay (a local online grocery service) and Market Central. The idea was to get
eaters city slickers out on the farms to pet animals, stomp around in poo, sample honeys, cheeses, veggies, and to chat with the farmers who actually grow the food. I was in hog heaven.
I went with my friend Liz, who generously drove us about an hour south to Nelson County to our first farm: Hungry Hill.
Hungry Hill Farm
Hungry Hill was all about honey production, but they also grow shiitake mushrooms and some veggies. This is their honey processing room, which is hilariously painted with outrageous peach colored foam. This gentlemen saw to it that Liz and I sampled 7 different types of honey. It was amazing the amount of difference you can taste in honey varieties, based on the flowers that the bees found and which part of the season they were out there buzzing around. My favorite was the honey made from raspberry flower pollen. As far as honeys go, it’s spicy!
Spoiler alert: I have a whole post about honey production and use coming your way soon.
After ogling the honey rooms, we stopped by their shiitake mushroom factory: a bunch of sticks in neat piles in the woods. Silly me, for all the mushrooms I’ve eaten, I’ve never really pictured what it is like to grow them! The holes you can see bored into the logs (in the foreground) are injected with shiitake spawn and then sealed with beeswax (duh!). The process usually takes about a week from injection time to harvest time. Covering the logs with plastic, which you can see on the far right, speeds up the process and keeps the logs nice and moist. Cedar chips cover the ground to keep other sneaky fungi from trying to hop a free ride with the shiitakes. I was amazed to find out that all you need to start your own little backyard mushroom farm is a log like this, some spawn, which you can get online, and some cedar for the ground below. In case you’re wondering, they just harvested mushrooms the day before, so you can’t see any actually growing in this picture.
Inglewood Lavender Farm
Our new friends at Hungry Hill gave us directions to stop by their neighbors at Inglewood Lavender Farm just up the road. Inglewood wasn’t on the map for Meet Yer Eats, but, like many small farms, is usually open to the public during the week anyway. They have an adorable little setup on an old plantation with a former smokehouse they repurposed as their shop. Inglewood sells a variety of lavender products like soaps, shampoo, and even essential oil that they make there. For $8, I was given a pair of scissors and a rubber band to go pick my own bundle of lavender in the fields.
This is Gail, she’s one of the founders of Caromont Farm. After Liz and I scrambled to eat as many cheese samples as possible, Gail gave us a tour of the farm. Understatement of the Year: Gail likes her job. I have never felt so enthusiastic about milk quality, cheese production, or happy goats. Caromont has a growing reputation in the cheese world, but continues to treat their goats like queens. They let them out to pasture every day to nibble on grass and relax in the field. I learned that goats don’t like heat, so in the hottest days of the summer, they make sure to pasture them in the woods, where they can be in the shade.
Caromont has a good local reputation with other farmers and food producers. Several pig farmers collect the acidic whey left over from milking the goats and feed it to their pigs, which apparently love to eat whey! In the winter, a few foodie friends of Caromont come for a pig slaughter at the farm and experiment with meat curing and bacon making. Gail only keeps a few pigs – enough to make meat for her family and for friends. I asked if the goats and pigs ever co-mingle and she said that she would never put them in the same pen because pigs are very aggressive and would likely eat the goats. Noting my visible shock and horror at the idea, she said “A pig would eat you too”. My nervous laughter found no empathy and when we walked to the pig pen, I kept my distance.
I had no idea how much I would learn about pigs at a goat farm. Not only are they aggressive, but they are smart and stealthy creatures! In fact, when the earthquake happened in Nelson County last year, the pigs were the first animals on the farm to start going crazy, before the ground started shaking. Naturally interested in rooting and exploring, the pigs have escaped several times by burrowing under the electric fence. I can only imagine the chaos that ensued trying to wrangle four pigs back inside the fence. Apparently the pigs don’t care for being herded either, but were eventually tempted home by food. Suddenly, pig races make more sense – duh, there’s food for them at the end!
Also, the best part of this clip of the Swifty Swine Pig Race starts at 30 seconds.
These are the goodies I took home from the trip. It goes without saying that I ate a dinner of honey sticks and Caromont’s Esmontonian cheese as I wrote this post. The best part is that now when I go to the farmer’s market in Charlottesville, I can go to these stalls and I know exactly what I’m buying!
When was your last farm encounter?
I lusted after this great poster hidden in the bathroom at Caromont.