From just-picked produce to fresh eggs to free-range meats and locally produced wines, Rappahannock has it all.
"You can literally source a dinner party by driving around Rappahannock and going around to various farms," said Alan Zuschlag, who raises all-natural lamb at Touchstone Farm in Amissville.
Convenience and loyalty may be some of the reasons rural residents
visit local farmstands, but customers from farther afield are also
taking more of an interest in locally grown food.
With scares about E. coli in spinach, botulism in chili and numerous reports of contamination associated with food imports from China, more consumers are turning to local farmers for food they can trust.
Those concerns have been paired with a growing resolve to conserve fossil fuels, which are needed to transport goods between far-flung locations.
"For the longest time it was organic" that food connoisseurs were concerned with, Zuschlag said.
But the organic label lost some of its cache as large grocery-store chains like Safeway and Wal-Mart started their own lines of organic products. What had traditionally been associated with small-scale, local farmers became mainstream and multinational.
"So the next best thing became buying locally," Zuschlag said. "The emphasis on buy local is coming at a great time because Rappahannock is poised to take advantage of that."
There are plenty of reasons to get food from local producers.
Buying from nearby farms is better for the environment, keeps dollars circulating in the local community and helps maintain the profitability of agricultural land.
In the United States, food travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to the grocery store, according to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture in San Francisco.
Trucks, trains, airplanes and ships burn fossil fuel, which causes air and water pollution, while traveling thousands of miles to transport types of food that may be growing down the road in Rappahannock.
For example, the average apple in a grocery store has traveled 1,726 miles from where it was picked. With an orchard around every corner in Rappahannock, there's no need to buy anything other than local apples.
The power needed to refrigerate produce during those long journeys also takes energy and causes pollution. And transported food usually is accompanied by more packaging, which ultimately ends up in a landfill.
Eating locally grown food is also a way to ensure that food dollars remain in the community.
For every dollar spent at a local business, 68 cents recirculates through the community, according to the nonprofit organization Local First. However, only 43 cents of every dollar spent at a chain or other non-local store stays in the community.
Working farms are a key to Rappahannock's scenic beauty, which attracts tourists and holds property values high. Keeping those farms profitable is a key to ensuring that agricultural land is not developed into housing.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation has lost more than 5 million farms since 1935. Many small farms' survival depends on direct sales to regional consumers.
Don't forget taste
Last but not least, locally raised food is often tastier and more nutritious than store-bought food. Fresh produce has more nutrients and disease-battling antioxidants than food that was picked several weeks ago.
In a grocery store, "it might be three or four weeks since [fruit] has been off the tree," said Jesse Jenkins at Jenkins Orchard in Woodville. "It doesn't have any flavor."
Jenkins Orchard has been a Rappahannock staple since 1954. The farm grows peaches, nectarines, pears, blackberries, tomatoes and 20 varieties of apples.
Jenkins focuses on direct sales, rather than distributing to stores.
"Most people, when they taste our stuff, they don't want other people's stuff," Jenkins said. "Our business picks up every year."
Gene Adams Jr., manager of the family-owned Adams Custom Slaughter in Amissville, has also seen an increase in the number of people wanting locally raised and butchered meat.
"I've gotten a lot more people over the years," he said. "A lot of people don't want to buy from the stores."
Adams oversees his entire process from start to finish to ensure the quality of his products. He also has a state inspector on site.
"I do everything here from the start: I raise it, I kill it and I cut it," Adams said.
Anyone hungry for locally raised hamburger, steaks, sausage and bacon can buy directly from Adams or pick up some sausage at Mayhugh's Store in Amissville.
Other Rappahannock stores that carry local food include the Sperryville Corner Store, the Epicurious Cow and Roy's Orchard and Fruit Market.
"Everybody wants to know where the food is being grown," said Roy Alther, who sells produce grown in his Sperryville orchard as well as food raised on other nearby farms. "People are becoming more aware of trying to buy more local than they were before."
Alther said about half his customers are locals and the other half are tourists, mostly from the Washington, D.C., area.
With only 7,000 residents in Rappahannock, local farms have to market their products to customers outside the county. The affluent population in the D.C. area is an important demographic.
"We are uniquely poised to capture the market of people who are concerned about," buying local, Zuschlag said.
Other counties in the region are not in a position to take advantage of the buy-local trend, he explained. Like most U.S. agricultural operations, farms in other counties have specialized in a single crop like soybeans or corn. Rappahannock is creating more unique products that also fetch higher prices.
"I think it is a great thing for our farmers," Zuschlag said. "Rappahannock is already a foodie destination. It's known for its restaurants and boutique farms."
Zuschlag said customers in the D.C. area also seem to enjoy having a connection with the people who produce their food.
He maintains that link with customers by sending them an annual newsletter that includes recipes for the different cuts of lamb that he sells. With no middlemen, it's easy for him to communicate directly with the people who buy his lamb.
"People don't get that connection when they go to the grocery store," he said.
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