For those whose main connection to local food is what they purchase at urban farmers markets, visiting an actual farm is a way to get back to the land: You can tour the fields, see the crops and farm animals, and have conversations with farmers.
The Washington area is full of working farms, producing meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. These six spots have on-site markets where you can buy foodstuffs made just yards away, as well as products from nearby farms that don’t have shops of their own. All are open for shopping as well as visits and also host seasonal events, so after you’ve purchased eggs or milk, the kids can have fun eating fresh ice cream or petting baby cows or goats. (Don’t worry: There are things for adults to do, too, including wine tastings and barn dances.)
Note: The hours listed below are for the farm shops, and not the farms. Check the websites for more information.
P.A. Bowen Farmstead
15701 Doctor Bowen Rd., Brandywine. pabowenfarmstead.com. Open Thursday through Saturday.
The philosophy of the P.A. Bowen Farmstead is one of responsibility. Dairy cows move to new pastures daily. Pigs roam through wooded areas to find acorns. Chickens fertilize the fields. There are no GMO grains anywhere.
Owned by Geoffrey Morell and Sally Fallon Morell, evangelists for all-natural milk and meat, the store at this historic Prince George’s County farm is full of locally raised products, including up to six varieties of raw-milk cheese, including award-winning blue and cheddar. (Raw milk is also available, but it’s sold only as pet milk.) In addition to bacon, sausage and steaks, the shop offers all parts of the animals, such as gizzards and feet. There are products from beyond the farm, too, including locally made kombucha and sauerkraut; jams made with honey; and hats and scarves knitted with wool from a neighboring alpaca farm.
Something for children: Farm tours are held every Saturday at 11 a.m., offering up-close looks at its holistic farm management and the process of cheesemaking, but kids might be more interested in the chance to walk through the fields and meet the pigs and cows. There is also a cheese tasting, which is popular with all ages.
Something for adults: A variety of farm-related classes are offered throughout the year, including cheesemaking, sourdough-bread baking and chicken processing. Geoffrey Morell also leads classes in healing and energy medicine. And although P.A. Bowen doesn’t sell alcohol, customers are invited to take their cheese down the road to the tasting room at the Janemark Winery. (The sweet, milky Dreamy Creamy and the aged Aquasco Jack Reserve are wonderfully wine-friendly.)
Rocklands Farm Winery
14531 Montevideo Rd., Poolesville. rocklandsfarmmd.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
Visiting this scenic family-owned farm and winery on a weekend afternoon is like being invited to a party. Adults wander in and out of an old red barn, which holds a small market, where they can buy snacks such as meat and cheese boards or prepackaged beef, lamb and chicken to take home. It’s also home to the wine-tasting room, where guests sample flights of up to six different wines produced from grapes grown on the farm’s nine-acre vineyard or elsewhere in Montgomery County.
Outside, kids run around the designated children’s area, jumping off large tires or feeding the ducks that live in a pond down the hill from the barn. Families and groups settle in at picnic tables with food, either purchased from on-site vendors or brought from home, while bottles of wine are passed around.
Something for children: There’s plenty of room for kids to run, climb or kick a ball around, but they also might get caught up exploring the farm. Free guided tours are offered Saturdays at noon and go in-depth about Rocklands’ sustainable farming practices, but younger visitors can also just wander and meet the farm dog, Scout, who loves to play fetch, or come across geese roaming on the paths.
Something for adults: Though this is one of the most family-friendly wineries in the area, Rocklands asks that kids be left at home on Friday nights. The lively parties, which run from 6 to 9 p.m., feature small bands — predominantly bluegrass, blues or jazz — and food as well as the usual wine flights, without a cover charge.
South Mountain Creamery
8305 Bolivar Rd., Middletown. southmountaincreamery.com. Open daily.
More than 550 pasture-raised dairy cows are the stars at South Mountain Creamery, a 39-year-old farm northwest of Frederick. Their milk goes into fresh ice cream, cheese and other products sold in the on-site Karen’s Kountry Market, through the creamery’s home delivery service or at regional farmers markets. (A herd of beef cattle and about 16,000 chickens also live on the farm, but meat and eggs take a back seat to the ice cream.)
Something for children: Every day at 4 p.m., dairy workers begin one of the most important tasks on the farm: feeding dairy calves, some of which are younger than a month old, in their barn. Kids are invited to help, holding glass bottles of milk upside down while the adorable calves excitedly jockey for position to reach the bottles’ nipples through a fence.
But the afternoon feeding is just one of the attractions on South Mountain Creamery’s huge farm, alongside a cow-patterned playground, self-guided tours of the notably fragrant barns and the farm-to-cone ice cream shop with dozens of flavors, including C is for Cookie (blue vanilla ice cream packed with cookie dough and chips), Lemon Meringue and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Covered pavilions offer a shady spot to rest and eat.
Something for adults: The country store sells everything you’d need for a backyard gathering, including steaks, sausages and hunks of cheese, much of which is produced on the farm. And no matter how old you are, you’re fooling yourself if you say you don’t want to feed the calves and gush about how cute they are.
Georges Mill Farm
11873 Georges Mill Rd., Lovettsville. georgesmillcheese.com. Open daily.
Molly and Sam Kroiz opened their goat-cheesemaking operation in 2013, on a Loudoun County farm that’s been in Sam’s family since the 1750s. The dairy is operated seasonally, with new kids (baby goats) arriving every March and April — and this year, into May. The farm store is stocked with all the goat milk products you’d want: fresh chèvre, young and funky rounds with rinds and a few aged varieties; plus goat’s milk caramel and skyr, the Icelandic fresh cheese similar in texture to thick yogurt. The ’round-the-clock farm store, located right next to the baby goats’ pen, operates on an honor system: Bring cash or checks.
Something for children: What’s better than snuggling with baby goats? Bottle-feeding them. Tickets require advance registration online ($11 per bottle) and feedings begin promptly as scheduled — baby goats wait for no one. (Snuggles are free.) After your session, stop by the farm store to pick up a locally knit stuffed animal.
Something for adults: The goat pen is enjoyable even if the only kid you have to worry about is the baby goat that’s burrowed into your lap. But if relaxing on a hay bale and taking selfies with baby goats that might try to eat your shoelaces isn’t your idea of a good time, peruse the other options in the farm store, including fresh eggs, locally roasted coffee, sauerkrauts, pickles, handmade wooden spoons and freshly cut flowers. Check the calendar for monthly barn dances, complete with a potluck and a live band and caller.
Virts Family Farms
15485 Purcellville Rd., Purcellville. virtsfamilyfarms.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
The Virts family has been farming in Loudoun County since the late 1700s but only recently branched out to controlled-environment agriculture with CEA Farms in 2014. Hydroponic (grown in water) plants are stacked vertically in a greenhouse, yielding up to 80 percent more per acre than traditional methods. The farm store, right next to the structure, offers greenhouse-grown lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, microgreens and more, depending on each season’s crop, plus beef, pork, chicken, lamb, canned goods and wildcrafted hickory syrup. Greenhouse tours are available Saturday and Sunday during the Loudoun County farm tours in May and October, but otherwise they require an appointment.
Something for children: Seasonal events include an Easter egg hunt, Fourth of July celebration (offering a quality view of the Hillsboro fireworks) and a fall festival. The store also scoops up Trickling Springs ice cream (from Chambersburg, Pa.), best inhaled on the back patio to enjoy the big sky and countryside scenes.
Something for adults: Take a peek in the organ cooler for a selection of livers, hearts, kidneys and more, or stock up on your canned goods from a wide selection of locally made jams, jellies, pickles and sauces. If you’re lucky, the grill will be set up and churning out burgers made from Virts Family Farms beef. (If not, pick up some provisions to grill at home.)
12523 Popes Head Rd., Clifton. whitehall.farm. Open Friday through Sunday.
The last thing you might expect to encounter while driving through suburban Fairfax County is a farm, but nestled among sprawling housing developments are the 205 acres of woods, pastures and vegetable plots that make up Whitehall, a farm that has been in Nadine Vazquez’s family since 1960. Farm animals include around 200 laying hens, 16 Angus cattle, 8 mulefoot pigs and Henry, the mascot, lead steer and subject of a forthcoming children’s book. Vazquez’s husband, Jeff Waters, designed the farm store, which sells vegetables, eggs, pork and beef from the farm, plus several locally sourced products such as sorghum molasses, pies, cheese curds and popcorn kernels.
Something for children: A spring festival (May 18-19) offers a chance to see the animals, visit with Henry, feed the chickens and see what’s growing. The fall festival features a corn maze (this year’s will be in the shape of Henry — if you’re on a plane landing at Dulles, you might just see it on your descent); after Thanksgiving, stop by for Christmas trees “with the works,” which includes a wagon ride around the farm and hot chocolate.
Something for adults: Laugh knowingly during the tour when you learn that a boar is a male pig, a gilt is an unbred female pig and a sow is a female pig who has had her first litter — and that two gilts at Whitehall are named Miss Money Piggy and Piggy Galore because of their relationship with one Roger Boar. Festivals offer the opportunity to bring a blanket, pack a picnic (or purchase goods from the store) and pick a spot under a tree to relax.
Interested in starting an apiary? Attend a beekeeping class led by James Corbett and Steven Youssef of Northern Virginia company Hive Hive. Events and ticket information are updated on the farm’s Facebook page.
If you really want to explore all that local farms have to offer, mark your calendars for the Farm Tour weekends organized by Loudoun and Montgomery counties. Loudoun’s are held twice per year, in May and October, while Montgomery’s takes place in July. These open-house tours lead to dozens of farms, packed with activities that include hayrides, meeting water buffalo or learning how to maintain a garden. (Entrance to farms is free, but some tastings and activities have a charge.) Most also have country stores or pick-your-own options, allowing city-dwellers to bring home a taste of the country.
Loudoun County Farm Tour: May 18-19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. loudounfarms.org.
Montgomery County Farm Tour: July 27-28. Hours vary by farm. montgomerycountymd.gov/AgServices.