Visit the lovers state and explore its one-of-a-kind agricultural initiatives
Springtime in Virginia evokes the spirit of Mother Nature waking up from her winter slumber. The landscape comes alive in the warm temperatures emanating the sweet scents of flora and fauna. Ranch hands and farmers prepare for another season of rebirth and robust agritourism. With the first songs of the robins and thrushes, roadside produce stands and farmers’ markets begin popping up inviting folks to enjoy the literal fruits of their labor. Not only does community-supported agriculture offer everyone the opportunity for fresh food options, but it also provides an experiential learning opportunity with fun and unusual participatory activities everyone will enjoy.
In the crisp Virginia fall, visit corn mazes, U-Pick pumpkin patches and cider mills where you can try your hand at farming practices. The lovers state has such diverse agriculture, anyone is sure to find an adventure that suits their curiosities from walking alpacas in the Blue Ridge Mountains to plucking oysters from the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach. In the beautiful foothills and countryside, and along the coastal waterways, there’s an abundance of natural resources to cultivate and study.
The Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach is home to the brag-worthy Lynnhaven oyster, a delicacy that was once revered by European and Russian royalty during the 17th century. Captain Chris Ludford, owner and farmer of Pleasure House Oysters, provides a unique coastal experience on his Waterman Tour, one of the many excursions he offers. You’ll get to tour his farm and taste the Lynnhaven oyster at its freshest. Get right in the river and explore the farming process and the oysters’ cultivation from seedling to the dinner table. Ludford nurtures their development for two years producing a true piquant delicacy. When in season, get up close and handle eels, crabs and fish pots too.
From regional wine grapes to purple fields of pleasantly scented lavender, White Oak Lavender Farm and The Purple WOLF Vineyard in Harrisonburg is a must-visit, especially during U-Pick season, the ultimate hands-on endeavor. In mid-June when the landscape is exploding with purple hues and woodsy floral aromas, head out into the fields with your sheers and instructions provided by the friendly farm staff and pick your bounty. Sign up and take a class like lavender wand weaving or fresh lavender wreath making. They also offer guided and self-guided farm tours throughout the year, wine tasting set in the flowering fields and a quaint lavender farm store.
If you’re fascinated by U-Pick operations, Great Country Farms and Bluemont Vineyards is another not-to-be-missed venue offering hands-on activities for everyone from wine enthusiasts to casual sippers. Located in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Loudoun County, Great Country Farms and its sister site, Bluemont Vineyards – a familial collaboration – offers an unparalleled example of a working farm. Since the 1970s, the Zurschmeide family has been producing abundant farm-to-table food and wine opportunities for everyone in and around the community.
Hop aboard a Great Country Farms wagon and head out into the orchards to pick fresh seasonal fruits. When you’re finished, mosey across the street to Bluemont Vineyards with your riches and learn the sangria-making process from the masters themselves. Get competitive with your group and team up to make your own sangria and decide who takes the grape.
Truly unwind on a beautiful scenic walk through the Point of View Alpaca Farm. Marvel at the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic mountain views of the ancient Allegheny and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Owners Teri and Dave Grembi offer a unique twist on a peaceful stroll through nature:
“We are located on a very scenic 25-acre farm in Mt. Sidney, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley,” the Grembis said. “We feature an amazing mile-long alpaca walk that takes our customers through pastures, past lavender fields, through the woods and typically ends on the bank of a river. It is a great chance to unplug and enjoy the outdoors while walking your own alpaca. At the end of the walk, customers are welcome to shop in our alpaca farm store for products made from the fiber of our own alpacas. Check out our website at pointofviewalpacas.com for more information.”
Inspire your friends and loved ones with photos of your alpaca adventure surrounded by stunning natural views and stories you can share for a lifetime. Although the walk itself requires some mobility, anyone can visit the farm and explore the alpaca operations and meet the gentle creatures.
Agritourism is a vital part of American culture. The goal of educating while entertaining and sustaining is the trademark of what agritourism stands for. Unique interactive eco-friendly experiences link agricultural processes to tourism by bringing people to farms, ranches and other agrarian businesses. Visitors have the chance to get their hands dirty, learn something new and help keep farms running by supporting their efforts. The end result is the idea that fresh food can reach everyone’s kitchen table regardless of income, all while sustaining one of the most vital operations in the country. Inviting and teaching children and young people the value of supporting local farms helps instill the importance of community-supported agriculture from a young age. Cross something off your bucket list and visit Virginia’s plethora of agritourism attractions.
By Heather Dale