Meet Yer Eats 2012 Recap

Last year, our Meet Yer Eats route was planned around getting maximum bang for our buck: we picked three farms that were close to each other and a short drive from Charlottesville, and had a variety of animals and plants on display. We visited Ted’s Last Stand, Brightwood Vineyard and Farm, and Forrest Green Farm, an easy and fun trio I would recommend to Meet Yer Eats first-timers. This year, however, we had a more specific goal: to target farms that raise animals for meat, and learn a bit about humane care and respectful killing practices used by small-time producers. We chose a couple places we’d purchased from at the City Market and seen on local menus at places like Brookville and The Local: Babes in the Wood and The Rock Barn. We couldn’t drive through Caromont‘s neighborhood without stopping there, so we added it to the itinerary, and set off on a rainy Labor Day adventure.

First stop: Babes in the Wood

Driving into the farm, past the Pig Xing sign, we started spotting small groups of pigs napping, mudbathing, and rooting around. What a life! I already posted some happy pig photos here, but here are a couple more:

The very friendly, very knowledgeable proprietor led a group walking tour around a loop through the forest. The pigs have 75 acres to roam, at a density of no more than 2 or 3 pigs per acre. The herd is made up of several breeding sows (BIG girls), youngsters who will grow to 10 or 12 months before becoming pork chops, and boss hog Kevin Bacon (!):

Kevin lives in his own private enclosure, with visitor Monster (not sure if that’s a name or epithet) who cannot be contained by fences and goes where he pleases. The breeding sows consort with Kevin twice a year, and often have their litters in nests in the woods, showing up for mealtime a week later followed by a trail of piglets.

The pigs forage for acorns, berries, roots, mushrooms, bugs, and anything and everything edible in the woods. Their forest diets are supplemented with grain made from local corn. They naturally form cliques and don’t normally fight–so no need for cutting their tails or teeth as often done on industrial farms to limit injury. The low-stress environment, natural diet, and exercise contribute to happy pigs and healthy, tasty meat.

Read more about Babes in the Wood on their webpage. We very much enjoyed our visit to the farm.

Second stop: Caromont Farm

Our adventure took us from pigs to goats, and from quiet walk in the woods to chaotic kiddie land (ha, pun not intended). We stayed at Caromont briefly, only long enough to sample a couple cubes of delicious cheeses, pop our heads into the milking area and listen to a few minutes of the tour of the facilities, and take a couple goat pictures. There was soon to be a special cheese tasting with the cheesemaker, but we were worried about having enough time at stop 3, so pressed on. The goats seemed happy and safe, grazing in movable paddocks by day and coming into the safety of a barn at night. They’re milked twice a day–how do goat-keepers go on vacation?

Stop 3: The Rock Barn

Our last stop was, fittingly, an education on what happens to the pigs after they leave a farm like Babes in the Wood and reach the end of their porcine journeys. Will, the general manager, gave us an overview of the history and mission of The Rock Barn, which was started by Ben Thompson as a high-end catering company with special focus on local foods. They have since added whole-hog custom butchering to their offerings, which is of particular interest to this blogger, for their respectful, humane practices as described on their website:

 Whole-hog processing, or butchering “snout-to-tail,” is a practice that pays deserved respect to slaughtered animals by finding meaningful uses for all of each pig. By working in conjunction with environmentally-sound farms and humanely-operated slaughterhouses, Will oversees the processes that bring Rock Barn meat products from field to fork without sacrificing either craft or ethics.

We got an up-close and personal explanation of pig butchering, which was fascinating even for the squeamish pescatarian in the group.

As he carved, Ben hit on many butchering topics: various cuts of meat (Rock Barn offers different cuts than you find at the grocery store), the two types of pig fat (illustrating the difference between soft fat and hard fat by handing us fresh-from-the-carcass pieces to play with), how the pigs are killed (knocked unconscious by carbon dioxide or electric shock, then shot in the head with a .22 or a bolt gun), and the importance of bleeding out the pig within seconds of killing it (to prevent stress hormones from fouling the meat).

The scene in the meat room was very clinical: the carcass being operated upon was clean and dry, and the carving, weighing, and packaging process was smooth and efficient. Those guys are good at what they do.

Adding to the experience was the setting of the facilities: it’s housed in a cottage on the expansive grounds of Oak Ridge Estate. The stone dairy barn next door looked eerily pretty in the misty rain.

For more information about The Rock Barn, see:

And here are some great tips from Whole9 on how to get the most out of a farm visit.

Thanks to Market Central for the opportunity to see where our food comes from!

Meet Yer Eats: Happy Piggy Photos

I’m working on assembling a real post on our fun and educational day visiting Babes in the Wood, Caromont Farm, and The Rock Barn (I, the squeamish pescatarian, watched a pig get butchered–and took photos, don’t worry) as part of the Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my favorite (live) pig photos from Babes in the Wood. Those are some happy pigs. Enjoy!


Work has been crazy, making me not want to sit in front of my computer when I’m not at work, so I haven’t been a good blogger lately. Here are some catch-up items from the last couple weeks.

First: the Charlottesville Locavore Expo

Charlottesville had a Locavore Expo at the City Market a couple weeks ago. Charlottesville Tomorrow has a good write-up. I had an interesting chat with the girl from Homegrown Virginia, a new company helping local farmers and food producers to source their ingredients locally, and I had a gluten-free brownie sample to die for at the Integral Yoga table.

Next: Eat Local bingo. Forgive the crappy picture.

Eat Local bingo

This was hiding in the back of the new Buy Fresh Buy Local guide: a bingo card for eating a wide variety of local foods! The Piedmont Environmental Council is giving away prizes for completed bingo cards. If you are a nerd like me, you will want to find the bingo card in the back of your Buy Fresh Buy Local guide and have some fun (and eat some delicious local food) playing.

Finally: Gail Hobbs-Page’s presentation for the Blenheim Artisan Series

Gail Hobbs-Page

Cheenius and I had a lovely evening at Blenheim Vineyards for the first event of the Blenheim Artisan Series. Gail Hobbs-Page of Caromont Farm spoke about cheese making, animal husbandry, and local food, before screening a short documentary called The Rise of Southern Cheese, created by the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Cheese samples

We got to sample some delicious Caromont cow and goat cheeses, and drink a couple glasses of Blenheim wines. I liked the Viognier.

Blenheim Vineyards Viognier

It was an enjoyable and educational evening. I recommend trying to attend part of the Artisan Series. Again, I apologize for the picture quality, but here’s the poster with the remaining speakers.

Blenheim Artisan Series


Local Food Hub’s Open House

On Sunday we visited the Local Food Hub’s Educational Farm for “A Taste of the Farm,” their spring plant sale and open house. Here’s what the Local Food Hub does, from their website:

We are developing a sustainable local food distribution model right here in Charlottesville, Virginia. By working together with farmers, eaters and our community, we are addressing three major issues in our nation’s local food system: distribution, supply, and access.

A Taste of the Farm

It was a dreary day, but that didn’t stop people from touring the farm, petting animals, and buying plants and packaged food. We arrived late in the event in a misty rain, and were impressed by the number of cars in the lot.

Stop 1: the chicken yard.

Rooster info sign

“A happy, healthy chicken produces even healthier eggs for us to eat!” Amen. These chickens were living the life, other than having small children chasing them around. But they didn’t even seem to mind that. They had run of a big yard, with a large, wheeled henhouse that could easily be moved to a new patch of grass.


Notice how the chickens are under the house–that was to avoid the enthusiastic clutches of the children racing around their yard. These two hens were captured, but seemed happy to sit in the boys’ laps and be petted! Tame chickens = happy chickens = happy eggs?

happy hens

The chickens weren’t the only animals getting loved on. In a pen down the hill were two pygmy goats and a baby cow. Children and adults both were lined up to enter the pen and commune with the animals. Giving people the opportunity to meet the types of animals that produce food for them is a great way to get them thinking about where their animal products actually come from.

pygmy goats and baby cow

We were happy the goats (presumably) couldn’t read the sign in front of them at the truck selling local goat meat kabobs and burgers!

goat kabobs

We walked a signed route through the crop fields and ogled the sprouting produce, but were most impressed with a sign describing a farming apprenticeship program the Local Food Hub offers at their educational farm. A husband and wife team are apprenticing on the farm, cultivating their own plot of land, and learning on the job before striking out on their own. The farm provides them with support, in equipment and advice.

Local Food Hub crops

The Local Food Hub is one of the things that makes the Charlottesville locavore scene so healthy and vibrant. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for their next community food event!

Cheenius in Missoula: The Good Food Store

Special guest post from Cheenius! Thanks, Cheenius!

Good Food Store

Cheenius recently found herself in Missoula, MT and was curious to learn the ways of the Northwestern Locavore.  This rare species, while quite common in cities like Portland, is seldom glimpsed in the wilds of Montana. Luckily, Cheenius got a tip that they might congregate at The Good Food Store; so, armed with a camera and a shopping cart, she went hunting.

Good Food Store bulk bins

Lots of bulk foods!  Cheenius was happy that Montanans are trying to reduce their packaging use.

Good Food Store local eggs

Local eggs, eggcellent.  Well, 78 miles away isn’t exactly local, but it’s better than Iowa.

Organic meat in Missoula

The prices are pretty high, but c’mon!  It’s BUFFALO, how unique is that??  And, you gotta love the “Buffalo Gals” label.  The song connection is probably lost on some of the younger locavores, but still, points for cleverness.

Silent Creations Buffalo Jerky

Speaking of buffalo: Silent Creations Buffalo Jerky, a local company which works with ranchers to ensure the “majestic animals are treated properly throughout their lives, with plenty of room to roam and never subjected to hormones, steroids or antibiotics.”

Larabars in Missoula

Cheenius gets a little scared of new things, so it was nice to see lots of Lara Bar choices (which she first learned about from HP, thanks!).  They’re made in Colorado, so while not exactly local, buying them in Montana felt slightly better than buying them in Virginia.

Good Food Store mission

So, if you find yourself in Missoula, just saddle up and head on over to the good people at The Good Food Store for first-rate locavoring.

NYC Coffee Break

Our friends took us to Jack’s Coffee near their apartment to get fueled up for a day of exploring. What a lovely surprise to be greeted by this sign!

Jack's Stir Brewed Coffee local milk

My delicious latte was made with milk from family farms in the Hudson Valley. Love this quote from the site:

Hudson Valley Fresh is indebted to Jack’s Coffee. Jack’s was the first coffee shop in New York City to serve our milk and promote our mission of high quality and sustainable dairy farming. Jack has shown his conviction by bringing his baristas to the farm and educating his customers. He is passionate about sustainability and continues to be our best advocate by encouraging customers and competitors to use our milk.
– Dr. Sam Simon, President of Hudson Valley Fresh

Jack's Stir Brew Coffee

Kudos to Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee! It really was a delightful latte. Must have been the fresh, local milk. If you’re in NYC and see a Jack’s, go there!

Greenwood Gourmet Grocery

I am a little late this year since I’ve been in Asia, but yesterday I took my annual pumpkin-buying trip to Greenwood Gourmet, just west of Charlottesville. I love that place.

It was hard to choose! I ended up with a regular orange pumpkin, a funky gray pumpkinoid, and a pretty two-tone green and yellow gourd.

While there, I checked out their local food offerings–they carry local meats, cheese, produce, and wine. In the middle of the store was a big display with local Henley’s Orchard apples.

According to their web site, Henley’s sells pasture-raised beef, in addition to 38 varieties of apples, and 28 types of peaches. And speaking of happy meat…

…a whole case of it, from Wolf Creek Farm, Polyface Farms, and Free Union Grass Farm, all farms that raise animals on pasture with kindness and respect, and without pumping them full of antibiotics, hormones, and corn.

I made one last stop at the cheese counter.

Meadow Creek Dairy makes several kinds of cheese from its herd of healthy, happy cows. (Note to veggies: they use rennet in their cheese production.)

Fall is the perfect time to visit Greenwood Gourmet! While you’re stocking up on gourds, pick up some local, natural foods.

How do you say “happy chickens” in Chinese?

These people know!

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden

Everybody can help to make a difference, every day, through small choices and lifestyle changes that can have big impacts to the general health and well-being of the planet.

While wandering around Hong Kong, looking for a Pret in Central, Mr. HP and I came upon a woman selling eggs and displaying this:

She didn’t understand my questions, but gave me a flyer for Kadoorie Farm. It’s too far from downtown to visit on this trip, like the Singapore goat farm, but it’s a great educational resource for the city-folk, and I hope it gets many visitors.

From the poultry section of their site:

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) raises chickens in a healthy living environment. In 2004, we adopted “natural” poultry farming practices. We care about animal welfare and treat our chickens with dignity. They are free to roam, enjoy fresh air in their living area and can stay outdoors. We do not use antibiotics or growth hormones. This is different from ‘factory-farms’ where large numbers of animals are tightly packed, crowded together. We believe a healthy environment is critical for bringing up strong and healthy animals. We have also set up a waste management system to recycle organic resources generated from our poultry into compost for use in organic farming of vegetables and fruits.

For the past 50 years, KFBG has worked to improve livestock farming. In the early history of the Farm, one of our main goals was to help local farmers by raising and supplying quality livestock, namely, chickens and pigs. Today, we still keep a family of 11 pigs as a heritage display and maintain a natural poultry farming system with about 2,000 chickens.

The farm has walking trails, educational displays, a cafe, flower and vegetable gardens, an aviary, and a pig sty, in addition to the chicken farm. Sounds like a lovely place for locals to spend a few hours enjoying the environment and learning about responsible consumerism.

(Bonus: while researching this post, I learned there’s a Pret only 2 blocks from my hotel!)


Hay! Goats in Singapore!

There’s a goat farm in tiny, densely populated Singapore! Unfortunately, it’s a hour and a half to get there by public transport, so I can’t visit.

Hay Dairies is a small farm producing goat milk for the local market. The photo gallery shows the goats in a metal-floored enclosure instead of frolicking in pastures, so maybe it’s best that I can’t visit. They do look clean and healthy, though, and the FAQ says no growth hormones or (unnecessary, presumably) antibiotics are administered.

I hope local families and school take advantage of the opportunity to visit the farm. It’s good for urban children to learn where their food comes from.

In closing, a picture of my favorite sheep, Artos. (I don’t have a goat picture handy.) Enjoy!

Charlottesville Community Food Awards

How do I score an invite to the Local Food Hub’s Community Food Awards next year?

The Local Food Hub is a Charlottesville non-profit that helps connect consumers with locally produced food. They run a warehouse where they purchase food directly from farmers, then sell it to local restaurants, markets, hospitals, and schools. In three years, the organization has purchased $750,000 worth of produce from local farms. They also operate an educational farm to teach community members how to grow their own food, and donate 25% of the food grown there to local food banks.

Congrats to the award winners:
Agricultural Endurance Award: Whitney Critzer, Critzer Family Farm
Community Mentor Award: Richard Bean, Double H Farm
Partner Producer of the Year: Jose and Adolfo Calixto, Singing Earth Produce
Institutional Leader Award: UVA Health System
Small Business Big Impact Award: Integral Yoga Natural Foods
Trailblazer Award: Alicia Cost and Sandra Vasquez, Nutrition Services Charlottesville City Schools

Maybe next year they’ll have a blog award! 🙂