Do you have 50+ acres of farmland you’re just dying to sell to the right person?
Does it have 30+ acres of pasture and a perennial source of water?
Is it within Loudoun County, Virginia?
If so, let’s have a conversation. Here’s my abbreviated life story:
I am a Virginian, born and raised in Hampton Roads (the City of Poquoson). I had to get the hell out of there because it was becoming too big for its britches and I never quite felt like I belonged. So away I went to college and 6 years later, I found myself in Maine- struck with an unconditional love of apples. It’s genetic (from my great-great-great grandfather) and I had no say in the matter; it was 100% full blown passion from day one. That was in 2008 and ever since, I’ve been a devoted heirloom apple orchardist and advocate working with various people along the East Coast (read more of this blog for details).
The thing that separates me from other young orchardists (if you can find them) is that my training and interest is in the lesser-to-hardly-known cultivars rather than the mainstream. I have probably managed 250 cultivars of apples from Maine to Virginia and eaten far more than that, likely into the 1000 apple cultivar spectrum. In being exposed to these apples, one begins to realize that they are all different. Not just in taste, but in growing habit/personality. There is no one-size-fits-all management method to heirloom apples because they all have their different genetic quirks; and unlocking these secret quirks is part of the excitement I find as an orchardist. I believe the key to designing and managing an orchard in the most ethical, ecological and truly sustainable (read: low-input, recycling of nutrients, regenerative long-term farming) way is to select the right combination of genetics for the right site (this is also called “terroir”). That’s where mainstream apple growing has gone awry, and the niche I hope to fill as Virginia’s only commercial organic apple grower (along with other fruit and nut trees).
What are the goals?
Grow organic apples (and other fruits like persimmons) for the process market (specifically for hard cider/spirits)
Develop a production arboretum which serves as a genetic repository for fruit and nut trees/shrubs which thrive in this Northern Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia region.
Incorporate livestock into the orchards/arboretum. Animals in orchards is an age-old thing and it makes total sense from a management perspective. Call it “silvopasture” if you’d like…
Offer a quarterly fruit school to those wanting to learn ways of cider and heirloom apple production on-farm. From graft to glass. Farm to bar.
Be a place where people can come and see, with 100% transparency and explanation, how we’re going about agriculture. “You can’t grow organic here” will NOT be our default response to those seeking organic fruit. Our response will likely be: “We have these cosmetically blemished organic apples and they taste awesome. You’re welcome to buy them. If you’re still uneasy, you’re welcome to eat or drink them sight-unseen at these locations…”
Why Loudoun County?
This place has been sending me signals for a while. It is rich with Quaker horticultural history, which my fruit exploring team and I are uncovering one grafted tree at a time. We have found more old grafted Chestnuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Hiccans, Honey Locusts, Persimmons, Pears and Apples here than anywhere else I’ve been, and to me that’s a sign. Many of these fruit and nut cultivars have lost their identity and purpose, and its up to us to figure out why our Friends of the past grafted them.
Loudoun is the fastest growing county in the state and the importance of finding these trees and saving them (through grafting) is of priority from a standpoint of genetic diversity, but also in preserving history. I can graft; I can grow trees; I am a great story teller; I can spot an old graft from 100 yards away. All of those skills will be working on saving these grafted trees and bringing them to an AR-1 lot near you.
Access to markets is also an awesome attractor. If any market can tolerate organic ugly apples, I think it is this one. #eatuglyapples
Who is involved?
I have a partner and his name is Pete Walton. He’s a great guy who shares the same vision I do, only from a livestock-in-various-orchard-systems perspective (it makes so much sense to incorporate animals into the system). We work well together and it’s a healthy, well-balanced partnership.
There’s also the dog who is a committed member of this land search. An avid swimmer and in need of cooling down in 70 degree “heat,” she is the biggest advocate for having running water on the future property.
And then there are the pigs, who are currently being rotated throughout Loudoun County as garden tillers/preparers (if you need your garden tilled and fertilized by these rooting machines, get in touch). They are part of our work force and we’ll have more next year.
How am I going to afford property? Loudoun is EXPENSIVE!
Well first off, we’re looking for someone who isn’t wanting to sell their land to a residential developer. If you are that person looking to cash in, our thoughts on long-term land use are a bit different.
Secondly, I’m also a woman of many resources! Don’t read this and think… Oh, Eliza can’t afford MY land. You may be right (ex: $4,000,000 for 170 acres), but it might also work out by enlisting some help. I’m well connected and this work has attracted some backers, so just let me know if you have something, ok? We look forward to having a conversation!