The initial idea for a Virginia Farms program began as an attempt to work a pun into publication. “VA Farms. Is that like farms that operate in Virginia? Or is it an action? Who farms? Virginia Farms!”
At its heart, VA Farms is a continuing project to tell the story of modern agriculture. It brings those stories and the people from local farms to Frying Pan Farm Park to meet park visitors. As a historic site, part of Frying Pan Farm Park’s mission is to educate visitors about how farmers once operated in this part of Fairfax County. The truth is, farming is still conducted in and around Fairfax; it just has a different face. Several faces, actually. The VA Farms program brings those faces to people who eat food from farms, and it aims to balance past and present and to inspire engagement in local food systems.
When food consumers meet food producers, a bond forms. This connection to food is lost while shopping at the grocery store when all that can be observed is the same stock-photo produce and meat. It’s easy for an uninvolved consumer to take the hard work that goes into producing these products for granted. When we hear producers’ stories first hand, a certain appreciation and respect develops toward the food purchased from these small farms. When respect is exhibited for food, there follows a reduction in waste and a greater appreciation for our farmers.
Respect is not held solely by the consumer. In recent years, soil has been classified as a non-renewable resource. In kind, this new brand of small-scale production does not strictly consider profit margins to be the exclusive ambition of the business. These Virginia farmers use sustainable practices in their farming techniques to be better land stewards. It appears that they are not farming for today, but for future generations in their efforts to rehabilitate the land.
Their stories have had a provocative impact on me as a farm employee. For the past four or five seasons, I have worked with Floris Elementary, a school just a stone’s throw from the farm. Each year, the school’s Green Team, an environmentally-focused group of youngsters, came to the farm to learn about gardening. At the end of the school year, they harvested what was grown and shared it with their friends at lunch. This year, the park will explore a new farming venture. Developing a Farm to School Program with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is in the research phase. FCPS’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services has placed a high value on sourcing locally-produced foods by hiring a Farm to Cafeteria Coordinator. This coordinator seeks funding to purchase locally-grown foods and has installed salad bar options in the school system.
Frying Pan Farm Park will continue to keep its agricultural spirit alive and hopes to link its farming past to the present need of local food to feed our immediate community.