Autumn. Many consider it the finest of seasons. Even folks who don't usually venture out to the countryside are tempted to take to the highways and byways during September and October.
Today the urge has increased. Yes, the apples, pumpkins, cider and flowers are still a lure. But toss in blue skies, cool temperatures and colorful fall foliage, and the urge becomes even stronger. Now layer those attractions over a lockdown lifestyle that’s just beginning to ease up, and a day trip to a farm is de rigueur.
Fauquier County residents are fortunate to have a thriving Pick Your Own farming community. There are at least a dozen such back-to-the-earth businesses in the county. Embrace other nearby localities, and the choice jumps to some 40 agricultural destinations.
This summer’s weather has been less than hospitable to the land's stewards. It's been a challenge for the American Gothic folks who till the land.
Nonetheless, farmers persevere.
“Yes, we’ve had challenges this year. First, it was spring frosts, then dry weather, and now it's wet, but that’s called farming,” said Jimmy Messick, who along with his brother, Ronnie, co-own Messick’s Farm Market in Bealeton. “If you’re not ready for those challenges, you shouldn’t be farming.”
Notwithstanding nature's forces, his strawberry season was a success. He had 9 miles -- yes, 9— of strawberry rows. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and a variety of other vegetables rounded out summer’s cornucopia. Now with the brisk fall weather come flowers and pumpkins.
The market also carries local artisanal goods like handmade pasta, pastured meats and skincare products. There is a made-to-order deli counter for those who come hungry for sandwiches and prepared salads and an ice cream stand.
Supporting small farmers is a worthwhile cause. In 1920, there were more than 6 million farms scattered from sea to shining sea. Today, 2 million are left. And while that number is stabilizing, it's the big boys increasingly plowing the earth, not mom and dad.
One of the small farms is Green Truck Farm in Markham that has plenty of pumpkins and winter squash for sale. The recorded phone message for Sept. 19 informed, “We have a large variety of pumpkins, apples and fresh-made donuts and popcorn.”
Valley View Farm is located in Delaplane. The farm encompasses 500 acres in the scenic Delaplane Valley off U.S. 17.
“My great-grandfather purchased the land for my grandfather back in the 1920s. He operated a beef and horse farm and rode in the Cobbler Hunt with George Patton of World War II fame,” said Philip Carter Strother.
“Twenty-six years ago, my grandfather planted the first peach orchard and started a pick your own operation," said Strother. “We have been welcoming people to the farm ever since. “
Today, the modest peach orchard has been expanded to include agricultural products, including fruit, vegetables, social lubricants, family activities and more.
To visit the farm is to take a three-hour graduate course in farming. “When guests come out to Valley View, they’re going to get a hands-on farming experience,” explains Strother. The operation embodies the best of what is known as agritourism.
Amber King manages the farm market. “We have an apple orchard with five different varieties of pick-your-own apples. The sizes are a half-pack, pack, and half-bushel, costing $8, $15, and $23.”
Pre-picked apples are also available. Some fresh produce is still for sale, including tomatoes, potatoes, and cantaloupe, fresh eggs, flowers, honey products. Cider, wine and mead tastings make for a pleasant after-picking experience.
The wine is produced by the farm and its sister property, the Philip Carter Winery in Hume. There are eight different hard ciders, three white wines and three red wines available for tasting and bottle purchases.
On the weekend of Oct. 3, Valley View Farm is hosting “Sunset in the Orchard.” The event will include live music in the evening. Food will be available on-site, including a food truck. “People can come out, pick their own produce, hang out, listen to the music, and enjoy the sunset from the orchard,” said King.
The farm welcomes families and is pet-friendly. “Guests are allowed to freely roam the orchard to pick fruit, enjoy picnics and have an overall great experience,” said King.
An all-inclusive website (https://www.pickyourown.org/VAnorthern.htm) describes in detail all of the Pick Your Own farms throughout the Northern Virginia region. The site includes information on each farm, tips on picking, directions, phone numbers and websites. One important tip is to call ahead or check a farm’s Facebook page or website to confirm produce availability and operating hours.