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Airlie opens its doors to students

Thursday, May. 15 | By Hannah Dellinger
FHS students check out frozen pigs in the freezer on their kitchen tour of Airlie Conference center.
Photo by Adam Goings
Fauquier’s hidden historical gem, the Airlie Center in Warrenton, recently opened up its doors to students and community members interested in farm-to-fork gardening.

For more than 50 years the Airlie center was a place for diplomats and high-ranking international figures to meet about sensitive topics in a private country setting. The hotel now serves corporate guests as a venue for conferences, retreats and meetings for businesses in the non-profit, private and government sectors. It is also open to weddings and vacations.

The center is now allowing groups of students to tour the gardens and the kitchen for seminars from the staff.
“ We are currently just doing a few school group tours each year,” said Airlie executive chef, Jeff Witte. “We do host a number of tours for our conference guests and we hold workshops for local farmers and people within the immediate community.”

Witte wants to open up to even more student groups in the future.

“We hope to expand our relationships with the local schools,” he said. “My vision is to have a different school here once a week. It’s important that we educate these guys. It needs to be fun for them and if we can educate them at the same time, then it’s win-win.”

Witte led a group of Fauquier High School Culinary Arts students around the grounds last week. He showed them the fruit trees, vegetable gardens, chickens, green house and explained the importance of sustainable farming.
“Sustainability in regards to farming, is farming for the future,” he told the group. “We don’t use pesticides or chemicals, because those things are going to deplete the soil and there are some negative nutritional aspects to it as well.”

Head Gardener Kae Yowell explained how she makes mulch for the garden with left over food from the kitchen, creating a nutritional circle from the soil to the plate and leaving as little waste behind as possible.

“I just think that it’s so important to help kids and people of all ages get reconnected with their local food movement and really get back in touch with nature,” said Yowell. “A lot of people really need to realize where their food is coming from, how it’s grown, meet their farmer and learn to love vegetables.”

Yowell said that people can form healthier diets and eating habits by gardening.

“There have been studies that show that people that grow their own vegetables are more likely to enjoy vegetables,” she said.

Witte said that Airlie has been working with P.B. Smith Elementary School students this year on an edible schoolyard garden to bring this point home.

“We hope to have a celebration of sorts in May and we will make pizzas that will include things that they’ve grown in the garden,” he said.

Yowell said that they also invited special education students to create their own garden plot at Airlie.

“The Fauquier Enclave group, a group of special education kids, created their garden last semester,” she said. “They came for an hour once a week and they had a beautiful garden.”

Yowell said that anyone is welcome to participate in the community garden for free. She said that the main perk is that you get to take home the vegetables that your grow for your family to enjoy.

Christine Stanton, a culinary arts and nutrition and wellness teacher at FHS, decided to bring her students to Airlie for a hands-on lesson.

“We talk about where our food comes from and the process from the farm to the table, so it’s interesting for them to see the farm part, especially with the current trends towards organic and locally produced foods,” she said. “They get to see that first hand.”

Stanton said that some of her students are interested in culinary careers, so the experience helps them to better understand the professional cooking world.

“On the culinary side, they get to see an operational commercial kitchen and get a feel for the environment, the demands and the challenges,” said Stanton. “It’s also neat for them to meet professional chefs and ask them how they got to where they are now.”

For more information about the Airlie Center, visit: http://www.airlie.com.

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