Category: Rappahannock Neighbors

Local Orchards Complete the Picture

It’s a weekend in August. You live near our Nation’s capital, and you’ve decided to spend a day sightseeing near Shenandoah National Park. As you’re heading west on US 211, the road narrows down to two lanes and the display at Jenkins’ Fruit Stand catches your eye. You can’t resist the thought of taking home some fresh apples, or cider, jams, and jellies. So, you slow down, pull over, and park near the stand. After all, this is what your daytrip was all about. – And by doing so, you will also take home with you the memory of your welcome to Sperryville and the orchards of Rappahannock County.

Our Farmhouse in a Food Oasis series of posts has shown you where we get our vegetables, meat and dairy. Now we will show how local orchards complete the picture. But the story of our local orchards is bittersweet. Long in decline, Rappahannock County had gone from nearly 1,000 acres in apple production in 1992 to only about 300 acres in 2004. Ironically, a global pandemic has revived interest in this once fading local food resource.

(For background on the history, decline, and revival of our local orchards, read these two stories: The Sweet, Sad State of Cider & Rappahannock orchards bask in robust apple season — thanks to the pandemic!)

A farm store with more

From our daytrips starting in the late-1980s, we knew that Rappahannock County had wonderful apple and peach orchards. So, Serendipity Farmhouse wasn’t going to have a problem sourcing those products.

For example, Jenkins’ Fruit Stand is just across the road from us. Just a little further down the road, but still within walking distance is Roy’s Farm Market. While the Jenkins’ Fruit Stand is a seasonal attraction, Roy’s is available to us year-round. – And Roy’s place is a farm store with a little bit more.

Rather than write what’s already been written about Roy’s, we’ll just give you some pictures taken a week ago. What’s important to us is that, in addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, the store is stocked with an array of grocery items that you might find in an Aldi’s store. That became an invaluable asset during the pandemic. – If you want to read the history of Roy’s Farm Market, check out the Rappahannock News story Roy’s Orchard: A farm store with more.

What’s on the inside at Roy’s?


And if that isn’t enough for you, as you enter the small complex of buildings and sheds filled with food, you will also find freezers containing beef, pork, fresh baked pies, and ice cream. – It’s all there.

Farmhouse in a Food Oasis – Summary

So, there you have it. We thought we might have made a mistake by moving to a rural county, where travel to major stores would be inconvenient or even dangerous. But I think you can plainly see from this series of posts that we had actually been blessed with more food options than we could have hoped or prayed for.

That, dear Friends, is the nature of ‘serendipity’ – it is the answer to the prayer you should have prayed for but didn’t. And that is why ours is a farmhouse in a food oasis.

A view of peach trees and the Blue Ridge Mountains from Roy’s Farm Market

Natural Farm Products – the Reality

From the beginning, we wondered where in Rappahannock County we could find the best natural farm products. We needed a reliable source for quality dairy and meats, but we didn’t know where to look. True, we were slowly learning that Serendipity is a Farmhouse in a Food Oasis. Nevertheless, it was surprising to learn that some of the best natural farm products were just a stone’s throw away. Let’s take a look at how Blondie and I found Reality Farm.

The story begins with goats.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for goats. While still in Idaho, I developed a taste for goat milk cheese, and I wanted to learn how to make it myself. Unfortunately, goat milk is seldom available at local grocery stores. – One might say, I was a frustrated old goat.

It was in March of 2015 when dearest Blondie came to my rescue. Amazing internet researcher that she is, she soon found that a farm offering goat milk was located only 2.8 miles from us. – We made a call and scheduled a meeting. Within minutes after our arrival, I was the proud owner of half a goat (actually a half share).

Teri Guevremont then gave us a short tour of the farm. We learned that, in addition to goats, Reality raised dairy and beef cattle. It was an eye-opening tour, highlighted by a chance meet some of the new kids on the farm.

More than just a farm

Regular readers of this blog know well that Blondie and I have developed a great appreciation for Reality Farm and the collocated Quievremont Winery. There are many reasons for that. For example, the farm has become our primary source for grass-fed beef, eggs, raw milk.

But Reality is more than just a farm. It’s become a place where I can take my grandchildren and show them real farm life up close. For Blondie and me, the weekly trip to pick up our goat milk is a welcomed peace-filled moment. It’s a respite from the day’s routine. – Everybody should have moments like that.

What’s in the freezer? – What’s in the Fridge?

We’re reminded daily of our ties to Reality Farm. All we have to do is open up the freezer or the fridge.

High-quality, Economical Beef – How to keep the freezer full.

natural farm products

The SFH Test Kitchen has learned that buying a side of beef is much cheaper than buying individual cuts of meat. Buying in bulk saves money in the long run, but it requires a substantial up-front investment.

That’s why having a good friend like Tom is such a great blessing. Tom and I pool our purchasing power to buy an entire side of beef from Reality Farm. We then evenly divide the various cuts. – Here you can see a year’s worth of beef stored in our pantry freezer.

Fresh Dairy and Eggs for your fridge

On Monday mornings, Blondie and I make our weekly trip to Reality Farm. That’s when we pick up our half gallon of goat milk. – There it is on the bottom shelf, the second from the right. It was made just for us, and it has our name on it. – You can be 100% sure its fresh and wholesome!

By Wednesday, or Thursday morning at the latest, that half gallon will become tasty chèvre. – Check out this post to see how we make the cheese: Yes, now!

Who are your real friends? – The Reality

Just like the rest of you, Serendipity Farmhouse experienced hard times over the last three years. Here in Rappahannock County, friends and neighbors reached out to each other to give a helping hand. Blondie and I can’t think of one place that did more for the community than the combination of Reality Farm and Quievremont Winery. – Through the worst of times, their friends and neighbors always came first:

Reality Farm wants to assure all our friends and customers that we are continuing to operate and fulfill deliveries at this time. We are taking extra precautions at the farm and during our milk runs to ensure optimal safety of our employees and our patrons. … We are in this crisis together, but with hope, mutual support, and proper hygiene we’ll make it through. From all of us at Reality Farm: be safe and well!

It’s more than a food oasis.

Blondie and I left Idaho and the house of our dreams. We bought and old farmhouse “as is” and it became the house of our realities. The longer we live here the more we learn that ours is a farmhouse in a food oasis. But there is something more important here. These realities of our life here are blessings from God. – Reality Farm is one of those great blessings.

Reality Farm – The perfect backdrop for our 50th anniversary

Can Joining a CSA be a Good Deal?

Moving to Rappahannock County forced us to answer the question: “Can joining a CSA be a Good Deal?” We had to consider food cost and quality, travel time and expense, diet and menu changes, and a host of other significant factors. In the end, our answer to the question was, “Yes.” But that ‘yes’ comes with interesting qualifiers. Let’s talk about what a CSA is and how joining one has helped us.

In early 2014, Blondie made it quite clear that we (mostly I) had a problem. Grocery shopping and provisioning our pantry at Serendipity Farmhouse was, to say the least, ‘inconvenient.’ She ended our conversation with her oft used words – “Fix it!!!” (See post Farmhouse in a Food Oasis for details.)

Those were my marching orders. That’s when I set off to find convenient, food sources here in Rappahannock County. Little did I know at the time that would lead me to a CSA named Waterpenny Farm. Ironically, it was just across US211, within walking distance of our farmhouse.

What’s a CSA?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a production and marketing model whereby consumers buy shares of a farm’s harvest in advance. In exchange for this, farmers commit to supplying sufficient quantity, quality, and variety of products. The consumers and farmers share the risks and benefits of food production.

If you’re interested in a how a CSA works, check out Waterpenny’s website here. Eric Plaksin and Rachel Bynum give a great rundown of how their CSA came to be and they highlight their service to the community. They also talk about pricing for shares and half shares, describing what products are available over the course of a season. – There’s a lot more to running a CSA than you might think, and Eric and Rachel provide many valuable insights.

SFH and Waterpenny – An Interesting Relationship

In a sense, CSA members support the CSA farm as if it were their own. And that means, through the lean years as well as through the good years. – And that’s been our relationship with Waterpenny Farm for the past 7-8 years. There are times when our half share overwhelms us, and we have to give away excess produce to our children and friends. There are other times when we wish the weather had been kinder to our CSA.

But here’s the secret to what makes the Serendipity Farmhouse – Waterpenny Farm relationship so worthwhile to us.

If you’ve read our posts, you know we grow our own herbs, and vegetables. We can or preserve most of what we grow.

We know we can’t grow everything we want or need. So, we stick to our favorites – tomatoes, okra, garlic, green beans, and hot peppers.

love your garden

Although our garden production overlaps with what Waterpenny provides us, Waterpenny grows a host of other products that are not within our capability to grow. – And when we’re one pound short of tomatoes for canning, Waterpenny always comes through.

The bottom line is, come canning season, we have everything we need. There are no trips to Walmart for veggies during the summer. – In essence, Waterpenny becomes a virtual extension of the vast 1.203-acre Serendipity Farmhouse Estate.

What does a half share look like?

I think you’ve got the picture now. By working with products from our CSA, we’ve managed to solve a large part of our original food procurement problem. In answer to the question “Can joining a CSA be a Good Deal?” The answer for us is ‘yes.’ As an illustration of that, here are two pictures showing our half shares from last week and the week before.

If there’s a downside to all this feast of plenty, it’s difficult to find. But when this much fresh food comes into our kitchen every Thursday, we have to plan meals to ensure nothing is wasted. It’s amazing how many innovative recipes we’ve developed to make the best use of this great bounty.

So, let me end with some pictures from our last visit to Waterpenny Farm. As we said in our last post, we live in a wonderful food oasis.

No Need for A Farmhouse Nightmare

Wednesday morning, fire destroyed a Sperryville auto shop and nearby utility lines; it could have caused a Serendipity Farmhouse nightmare. But, due to practical planning and a small measure of serendipity, it didn’t.

According to the Rappahannock News story Explosions, fire destroy Sperryville auto shop:

A local auto shop in Sperryville was razed early Wednesday morning after catching fire and exploding, downing power lines and leaving more than 300 homes in the area without electricity.

The article explains that the incident occurred just before 5 AM. That was about when I had just finished my prayer time and was eating breakfast. I had heard some strange sounds outside and noticed the lights flickering. Then the Internet went dead and my telephone flashed, saying that I should check the line.

Something was going on. Soon the sound of sirens confirmed that a serious event had happened near Serendipity Farmhouse. It was only hours later that I would have the opportunity to assess the nature of this critical infrastructure event.

Critical Infrastructure Security

I suspect that very few of you have read A Guide to Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). – – Why would you?

That publication lists the 16 Current U.S. Critical Infrastructure Sectors. It also notes that there are four designated lifeline functionstransportation, water, energy, and
communications. The crucial assertion by this CISA publication is:

These connections and interdependencies between infrastructure elements and sectors mean that the loss of one or more lifeline function(s) typically has an immediate impact on the operation or mission in multiple sectors. [My emphasis added.]

Preliminary Lifeline Functions Assessment

Here is the event scene as it looked at 3 PM. The auto repair shop was totally destroyed. Most of the fire crews had departed. Apparently, Rappahannock Electric Company had already completed their on-site work. Power had been restored.

Multiple Verizon trucks had arrived, and workers were repairing telephone lines.

Xfinity technicians were performing repairs on Internet, TV cable, and digital phone lines.

Transportation

Did the fire have an impact on transportation?

At 5:12 AM, The Rappahannock County Fire & Rescue Department reported: “Crews are working to extinguish a commercial structure fire in Sperryville. Please avoid the immediate town of Sperryville due to multiple exposures and dangerous conditions.”

Additionally, Son’s Road and Water Street were closed to through traffic. – This had some impact on Serendipity Farmhouse.

Energy

Did the fire have an impact on energy?

According to the Rappahannock News, over 300 homes in the area lost electric power. Owing to a bit of serendipity, electric power is fed to Serendipity Farmhouse via a different distribution circuit than feeds the central portion of Sperryville. But for those 300+ families, there was great concern and inconvenience.

Water

Did the fire have an impact on water?

For the 300+ families without power, this was most certainly a big problem. Almost everyone in Sperryville gets their water from wells using electric pumps. No electricity means no water. No water for drinking, cooking, washing, or flushing.

Communications

Did the fire have an impact on communications?

As I noted earlier, Serendipity Farmhouse lost Xfinity/Comcast Internet access, cable, and telephone just before 5 AM. But Xfinity/Comcast users were not the only ones impacted. Verizon telephone lines are on the same utility poles as the electric and cable lines. This meant that, with the exception of mobile cell service, Sperryville was without communications.

Consider the implications of this 11:47 AM report from Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office: “Rappahannock County Public Safety Communication Center 911 lines are back up and operating. For non-emergency calls please dial 540-522-7355. Administrative lines remain down.

Lifeline Functions Resilience Plan

What do we do at Serendipity Farmhouse when the lights go out? – In the words of my most wonderful wife Blondie – “Panic!!”

But she and I know that after we allow ourselves a brief moment of panic and dread, we immediately set about implementing our Lifeline Functions Resilience Plan.

At Serendipity Farmhouse, we don’t live off-grid. And, as you can see by Wednesday’s fire, we are dependent on critical infrastructure. But because of thoughtful planning, there is no need for this type of event to become a farmhouse nightmare. Although we’re not homesteaders, preppers, or survivalists, we live a practical life. And we adhere to a commonsense motto that allows us to enjoy a good night’s sleep. That motto, of course, is Pray, Prepare, Preserve. That motto motivates us to prepare for events like this.

We know what the four lifeline functions are. We understand what loss of those functions means. So, we have developed a plan to build resilience into the way we run Serendipity Farmhouse. CISA defines resilience as:

Resilience may be defined as the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions. This means being able to withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions, deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally-occurring threats or incidents.

Over the next few months, Blondie and I will show you what we do to ensure lifeline functions resilience. You will learn why, here at the vast 1.203-acre estate known as Serendipity Farmhouse, there is no need to have a farmhouse nightmare.

Sperryville is our community, the place where we live. Wednesday’s fire was destructive and tragic. Our prayers go out to Andrew Manuel, the owner of Wrextorations. You can donate to Wrextorations here.

SFH Journal 2021-01-03 through 01-17 – Just Hanging In There

Hi. Mr. Monte here.

This time of year is very difficult for a fully mature, unusually fit, remarkably agile, and unquestionably intelligent, 21-pound Maine Coon Cat. The days are short. The weather is dreary. And, most unpleasantly, outside time on the porch is greatly curtailed.

Oh, you may may experienced the Winter blahs, but you have never known the uniquely intense sense of frustration and misery that besets me during this time of year. – – – There, now that I have set the proper mood for this post, let’s see what Blondie and Ol’ Fuzz Face have been doing to keep our spirits high during these Winter doldrums so that we can just hang in there until Spring arrives.

There’s more on the door.

We at the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen take great enjoyment in cooking gourmet and traditional American meals. Blondie and Fuzzy do a fair-to-middling job of following my instructions and they occasionally surprise me with some excellent cuisine. We like to experiment with all kinds of meats, but inevitably my two big cats come back to their favorite Julia Child recipes featuring beef (boeuf).

This year, one of the fine friends of Serendipity Farmhouse offered to go in with us for a side of Reality Farm beef. – – What great jubilation there was when Blondie and Fuzzy received their share of the beef. A highlight of the last week was when they prepared beef short ribs for the first time in their years together. It was delicious! – – – As a cat I was happy to see that my two big cats were happy. As for me, beef might be fine for them, but if I didn’t kill it, I’m in no real rush to eat it.

Finally Clean! – An oven doesn’t have to be exceptionally dirty to be exceptionally hard to clean. I’m told that when Fuzzy and Blondie moved into SFH the oven did not meet the high standards of cleanliness that are exacted by Blondie. When I arrived on the scene a year later, even though Fuzzy had spent some time in working on some very resistant, burnt-on stains, several offending stains remained. Over the years since then, Blondie and I have reminded Fuzzy that, until that oven is entirely clean, the soon-to-be-world famous SFH Test Kitchen would not be at its finest.

To his credit, Fuzzy pursued his duty to rid the oven of the offensive signs of filth. Finally, on January 14th, 2021 (mark that date for posterity), Ol’ Fuzz Face achieved success. He has submitted this photo as evidence to those who may have doubts.

Fuzzy, don’t be so foolish as to think that you can now rest on your laurels. – – The oven job was only one item off of Blondie’s “honey do” list. You may get away with resting on the Lord’s Day, but all the other days still belong to Blondie and me. – – Now get back to work!

SFH by the Numbers

The following links will catch you up with what’s come out of our gardens and what has gone into mason jars and the freezer since our last Journal post.:

SFH 2020 Plantings

SFH 2020 Harvest

SFH 2020 Preserving

SFH WX Station Report – Weekly: 

SFH WX 2021-01-04 through 01-10

SFH WX 2021-01-10 through 01-17

Of Wine, Truth & Quièvremont Winery

This post will likely become too lengthy and complicated for some. So, let me put the bottom line up front.

At Quièvremont Vineyard and Winery in Rappahannock County, the product may be an exceptional selection of wines, but of much greater importance is the ‘truth’ behind how those wines come to be.

In vino veritas.

They say that ‘in wine there is truth‘ (in vino veritas). Unfortunately, that is said with the suggestion that perhaps too much wine has been consumed and one has become less guarded in what he says. I do not hold that view. I prefer to think that the real ‘truth’ to be found in wine pertains more to those dauntless souls who have chosen wine making as their life’s work – determined and dedicated men like John Guevremont and Karl Selzer. Assuming that my view is correct,* let’s continue on and ask the the important question.

* On the Serendipity Farmhouse website my view is always correct unless, of course, when I’m overruled by my dear Wife or Mr. Monte.

Quid est veritas?

“What is truth?” Or more precisely, “What is the ‘truth’ behind the wines produced at Quièvremont Winery?” There are many ways to frame the response to that question. I will merely answer it with another question. “How was it that John Guevremont, a 20-year Marine Corps aviator, went from piloting the A-6 Intruder on display at the National Air and Space Museum to becoming the owner and operator of a Bucher Vaslin JLB 5 Basket Press?

John answers part of the question himself on the Quièvremont Winery website. But my beautiful Wife and I have seen that there are many more aspects and ways to view the ‘truth’ behind the wines produced at Quièvremont Winery.

Veritas est adaequatio intellectus et rei.**

Here is one way we were able to view wine making ‘truth’ on an enchanting Autumn day last week. Immediately following the tasting of a new variety of wine at Quièvremont, we were invited to tour the wine cellars. This most enlightening tour illustrated the extent to which the ‘romance’ of wine making and the ‘rigid laws’ of chemistry and mechanical engineering must be brought into harmony if there is ever to be a memorable vintage.

Karl Selzer, the winery manager and vintner, described the wine making process and explained the functions of barrels, vats, wine presses, and pumps. He also delved into the mystery of the chemistry hidden in each glass of wine. We learned that there is no single ‘recipe’ for any variety of wine. Weather conditions, crop losses, and a myriad of other variables during a particular year dictate that the vintner must do his best with the ingredients he has at hand. Every possible variation must be considered and the potential impact on the end results must be weighed. – Thus, the vintner must measure, test, record all the factors, and keep his notebook close at hand.

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John, Teri and their son Nick

Let me briefly depart from our tour for a moment so that you might understand that, even though wine is made with grapes, the art of wine making truly depends upon those aforementioned “dauntless souls” who make the wine. Beautiful Wife and I have seen firsthand how John Guevremont has handled distressing times. For example, this Spring, several late freezes devastated a large portion John’s vineyards. Simultaneously, his winery was beset by revenue losses due to shutdowns caused by the current pandemic. Instead of declaring himself a victim, John devised a strategy to help his family, his employees, and his community carry on through the hard times. Much of his strategy was business related, but two items stand out:

  • Reality Farm, run by John’s wife Teri, produces high quality beef and dairy products. When many in Rappahannock County, including my Wife and I, couldn’t obtain these items elsewhere, we were able to order them on line and pick them up at the winery.
  • When local schools were closed and learning could only be done on-line, John set up a WiFi hotspot so that students who had no other access to the Internet would be able to go on-line.

In short, no matter how difficult the times, John and Teri put faith, family, and community first. They are always there for others. That may explain how Karl, who started out by presiding over wine tastings and laboring in the vineyards, eventually came to be the successful vintner he is today. It was under John’s watchful eye and encouragement that this transition was brought about.

Now back to our tour. – Another ‘truth’ to be found in the cellars is the expense of investment in equipment, even for the most fundamental items. Take for example the cost of oak barrels like the ones pictured below.

On the left we have a high quality barrel by the French company Tonnellerie Baron and on the right we have a somewhat less expensive, near-equivalent quality California product by The Oak Cooperage. In both cases, the pricing of typically used wine barrels begins at close to $1,000.00 per barrel. We learned from Karl that the considerable investment in equipment extends to every aspect of wine making.

At this point, my dear Wife inquired how are the grapes pressed. She confessed to me later that she had envisioned the pressing as it was done by Lucille Ball in a memorable episode of I Love Lucy. Here again, Karl was prepared to demonstrate a ‘truth’ of wine making – the modern wine press. Not only did he demonstrate, he allowed my most sweet Spouse to try her hand at pressing the grapes. – From my point of view, she was a far more dignified presser of grapes than Lucy was.

Beautiful Wife Presses Grapes

Karl continued the tour by elaborating on the process and explaining the individual steps involved. The photos below show the means by which the newly pressed juice is moved from the press to an awaiting barrel. Then, after months of waiting with great anticipation, the wine is bottled and stored.

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The wine waits in storage for the day it will be brought upstairs and revealed to many who have come from far and near to sample the new vintage. And that is where another ‘truth’ about wine making is revealed. – Wine brings things and people together. – For example, sometimes Quièvremont Winery will sponsor events where local caterers and chefs can provide tasty samples of their art and trade. The pairing of fine wine and just the right delicacy make for a most delightful afternoon or evening.

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Now that my dear Wife and I have learned these ‘truths’ that can be found in wine making and the ‘truth’ about those who make the wine, we will never look upon the expression ‘in vino veritas‘ in quite the same way. – So, as we take in the view from the deck at the Quièvremont Winery, we say, “Santé et Bon Apetit!”

 

**St. Thomas Aquinas asserts “Truth is the equation [or adequation] of things and intellect“. – We have seen some of the ‘things‘ that go into wine making and have done our best to make them ‘equate/adequate’ to what we hold in our ‘intellect’.