Author Archive


The last hike

Posted on Dec 14 2020 | By

Six years ago a good friend died while hiking his beloved mountains

On December 31, 2014, George Wotton set out on a hike on a cold and cloudy New Year’s Eve morning. I, Andreas Keller, and Ken Hawker accompanied him.

The hike was an ad hoc jaunt arranged just a few days prior. The thermometer was locked at 17 degrees when our quartet began its walk-up Buck Hollow Trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Mary’s Rock and return was the itinerary, an eight-mile loop all of us had done before.

One of the last members to sign up for the hike was George. He had recently returned from a ski trip where he accompanied his grandkids and a local Boy Scout troop for three days of down hilling. We were glad when he joined our excursion.

At age 69, it was to be his last walk in the mountains.

Each December 31 since his passing, fellow hikers have commemorated George’s life by returning to the trail where he breathed his last. It’s a testament to his love of people and his desire to hike with folks with his passion for the out-of-doors.

But George’s life ran much deeper than just a walk in the woods. With hiking poles in hand, a day pack on his back, and eyes focused on the trail, his hiking style was emblematic of his life view. Grab hold and move out. Smiling all the way.

In the year he died, he had hiked Old Rag Mountain 24 times, a demanding eight-miler and the most popular hike in the Mid-Atlantic region. He logged many additional miles on other trails all well.

An enduring memory of those who knew George was his eveready smile. It was not an insincere grin. It began in his eyes and broadened deeply into his signature smile. “Good to see you.” “Beautiful day for a hike.” “Let’s get started!”

He took an interest in everyone he talked to. Life was not about him. It was about you. It was his inborn view and contagious. When George was on a hike, you were going to have fun. He often moved forward and backward along the trail carrying on conversations with the other hikers.

And, he had a ubiquitous bag of small Snickers bars at the ready to share with anyone needing a quick energy boost.

What belied his interest in others was what he had accomplished in life. Not until the eulogy delivered by his son, Tom Wotton, did most of his friends become aware of his career accomplishments. He never spoke of them on the trail.

George was a retired U.S. Army Major. He served his country in the U.S. Air Force for four years, earned his bachelor’s degree from Lake Superior State University, and then served another 18 years in the U.S. Army as an electronics engineer.

His son, Tom Wotton, recalls, “One testament to my father’s humble character is he never put his awards or promotions on display. After he passed, I was helping my mother sort through his office. I remember one letter he originally was presented, but we could not find it. It turned out he had placed a photo of his grandson over top of the commendation.”

It was a congratulatory letter on official White House stationery signed by President Ronald Reagan.

George retired as a major in 1990, after serving in locations worldwide. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, a prestigious military honor bestowed upon only a few by the United States Armed Forces. It was given for his exceptional meritorious job performance.

After retiring from the Army, he worked as a master electrician in the family business, Home Sweet Home Improvements, located in Opal.

George loved skiing, hiking, and backpacking. He was a great mentor and supporter of the Boy Scouts assisting with many different troops over the years. His memory as a devoted husband to his wife Diane, and a dedicated father and grandfather to his sons Tom and Ken, their wives, and four children lives strong today.

The last hike
As the four mountain-loving men began their ascent to Mary’s Rock, George was pleased with his new winter hiking mittens; gear that was weather appropriate for the frigid morning.

I remember hanging back as the hike began, last in the four-man line but always within earshot of the trail chatter. As always, George was ebullient and energized as he climbed the steepest sections to our first stop, Skyline Drive.

We took a break at the Meadow Spring parking lot. As soon as George’s pack was off his back, he was offering Snickers bars to all.

Given the cold, our break was short, and we moved rapidly across Skyline Drive to ascend a steep section of the Meadow Spring Trail. Within 200 yards, our pace slowed noticeably as we shifted to low gear.

At this point, I was hiking directly behind George and carrying on a conversation with him. The trail took a sharp turn right and ascended very steeply. George grew quiet. Not unusual given how physically demanding the trail was.

Then, in a blink, he turned around and gazed directly at me, clutched his chest, moaned softly, and slowly slumped to the side of the trail. I froze and was momentarily speechless. I yelled to Andreas for help. Ken Hawker, a strong hiker, had moved out of ear reach and would return later when we failed to catch up with him.

Quickly we positioned George to the center of the trail. Andreas began CPR, and I grabbed a small spray bottle of nitroglycerin to treat angina pain. I had never used it before and carried it as a precaution, given the age of many of the club members. I sprayed the inside George’s mouth.

I rushed back to Skyline Drive and flagged down a motorist asking him to immediately go to the Thornton Gap entrance and send medical help.

Within 15 minutes, three rangers were tending to George. Twenty minutes after that, some 10 first responders were on site. The lead ranger was using a defibrillator on George in numerous attempts to restore a heartbeat.

When it appeared George was no longer with us, the ranger quietly explained to me he was following protocol under a UVA doctor’s cell phone direction and would end the procedure when completed.

Later, another ranger drove us back down the mountain to our vehicles. George’s body was taken to Luray since he had died on the jurisdictional side of Page County. Our somber task took us back in silence to George’s home to break the crippling news to his family.

It was a profound experience for the three of us to have a good friend taken from us without warning in the middle of a joyful event. A razor-sharp memory that will not dull with time.

On December 31, a group will again assemble and hike to Mary’s Rock.

George will be with us in spirit. Smiling and chatting as always.


Published in a December 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Main Street’s sound of music

Posted on Dec 13 2020 | By

Newly opened Modal Music Studio embraces the musician in all of us

First, the numbers. Fifty combined years of playing music. Fifteen instruments in their playable repertoire. Countless hours devoted to teaching hundreds of students’ musical instruments and voice.

Welcome to Modal Music Studio and the two enthusiastic guys seeking to channel the world into a calmer, saner place by tapping into the deepest instincts of music. They created the company in June of this year but until recently were forced to teach digitally due to Covoid-19.

On November 9, their studio at 90 Main Street opened after they unexpectedly found suitable quarters. Their mutual goal is sharing musical skills with whoever harbors an urge to play an instrument or sing.

While only a small percentage of folks will succeed in making a living through music, the joy of eliciting beauty from an instrument is reward enough.

The two musicians pulling it all together are Chris Bauer,27, and Dan Mudge, 36. It’s often cited that the music instinct and ability to play an instrument or sing springs from one’s DNA. In the case of these two teachers and performers, it holds.

Chris Bauer was originally a Baltimorean. At the age of four, he started playing the violin, switched to guitar in the seventh grade, and chased piano, drums, and voice as a young teen. “By the time I was in high school, I knew music was what I was going to do with my life.”

His high school years were devoted to practicing, playing with friends and in bands, and recording. He graduated from the Shenandoah Conservancy Arts Academy in Winchester, scoring a degree in music composition. He then taught music lessons, performed and wrote music for three years.

Dan Mudge hailed from a musical family and grew up with the love of music reverberating around his home. “By the time I was 11, I decided music was going to be my career. It’s like I didn’t have a choice. Music clicked, and that’s what I went with.”

In 2017, the men were employed as instructors at another studio. In addition to teaching, they created the Loathsome Wind comedy band centered on music in the Weird Al Yankovic genre.

Affirmation of the band’s success occurred this year when it won the Fauquier Times Readers’ Choice award for Best Band in Fauquier County.

Because of the pandemic, live performances have been largely eliminated, a situation that has affected bands nationwide. Next year, they hope to see a resurgence of gigs. In the interim, the band practices to keep its skills honed.

Making it happen
The biggest tip both instructors have for students is to practice every day. If a student is committed, success will follow. “Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a commitment. You can’t skate by practicing just a couple times a week,” said Bauer.

The guitar is the most popular instrument studied. Rock music is centered on the guitar, and the resulting popularity comes as no surprise.

The goal of the instructors is consistency. They recommend one 30-minute lesson every week on the same day and at the same time. Hour-long classes are available but typically are for more advanced students.

Newbies are given homework assignments and return for the next lesson demonstrating either success or the need for more focus on the previous class. Bauer thinks some people are born with natural talent springing from their family lineage.

But everyone can build on whatever strengths they possess, even if it’s minimal.

Bauer cites as an example one student, “Who started with almost negative musical ability. He really struggled, but he had a passion for it. I taught him for five years. By the time he graduated from high school, he was performing in a band.

“Natural talent will start you at a higher learning point, but it’s all about your determination to practice. Even talented people who don’t practice will not get better.”

Currently, the business is doing well, with each of the men having a good number of students. Because of the new Main Street location, they are attracting even more business.

In addition to music lessons, the company also functions as a semiprofessional recording studio. Students who want to cut a record can do so at a far less cost than a professional studio. “We can make a YouTube video for students who want to share their talent with family and friends,” said Mudge.

Other formats include cutting an EP album which consists of just three to five songs. It is then typically released digitally online.

Students are charged $140 a month for four half-hour lessons. The studio is opened Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday by appointment, and closed on Sunday.

“We are here to enrich people’s lives through music. Everyone enjoys music, either as a hobby or professionally,” said Bauer.

Mudge underscores, “Many people put off learning an instrument they’ve always wanted to learn. But it’s never too late. If you have the desire, we’ll get you to where you want to go.”

To explore the full range of services offered by Modal Music Studio, drop by


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

New year-round farmer’s market steeped in history

Chris Pearmund is known for his stable of wineries and vineyards, but at heart, he’s a farmer. He doesn’t wield a pitchfork or sling bales of hay, his domain springs from the earth by converting vines into wine.

If that doesn’t sound like a conventional farmer, ask him about the weather and growing grapes. That is if you have time to listen to his response. Read: It’s not easy.

Thanks to his active imagination, he now has a store that further reflects his farming bona fides and those of more than a score of other local tillers of the land and artisans. The establishment embodies “down-home”.

On November 8, the Pearmund Farm Store unwrapped its horn of plenty. It began selling various goods such as hams, beef jerky, eggs, peanut butter, honey, jellies, jams, pecans, coffee, candles, soap, cider, kombucha, hot sauces, local art, and more. Twenty-five vendors (and growing) keep the store stocked. Wine from the three Pearmund wineries is also for sale.

Many of the products spring from Fauquier County’s artesian cornucopia, but they might hail from anywhere in the Old Dominion if it’s a quality product.

“We are trying to feature as many local products as possible,” said Megan Hayes, store manager. “There’s a lot of items we carry from Fauquier but also the surrounding counties.”

Indoor and outdoor seating is provided, including a patio and front porch. Since the winery is a grape toss away, conventional wine tastings are not offered. However, guests can order wine by the bottle for enjoyment on-site or off.

During the summer and fall months, fresh fruits and vegetables will be available, adding to what is already a market with depth. “We’ve reached out to local farmers so the store can become a market for their products,” said Pearmund. “During the winter, it will provide a venue for them to sell non-perishable items.”

The five-bedroom, 4,000 square foot farmhouse sits on a low rise just before turning right into Pearmund Cellars winery. In keeping with Virginia’s legendary past, it comes with its own historic story.

The home sits on property that was birthed as a land grant in 1743 to a Colonel Harrison, who served in the Revolutionary War. He built a cabin on the site, and today the 277-year-old dwelling is the base of the farmhouse.

The home had been leased for years, but recently the tenant moved on, offering an opportunity for Pearmund further to accessorize his 30-acre estate with another guest attraction. Fifteen acres of Chardonnay grapevines grow nearby.

Upstairs five rooms can be rented for private parties, ranging in size from two to 12 people. The fee is a $100 gift card that can be used in the store or at the winery, essentially making the rooms rental free.

“A couple can reserve a room shared with others. Or, it can be reserved exclusively for a small private party. We can provide food, and for three hours, you would have a parlor-like setting for family and friends.”

With Covid-19 constricting the urge for public gatherings, reserving a room for a small private event allows folks to entertain in a public setting while feeling safe.

“It’s like going to visit grandma’s house in the country. You can bring your food or we can provide it,” said Pearmund.

Another innovative offering is carry out gourmet meals prepared by Warrenton’s Café Torino. Dinners from two to eight can be purchased at the store Thursday through Sunday, starting at $35. It includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

The dinners are fully prepared and need only be oven bound to create a dining out event at home. Buy a bottle of wine, and an in-home repast is yours. Working folks take note.

With a fireplace outside and in a country setting, the farm store is a safe, COVID-19 respectful indoor and outdoor getaway that is family-friendly. Parking is available just outside.

“When Covid-19 hit, and everybody was retracting, I went out and planted a 112 Crepe Myrtles on my property because I remembered Audrey Hepburn once saying, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in the future’.

“The farm store is a seed for the future success of agriculture in the Piedmont. It’s our way of saying, ‘Come out and support our local farmers and vendors,’” said Pearmund.

The store is located at 6188 Georgetown Run Road, Broad Run, and is opened seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the Pearmund Farm Store, drop by  


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Business Your Way to the rescue

Posted on Nov 26 2020 | By

Local entrepreneur’s experience aids businesses

Tapping into experience can lead to success. The key is finding proven experience since advice from the unqualified can be costly.

This line of thinking can border on espousing platitudes. “Listen to your elders” has been with us from the beginning and embodies most business philosophy. Nonetheless, finding someone who has created successful businesses—and is willing to share that knowledge—is a change agent worth seeking out.

Today, finding help to jump-start a listless enterprise is a “now more than ever” endeavor. According to a survey from Main Street America, 7.5 million small businesses will shut down permanently if the disruption caused by Covid-19 continues unabated.

Enter Marianne Clyde. With almost three decades of professional counseling and more, including the last nine years operating the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy in Warrenton, she walks the walk.

On October 28, she launched her latest creation Business Your Way, located at 32 Waterloo Street, #105.

“I’ve had practices in California, Massachusetts, Virginia, and even opened one in Tokyo when my husband’s insurance career took him there,” said Clyde. “I have 30 years working both stateside and in developing countries with people experiencing trauma, civil war, trafficking, water and food shortages, and more.”

In 2019, Clyde retired with no thought other than enjoying her family. Her husband Bob and her have eight children in their blended marriage and will celebrate their 18th grandchild’s birth next spring.

Tending to the family was like retiring to another full-time job.

But even in retirement, she stays involved with the local business community. It includes being a member of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce executive board and the founder of Be the Change Foundation, an organization empowering women to embrace opportunities, seek solutions, and find business success.

“Covid-19 caused both of those organizations to pivot, so I thought taking some business coaching courses would help me in my leadership roles,” said Clyde.

“Then it occurred to me everyone needs help with their businesses today because the pandemic has impacted most of them negatively.”

Business Your Way
With her wealth of experience, including not only counseling but in real estate, gift shops, and more, Clyde has always built businesses that worked around her lifestyle.

With her large family, traveling, and myriad interests, she believes, “Everybody who desires it should have a business that is not only flexible but when a crisis arrives can pivot, so it continues to be profitable while meeting their lifestyle.”

She devoted several months pulling together her new company, including creating a website, social media venues, group coaching, and workshops.

Clyde has three offerings to boost languishing businesses.

First, there is a half-day workshop called Hero on a Mission. The effort helps an owner gather their thoughts on what they want to accomplish and how their vision can be fulfilled. She helps them develop a one-year, five-year, and 10-year plan to achieve those goals. The cost is $250.

The training can be hosted on Zoom for five to 10 participants and covers mission, messaging, and marketing topics.

Second is an ongoing small group coaching option for five to ten people costing $600 a month.

It’s surprising to Clyde that many small businesses have not even compiled a customer email list because they did not need one in the past. Now ongoing communication with customers providing business and lifestyle tips is essential in maintaining and building relationships.

The third approach is a one-on-one engagement. It starts with a free phone interview where a “business MRI” is administered to elicit how an individual’s company is currently functioning. Clyde creates a proposal showing how she can provide pragmatic assistance in creating a path to increased revenue.

It typically is a six-month to a year-long action plan with three 90-minute meetings a month. The cost is $1,000 a month with a commitment to participate for a minimum of six months.

Clyde also offers a free subscription to the Business Made Simple University series that guides clients through a business reactivation process as an incentive to try her services. The offering was created by the well-known author Donald Miller.

Since there are so many businesses in crisis today, Clyde provides clear and proven strategies for increasing sales and elevating participating firms’ overall economic health.

In summarizing her return to the workforce, Clyde said, “There is a huge need out there today, and I’ve got the skills and time to help fulfill that need.”

For a description of all the service offerings of Business Your Way, including a free PDF publication titled “9 Ways to Save Your Business”, visit


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Neighbors helping neighbors

Posted on Nov 13 2020 | By

Immigrant support group Just Neighbors opens Warrenton office

On November 9, a branch of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Just Neighbors opened its doors at 34 Beckham Street. The office is part of Saint James’ Episcopal Church who donated space to the nonprofit organization.

Founded in 1996 by pastors and attorneys of the United Methodist Church, Just Neighbors provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, asylees, and refugees in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.

Heading up the new office is Tori Andrea Babington, an experienced nonprofit immigration attorney. Babington spent 11 years at Northern Virginia Family Service, most recently as its director of legal services. She joined Just Neighbors in October.

Andrea Babington,37, has represented clients in all forms of humanitarian and family-based immigration cases, as well as defending them against removal in immigration court. Her work includes assisting hundreds of refugees, domestic violence survivors, reuniting families, and helping new American citizens who have made the United States their home.

Under her guidance at Just Neighbors, she will assume responsibility for cases in Fauquier County and the Northern Piedmont, and eventually, the entirety of rural Virginia. She resides in Warrenton with her family.

“I am really excited to be able to practice in my community,” said Andrea Babington. “Folks who are living in the Piedmont region will now be able to have access to a nonprofit immigration attorney to help them apply for immigration benefits, without having to travel into Northern Virginia.”

Expressly, assistance is provided for cases such as protection for domestic violence survivors, victims of violent crimes, human trafficking, Dreamers (children brought to the U.S. and identify as Americans), immigrants afraid to return to their home country, and similar legal issues.

Just Neighbors has a one-time $100 consult fee. After that, all services are provided free. There is an income limit of under $50,000 for a family of four to be eligible for its services.

The organization has three funding sources. A third comes from its foundation, a third from individual donations, and the remaining from grants. Tax dollars do not support the institution.

Initially, the new office will focus on five different areas: Fauquier County, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Lynchburg, and the Eastern Shore. Changes in immigration law and policy can influence the level of activity in the office.

“There could be a chance a new Dream Act is enacted that would make the current temporary protections a permanent status. If that were to happen, we would prioritize our efforts to people who are eligible and assist them with their applications,” said Andrea Babington.

Some people question if undocumented persons should receive services to support their efforts to reside in the U.S.

Dominique Poirier is the director of legal services at Just Neighbors’ main office in Annandale. She has a unique way of helping understand why such support is essential.

Poirier cites as an example her children who studied for their driver’s license but never followed through with obtaining the actual permit. Mom was taking them everywhere, so the incentive was not there.

“I like to compare my kids with undocumented folks because they often have already qualified themselves for immigration benefits, but they don’t know how or can’t afford to pay the attorney fees to complete the application process,” said Poirier.

“When we work with the undocumented, we are allowing them to obtain the benefits for which they are already eligible. They have just not gone through the process of making it legal.

“Of course, there are a certain group of people who don’t qualify for anything, and we can’t help them.”

Initial activity in the Warrenton office of Just Neighbors will be reaching out to other nonprofits in the area, social services agencies, and other organizations that see immigrants in a different capacity.

“We want to make sure those groups know we are here, and they can refer their clients to us when needed, said Andrea Babington. “This helps us become part of the local nonprofit community. Also, as people use our services, there will be a lot of word of mouth promotion.”

Currently, the Beckham Street office is not seeing clients in person because of Covid-19. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but most client work is done by phone, Zoom, WhatApps, or whatever offsite format a client is comfortable using.

There are unique times when Andrea Babington may meet with a client in-person to review personal documents or sign paperwork. And in cases where a client has had a traumatic experience and it may not be feasible to work with them remotely.

“We are very excited to have Tori onboard in Warrenton because we needed somebody to reach out to people in rural Virginia that are not well served today. It’s also great to have somebody that is part of the local community,” said Poirier.

For information on the broad list of services available at Just Neighbors, visit


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Hume family winery closing when the wine runs out

It’s a bittersweet moment for Bob and Linda Claymier. After a decade behind the tasting bar of their ranch inspired winery, the energetic owners will soon begin the next, albeit quieter, chapter of their lives.

A legion of customers, who are known as “family”, are visiting to bid farewell to the Claymiers. The process of winding down is a well planned and executed exit from their fermented grape business.

But if the past is prologue, resting on their laurels is not a likely scenario for the wine lovers. The success of Desert Rose was preordained, given the successful lives the proprietors had previously led.

Bob Claymier’s story began in eastern Oregon 80 years ago. He grew up in the high desert country on a big cattle ranch. At a young lad, he was introduced to winemaking. “My mother was the winemaker in the family, and she made absolutely awful stuff,” recalls Claymier, laughing.

“I followed in her footsteps and made wine out of oak leaves, dandelions, and whatever. Later in life, I went on to use better ingredients.”

From high school, he joined the U.S. Navy. “They asked what I wanted to study. I couldn’t spell electronics, so that’s what I chose.” With an honorable discharge tucked under his arm, the future winery owner scored a degree in electrical engineering, which led to a foreign service career.

He worked as a covert operative for 31 years. In testimony to his career, one of his more popular red wines is called Covert Cab. Another is labeled R.E.D. Chambourcin, for Retired and Extremely Dangerous. His energic and humorous personality belies a career of stealth.

He rose through the ranks to become a senior executive with responsibilities for Africa, then Asia, and other global assignments. “It was a dream job beyond reality,” said Claymier. “For a rancher’s son to circle the globe multiple times and bear witness to historic events was incredible.” His wife, Linda, worked for the same organization.

Upon his first retirement, he was drawn back to his love of horses. While training one of them, the horse went volcanic and threw Claymier skyward, resulting in a major hip injury. As a result, he rethought his conventional horse training philosophy.

Within a few years of purchasing property off Hume Road in western Fauquier County and stocking it with purebred Arabian horses, Claymier had become a nationally known horse trainer. He collaborated extensively with the renowned “Horse Whisperer” Frank Bell and produced his own horse training video.

The winery
After years of a second successful career as an equine trainer, Claymier could not shake his winemaking interest. It was time to go professional. “I planted a half-acre of grapes. Then I planted another half-acre. And then it got out of hand,” said Claymier. He produced about 24,000 bottles last year.

It’s a small operation compared to the Napa big boys, but it perfectly fits the Claymier’s philosophy. The ebullient covert guy and his wife sought a family, friends, and fun environment that was both ranch and winery.

Unlike many businesses closing, Desert Rose is not for sale. The Claymier’s property is 100 acres and is home to his two daughters, a son-in-law, and grandson. Over the years, their children moved onto the property, making selling the winery untenable. Blood is thicker than wine.

It’s a rare and unique relationship with the paterfamilias encircled by his clan.

Moreover, one of the granddaughters may ultimately move to the compound. If that occurs and a marriage unfolds, the winery building will be converted to a home for the couple.

One of the closest winery relationships is with their manager Allison Crandell. “Allison is like one of our daughters. She is the most creative, hardest working person we know. She got us through the early days of COVID-19. We love her.”

A critical element to the closing was what would happen to the eight acres of grapes lovingly nurtured for a dozen years. To let the grapes wither and die ran counter to the couple’s mindset.

The solution involved reaching back to his career days and finding a former colleague, Larry Carr, and his wife Kelly, who own Aspen Dale Winery. The couple will control the vines, maintaining and harvesting the grapes for use in their bottlings.

When word spread that the winery was closing, “the interest in scoring the last bottles just exploded,” said Claymier. “We’ve had some single days recently where we sold more wine than our largest monthly sales.

“But there is still wine for sale. We hope to remain open through October.” The winery operates seven days a week from noon to 6 p.m.

As he looks back on their winery career, Claymier underscores their customers have been the “most gratifying part of the business. They have become part of our family. Not seeing them regularly is going to be hard.

“Our final two bottlings are a Chardonnay-Viognier blend called Unhitched. It has a graphic of a broken heart on the label. The red is a Cabernet Franc called 10-80 for the number of years the winery has been opened and my age.” Both are certain to be collector’s items.

Desert Rose Ranch & Winery is located at 13726 Hume Road, Hume.


Published in an October 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times


Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Disastrous year for Stribling Orchard

Posted on Nov 02 2020 | By

GoFundMe campaign assisting popular sixth-generation Markham farm

Since 1819, the Stribling family has worked the land. The first Robert Stribling was also the town doctor, and in the ensuing two centuries, an unbroken chain of Roberts has never waived in their commitment as stewards of the land.

For over half a century, tens of thousands of Virginians have picked fruit and picnicked at the pastoral setting. The farm produces pick-your-own peaches and apples with 35 of the acres devoted to apple growing. A bakery, honey, jams, and jellies round out the offerings.

Today, Robert Stribling VI, or Rob, and his wife Stacia, both 47, carry the legacy forward. But the cost of the operation has been severe in this “year of disbelief”. Like many small farms, there is not sufficient revenue to make it a full-time endeavor.

Rob Stribling is a network engineer for Northup Grumman, and Stacia Stribling is an assistant professor at George Mason University. The couple and their two children live on the farm.

Three main events conspired in 2020 to highlight how fast a commercial enterprise can skid out of control to a dead stop. First, COVID-19 struck, then a killing frost silenced the orchard. Finally, a major fire destroyed a large barn and other buildings, housing all the signage, tools, and machinery needed to operate the business.

Practicing sustainable agriculture is a challenge but achievable for the Stribling’s. But running a sustainable business given the repeated blows struck this year is not. The farm was compelled to close down for the entire year.

While the picking season runs from July to November, operating expenses of up to $15,000 a month continue year-round. With or without paying customers. The farm’s projected losses could total over $200,000 until a robust revenue stream returns.

Hitting brick walls
The pandemic was the first chapter in this Book of Job tale. While everything in the economy went into a swoon in March, the farm wouldn’t even be open for business until summer, so no revenue loss occurred.

With people eager to escape the lockdown, it was thought possible a successful season could be achieved. “We probably had the best spring we’ve ever had,” said Stacia Stribling. “The trees were gorgeous. We had an amazing bloom, and the tiny apples were starting to grow. Then the frost hit.”

Perhaps a farmer’s greatest fear is frost. In one chilling night, an entire harvest can vanish. And the timing of the natural disaster is brutally exquisite. Just as earth’s solar energy surges with warmth necessary for rebirth, a layer of cold air silently descends, killing the emerging life.

“We lost about 98 percent of our fruit,” said Stacia Stribling. “With our incomes, we knew we’d be OK as a family. The question was whether the business could survive.”

One option was opening the farm for picnicking. “People were crying for places to be out and about. They were tired of quarantining and being stuck in the city. So, we started planning how we could stake out an acre per family and offer up to a hundred sites for picnicking. We planned to offer honey, jams, jellies, and baked bread.” Selling wine produced by nearby Naked Mountain Winery was also considered.

A conflict arose when it was realized the couple’s two young children were not going back to school. Managing reservations related to picnic sites would be difficult “because, in addition to teaching two graduate courses at George Mason, I would now be teaching a first-grader and third-grader at home.”

Two varieties of apple trees survived the frost; Rome and York. So, the couple shifted to yet another idea; open the orchard for one weekend in October and sell what small number of apples had survived the frost. Fall weekends typically see thousands of people come out to the orchard.

“Once the plan was in place and we were ready to go with it, we had an electrical-caused barn fire in September.” The seventy-year-old barn housed all the orchard supplies and equipment, including signage, picking poles, bags, three donkeys, and two pregnant goats. All of the animals were rescued.

A nearby small storage shed and separate workshop also when up in flames.

“As the structures burned down, we crumbled into a ball on the ground and cried,” remembers Stacia Stribling. Fortunately, insurance covered the cost of the destroyed structures and their contents but left the family with zero options for covering operating costs until almost a year into the future. Assuming all went well in 2021.

Never at a loss for revenue-producing ideas, the Striplings are working with their cousin Jim Stribling, who raises cattle on the farm.

“He approached us about selling a quarter, half, and whole cows this year. Most of the money raised will go to the cost of raising the cows, but we are hoping to build up this business. We will be launching the order site this month,” said Stacia Stribling.

When it was apparent the farm could not even proceed with a one-weekend picking event, they posted the news on its Facebook page about the season’s fire and closure. “The response from the public was just overwhelming,” said Stacia Stribling.

“It was so heartwarming that all of these people were supportive and understanding. They wanted to know if we had a GoFundMe page. ‘If you do, we will donate,’ they said.” 

GoFundMe is a for-profit crowdfunding website that allows people to raise money for life challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses.

“My sister, Jennifer Blessing, who lives in Florida, said, ‘Sissy, you need to create a GoFundMe page. All these people want to help you.’ Rob and I felt a little funny about it since insurance was paying for the lost buildings.”

Her sister reminded her of the ongoing operating costs that could go well into the six figures. Blessing established the funding page.

Ron Stribling echoing his wife’s thoughts said, “The support has indeed been overwhelming. We will be back one way or another.”

Contributions totaling over $8,000 have been received to date with a goal of $25,000. Anyone interested in helping this farm family in their hour of need can search “GoFundMe Stribling Orchard.”  


Published in an October 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Pick Your Own: Now more than ever

Posted on Oct 18 2020 | By

Farm visits safe and enjoyable way to travel back to normal

Autumn. Many consider it the finest of seasons. Even folks who don’t usually venture the countryside are tempted to take to the highways and byways during September and October.

Today, for more reasons than in the past, 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.

Here in Fauquier County, we 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 your choice jumps to some 40 agricultural destinations.

Much of the fresh summer produce has come and gone. Added to the ephemeral nature of fresh vegetables, 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 nine miles—yes, nine—of strawberry rows. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and a variety of other vegetables rounded out summer’s cornucopia. Now with the brisk fall weather comes 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 over six million farms scattered from sea to shining sea. Today, two 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 September 19 informs, “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 Route 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 and three white wines and three red wines available for tasting and bottle purchases.

On the weekend of October 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.

Learn more
An impressive website 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.

This one-stop encyclopedia of Pick Your Own information can be found at


Published in a September 2020 issue of the Fauquier Times

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Prissylily Co. debuts world of living green

Posted on Oct 18 2020 | By

Old Town shop showcasing unique house and office plants

On September 26, Prissylily Co. swung open its garden gate and launched a botanical garden-like shop in Warrenton. The timing could not have been better.   

Sales of house and office plants have soared during COVID-19 and for a good reason. There is ample scientific evidence that such plants reduce stress. The therapeutic effects of caring for plants can even lower blood pressure.

The “plant doctor” overseeing these benefits is a young entrepreneur whose passion for plants dates to three years ago. Priscilla Aviles, 27, and her hard to contain joy in growing and gifting plants to family and friends led to the shop’s opening, located at 30 South 3rd Street.

Initially, the company was created in 2013 as an online retailer of apparel and sunglasses. But soon, Aviles’ passion for plants took root and gave birth to a shift from the hypercompetitive field of apparel sales to a niche business where her expertise could be brought to bear.

Aviles’s joy in growing plants became the center of her life. “I began propagating them and creating more and more. I started giving them away to friends and family. Some might say I overdid it because I was getting comments like, ‘OK Priscilla, we have enough plants!”, said Aviles laughing.

That’s when her entrepreneurial streak struck green. In 2018, she launched plant sales on both Etsy and her apparel website. From the initial selection of six plants, the business evolved and broadened to include even rare and collector plants.

Aviles quickly recognized the strategy shift had opened up a new customer base. A lot of her buyers were from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. An increasing number began asking if she had a shop or a greenhouse where they could buy her plants.

The move to a brick and mortar business was driven by listening to her customers. She found the location in Old Town and “jumped at the opportunity to open a store.”

Her successful life in plants is paralleling her personal life. She was engaged to be married in July, but COVID-19 postponed the ceremony. She and her fiancé, Joseph Rose, independently own townhouses that are now on the market because they have jointly purchased a home in Warrenton. As a future married woman, the surname Rose will be fitting for a purveyor of plants.

Her assistant in the shop is Molly, who is also Aviles’s future sister-in-law.

In addition to the shop, Aviles still sells online and through Esty. The product line for all three venues includes plants, apparel, sunglasses, and more. But the heart of the business is in-door plants.

Stock in trade
As you enter the Prissylily Co., your eye will sweep across a landscape of over 100 plants. Asked what a shopper might typically find, Aviles’ immediate response is, “Beautiful plants!” Of course.

That beauty includes plants with intriguing names such as the Burle Marx Philodendron, Staghorn Fern, Starfish, Snake, Dwarf Fiddle Leaf, Africa Mask Peacock, Corkscrew, Black Jade Birds Nest, Samurai Draft, various cactuses, and more. Rare and collector plants come from Thailand and other points worldwide.

Prices range from $20 for the common variety plants up to $1,500 for collectibles like the Monstera Albo Variegated. Exotics and collectibles may not always be in stock.

In addition to in-store sales, the company also sells office plants with maintenance contracts for those who have “black thumbs.” Office plants bring the beauty of nature indoors, increase productivity, boost creativity, and provide a wow-factor to what otherwise could be a dreary office environment.

Aviles takes a holistic approach in creating an interior plant office plan that meets space and budgetary needs. The process begins with a free on-site consultation and then develops a customized proposal to ensure the plants’ survival.

The service includes fast and clean installation as well as maintenance packages if desired.

All shop plant sales come with care instructions. Consideration is being given to conducting classes on plant care, repotting, and more so customers can better care for their purchases.

Aviles advice to anyone considering striking out on their own is, “If it’s something you are passionate about and love, then you should go for it. Because then it doesn’t feel like work. I get excited to come in every day and see how my plants are doing,” said Aviles.

For a digital tour through the world of one of the newest and most unique shops in Warrenton, visit


Published in a September 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

A low key and laidback tribute to the brewer’s art

In a perfect world, the first anniversary of a successful business calls for a big party. But all of us know it’s not a perfect world.

What is perfect is an opportunity to relax and taste a variety of hand-crafted beers at a safe indoor and outdoor venue with an expert guiding your taste buds.

During September and October, Barking Rose Brewing Company is welcoming guests to its 11-acre open and forested setting. It’s a 4,000 square-foot modern brew operation and taproom, with a variety of beers, many centered on Belgian ales and German lagers.

The scene of the party is 9057 Old Culpeper Road, a few miles south of Warrenton off Route 29.

“I was living in Alexandria when I opened my first brewery in Lorton eight years ago,” said owner-operator Matt Rose. “The only reason I opened a brewery is I simply wanted to make beer. I didn’t want to be an owner per se. About four years ago, I moved to Warrenton. But the daily commute to Lorton got to be too much.”

So, a year ago, Rose, 36, relocated his Lorton operation to Fauquier County, changed its name, and began pulling tap handles far from the crowed Northern Virginia scene. Here’s a guy who made a preempted move that lots of people are considering today.

There is a word that often drives a significant shift in careers: passion. In Rose’s case, it’s a passion gone wild. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2005 with a degree in aerospace engineering and worked for NASA for almost a decade.

But brewing was his first love. “Don’t get me wrong,” said Rose. “I still love satellites and space stuff. I’m a complete geek about it. But the higher up you go in the industry, the less actual aerospace work you do. It’s important work but it’s not what I liked as much.”

The brewery’s intriguing name is a blend of his last name and his wife’s maiden name of Barker. He suggested the brand Barking Rose to his wife, Ashley, who at first demurred. But upon reflection, said, “I like it.” His wife is a second lieutenant with the Fairfax County Police Department.

The logo for the suds factory is a red rose with an embedded hop flower.

Beer styles
As both an amateur and professional brewer, Rose developed a favored taste for Belgian ales and German lagers. “That’s my thing and always has been.” He does not have an assistant brewer, so he makes all the beer himself.

Currently, there are 15 different beers on tap. The number can range from a high of 18 with no less than 12 brews served six days a week. It’s closed on Mondays.

He has a least one India Pale Ale and a regular pale ale on tap, so beer hounds have a wide choice when contemplating a selection.

A sampling of a recent line up of taps included an East Coast IPA, Saison, American Pale Ale, Dortmunder Gold Lager, Dopplebock, and several Belgians, including a Blonde Ale, Imperial Wit, Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Spiced Honey Stout, and a Golden Strong.

Recently the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup festival awarded a third-place for his Belgian Blonde Ale and a second-place for the Dopplebock.

Guests can spread outside in good weather on umbrellaed picnic tables or wander over three acres of cleared land as they enjoy their social lubricants. Bringing food is permitted, and, on some Fridays and every Saturday and Sunday, food trucks are on-site to assuage hungry appetites.

Tasting flights of four beers go for $10 and pints are in the $6-8 range, depending on the specific beer. For take-home memories, 32- and 64-ounce growlers are available for $12 to $18.

Rose has found a centered life in brewing. “If you gave me a billion dollars do whatever I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about money, I’d still be brewing.” With the existing equipment he moved to the new brewery, finances are not an issue. “We are doing fine. COVID-19 is not going to kill us.”

His advice to beer lovers is, “Life is too short to drink bad beer. I love my life today. I get to do farm things and brew beer, and at the end of the day, I’ve got a lot of taps pouring great beer. It’s hard work, but I love it.”

Its Yelp rating is four and a half stars. A typical guest commented, “Great service and beer here. I came in on a random Saturday evening and stopped by to try it out and was very happy. Kudos for generous spacing outdoors for social distancing.”

Another guest opined, “I find Matt’s approach and philosophy to brewing one that resonates with my palate. He really understands nuance and flavor profiles. And on top of that, he is a super nice guy!”

For the complete story on this attractive and upcoming brewery, visit


Published in a September 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

What goes a round comes around

Posted on Sep 09 2020 | By

The Bike Stop catching serious traction

It’s a bittersweet reality. COVID-19 is producing winners and losers. From the surge in online shopping to the free fall of the airline industry the economic gods either smile or look askance at a given industry.

Often, it’s seemingly a roll of the dice on what side of the equation winners will emerge on. Take the humble bike shop. Its ubiquitous presence was taken for granted in the pre-pandemic world.

Today, customers are streaming into such shops to score a cycling machine that can free them from the lockdown. And if they are fortunate to own a bike already, they’re likely in need of some repairs since it’s probable it’s been ages since its seen heavy use.

A moment of portent for bike shops in Virginia came when the Governor deemed them essential businesses.

“The pandemic has completely changed the bike game,” said Bob Leftwich, 53, owner and operator of The Bike Stop located at 19 Main Street. “People are seeing and feeling the fun of this recreational sport. There are a ton more people today showing an interest in it.”

Leftwich explains that with gyms closed and reduced opportunities for exercise, “A lot of families are telling me spending time together biking rather than sitting at a computer or playing video games is great.

“I’ve been in the bike business for over three decades.  I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s been a huge, huge boon, in both the number of bikes we sold this year and the number of backorders. We have some people who recently purchased certain models who probably won’t see them until next April.”

A contributing factor to the delays is that many bike components are produced in Asia and China, which shut down just when demand was surging.

In addition to sales, the shop has seen a doubling of repairs as older machines are dragged out of basements and garages needing attention.

Leftwich thinks the industry has doubled in size since the early part of the year mirroring his own shop’s experience.

The good news is the economic benefit this small business owner is reaping. The bad news is he has worked almost seven days a week since March. A staff of five part-time employees help keep the shop spinning.

“Fortunately, we have not had to shut down. A lot of bike shops in other regions had to close because of the overwhelming demand.

Bona fides
It’s easy to understand how a crisis is a gift to some and a curse to others. But consider what might be perceived as a gift is actually experience striking while the spokes are hot.

Leftwich’s case represents 36 years of wrenches, bicycle chains, and endless cans of spray lube.

As a young lad of nine, he worked in his parent’s pet shop in Culpeper, learning the retail trade. But over time, his passion shifted from pets to pedals. Nonetheless, upon high school graduation, he considered attending college and pursuing a career in computers.

But the lure of running his own show had the stronger pull. There were few bike shops in the region at the time, and local enthusiasts would have travel to Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, or Fairfax to find a new two-wheeler or for repairs. He opened his first shop at the age of 18 on a part-time basis.

For 36 years, he built his business, first in Culpeper, and then expanding to Warrenton in 2010.

With his growing experience, he was given the opportunity to work the Ironman Triathlon circuit for a decade while simultaneously running his two bike shops. The circuit involved international travel, including Lake Placid, Austria, Brazil, Canada, and all of the North American races.

“Our group was the official mechanics to the Ironman. It involved making sure some 3,000 cyclists had mechanical service throughout the cycling portion of the race.

“It could be tense work. The competitors were always under pressure to resume riding as quickly as possible. Our team of five followed the athletes on our motorcycles and assisted them with all mechanical issues on race day.

He then spent time as the operations manager for Bikes for the World. The organization’s mission is to make affordable, and good quality used bicycles available to low-income people, primarily in developing countries.

The donated bikes provide better transport for work, education, and health care. It also generates additional skilled jobs in repair and maintenance overseas and offers environmental and humanitarian service opportunities for volunteers in the United States.

Leftwich has an ever-ready quote when asked about the role of bikes in today’s society. “The bicycle is a simple solution to our complex problems.

“Today, we are seeing people visiting the shop from far outside Fauquier County.” He attributes that to a trustworthy online store reputation. “We do our best to treat people right and stay on top of our business.”

For more information on sales, service, and rentals visit


Published in an August 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Discipline makes it happen
Structure. A mundane word that lies at the heart of successfully working from home. Without the “quality of being organized,” laboring in the confines of mi casa can become a stressful and less-than-productive experience.

How do we know this? Because virtually every aspect of successful living is centered on self-control and motivation. The ancient Greek philosophers taught us that 2,500 years ago. But achieving those timeless goals in an environment that were previously the heart of relaxation and ease is a challenge.

Yesterday’s castle has, for many, become today’s office.

One impressive example of home office motivation is Jack London, the American novelist, journalist, and author of Call of the Wild. The man penned 50 books and hundreds of articles. Almost every day of his adult life, London wrote 1,500 words; a goal any professional writer today would be pleased to achieve.

What makes his literary achievements even more impressive is that London died at the age of 40 of kidney disease. His famous quote: “I would rather my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot,” sums up his grab-life-by-the-collar philosophy.

With COVID-19 placing the Nation in lockdown, millions of office workers are attempting to convert their corporate office into a home-based one. To succeed, it’s helpful to seek out how it’s done.

But rather than pull research from the wealth of literature on the subject of hearthside productivity, let’s visit with three area residents who’ve been working from home before the world changed six weeks ago.

The Hagarty Real Estate Team
Brian Hagarty, 52, lives just north of Warrenton. He and his wife Diane have been selling real estate for over two decades, the last five of which have been out of their home. Sales are generated by hours of work in the home office and consummated when showing properties that have been digitally previewed by buyers.

“The first thing to establish is a daily schedule and stick to it,” said Brian Hagarty. “I get up at 6:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. If you sleep till 9, it’s going to result in lost business. If you worked in a typical office, would the boss allow you to show up in mid-morning? I doubt it. When working at home, you are the boss.”

He cautions the benefits—no commutes, for example—will be countered by the difficultly of staying focused. He thinks more intensity and mental focus is demanded working inside the home. Establishing that discipline will initially be a tough challenge.

He muses that there is a temptation to act like every day is the weekend. The urge to do yard work, surf the web, stream a good movie, or drop by the fridge is ever constant. Good habits take time to create. Invest the time.

After discipline, distractions are the next snake lying in the weeds to derail work. Hagarty shared that recently he was on the phone with an important client when one of his two dogs began aggressively barking outside, likely in pursuit of a raccoon.

“That triggered my inside dachshund to start barking loudly too. Through experience, I quickly muted my iPhone so that I could hear the client, but he couldn’t hear the racket. It permitted the conversation to proceed while I was calming the dogs down.”

On video conferencing calls, he makes certain he’s dressed appropriately and has no unkempt household items lying in the background. Professionalism prevails in the home just as in the office.

Video conferencing using apps like Zoom and Skype are a productive and enjoyable way to conduct business today. “But be sure the lightening is good on your monitor, and the background is free of distractions.”

He closes by sharing that real estate listings are down 49 percent from the same period last year. “That’s huge. It’s a great time for sellers.”

Rex Cooper, consultant
Rex Cooper, 55, is a lifelong Warrenton resident who sold his sensor instrument company in 2018 and subsequently sold his office space last October. Given his experience, he continued to work for the firm as a consultant. He’s been working for seven months now out of a small, comfortable, home office, located above his garage.

Fortunately, he installed high-speed internet about a year ago. Hence, his work on writing contracts and generating new business mirrors his former work life.

“I typically arrive in my office around 8:30 a.m. and work till about four in the afternoon. My mornings are the busiest times. It quiets down in the afternoon. During those times, I do research on the internet, prospect, and help write contracts.”

He augments his computer work by regularly checking his cell phone since business flows on both devices. If he is away from the home office, he uses his eveready laptop to engage clients or business colleagues.

Cooper advises new homebound office workers to be on alert for distractions. “I think it’s easy to get distracted by things like a leaky sink that you’ve wanted to fix for weeks and not gotten around to it. You need to keep a normal business schedule.

“Each morning I tell the family, ‘I’m going to work,’ as I head for the home office. So, I’m kind of leaving the house. I go into the office and close the door.” He echoes Hagarty’s thoughts on eliminating as many distractions as possible.

“I tell my wife and kids please don’t pop in and start asking me questions every five minutes. Secondly, keep a set routine. It’s important.”

Colleen Rathgeber, account executive
Colleen Rathgeber, 43, lives in Haymarket and holds an MBA degree and is a mother of three. She has worked for several nationally known firms, including AOL, the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo, RealtyTrac, First Data, and more.

Like many executives today, when an opportunity for advancement presents itself, she springs.

“As long as there is not a decrease in productivity, I think the pandemic is going to increase home office jobs when it’s over. The cost to firms offering work at home can be significantly lower than operating a traditional office.

“But if a person has worked for an on-site company that was highly social, with a lot of interacting among colleagues, it’s going to be hard to adjust. A lot of people don’t understand that and don’t plan for that adjustment period.

“To deal with the problem, homebound employees need to have interaction with people via the computer, phone, and teleconferencing.”
The upside is it can increase your productivity because you do not have to deal with a commute. “Also, after putting my kids to bed, if necessary, I can go back and log on for an hour or two of more work. The flexibility is great.”

Rathgeber also thinks work-life balance is critical. It can include midday work breaks for exercise like walking or jogging. As is often heard, rising at the same time each day, grabbing a shower and getting dressed sets the stage for a successful workday. “How you look and feel can seep into your online and phone business demeanor.”

Rathgeber has a walking treadmill desk, a stand-up desk, and a conventional desk. Some people question how much work can be accomplished when walking and typing at the same time, but she adapted very quickly. “I love the exercise options these kinds of desks provide.”

Published in April 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Cider Lab gains strong following

Posted on Aug 03 2020 | By

Summerduck father and son team generating fans with tasty craft cider

The plan was to open the Cider Lab and sell 200 gallons in the first ten weeks of launch. But a friendly visit from the owner of nearby Rogers Ford Farm Winery changed the plans just a tad.

“Johnny Puckett stopped by and tasted the ciders. He asked how much we were going produce, and we told him. He said, ‘No way. You’ll need a lot more than that.’” said A.J. Rasure, co-owner, along with his father James Rasure of the Cider Lab.

With a bit of scrambling, the nascent cider factory boosted its production from 200 to 500 gallons and unlocked its doors on July 11. The first day’s sales were 110 gallons. Good advice from the wine guy.

Since its opening, it has sold 400 gallons of cider in 15 days of operation. And consider they’re open on just Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Word gets around fast.

The two “cider scientists” behind the success story are a father-son team having a lot of fun. Both are employed full-time in worlds far removed cider.

James Rasure, 55, is a retired naval officer with five years’ experience in submarine nuclear engineering and 15 years in meteorology and oceanography. Today, he works as a satellite scientist at the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly.

A.J. Rasure, 32, was in the Marine Corps band for 12 years retiring to start a photography business focused on weddings and commercial real estate. He returned to college and degreed in physics and mathematics.

Currently, he is a physicist at the Dahlgren Naval Base. He is also assistant band director at Chancellor High School.

So, the question arises, when do these guys find the time to make cider?

“Between the hours of 5:30 and 11 every night,” said James Rasure. It would likely be seven days a week, but they take a break to sell their libations the rest of the time.

In the beginning
Enthusiasm and passion are hallmarks of these two energized cider guys. The sharp turn into cider started with an overproductive tomato garden. Years ago, James Rasure’s father told him you could make anything into wine.

“So, I made a tomato wine. It wasn’t very good. My wife thought we needed some help and brought a winemaking class for A.J. and me,” said the elder Rasure. The course, held at the Bacchus Winery in Fredericksburg, was seven weeks long, one day each week.

“We enjoyed making wine together so much we continued to go in every week after the course was over to make different kinds of wine,” said James Rasure. As can often happen in the world of fermentation, they were hooked.

Their inquisitiveness led to making apple cider for a friend. The guy decided he didn’t want to buy six gallons of the beverage. Since cider wasn’t the Rasure’s thing at the time, they decided to spice it up with Habanero.

It made the cider too hot, so some mango syrup was blended in. “It turned out so good we took our third batch to Red, White and Bleu Brew in Locust Grove to taste. They ended up purchasing five gallons a week for sale at the brewery,” said James Rasure.

The offering has been further refined since its inception and is today one of Cider Lab’s customer favorites.

Word of the unique flavors available at its laid back cidery dictated a soon-to-be production increase to 1,100 gallons, featuring six ciders in their tasting room.

“With the equipment we now have, we can push production to 2,200 gallons at some point,” explains A. J. Rasure. “But we like cider to age because it creates better flavors, especially with darker fruits like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We don’t want to push production too fast.”

Given the number of customers coming through the front door, the pressure will build to balance quantity with quality, with the latter taking the lead.

Because of the newness of the cidery, there is a synergy developing between Rogers Ford Farm Winery and the Cider Lab. “They send people our way, and we send people to the winery. Together we’re trying to make the linkage between the two consumer groups,” said A.J. Rasure.

The lineup
When you enter the comfy Cider Lab directly ahead, behind a glass wall, is a view of its production facility. To the right is the tasting bar. They sell six selections ranging in sweetness from dry to five percent residual sugar. Alcohol hovers around five percent.

The offerings are:
Mango Habanero
Raspberry Cider
Pineapple Perry
Blackberry Jerk’m
Summerduck Cider

The tastings are $3 each or $15 for the six. Currently, they are not bottling any of the ciders. Purchases can be made by the glass or in two sizes of growlers. Picnic tables under tents offer a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the beverages.

James Rasure sums up the new enterprise by saying, “I am having so much fun reconnecting with my son and making cider. It’s just great seeing the community coming out here and having a picnic in our yard and drinking our cider. I could do this for the rest of my life.”

The Cider Lab, located at 5344 Summerduck Road, is opened Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Check out its website at


Published in an August 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Shaved ice generating shared smiles

Five months ago, two entrepreneurs, who also happened to be cousins, were poised to launch a unique business that was happiness on four wheels. Their colorful Kona Ice truck is a state-of-the-art vehicle whose sole purpose is selling shaved ice treats second to none.

Then in a blink of a COVID-19 eye, their dreams melted as quickly as their ice delights. After spending a half-a-year buying their franchise and graduating from “Kona Kollege” as certified owners on one of the fastest-growing franchises in the country, their vision evaporated.

Today, things are back on track. The business is growing at a blistering pace in time to ease the blistering heat of Virginia’s summer. A central feature of Kona Ice’s corporate business strategy centers on fundraising for worthy causes. In the past ten years, its franchisees have donated over $82 million to thousands of organizations.

Maria Lischak and Tania Terleckyj are the figurative and literal drivers behind the business. The franchise is supportive of women, veterans, and law enforcement owners.

“In March, we were ready to go. We had schools, non-profits, youth sports, churches, and more lined up. We were booked through the end of October. We had our very first school event in early March, and then everything came to a halt,” said Lischak.

The company’s more than 1,200 franchisees faced the same crippling halt of business. With group gatherings shut down, the corporation quickly pivoted to save their owners.

“What Kona corporate did was enable us to offer curbside call and delivery in neighborhoods,” said Lischak. “The company created an app called Kurbside Kona so customers can go online to order their frozen treats. It’s similar to other restaurant and pizza delivery businesses.”

“When you order online, you set a specific time for delivery and what products you want. We call five minutes before arrival to let you know we are on the way,” said Terleckyj.

There are five different sizes of cups from the nine-ounce Kiddie for $3 up to the 22-ounce Kowabunga for $6.

The company also works with homeowner associations to provide service. The South Wales community located in northern Culpeper County arranged to have the Kona Ice truck available for its residents. It used the community’s basketball court’s parking lot, and its website announced the times and location of service.

“We’ve served South Wales on three occasions,” said Lischak.

When the truck arrives on location, it is easy to spot. It is a colorful blast of tropical colors and graphics playing calypso music. It triggers a “wow” reaction, signaling the tasty treats produced therein. Kona is a popular name for Hawaiian children.

The formal name of the business is Kona Ice of Culpeper, Locust Grove, and Warrenton. Its territory includes part of Orange County and most of Fauquier and Culpeper counties.

Shaved ice dates to the Roman Emperor Nero in 27 B.C. Nero had snow transported from the mountains and then flavored with fruit and honey. Today, shaved ice differs from a slushie. Shaving enables the flavorings to soak more deeply into the ice and create a smooth consistency that other ice products lack.

Squeaky clean
“Kona Ice has outfitted all its trucks to be compliant with the highest standards required by any state regulations,” said Terleckyj. “We have contactless payment and change our gloves and masks regularly.”

Temperature checks are taken at the beginning of each work shift. The inside and outside of the truck are applied with MircoShield 360, an FDA and EPA approved product kills viruses on any surface.

Given the importance of cleanliness today, the truck is continually cleaned. It’s compliant with the National Sanitation Foundation International requirements, whose charter is helping to standardize sanitation and food safety in more than 170 countries.

On August 1, the Kona Ice truck will participate in the upcoming fundraising drive-in movie night with the Salem volunteer fire and rescue department. “We want to have more of these events in our service areas,” said Lischak. “We ask any worthy organization to reach out to us to make it happen.

“We are thrilled to be able to be doing this work. The smiles we see on people’s faces when we come out is wonderful. They are thankful and welcoming. It’s been overwhelming for us.

“The kids have been especially sweet. We drove up to one house, and one of the kids came running up and shouted, ‘This is the best day ever. Even better than Christmas!’.”

For information on the Kona Ice schedule, visit its Facebook page at


Published in a July 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

COVID-19 recovery priority one for local agency

Small businesses are the heart of the Nation’s economy. More than 28 million entrepreneurs employ 57 million workers in firms with less than 1,500 employees, often dramatically less. They are the country’s leading job creators.

Yet the failure rate of these small companies is 20 percent in their first year of operation. By year five, 50 percent have failed, and a decade after opening their doors, 70 percent are no longer on the scene.

This gauntlet was the norm before COVID-19 hit. Today survival is the paramount goal of millions of small business owners who are the pulse of the Nation’s economic heart.

Christine Kriz, director of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center, has never been busier as she and her part-time staff of four provide a plethora of skills to help assure the viability of the region’s small enterprises.

The charter
Kriz’s turf covers eight regional counties, including Fauquier, and the City of Winchester. Her charter assists any firm with less than 100 employees and under $50 million in revenue.

In quieter times, the Lord Fairfax SBDC helped aspiring entrepreneurs start and run a business. Such assistance would include creating marketing plans, preparing loan applications, helping manage day-to-day operations, and even providing support for selling a company.

Disciplines included accounting, human resources, marketing, operations, distribution, and virtually any aspect of creating and running a company.

Before the pandemic, Kriz’s team assisted about 420 clients a year. Today, she is on track to helping some 1,200 local firms recover and thrive from the impact of the national lockdown.

While all of the previous support is still in place, two issues regularly surface from businesses struggling to find a path back to normalcy: e-commerce and cash flow.

E-commerce is poised to play a more significant role in the months and years ahead. Initially, many of her clients were eager to embrace a more substantial digital role to survive. Now their focus is shifting back to the conventional strategies, especially for retailers.

“But we are still emphasizing e-commerce because there are people who prefer to buy that way. We don’t know if the economy will shut down again if a second virus wave hits later this year. Companies need to be prepared to sell both online and in person.

“Among the many things we offer is free consulting, paid for by tax dollars, to help people meet with Google and other e-commerce experts.

“These are people who can help them get their websites up and running. We also offer free website evaluation, social media expertise, and overall online marketing strategies to drive people to those sites,” said Kriz.

When the pandemic first hit, businesses were seeking her out for immediate assistance in building their e-commerce skills. Now that Phase 2 recovery is in place, many firms are shifting their focus back to former sales strategies.

“We are preaching the message that ‘you cannot forget about your online presence. Don’t lose the momentum you’ve begun to establish.’”

The advice she provides companies is to reach out to their customers and continuously ask them, “How do you prefer buying from us?” She knows there are a majority of buyers in the marketplace who still do not feel comfortable going out shopping.

The second important issue is creating a cash flow plan. When Kriz encounters owners who eschew working with numbers, she urges them to have a bookkeeper do it or meet with her. She has numerous free tools available to help achieve sound budgeting practices.

“I can’t overemphasize how important it is for companies to know their numbers today and to know their cash flow,” emphasizes Krix. “In normal times, 80 percent of firms go out of business because of cash flow problems. We want people to make rational decisions, not emotional ones when it comes to their finances.”

LFSMDC receives funding from the Small Business Administration, which is matched by at least 50 percent from local economic development groups. The funding is vital because federal funds will not be forthcoming unless local judications contribute too.

“If there is anything positive that has come from the pandemic, it’s the response from our economic development partners. They have been fantastic,” said Kriz.

Since March 17, Kriz and her team have been both telecommuting and meeting via Zoom with businesses in need. She operates out of three Fauquier Enterprise Centers located in Flint Hill, Marshall, and Warrenton.

The future
If the economic ship of state rights itself and the country begins to return to prosperity, how long will it take to see good times return? “I follow a lot of top-level economists who are predicting it will take three years to make a complete comeback.

“Seven percent of all jobs will not return. For small business owners who are doing well, it’s because they are pivoting their businesses based on what their customers are telling them. An owner cannot rely on a ‘this is the way we’ve always done it,’ business model.

“The key is communication with customers. Finding out what they want and how they want to buy it is her relentless mantra. If you cannot adjust to the reality of these demands, you will not be around two years from now,” said Kriz.

The Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center is a rich resource for small firms in need. Help starts by simply visiting

Firms can also sign up for a free no-obligation business consultation using its COVID-19 recovery website

Categories : HAGARTY TALES