As farmers, winemakers and restaurateurs prepare for the fourth annual Farm-to-Fork Loudoun — a popular 11-day culinary event highlighting locally sourced ingredients on restaurant menus across the county — organizers hope an ambitious crowdfunding effort will help the project expand its reach.
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun will run from July 23 through Aug. 2 at more than 20 participating county restaurants, where special menus will draw at least 70 percent of their ingredients and wines from local farms and vineyards.
The project has grown incrementally every year, said Miriam Nasuti, a marketing specialist and the founder of Farm-to-Fork Loudoun. Now she’s looking to speed things up. Farm-to-Fork Loudoun launched a Kickstarter campaign this month with the goal of raising $22,500, money that would be used for aggressive marketing aimed at drawing thousands of foodies to Loudoun.
“We sat down and looked at our marketing budget, and all the new things we want to do,” Nasuti said. “We wanted to be bigger, more far-reaching.”
The goals include hiring a dedicated blogger, Nasuti said, as well as producing more marketing materials and expanding the campaign’s reach across the mid-Atlantic, into Richmond, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Kickstarter campaigns award pledged funds only if the fundraising goal is reached, Nasuti said, so the Farm-to-Fork team deliberated carefully before deciding on its objective.
“If we don’t meet our goal, then we’ll continue our marketing as we’ve done,” she said. “But we know that the more marketing we do, the busier the restaurants are, the better it is for our farmers and wineries.”
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun began in 2011 with 19 restaurants, 17 farms and 11 wineries on board. The number of participants has stayed fairly level, Nasuti said, with some turnover from year to year (the Loudoun program went on hiatus in 2013, when Nasuti launched Farm-to-Fork Frederick in Frederick County, Md). The event offers a unique opportunity for members of Loudoun’s culinary community to make new and lasting connections, she said, allowing farmers and winemakers to present their products directly to local chefs and restaurateurs.
This year’s list, on which there are several newcomers, contains 21 restaurants, one food truck, 10 local farms and eight wineries.
Nasuti said she was thrilled to see that many of the new businesses joining the event are owned or operated by women.
“There are so many new women involved in the program, and there’s something so special about that,” she said. “These are women who own or co-own restaurants and farms, women winemakers, women chefs. It just makes me happy.”
As Loudoun’s farm-to-table movement has taken off in recent years — with burgeoning wine and craft beer industries, a wealth of local farms and a growing food culture — more local businesses have eyed programs such as Farm-to-Fork as a means to draw new customers and recruit locavores, Nasuti said.
“They see that we’re coming back year after year,” she said. “They see the authenticity of it. They see that it’s gotten traction.”
Although it’s difficult to track how many patrons are drawn to the annual event, surveys from restaurants and farms indicate an uptick in sales ranging from just 1 percent to 45 percent. One farm reported a sales growth of 200 percent as a result of the program, and others said they saw increases from 18 to 48 percent, according to the surveys.
Restaurants also noted that guests came from across Loudoun as well as from Fairfax, Prince William, Frederick and Warren counties and from the District to participate in Farm-to-Fork Loudoun.
As of this week, the Kickstarter campaign had raised about $1,050 toward its goal.
“We’re praying that we meet our goal, but if we don’t, it’s just been an incredible, enlightening experience,” Nasuti said. “In the end, it’s all about moving the economic needle for these small, family-owned restaurants, farms and wineries.”
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun runs July 23 to Aug. 2 at restaurants across Loudoun County. A list of participating restaurants, farms and wineries, as well as a link to the project’s Kickstarter campaign, is at www.farmtoforkloudoun.com.