Our trip to DC/NoVa was what I expected. Lots of people, lots of politics, scooters you can rent with your smart phone [they’re ‘parked’ everywhere] and lots more people. I had ‘pancake duty’ that kept me from the first stop at the Farm Heritage Museum but met the fellows, maple donuts in tow (it was Maple Festival weekend back home after all) at the Middleburg AREC (Ag Research and Ext. Center, for non-Extension folk) for a grounds and programming tour. Our evening stop took us to Endless Summer Harvest and the lovely Mary Ellen Taylor. I wrote about this stop in my earlier blog. I thoroughly enjoyed that stop and have been dreaming about hydroponic lettuce ever since.
I’m probably one of the few people who got excited when we stopped at Wegman’s in Leesburg. Those stores, in my humble opinion, are the ‘amusement parks of grocery shopping’ (my closest Wegman’s is in Charlottesville, a 150-mile round trip from my front door). I’m sure there are more entertaining things to do, but I quite enjoyed gawking at the sheer overkill of fresh, frozen and ready-to-eat food options – not to mention the entire quarter of the building catered to the wine lover (not me). If you ever get bored with your day to day grocery shopping experience, by all means, spend your next bread-and-milk day at a Wegman’s. Oh, and we had lunch there too.
Onward to D.C., but first the metro. It had been awhile since my last metro ride, but the experience is as I remember – fast, stop…fast again, stop again. Add more people, stop. The calm to the rush came next at Up Top Acre’s “farm” on TOP of the top floor of a building. The effort to grow produce 120+ feet in the air is intriguing. I mean, what else should you do on a rooftop in D.C.?! The city folk love it (did I just say that?!).
Day 2 also took the fellows on a night monument tour. Departing from Union Station, our stops included the WWII Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. monument and Lincoln Memorial. A very enjoyable way to end the evening.
Day 3 was down to business. The morning included a metro ride to the USDA building on the Capitol Mall. There, we had a joint session of special guest speakers including Bette Brand, Administrator for Rural Business Service, Acting Administrator for Rural Utilities Service, Bill Northey, Under Secretary of Farm Production and Ted McKinney, Under Secretary of Trade; we were part of a larger group which included fellows from LEADelaware, PA RULE and Nuffield International. I would have liked to talk more with some of the international fellows and see how they were enjoying their trip. After lunch, we split into small groups for special interest sessions. Michael Carter Jr and I went to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to learn about how NCFC supports farmer-owned cooperatives all across the country, from their tiny 11-person office on the 9th floor of 50 F Street. 9th floor… there’s no 9th floor ANYTHING within a 50 mile radius of my house… That afternoon we participated in a US Capitol Tour, wearing headphones so we could hear our tour guide over the other groups also on tour. The evening ended over pizza at Pizzeria Paradiso, a great little stop.
After a visit to Partnership for a Healthier America, we made our way to DC Central Kitchen. I was pleased to hear, on our last day before heading home, of a mentioning of home. It was a reassurance that something I do in my tiny little town way far west of here was benefiting, and touching, someone here. DC Central Kitchen hires adults who need job training and skill development that may not have an opportunity elsewhere. They produce over 5000 meals a day, have three shifts of volunteers daily on top of their paid full time staff, several kitchen locations as well as 16 trucks delivering the meals made to corner shops and school cafeterias. What stuck the most was the message shared by Mike Curtin, Local Farms contact, in their belief of supplying their kitchen with food sourced from local farmers. Some of their purchases came from Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, to which they ‘pilgrimage’ west once a week during peak season. We take our produce there, once if not twice a week! That’s pretty cool. To know someone in this big city may be biting down on a piece of broccoli or a slice of cucumber grown on my farm made me pretty happy. Proud too. Proud to be a farmer.
The world we live in can be so huge, and yet so connected and small. In the grand scheme of things, the lesson learned from this trip was…
you can take the farmer to the city, but you can’t feed the city without the farmer…
[photo below was taken, on our farm, just two short days after this session…nothing like spring in Highland County]