Pick Your Own: Now more than ever

By 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 https://www.pickyourown.org/VAnorthern.htm


Published in a September 2020 issue of the Fauquier Times

Categories : HAGARTY TALES