A bounty of freshly harvested produce, locally raised meats and Northern Virginia wines will dominate restaurant menus across Loudoun County for the third Farm-to-Fork Loudoun, an 11-day event that will spotlight locally produced foods and strengthen connections within the area’s rapidly growing culinary scene.
The annual celebration, founded by local marketing executive Miriam Nasuti, begins Thursday, with 23 restaurants, 14 farms and eight wineries taking part.
Each restaurant will feature a special Farm-to-Fork menu, Nasuti said, with dishes that are 70 percent sourced from participating local farmers.
“And by local, we mean right in Loudoun County,” Nasuti said. “We find these wonderful farmers right in our community, and help them build relationships with the restaurants.”
The celebration offers a unique opportunity for farmers and winemakers to present their products directly to chefs and restaurant owners, Nasuti said, and also aims to cultivate new “locavores” — foodies who are interested in produce and meats produced nearby.
“Why buy food that travels 3,000 miles at a grocery store, when you can buy food that has traveled three miles from a local farmer?” Nasuti said. “These farmers are people right in your own community, your neighbors. Your kids could go to school with their children.”
The project, Nasuti said, is as much about relationships as it is about fresh food. She wants restaurants to experience the benefit of cooking with local food, and she wants consumers to feel inspired to seek out those same ingredients, on menus and at home.
“I’m so moved by some of the stories and the feedback we hear,” Nasuti said. “Restaurants hear great things from their patrons . . . and the relationships that these farmers develop and sustain with the restaurants, it’s special.”
At the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, executive chef Tarver King said the restaurant’s three menus have long focused on locally sourced produce and livestock, and the restaurant welcomed a chance to help set an example for others in the culinary marketplace.
“It’s a philosophy that we’ve been living by for a long time, but I think what we’re most excited about is the effect for other restaurants,” King said.
For restaurants that aren’t accustomed to buying products from local farmers, the transition can be intimidating, King said. Mainstream produce sources “are really convenient; you make a phone call, it’s there the next day. When you’re working with local farmers, you have to work for it, you have to build a relationship, there’s more to get used to. So doing an event like this gets people to wade into those waters and see what it’s like.”
It also gives restaurant patrons a chance to establish new eating habits by dining “with a good conscience, knowing where your food comes from,” he said. “Then people start to look for those ingredients, they want to find that type of food again.”
Nasuti said she was first convinced of the importance of eating in “good conscience” several years ago, after she watched Robert Kenner’s documentary “Food, Inc.,” an exploration of modern fast-food culture that exposed many of the less-than-appetizing elements of industrial food production.
“That movie just had a huge impact on me,” Nasuti said. “It has a huge impact on a lot of people, including those at the [Department of Agriculture], which now has more programs to give grants to support family farms. That film, to me, was the real ‘oomph’ to take action.”
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun was launched in 2011, with 19 restaurants, 17 farms and 11 wineries paying a fee to participate. In the years since, the list of participants has shifted and solidified, Nasuti said. The event also spread to Frederick County in Maryland last year, she said.
“It has matured and is more fine-tuned,” Nasuti said. “Some farms enjoyed it, but they’re too busy. The ones who are coming on again and again are doing it because they see what the project has to offer them, and they want to be in the restaurants — but not all farms are interested in being in restaurants, and that’s fine, too.”
Stephen and Shannon Mackey, the co-owners of Notaviva Vineyards in Purcellville, have joined in Farm-to-Fork since its beginning and find it “very successful,” Shannon Mackey said.
“There are so many wineries now in Loudoun, there is a lot of competition, and it’s harder to get into the restaurants,” she said. “Farm-to-Fork helps to start those conversations or revisit previous conversations.”
But the most important function of the celebration, she said, is to introduce Washington area residents to the winemakers and food producers who are only a short drive away.
“That’s one of the best parts of the whole thing, getting the local community to understand what ‘local’ really means,” Mackey said. “There are still a lot of people who don’t realize we’re all out here.”
Year by year, Farm-to-Fork Loudoun is changing that, Nasuti said.
“We want to help people understand that it is very easy to support their local farmers by buying from them directly, and to experience how amazing this food tastes,” Nasuti said. “The overall goal is to help the community thrive.”
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun runs from July 24 to
Aug. 3 at restaurants across Loudoun County. A list of participating restaurants, farms and wineries is at www.farmtoforkloudoun.com.
Information about Farm-to-Fork Frederick, which runs from Aug. 22 through Labor Day weekend, is at www.farmtoforkfrederick.com.