When I think of Loudoun County Virginia huge mansions, suburbia, and D.C. commuters come to mind. Session IV started off by visiting a place that stuck out like a barn in the city, especially because that’s what it was.
We started off Seminar IV at the Loudoun Farm and Heritage Museum with a delicious lunch catered from Mom’s Apple Pie. Right there at the table we jumped into discussions with Vanessa Wagner, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager for Loudoun; Katie Jones and Christie Love, Co-Directors of the Museum; and John Adams, Museum Board member and Loudoun County farmer. Two main missions were evident among our speakers, preserving agriculture heritage while promoting new developments.
One way that local farmers and other museum founders worked to preserve and promote agriculture this was the placement of the museum. Currently, the western half of Loudoun is agricultural while the eastern half is urban. The establishment of the museum in the eastern part of the county was very intentional. Initially one would think that a farm museum should be among farmland, but the goal was to bring agriculture to those who don’t know about it. By bringing agriculture closer, urbanites can explore it and potentially seek it out later on.
Mr. Adams emphasized the importance of thinking ahead. If it weren’t for planning 20-40 years out, farmland in Loudoun would currently be covered in houses for D.C. commuters. Conservation easements are sometimes controversial. My family, like Mr. Adams, has seen the benefits of easements as a way to preserve land around in and around our farms. Others, farmers and non, have experienced the constraints of not being able to grow their business or have an “exit strategy” of valuable land when things get tight. In the end, easements have their time and place, and it’s an option for those who wish to keep land rural.
Vanessa, stressed the importance of labeling and marketing. People like to support local businesses and farm, but without the proper labeling consumers don’t know. Some of Vanessa’s work has included promoting local with the branding “Loudoun, VA Made – Loudoun, VA Grown.”
Katie and Christie shared with us more about how The Farm and Heritage Museum accomplishes its mission. The museum has permanent displays such as the Children’s Farm, and various events and programs throughout the year for visitors (roughly 18,000 a year) to learn from. Schools have the opportunity to connect with the museum through SOL integrated lessons and outreach programs. Classes for adults and camps for kids are also offered.
After discussion we got to tour the museum. It was a fun mixture of interactive and educational exhibits. I was bursting with pride seeing my friends the Potts, the lone dairy family in Loudoun, on display.
Leaving The Farm and Heritage Museum I felt cozy knowing that agriculture is being celebrated in unexpected places like eastern Loudoun County. But I did wonder how well a site like this would work in a more rural place, let’s say Southwest Virginia? Purposely bringing agriculture to urban localities seems to be the ticket, but we don’t have near the population or the money to spend. Would a farm museum work in Bristol? Roanoke? Hopefully we’ll find the answer along our VALOR journey….