LOVETTESVILLE, Va. (WUSA 9) -- In fast-growing Loudoun County, many farms have disappeared over the past the few decades. But, in the rural, western Loudoun, farms are not only thriving, they're growing. An increasing demand for local produce along with a special marketing campaign is helping both restaurants and farms succeed.
Take the Quarter Branch Farm in Lovettesville for example. After losing his job in 2009, Kevin Grove decided to take his two acres and start growing fruits and vegetables to sell, even though he had no experience in farming. His digestive trouble led him to organic foods, and he decided to make a career of it. Now, he's farming 10 acres and supplies fresh organic produce to 12 restaurants. Grove credits not just the growing interest for local produce, but also Farm-To-Fork Loudoun.
Farm-To-Fork Loudoun is an 11-day celebration that highlights local farms and the restaurants that buy and serve their vegetables, fruits and meats. From July 24 through August 3, each of the participating restaurants offers special menus featuring fresh, local produce and meats from the participating farms.
"It's kind of like speeding dating with chefs," Grove explained. He says it would normally take years to develop the many relationships he now has with local chefs. "Everybody sees my name on the menu," and they want to come and taste the fresh flavors. "It drives up interest."
Fire Works Wood Fired Pizza in Leesburg is one of the Farm-To-Fork participating restaurants. On Fire Work's Black Sheep pizza, all the toppings, from the lamb sausage to the tomatoes to the cheese, are from local farms.
Fire Works assistant general manager Stacey Pierson says: "It just makes sense. Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of the bounty right here? If food doesn't have to be transported 1,000 miles to your table, that's great!"
Loudoun Agriculture Development officer Kellie Boles says she speaks with farmers regularly and that are all doing well. Six wineries opened in Loudoun in the past 12 months, bringing the total number to 43.
Of farms overall, "If they're not expanding, they've stabilized," Boles said. She emphasized the importance of what Farm-To-Fork is doing. "It's not about just these 11 days, it's about cultivating the connection between restaurants and farms in western Loudoun," and then building awareness of those farms to consumers, Boles explained.
Local produce, specifically organic fruits, vegetables and meats, cost more than the mass-produced kind, but plenty of customers are willing to pay extra for it.
That's good for local restaurants and farms alike.
"They're willing to pay a little more to know the animals aren't raised with growth hormones and that the produce is chemical-free," said Pierson.
"I wouldn't do it any other way," said Grove about why he loves his new career. Even though growing organically means he loses more of his crops than farms that use pesticides, he's committed.
"I appreciate it when consumers understand the amount of work that goes into running an organic farm."