Friday, June 16, 2006

Best of What's Around - Scottsville, Virginia

Last names are obsolete during this trip. Even though Eliza picked me up in downtown Charlottesville, helped me load my bike in her truck, carried me to the “Food Farm Voices” meeting at West Ablemarle High School, then let me crash out at her farm house, then today got up at 6:30 AM, began working at 7, and now it’s 6:15 PM and I’m sitting here on her couch before we shower and go out to downtown Charlottesville for the night, we are still on a first name basis.

Eliza is the heart of the Best of What’s Around Farm. This farm has its own unique place in the spectrum of types of farms. This type fits quite well with the Charlottesville community. One of the first surprises was that the farm is owned by Dave Matthews, as in The Dave Matthews Band. The story is that the University of Virginia was given this 1200 acre parcel as a gift. Not being a land grant university, they were at a loss with what to do with such a large parcel of agricultural land, so four years ago they sold it and Dave Matthews snatched it up. Given the lands agricultural roots he was interested in seeing a small organic operation utilizing the existing farm infrastructure.

Eliza’s family has been friends with the Matthews for years, and had some prior experience on farms working for the family of Nina Planck on a farm on Virginia’s eastern shore. As the on the farm manager, she is doing a fantastic job. She’s quite young for both the responsibility and the degree of work. Her personality is low key, friendly, and calm.

Charlottesville is a fabulous town. The downtown mall is the most pedestrian and family oriented downtown I’ve encountered. The main street is paved in brick, and pedestrian only. Dozens of restaurants have tables and courtyards, each with its own character, lining the center of the street. We headed downtown for “Friday after 5,” a free concert hosted by the city every Friday in the summer. The place was packed. They had built a amphitheatre pavilion for concerts at the very end of the street. A salsa band was the entertainment.

After the show and a quick dinner, we headed to a reggae party. On the way there we exited a residential area into an incredibly dense wood on a long dark dirt road. The party was low key, and the reggae below average. Eliza must have been suspicious of their poor reggae taste because she asked me to bring my I-Pod. When we could bear it no longer, we bamboozled the sound system. At first I had to realize that picking danceable reggae songs from your I-Pod without the luxury of pre-screening is difficult. I don’t have the song names memorized, so it was kind of a guessing game. The party wanted to dance, not nod their head and praise Jah. Eliza came over and said, “You don’t necessarily have to play reggae.” I possess boogie tunes in abundance, and let fly.

It was a late night. The next morning Ken and I walked over to Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting lodge which sits on the property. It’s called Knotty Pine, presumably named for the knotty pine posts that support the porch. Unfortunately I didn’t carry a camera to photograph it…but there are lots and lots of President locales to visit in Virginia.

The Best of What’s Around gang had become fast and easy friends. They were young, energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. Nothing about their farm was typical. For one, the owner wasn’t in a position where he had to derive income from the farm. This changes the entire context of their operation and how they make decisions.

That said, the fields were well managed, the vegetables in excellent condition, the farm, the buildings, and the operations, finely tuned. The young crew were welcoming, and professional and created a real community feel.

This is just a quick summary. I will elaborated in more detail and add some really nice pictures re: this visit soon.

This entry was posted on 6/16/2006 3:10 PM

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