by Annie Young
With ideals and a philosophy as fresh as the produce they bring to market, the young farmers at Chilly Hollow Farm work to create a sustainable future. Childhood friends Chris Dalton, Matt Lander, and Justin Carrasco work together on three acres nestled in the rolling valley of Clarke County.
Carrasco grew up outside of Philadelphia, and loved the time outdoors when he went to visit his grandparents in Clarke County each summer. Two years ago, Carrasco’s family suggested he try farming this special spot. Dalton had been exploring and learning on farms from Georgia to Oregon, and was developing a strong sense of self-sufficiency and the need for sustainable practices in agriculture. Those ideas fit Carrasco’s plans, and Lander jumped on board.
“It is a ripe time for farming” said Lander. Their desire to be self reliant started with the wish to feed themselves and their community. So with a little start up money, three acres of uncultivated land, and seemingly unlimited possibilities, the new farmers took pickaxes and started breaking through the sod.
Two growing seasons later, Dalton describes their progress as “300 percent better than the first year, and yet we have learned just as much this second year.” Although they are not certified organic, they use the same rigorous methods. Maintaining their sustainable philosophy, they do not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Walking through their fields, it is apparent how much work goes into growing the wide variety of seasonal vegetables, fruits and eggs. Carrasco offers me a few leaves of Malabar spinach that he plucks from the tall, trellised plant. The thick, chewy leaf is oddly citrusy and juicy. It is one of the many varieties of greens they grow. This year they experimented with eight heirloom varieties of tomatoes, as well as strawberries, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. The farmers enjoy trying unique vegetables like red okra, Easter egg radishes, and blue potatoes. They even grow hops and brew beer for themselves. The seeds and slips they start in a large hoop house. Carrasco explains, “Learning on the go forces us to be creative.”
Although the Chilly Hollow Farmers work hard together, it’s their customers and neighbors that really keep them motivated. One neighbor shares his tractor and experienced advice. A local hunter happily helps keep the deer population down on their farm with a special permit. Friends and volunteers come and help on the farm. “We love weed pullers!” effuses Lander.
The farm supports a 22-week CSA. The members of the Community Supported Agriculture program buy a share in the beginning of the season. Once a week from May to October, members come to the farm or Berryville Farmers Market to pick up their bags of produce. “We like knowing our customers.” says Dalton. The customers visit the farm to see how the vegetables are grown and how the land is used. It is this exchange of knowing who they are growing for—and the customers knowing how they grow—that feeds their sustainable values.
Customers also support Chilly Hollow farm at several local farmers markets. Each farmer packs a vehicle and heads to market. Dalton even uses his Saturn sedan. “I pack everything, and it fits like puzzle pieces,” he said, explaining how he fits a tent, table, produce, and CSA shares all in the compact vehicle.
Customers can find Chilly Hollow produce at the Berryville Farmers Market, Middleburg Market, and Purcellville Community Farmers Market on Saturdays throughout the season as well as the Front Royal Farmers Market.
More and more people are requesting local food be served at local restaurants. When asked how the community can support them, the Chilly Hollow farmers say, “Demand organic and local!” In this way, small farms like Chilly Hollow are supported and able to thrive. Magnolia’s at the Mill in Purcellville creates dishes using Chilly Hollow vegetables. The Wine Kitchen and the Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg also include their locally grown produce on their menus. This partnership between chefs and farmers not only benefits the restaurants and producers, but the customers as well. Customers receive seasonal, delicious organically grown food.
When fresh, locally grown fruits, meats and vegetables are available on menus, small farmers have another outlet to provide for the local community. Being part of this connectedness is part of the sustainable, self reliant philosophy that Chilly Hollow holds tight in their hardworking fists.