Jun 13, 2012
Virginia farm relies on ‘huge’ CSA program

If you’re going to run a CSA, it helps to do it in the richest county in the country.

The Community Supported Agriculture program is the “bread and butter” of Great Country Farms, said Jaclyn Jenkins, one of the farm managers.

Great Country charges CSA members nearly $620 for a 20-week subscription that delivers one box of produce weekly to their homes. Two boxes delivered per week costs nearly $1,028, according to the farm’s website.

The CSA program delivers about 1,500 boxes of produce per week, from June to October. The price includes free, season-long admission to the farm for the entire family, Jenkins said.

Great Country Farms is in northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, the wealthiest county in the United States (thanks to its proximity to Washington, D.C.). Loudoun County has a median household income of $119,540, according to MSN Money.

The Zurschmeide family had been farming in Loudoun County for more than two decades when they bought the property that Great Country Farms now sits on in 1993. Loudoun was the fastest-growing county in the country in the 1990s, developing at a furious rate. The family needed to buy a “home base” to farm before all the quality land was gobbled up, said Kate Zurschmeide, a member of the family that owns the farm.

“Land prices were crazy,” she told visitors from the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association earlier this year. “We were fortunate to purchase this location.”

Great Country Farms was an agritourism operation from the start. Besides the “huge” CSA program, there are events and festivals throughout the year, Kate said.

The farm’s growth from year to year has been “amazing.” New buildings and activities are constantly being added, Jenkins said.

Among its agritourism activities are monthly festivals, based on whatever u-pick crop is ripe. In May, it’s asparagus and strawberries. In July, there’s the BBQ & Blackberry Bonanza; in August, the Dog Days Peach Festival. Pumpkin and cider festivals are in the fall.

Pumpkin season is the busiest time of the year, but school field trips keep the farm busy spring through fall. Up to 500 kids can show up in one day. It “gets kind of crazy,” Jenkins said.

She described the strawberry tour in detail, which is much like the other tours: A guide gathers a few dozen kids and explains to them the strawberry’s life cycle. The guide leads them quickly through a greenhouse and explains how everything works, but doesn’t let them stop for fear of little hands touching things they shouldn’t. The kids also get a hayride and eat pre-picked strawberries. The farm used to let the kids pick their own berries, but hundreds of children descending on a field turned out to be detrimental to the crop’s health. They still get to pick other produce that is in season, she said.

The kids also get a cup filled with a little bit of feed, which they can give to the animals. The newest item on the tours, gem mining, has been a “huge hit.” The kids get bags of dirt with gems hidden inside each, take the bags to a sluice, sift the dirt away with water and find the hidden gems, which they get to take home. The farm also is in the midst of developing an educational program about bees and pollination, Jenkins said.

Bluemont Vineyard

A few years ago, Kate Zurschmeide’s husband, Mark, partnered with his brother, Bruce, and Bob and Kevin Rupy to start a vineyard and winery across the street from Great Country Farms. It’s named Bluemont Vineyard and is situated on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, nearly a thousand feet above sea level, according to the vineyard’s website. The view is spectacular.

The tasting room sells several Bluemont vintages, along with cheeses, meats, tapenades, chips, crackers, chocolate and baguettes. Hot soup, stews, sandwiches and chowders also are available. There’s also a gift shop.

Down the hill from the winery is The Stable, a former horse barn that’s now used for weddings. Weddings and wine seemed like a perfect combination, Kate said, and plenty of weddings are held there between May and November.
For more information about Bluemont Vineyard, visit www.bluemontvineyard.com. For more information about Great Country Farms, visit www.greatcountryfarms.com.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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