Growing Magazine - April, 2014

FEATURES

Pedaling Down to the Farm

Touring bicyclists meet local farmers
By Rocky Womack


Cyclists visit with Darrell Hulver, owner of Survivor Farm in Page County, Va. He told the riders about his operation, where he and his wife, Vickie, strive to grow everything they need to survive on the farm.
Photos courtesy of Pamela Flasch, Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, unless otherwise noted.

The paths of farmers and bicyclists have intersected in unique ways in Page County, Va. Farmers have ridden a brief wave of tourism while teaching bicyclists the importance of agriculture.

On October 12, 2013, the first Page County Grown Century was held. This event was for cyclists who wanted to ride 25, 50 or 100 miles from the northern end of the county to the southern end. Along the way, they stopped at specific farms to meet the farmers and learn more about agriculture.

Chris Gould's idea for adding farm visits to a bicycle tour soon turned into a passion for making the event a reality. "I have been promoting bicycle races in Page County for a number of years, all of which strive to provide a challenging event for the athletes, but which also promote and support local culture and industries," says Gould, a bicyclist and congressional relations representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

"I already feel like I'm a little closer [to] and more familiar [with] the food we eat than typical Americans," Gould continues. "All of that is to say that I have strong respect for farmers as the people who grow our food and are the backbone of the economy in rural America.

"When I was looking to promote a non-racing event, the president of Page County Grown - through whom I also get my CSA - suggested an event with his organization. It struck me as a perfect marriage. After all, the No. 1 industry in Page County is agriculture, and tourism is No. 2."



Bicycle riders in the Page County Grown Century prepare to leave the Regional Center for the Performing Arts of Luray on the way to visit local farms in Page County, Va.

Learning from each other

Gould believes farmers and bicyclists have a lot to learn from each other. "On one really practical level, I often think that the motorists in Page County, who are also farmers, are just a little more patient with me as a cyclist on the road, because they know what it's like to drive a slower-moving tractor in front of an impatient driver," he says. "Beyond that, I think cyclists, being athletes, ought to be very appreciative of farmers who grow fresh, healthy food, because that is what's necessary to be a better athlete."

On a different level, Gould says, "It's not just about what bicyclists and farmers can learn from each other; it's about a healthy coming together of people from urban and rural America." He frequently promotes bicycle events that bring people from urban and rural areas together. The Page County Grown Century, which Gould was able to ride in last year, provided him with a great opportunity.

"Associating names with faces and locations was very nice, and now whenever I go riding in the valley, it's awesome to pass farms on my route and know who is where and what they grow," Gould says.

David Sours, Page County Grown president, believes that bicycle riders can discover more about agriculture and what farmers do, and in turn farmers can learn more about bicyclists and the tourism that a bicycle event can bring to the area.

"As a farmer and avid cyclist, I thought this would be a great way to tie the two together," Sours says. "It would give riders the opportunity to tour the beautiful countryside of Page County and meet people that are growing their food along the way."



Chef Carl Corney and Sonny Stidham from the Mimslyn Inn serve a locally grown meal to riders at the conclusion of the Page County Grown Century.

Sours helped Gould organize the event. He notes that 57 bicyclists participated in the ride, which was a good turnout considering the rainy weather. "It was an absolutely horrible day to ride a bike; however, everyone who participated was very excited about the ride and meeting the farmers," Sours says. "The all-local meal served at the end was a hit too."

Participating farms included Valley Star Farm, Survivor Farm, Public House Produce, Long Acres Produce and Wisteria Farm & Vineyard. These farms are part of the Page County Grown group (http://www.pagecountygrown.com), which was started in 2011 with a mission to "bring prosperity to our community by promoting family farms; linking farmers with markets and consumers; enhancing tourism experiences and building healthier connections to locally grown products."

Survivor Farm, located in Luray, Va., near Lake Arrowhead, is run by Darrell and Vickie Hulver. According to the farm's page on the Page County Grown website, "The farm's goal is to raise all the fruits and vegetables needed to survive - right on the farm!" They grow asparagus, blackberries, peppers, raspberries, salsify, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

At Public House Produce (http://www.publichouseproduce.com), operated by David and Heather Sours in Luray, they grow more than 80 varieties, including beans, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, bok choy, radish and zucchini. In addition, the couple operates a CSA program and raises pasture-based heritage chickens.

Jeff Jennings owns and operates Long Acres Produce in Luray. He grows sweet corn, melons, peppers and tomatoes. Other crops include corn, soybeans, hay, alfalfa, pasture and timber. The farm also has a cow/calf/stocker facility and poultry facilities with the capacity to house 13,000 breeder hens, according to the Page County Grown website.

Wisteria Farm & Vineyard (http://www.wisteriavineyard.com) in Stanley, Va., is owned by Sue and Moussa Ishak. Their wines, crafted from Virginia-grown grapes, include pinot gris, chardonnay, Viognier, Traminette, Seyval, merlot, Carmine and Norton, as well as Velvet, a semisweet rose blend, and Sweet Daisy, a dessert wine. They also raise natural-colored Romney sheep and free-range chickens. The farm offers apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, eggs, chestnuts and wool.

Sponsors of the Page County Grown Century were Page Valley Cycling, MidAtlantic Farm Credit, Luray Caverns, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Hammer Nutrition.

Pamela Flasch, director of communications and tourism marketing for the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce in Luray, explains that the chamber of commerce was involved because both Page Valley Cycling and Page County Grown are members. She also serves as the unofficial administrator for Page County Grown.

According to Flasch, tourism brought $61 million to Page County in fiscal year 2012, so events like the Page County Grown Century can benefit the community economically.

The chamber of commerce also serves as the local visitor center and official destination marketing organization to bring in those tourists. "We are within a day's drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population, many of whom live in urban areas such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Baltimore," Flasch says. "Our scenic mountain beauty and agrarian lifestyle are appealing to this demographic.



Bill and Peg Morris of Fairfax, Va., ride through the countryside of Page County, Va., during the Page County Grown Century.
Photo courtesy of Elisa Kunz.

"We also have a farm tour, growing season kickoff and a farm-to-table wine dinner," she adds. "Our farm-to-school program is the top in the state, with 38 percent of the produce served in our schools being grown locally."

On the road again

The wet weather didn't dampen the spirits of the riders participating in the first Page County Grown Century. Sours says the ride will take place this year on Columbus Day weekend, when they will visit more farms. It's a creative way to bring consumers and producers together.

Rocky Womack has written about agriculture and business for more than 25 years and currently serves as a contributing writer and correspondent for agriculture and business magazines, domestically and internationally. In the past, he has worked as a magazine editor and daily newspaper writer. Womack has won numerous awards for his interviewing, writing and in-depth reporting.

Rocky Womack has written about agriculture and business for more than 25 years and currently serves as a contributing writer and correspondent for agriculture and business magazines, domestically and internationally. In the past, he has worked as a magazine editor and daily newspaper writer. Womack has won numerous awards for his interviewing, writing and in-depth reporting.