Mt. Airy Farm Market Buys Local So You Can Too

By Annie Young

Seventy-five percent of the products come from within 20 miles

Are you ready to enjoy a shopping experience away from the stuffy, crowded malls? Are you wanting to support the Buy Local movement but not sure where to start? Are you looking for a place that provides you with a variety of products in one location? Look no further than Mt. Airy Farm Market.

Working on farms and landscaping for his entire life, Bill Eyles started looking into the future for a retirement project. He and his wife Karen saw a need for local producers, craftsmen, and artisans to have a local market to sell their products. So they facilitated a gathering of a wide array of locally made, natural products. Then they opened Mt. Airy Farm Market over a year ago and stocked it. “Over 75 percent of our products come from a 20-mile radius,” Eyles said. You can’t find everything at the market but I was hard pressed to think of something that I wanted that was not there.

The farm market is more than seasonal produce; it has something for everyone. Actually, it has a lot for everyone. There are eggs, milk, yogurt, meats and fresh baked breads, muffins and cookies. Gluten free baking mixes and flours are available. Not tempted yet? How about Amish made old fashioned candies, chocolates, dried fruit and locally roasted coffees? You can enjoy the ready to eat food and sandwiches or take home meats and cheeses for your meal. All of the meat is steroid, hormone free and grass fed. There is a variety of BBQ sauces and hot sauces to spice up your meat too. Don’t forget to peruse the locally canned jams, jellies, salsas and syrups. I was tempted into trying the apple salsa. What will you be tempted to try?

If you are not hungry, you can still find something to suit your fancy. A local artist makes stained glass sun catchers. Locally made soaps and body products are available. Some soap is made from goat’s milk and other beauty products have local honey as ingredients. Of course, there are several kinds of local honeys to try including Falling Bark Farm’s infused honey with flavors such as lavender or jalapeno lime. I’m dreaming of a White Christmas filled with local honey laced hot toddies.

Speaking of brews, there is beer and wine available for sale, including a selection of locally produced varieties. Eyles is on the lookout for more local wineries to sell their products at the store, too. Locally brewed honey mead is also for sale.

Many of these products make great holiday gifts, but Mt. Airy Market also provides foods for your holiday gathering. The market is taking orders for turkey and ham. Although they do not cater, they are available for special orders. They have barbecue, fresh broccoli salad, potato salad, macaroni & cheese as well as lasagna, natural sliced meat and veggie platters. Don’t forget the pies. You can preorder your food by calling the market.

Here’s a few more seasonal offerings at Mt. Airy Market: fresh cut, Virginia grown Frasier firs, wreaths and pine roping can be bought at the market. Also, starting on December 6th they will become a Village Post Office. This means that stamps and Priority Ready Mail boxes are available for sale. Fill up a box of local goodies for a loved one far away and then you can mail the box right from the market. Avoiding waiting in lines at the post office is a new holiday tradition you can try along with shopping locally. The market takes credit cards and is open Monday through Thursday 10:00-6:00, Friday and Saturday 10:00-7:00 and Sunday 11:00-5:00. A website is under construction but you can find them on Facebook.

I am sure you hear a lot about supporting local businesses. By buying from these producers you become a “job creator” in a very real and local definition. You provide income and support for local farmers, artists, store owners. My family is one of these local farmers, and we are so thankful to our local customers.

I wish you and your loved ones a magical holiday season, and hope you enjoy buying locally made treats, eating delicious foods, and making new memories.

Mt. Airy Farm Market, 8204 John Mosby Highway, Boyce; 540-837-2043.

When There’s A Need, There’s Help

Story and photos by Jennifer Lee

Two Clarke County charitable organizations dedicated to serving the needy have recently found a new home themselves, giving them a Main Street Berryville presence and better opportunities to achieve their missions. Help with Housing and FISH moved into their new digs at 36 East Main Street in the former Clarke County Library building just last month, and celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception on December 5.

The county owns the building, but charges virtually no rent in exchange for the two organizations maintaining the building. FISH occupies the first floor with its clothing store and food pantry while Help with Housing’s offices are on the second floor of the recently renovated former residence. A spacious, bright room with a large conference table and fireplace on the first floor greets visitors and serves as a meeting room for both groups.

Help with Housing

Help with Housing (HWH) was founded in 1988 to assist low-income county residents with emergency home repairs like heating, plumbing, and accessibility issues. Since that time, the organization has grown to serve residents in the five neighboring municipalities of Frederick, Warren, Page, Shenandoah, and the city of Winchester and the number of projects completed has skyrocketed from five in 1990 to 97 in 2012. In the last 25 years, the organization has completed approximately 850 projects, assisted nearly 2,000 people, and spent $1.2 million dollars in services and materials.

Paula Costello, the organization’s executive director since 1994, says that the biggest challenge for her is, “the frustration of not being able to help all the people that really need it.” She said she receives five to ten calls a day requesting assistance on everything from water heaters to roof repairs, and there are presently over 100 households on the waiting list.

Requests are evaluated based on the nature of help needed, in addition to the income of the people requesting help. “Most of our recipients have a household income between $8,000 to $12,000 a year, and it’s very rare we get calls from people who are over-qualified.” In order to qualify, recipients must fall below 80 percent of the median income in a particular area, which varies from county to county.

Many requests are of a critical nature—the repair or installation of indoor plumbing and heating, installation of accessibility ramps and railings to assist the disabled, and roof repairs when conditions threaten the safety of residents. The cost of repairs can range from $100 to $5,000. “Depending on the issue, we try to respond to requests within a week—when it’s critical,” Costello said.

Over the years, Help with Housing has partnered with many regional agencies and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand their reach and effectiveness. Through HUD home grants, HWH is able to access up to $30,000 to assist with major rehabilitation projects where more than one problem exists.

Their partnership with United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, beginning in 1994, has been instrumental in finding, funding, and completing projects in a nearly 50-mile radius. “We’ve partnered with many local agencies and groups—Access Independence, Esther Boyd, churches, and we are a big part of United Way,” Costello said.

Help with Housing was inspired by the concern of Clarke County residents Jane Cary Harrison and Charlotte Kern, who saw that some people were living in deplorable conditions among the grand estates and cozy neighborhoods in the county. Houses with no indoor plumbing, caving-in roofs, dangerous wiring, and no or little heat sources became the targets of a small group of citizens who formed the group and received seed money from the Virginia Housing Partnership Fund.

Costello says that about 65 percent of their beneficiaries are elderly people, many of whom are disabled and on fixed incomes limited to social security checks. “Often, the children or grandchildren of these folks will call to request assistance for their family members,” she said. Referrals also come from Social Services, health departments, building departments, physical rehabilitation facilities, and schools.

After a call comes in, Costello files a report, and project manager Chris Graham is dispatched to review the problem. Bids are then solicited from area contractors, many of whom provide discounted services and materials. Appliances and other items are often purchased at the ReStore, a nonprofit home-improvement store and donation center in Winchester operated by Habitat for Humanity.

Due to demand from neighboring counties, HWH expanded its reach in 1999, first to Warren County, then subsequently to Frederick, Shenandoah, Page, and the City of Winchester. “By far, the greatest need is in Frederick County, double or triple than in our other communities,” Costello said. There are a number of communities there where living conditions are often plagued with issues like mold, water leaks, deteriorating flooring, and substandard plumbing. Whereas other county governments contribute funding, Frederick does not. In Shenandoah County, the Shenandoah Community Foundation is a solid supporter of Help with Housing’s efforts.

Bringing new expertise and enthusiasm to fundraising efforts is Ardis Cullers, HWH’s new director of marketing and fundraising. She worked as a volunteer fundraiser in Washington, D.C. for several years, raising money for suburban hospitals and Key to the Cure for national breast cancer research. Since July, she has attended many workshops and meetings, spoken to civic groups, organized special events, and became a United Way Account Executive to increase the awareness and support of the organization. “I love speaking to groups about what we do and welcome the opportunity to do so,” Cullers says.

HWH established a capital campaign to help pay for office renovations, with Jim Stutzman Chevrolet-Cadillac contributing the funds to install a large new patio in the back of the building, a space that was previously unsightly and unusable and can now be used to host small outdoor receptions and events.

The results of HWH’s efforts are always gratifying, but the stories are often heart wrenching. “One Christmas, I got a call from a woman whose husband had left her and their children. He came back to get the birds in the house but not his wife and kids. I had to go home early that day,” Costello recalls, her voice cracking.

But with the assistance of Help with Housing and a caring community, the struggles of hundreds of people are eased each year. HWH welcomes any contributions community members can make, through cash donations, their Adopt A Project program, or by volunteering.


Filling the bellies of people in need is only part of the mission of FISH, a completely volunteer-run organization that has its first public space since its inception in 1969. Previously, its donation center was in a small building next to Old Chapel off Route 340, open only three hours a week. Now the organization has a kitchen and dedicated spaces for a food pantry and used clothing store and is open every Wednesday and Saturday from 9am till noon.

“This space offers a lot more contact with our clients and the ability to talk to people in person,” said Mary Veilleux, president of FISH’s board of directors. The food pantry is well-stocked with perishable and non-perishable items ranging from soup to nuts to diapers and the clothing store offers a varied selection of clothing and other items for men, women, and children, all for very low prices.

Jane Cary Harrison was the engine behind the founding of FISH nearly 20 years before helping to organize Help with Housing. She had heard about an organization named FISH dedicated to serving the needy in another community, and brought that name and mission, and its Christian symbolism, to Clarke County. A plaque recognizing Mrs. Harrison is now on the front of the building.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of FISH’s outreach is providing one-time emergency assistance to people who need help with basic living expenses, most often utility bills. There are six FISH volunteers who provide financial counseling and evaluate requests. Of those who qualify for help and are first time callers, FISH has been able to fulfill 100 percent of the requests, Veilleux said, but she sees the role of the organization beyond serving as an emergency resource. “We want to encourage people to take responsibility, be accountable, and look for ways to create a sustainable life.”

Connecting people is another byproduct of the mission. Vielleux tells the story of a man who had been laid off from his job and sought assistance with his rent payment. Through the network of FISH volunteers, he found a job six months later. “We can’t help people who need continual assistance, so it’s important we show them ways to help themselves,” she said.

Another service FISH provides is taking people to and from medical appointments and treatment centers. They have driven 157 people to appointments this year.

The food pantry, run by volunteer Grace Lewis, must follow USDA guidelines for public food distribution. People may come once a month and take a designated and varied selection of food items. They can come to the clothing shop, organized by volunteers Sue Ross and Sharon Harrison, as often as they like.

Local churches are the primary benefactors to FISH, contributing hundreds of pounds of food each year through food drives. “Mountain Baptist Church in Frogtown is our biggest donor. They are so generous, it just keeps you smiling about small community,” Veilleux said. Duncan Memorial Methodist Church hosts a food distribution event on the third Friday of every month in which a different church adopts the task of food collection. Civic groups like the Rotary Club and Boy Scouts and county schools are also regular contributors.

Clarke County Social Services is an integral partner to FISH, providing referrals and administrative support. In turn, FISH provides a more personal and often more accessible source of assistance than a governmental agency can. “We want to be there for anyone who might fall through the cracks,” said Veilleux. Unfortunately, the need appears to be growing, with 203 people visiting the food pantry in November compared to 300 people the entire year of 2006. Fortunately for all of them, the volunteers and benefactors of FISH of Clarke County are there to help.

Help with Housing is located at 36 East Main Street (2nd floor) in Berryville and can be contacted at 540-955-1706,, and on the web at

FISH is located at 36 East Main Street (1st floor) in Berryville and can be contacted at 540-955-1823 or on the web at

Over the Fields and Through the Woods

Story and photos by Jennifer Lee

The Blue Ridge Hunt celebrates its 125th anniversary of foxhunting in Clarke County

Anyone who’s ever done it knows the rush: an expanse of rolling countryside before you, a frisky ton of powerful animal underneath you, hounds in full cry leading the charge over tall coops and wide ditches, the smell of earth and horse sweat and adrenaline coursing through you. This is the thrill of the chase.

“Watching the hounds work, work, work, hearing them, seeing the whole system come together, there’s just nothing like it,” says joint Master of the Blue Ridge Hunt Anne McIntosh, echoing the sentiment of most anyone who’s ever spent time in the hunt field. “No one has a worry in the world when you’re out there and everything is going right.”

It was Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax—who lived and died at Greenway Court in White Post—who organized the first group hunt club in America in 1747, according to the Masters of Foxhounds Association. The Blue Ridge Hunt (BRH) was established in 1888, making it the third oldest foxhunt club in the United States, after neighboring Piedmont in Upperville and Deep Run west of Richmond. One hundred twenty-five years later, they are keeping the tradition alive in the face of shrinking land accessibility, changing public sentiment about the sport, through the sheer love of it.

On the surface, a foxhunt meet can appear a bit frivolous—privileged people in their pretty coats and jodhpurs and their fine steeds gathering at grand estates to chase a pack of dogs going after an innocent little fox. But there’s a lot more to it than that. A good hunt club is an orchestra of highly trained and cared for hounds, athletic horses and riders, responsible sportsmanship, land stewardship, and a hardworking staff. The conductor of that orchestra is the huntsman.

The Hounds

Guy Allman, 44, from Devon, England, was hired as Blue Ridge’s huntsman in the spring of 2012 and by all heard accounts has given new breadth and expertise to this pack of riders, horses, and hounds. “He’s just really, really good at what he does,” McIntosh enthused. She found him by calling hunt clubs across England, asking if the huntsman had ever considered coming to America.

The relationship the huntsman has with the hounds is critically important to the health, performance, and enjoyment of the entire foxhunting experience. Before Allman arrived, McIntosh said, the hounds had been quiet while hunting for at least a few seasons, an indication that they were not properly engaged or motivated. “People must have thought we went to Wal-Mart and bought voice buttons and inserted them in all the hounds,” McIntosh laughs, describing the difference between the hounds under Allman’s charge compared to seasons past.

“It’s all down to attitude, isn’t it?” Allman explained in his sharp British accent. “The way I work goes down to the hounds. It’s really about a good work ethic. I keep things very basic and take it from there. From the kennel to their manners in the field, it’s about establishing routines, gaining their trust, building confidence. And not giving up. As soon you give up, the hounds give up.”

The work ethic of a huntsman in England is instilled long before he or she is allowed to wear the scarlet coat or even get in the field. “You start at the bottom, cleaning the kennels, doing whatever is asked of you, and work your way up. It shows whether you’re keen,” Allman said. His first job as huntsman, at the Mid Devon Foxhounds, came when he was 29 years old, after 13 seasons of apprenticeship.

“A good huntsman has to be observant, sharp, and must react quickly. There is an invisible thread—that link between you, the horse, and the hounds—and you all have to want to do the right thing,” he said.

Most of Blue Ridge’s pack of 80 hounds and puppies (or 40 couple, as they are called) are English foxhounds, with about 18 couple going out on a hunt day. A typical hunting career for a hound is six to seven seasons, “so I’ve been trying to teach some old dogs some new tricks,” Allman quips. It is readily apparent that he has the full attention and respect of his pack as they gather tightly and calmly around him, whether he’s on foot or mounted.

“Guy is definitely the alpha dog,” McIntosh said. Brian Ferrell, a new joint Master of Blue Ridge, tells of watching Allman walk down the road with the pack one day. With just subtle positioning of his body and a few hand gestures, he had complete control of when and where the hounds went. “The kennels are spotless and these hounds are taken care of better than 99 percent of people’s pets,” Ferrell added.

The Land

The relationship forged with landowners is also of essential importance and is one of the primary responsibilities of the Masters. “We obviously couldn’t do any of this without them,” McIntosh said. Permission must be granted by every owner of the land the Hunt traverses, with the understanding that the Hunt will take care of panels (such as coops), trails, and be generally good stewards of the land. The BRH also offers “fallen stock” services to farmers who need livestock carcasses disposed of.

Clarke County is still blessed with an abundance of open farmland and woods and contiguous properties in conservation easement that contribute to the success and enjoyment of the Hunt. Where it differs from territory just over the mountain to the east is the high concentration of limestone in the soil, which causes surface water to drain more quickly. Drier earth does not hold a scent—the hounds’ primary tool—nearly as well as moist earth. This can be particularly challenging when weather conditions are variable, warm and wet one day, cold and dry the next.

It takes a day or two for a hound’s nose to adapt to new conditions, McIntosh explained. But that doesn’t discourage Allman. “If it’s a moderate or bad scenting day, you work harder. That’s what I’m there to do. You don’t give up,” he said.

The Horses

Many of the horses in the hunt field are thoroughbreds who’ve been retired from flat racing and are brought in and trained in a new way, as 4- or 5-year-olds, to be “sane” and willing to jump. Allman takes a similar approach training hunt horses as he does with hounds. “They have to work it out for themselves. You should know when to handle them and when to leave them alone,” he said.

Horses in the hunt field come in a variety of breeds, sizes, and temperaments. but a good hunter must possess a few essential qualities: speed, endurance, and sanity. With experience and good manners, a seasoned field hunter can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Allman’s personal preference is “a quick, small thoroughbred that can turn on a six-pence and go. They have to be quick to learn, adaptable, and have plenty of engine.” He likes them between four and six years old, “so I can learn along with them,” he said.

His biggest piece of advice for someone new to foxhunting is to “get the right horse for your ability. You have to know what’s under you, whether you’re working with a sane mind.”

The Hunt

In addition to the huntsman, there is at least one whipper-in, or whip, who acts as the huntsman’s right hand, helping with everything from maintenance at the kennel to looking for the fox in the hunt field. Chris Rutter, also from England, serves this role at BRH. They are also currently seeking a second whipper-in.

Members of the hunt field are divided into two groups based on ability of horse and rider. The first field follows closely behind the hounds and huntsman, often at a fast clip and jumping any obstacles. The second field, or “hilltoppers,” go at a more leisurely pace and do not jump. Each field typically has its own Master, who is responsible for the general well being of horse, rider, and ground being hunted. In addition to Anne McIntosh and Brian Ferrell, Linda Armbrust has served as a joint Master for BRH for the last 13 years.

The hunting season begins in late August with “cubbing,” when the huntsman introduces young hounds to the sport, and concludes in mid-March. Weather permitting, BRH meets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and some holidays at a number of pastoral locations throughout the county. Historic Long Branch is the host of the opening meet in late October or early November and the Stirrup Cup on Thanksgiving Day, when the public is invited to share holiday cheer and see the hunt off. A couple hundred well-wishers were in attendance this past brisk Thanksgiving, warmed by cider, port, ham biscuits, and bucolic scenery.

Few foxes (two so far this year) are killed here in the hunting season, and the hunt staff contends that they are usually the weak and sick, often plagued by mange, worms, or some other illness. Red foxes are predominant in this area, and they can run as fast as 30 miles per hour, uncannily clever in finding hiding places and often “going to ground” (disappearing into a hole or place where the hounds can’t reach it) to avoid capture. The hounds are trained not to chase coyotes, deer, or any other animal.

“The goal is to get them (the hounds) hunting nicely without being sharp,” Allman explains, meaning the chase is far more encouraged than the kill. To reward the hounds for a good effort, in lieu of capturing the fox, Allman says, “I get down and make a good, big fuss over them. It’s in the voice.”

In addition to the hunt meets, BRH hosts several events throughout the year, including the point-to-point spring races at Woodley, the Virginia Foxhound Show, trail rides, and an annual Hunt Ball. Proceeds from these events help offset the significant expenses associated with feed, medicines, care of the Hunt’s hounds and horses, and upkeep of the kennel, stables, and staff housing.

Anyone interested in joining the Hunt is encouraged to call any of the three Masters. There are various levels of membership, and one can come as a non-member by paying a “cap” fee on the day of the hunt. Blue Ridge currently has about 70 riding members and 40 social members.

The sight and sounds of dozens of hounds, horses, and riders charging across the countryside is a deeply rooted tradition in Clarke County whose intrigue and allure can be appreciated as participant or spectator. Tally Ho!

For more information on the Blue Ridge Hunt, visit their website at

For more information on foxhunting in general, visit the Masters of Foxhounds Association and Foundation website at

Clarke County resident and foxhunting expert Norm Fine has written a collection of colorful stories, compiled in the book Foxhunting Adventures: Chasing the Story and writes a blog on the website


Buenos Días, Amigos!

by Jennifer Lee

Abel Ramos took a rather circuitous route from his hometown of San Ignacio in Jalisco, Mexico to owning and running his Camino Real Restaurant on Crow Street in Berryville. After years of contract work picking fruit in California, Oregon, and Washington, Abel’s father, Laureano, gradually moved his family to Kirkland, Washington. Abel was 14 years old. Then and there he started his career in the restaurant business.

“My father, mother, my two brothers, and me—we all worked in restaurants. My dad was the dishwasher, my brother Benjamin was a cook, and I waited tables,” Abel recalls. His father’s cousins had 18 restaurants around the state, and gave the family the experience and subsequent impetus to open their own restaurant. After moving to Blaine, Wash., they opened their first restaurant there in 1995.

Blaine is a town slightly larger than Berryville, sitting at the intersection of the Canadian border, a major interstate (I-5), and the Pacific Ocean. The Peace Arch, an international monument erected in 1921, stands there. Blaine was once home to the largest salmon cannery in the world, but the site has since been converted to a waterfront resort destination. What Berryville and Blaine may share is a “turn-of-the-century” character, embracing the architecture and signage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as a deep appreciation for nature and the surrounding landscape among residents.

The Ramos’s passion for cooking began back in Mexico. “My grandmother served dinner out of her kitchen table in Mexico, and raised her family selling food to locals at our home town San Ignacio,” Abel recalled. The recipes he uses at Camino Real are largely old family recipes.

In the mid 1990s, Abel’s brother Benjamin made his way East and opened his restaurant (also Camino Real) in Winchester in 1996. “I came to visit and liked the area, so I stayed,” Abel says. Benjamin opened Camino Real on Main Street in Berryville in December 1997, and Abel took over the following year. At the time, Camino Real was one of just a few restaurants in Berryville, and its tattered booths were often full. “We could not have large groups there, like we can now. It just wasn’t an option,” Abel says.

Later, the Crow Street restaurant was built—a major conversion and expansion of an old, abandoned house—to house a Greek-style restaurant. When that business moved, the Ramoses took a big leap of faith. They moved from the small, cozy space that is now Boyd’s Nest restaurant into the Crow Street building. “So many people told me I was crazy,” Abel laughs. “Running a restaurant that is almost 7,000 square feet in a small town like Berryville costs a lot of money. We have to sell a lot of enchiladas in order to break even.”

They kept the ocean blue and white colors already in the restaurant, but added a furnished outdoor patio, lots of plants, colorful Mexican-inspired art, and large murals reflective of the Southwest. A bright mural of Mission San Javier del Bac, near Tucson, Arizona, is painted on the two-story wall in the dining room. “I just always liked the look of that place,” Abel says. He says business has grown by at least 60 percent since they moved from the Main Street space to Crow Street. Ninety percent of their customers, he said, are locals. Many of them come on a regular basis.

“I’ve made so many good friends,” said Ramos, “it is worth every hour I have worked.”

Every hour combined to add up to a lot of hours—an average of 70 hours a week for many years. Now Abel has slowed down a bit, to about 50 hours. “My wife doesn’t allow me to work so much,” he said with a wink while Alisia Ramos stood nearby with their curly-haired 3-year old son Damian. “But I like to be here, making sure everything is running properly,” he said.

Abel met Alisia 13 years ago while bartending at his brother’s restaurant in Winchester. They and their two children live in Boyce.

For many locals, Camino Real is a gathering place, with its small, well-stocked bar and lounge area with video gaming machines. The airy dining room seats about 50 people and the outdoor patio, warmed by a gas fireplace or cooled by large ceiling fans, seats about 20. The winding staircase in the front room leads to two more rooms upstairs, one equipped with another bar and plenty of seating for large parties or meetings.

“You may rent the upstairs for free if you eat our food. If you want to bring your own food, we charge a fee,” Abel explained. And by “our food,” Abel means an extensive selection of Mexican dishes and a few American standards, such as cheeseburgers, ribs, and steaks. You can get a chicken burrito or steak fajitas, served with rice and refried beans, or something more exotic, such as Abel’s favorite, Pollo en Mole – chicken cooked in a sweet, spicy, nutty salsa. He says the most popular dish they serve is Arroz con Pollo and the most popular beer is Dos Equis. And what’s his favorite American meal? Prime rib and mashed potatoes.

Camino Real makes its salsa and tortilla chips fresh every day, and serves them gratis with each meal. The guacamole is homemade, too, with big chunks of avocado and tomato. The margaritas have fresh-squeezed lime juice and are served in frozen, salt-rimmed glasses.

Abel travelled a long way to get from his hometown of San Ignacio to Berryville. Now people travel to enjoy to the Ramos family’s offerings. “People travel from up to 50 miles to come and eat here because the portions are good, the price is right, the food is delicious, and always served with a smile,” Abel said.

Camino Real likes its fiestas, too. It has Cinco de Mayo and Black Friday parties every year, karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights, and occasional live music. It is often the only restaurant in Berryville where you can grab a beer and snack after 10pm on the weekends.

As well as serving generous portions, Camino Real is supportive of community events and fundraisers. They help schools raise money through the PTA, sponsor Relay for Life events and Music in the Park. “Little things that mean a lot,” Abel said.

Camino Real Restaurant is located at 16 Crow Street in Berryville. Hours are Sunday–Thursday 11am–9:30pm, Friday and Saturday 11am–midnight. Website with menu at Phone: 540-955-430.

Won’t You Take Me Home?

By Jennifer Lee


What a wonderful world it would be if there were no need for animal shelters, where homeless or unwanted pets go to find a new home. But millions of dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals need a transitional place to receive shelter, care, and the possibility of a new chance at life.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that U.S. animal shelters take in 6 to 8 millions dogs and cats each year—about half are euthanized. The encouraging news is that these numbers have dropped over the last 40 years. In the 1970s, it was estimated that 12 to 20 million dogs and cats were euthanized each year, at a time when there were about 67 million pets in homes. Today, estimates are that there are 135 million pets in U.S. homes; at the same time euthanasia rates have dropped. But who would argue that 3 to 4 million are not way too many?

Both the HSUS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) provide educational resources and advocacy support to local animal shelters, but many community animal shelters are independently operated, governed by, and funded through local entities and individuals. Such is the case in Clarke County.

Through the efforts of a group of Clarke County citizens in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a new animal shelter was built on ten acres of donated land just west of the county maintenance building off of Westwood Road. Prior to that and for many years, the shelter was located in a small, antiquated, non-climate-controlled building on one acre off Parshall Road. It was described in many historical documents as an “animal detention center.” It had limited space for temporary housing for animals. That shelter was found to be out of compliance with state regulations, and faced fines of $1,000 a day unless major repairs were made to the structure and certain amenities were added.

This prospect spurred the formation in 2000 of a committee led by Board of Supervisors member Barbara Byrd, beginning a four-year journey of viability studies, a site search, community outreach, and fundraising. “I was new on the Board, and they threw me to the dogs,” Byrd laughs. In October 2004, a brand new, approximately 2,000-square-foot shelter opened its doors to the lost, stray, and surrendered pets in Clarke County.

Many people can take credit for this accomplishment, one sometimes fraught with controversy, the challenge of raising over $1 million almost entirely from private donations, and securing an appropriate site. When Betty Casey donated ten acres for the new shelter, her gesture answered many concerns and injected the effort with the support and enthusiasm it needed to come to fruition.

The nonprofit Clarke County Humane Foundation (CCHF) was formed in 2001 to serve as the fundraising and organizational arm of the effort, facilitating the donation from Mrs. Casey. Virginia “Vidy” Lloyd, who died in 2006, was one of the Foundation’s charter members and, by all accounts, gave the campaign the financial and spirited support to reach its goal. “She was very quiet, and didn’t want any responsibilities, but she always showed up with her checkbook and her opinions,” Byrd said. “And she really wanted to be sure it got completed before she died. And it did.”

Once the land donation was secured and fundraising efforts could begin in earnest, the county contributed $200,000 to the effort, using funds earmarked for repairs to the existing shelter or building a new facility. Fundraising events, from rabies clinics to fancy galas to bake sales, were held. Grants were secured, and, most of all, substantial donations came from the general public.

Anyone familiar with the old shelter can attest to the contrast between it and the new one. It was not a nice place for humans or animals. Walking into the shelter today is a pleasant, even uplifting experience. Shelter manager Jenny Wright greets guests with bright eyes and a big smile. The place is immaculately clean and decorated with cute posters and informative signage. Cricket, the resident shelter cat, lounges on the counter, acting as official greeter.

To the right is the cat room, lined with cages holding cats of all ages, colors, and personalities waiting to be adopted. Just beyond is a smaller room where cats that get along well with others can lounge on beds together or play in the jungle gym. During this visit, one large, fluffy orange and white cat was snuggled in a bed with a young grey tabby while a black and white cat played with a toy.

Down a short hallway is the door to the dog kennels. To walk in is a cacophonous, somewhat overwhelming experience. A row of kennels holds a wide array of dogs, from the tall and somber to the short and noisy, all seeking your attention. Some appear particularly aggressive, but Wright explains that they are merely protecting their space. “Once you get them out of their kennel, they are like different dogs, completely sweet and happy.”

Wright says the shelter has 30 to 40 cats and 15 to 20 dogs, on average, at any given time. “We also take in and adopt out hamsters, birds, ferrets, and guinea pigs—and a barnyard animal here and there,” she added. There has been an increase in the last couple of years. “I think people losing their homes and jobs has a lot to do with it,” she surmises. Most of the dogs that come in are “owner give-ups,” while most of the cats are strays that never get reclaimed. The shelter adopts out 10 to 20 animals a month.

As long as there is room and the animal is healthy and tame, the shelter makes every effort not to euthanize. “We have had a couple animals here for up to two years,” Wright says. She tells the story of an old lab mix who had been at the Winchester SPCA for several months. The staff there loved the dog but was desperate to find her a home. She was moved to the Clarke County shelter as a last-ditch effort. “The right person just hadn’t met her,” said Wright, beaming, as she tells about a woman who came in some months later, took her home, and comes back to visit occasionally. “That dog and her owner are so happy.”

Not all of the animals are so lucky. The shelter has to euthanize between 300 and 400 animals each year, some due to illness or their aggressive nature, some at the owner’s request. Many of the cats that are euthanized are feral and deemed unadoptable.

More Than A Shelter

The most important and effective action in decreasing the number of unwanted animals is spaying and neutering. The Clarke County Humane Foundation’s financial support makes it possible for every animal adopted from the shelter by a county resident to be spayed or neutered at no cost. Adjoining county residents must cover the spay/neutering fee at 50 percent, and others must pay the full fee. There is a $25 adoption fee for every animal; the fee helps support the ongoing operational costs of the shelter.

The shelter maintains a lost and found pet directory to help reunite owners with their lost pets and works with other local shelters in crosschecking lost and found reports. Pets available for adoption at the shelter are listed at The shelter works closely with the Clarke County Sheriff’s office animal control officer, helping to report suspected cases and educate the public about how to identify, document, and report cases of suspected abuse.

Jenny Wright is adamant that the shelter could not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for the support from other members of the community, in addition to the CCHF. It receives substantial donations of dog and cat food, cat litter, toys, beds, and cleaning supplies from area distribution centers and stores like Wal-Mart and Tractor Supply. “We haven’t had to buy dry food or cat litter in the four years I have been here,” Wright says.

Roseville Veterinary Clinic in Boyce provides spay and neutering services and other standard procedures at a reduced fee. They also hold annual rabies clinics to give pets rabies vaccines at a reduced fee. More difficult procedures and surgeries are performed at the Valley Veterinary Emergency Clinic. Wright was excited to report that a veterinarian from Stephens City had recently offered to take on the more challenging cases at a greatly reduced fee. This support allows the shelter to give adoptable animals the care they need and a real chance at finding a home. The Dulles Gateway Dog Training Club offers a 50 percent discount on obedience classes for shelter-adopted dogs.

Then there are the generous donations from individuals. Children often request that guests at their birthday parties bring supplies for the shelter. “It’s a great thing for the shelter and for the kids, and they’re so excited to be able to help,” Wright says. She also tells about a gentleman she calls “the toymaker,” who refuses to leave his real name but shows up around the first of every month with a little something for the dogs and a little something for the cats.

Volunteers are important to the well being of the shelter, too, helping with the endless cleaning and caretaking of the animals. “We have about four really reliable volunteers,” Wright says. “We would love for more men to volunteer because a lot of our dogs don’t like to see men coming in to look at adopting.” Seven days a week, the shelter also receives the services of two or three inmates from the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center through the Work Release Program.

There are only two paid staff members at the shelter. Their duties range from cleaning and caring for the animals to hosting adoption events and ordering supplies. “Ideally, the shelter should have three full-time employees,” CCHF President George Ohrstrom said.

Nothing speaks to the need and value of the shelter more than the before and after pictures of “Little Man,” a boxer-cross who was brought to the shelter when he was only three months old. He was found sitting on the side of the road, next to his downed sister. The people who found them brought in both dogs but the female was already dead. Both dogs were completely covered in mange and full of parasites. Wright took Little Man to the vet, skeptical that he could be saved but wanting to try. “I have to have someone else tell me that there’s no hope. Otherwise, I’d never give up on any animal,” she said. Indeed, the dog in the before picture looked severely disfigured and beyond saving. After a five-month intensive treatment of worming medicine, antibiotics, baths, and topical treatments, Little Man had transformed into a beautiful, proud boy. He was then adopted. He and his family return to the shelter frequently to say thank you.

The Clarke County Animal Shelter is located at 225 Ramsburg Lane, west of Berryville. Shelter hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 8am–4pm, and Friday through Monday, 8am–3:30pm. Telephone is 540-955-5104. To report cases of suspected animal abuse, contact the Clarke County Sheriff’s office at 540-955-1234 or email

Falling for Local Food

Apple tarts, by Danielle Scott, from WikiMedia Commons

Delicious Seasonal Recipes from Clarke County Farmers & Cooks

By Jennifer Lee, with help from Kimber Herron, Ruth Szechenyi, Lori Mackintosh, and Juliet Mackay-Smith

The sun’s bent southern angle has that warm glow accompanied by the snap of autumnal cool, confirming that summer is indeed over. It’s time to start tucking in to thick sweaters, bonfires, and warm, locally harvested meals back around the dining table.

We are fortunate that Clarke County remains a largely agricultural place with a bounty of local farmers, food, and cooks, some of whom generously shared their favorite seasonal recipes using locally grown ingredients.

We’ll start with something simple but rich and delicious, from Mackintosh Fruit Farm. Lori Mackintosh said their Apple Panini is a favorite there. To prepare, thinly slice a honey crisp apple  and generously layer on multigrain bread. Top with arugula and provolone cheese. Spread Boursin cheese on inside of other slice. Put together, and grill or cook in a pan sprayed with olive oil.

Buckwheat Crêpes or Breton Galettes

Kimber Herron, an organizer of the Clarke County Farmer’s Market and a volunteer at the Burwell-Morgan Mill, likes to use some of the product the Mill grinds every week in his cooking. The Mill grinds wheat, corn, rye, 5-grain, and buckwheat, depending on the week.  Kimber’s recipe for Buckwheat Crepes comes, appropriately, with an interesting history lesson.

Buckwheat originated in southeast Asia around 6,000 BC, and has been grown in America since the Colonial period, with peak production occurring several years after the close of the Civil War. By the turn of the twentieth-century, about a million acres were harvested. That number dropped to about 50,000 acres by the 1960s. During the 1970s buckwheat acreage increased somewhat, with U.S. production in 2011 reaching a little over 190,000 acres.

The Russian Federation produces most of the world’s buckwheat at slightly more than 2 million acres per year. Compare that to current U.S. acreage in corn, which is about 80–90 million acres. Buckwheat is nutritionally superior to all cereals, containing 18 amino acids, with an especially rich concentration of lysine. For a variety of reasons buckwheat is not easily amenable to modern industrial farming methods, and is thus an ideal cereal crop for the small-scale farmer or homesteader.

Ingredients for 4-5 large crêpes:

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 – 1/3 cup whole milk

1–2 shot glasses of apple cider, hard cider, or cognac

a pinch or two of salt




Whisk all of the liquids, eggs and salt together in a large bowl.

Mix in about 1/4 cup of the buckwheat. Whip well to remove any clumps. Drip test the mixture. Scoop a large spoonful of the batter and slowly pour back into bowl. If the drip stream stays together the batter is ready; if the drip stream separates into droplets, continue adding buckwheat little by little until the stream is continuous. You may not need the entire 1/2 cup of buckwheat.

Acquire a smooth griddle or large flat profile pan, preferably cast iron. Place griddle on stove at medium-high heat. Lubricate the surface with lard (preferably) or butter. When the pan is up to temperature, take about 1/3 cup of the batter and pour onto griddle/pan. Use the bottom of a large spoon to spread out the batter to a diameter of at least 10 inches. After a minute or two, peek under the crêpe with help from a spatula in order to check browning. 20-30% browning is sufficient.

Flipping a paper-thin 10” crêpe is tricky. If the crêpe is truly paper thin, you may not need to flip. Just set aside in a warming oven until the other crêpes are finished. Otherwise, carefully turn over crêpe with the aid of two spatulas—or a kitchen helper. Finish the uncooked side for another minute or two.

These crêpes can be rolled. Savory fillings include meats, cheeses, tomatoes, grits, mushrooms. Dessert fillings include whipped cream, chocolate, preserves, raw fruit, honey, candied ginger, and even ice cream.

Cumin-Chile Pork Kebabs

Matt and Ruth Szechenyi grow all kinds of wonderful products at their Briars Farmstead near Boyce, including eggs, beef, poultry, and pork. Ruth said this recipe is her sister-in-law’s favorite way to use their pork. She suggests accompanying it with rice, an Asian spicy noodle salad, or cucumber salad and a nice Pinot Noir.

Serves 6

2 Tbs ground cumin

3 scallions roughly chopped

1 jalapeno pepper roughly chopped, seeds removed

1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 clove garlic

3 Tbs vegetable oil

1 Tbs packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup light soy sauce

1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Briars Farmstead pork tenderloin chops—about 1 1/2 lbs total, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

*All Briars Farmstsead pork is raised on pasture and fed a GMO-free, local feed. 


Combine the cumin, scallions, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, 1 T veg. oil, brown sugar, soy sauce, five spice powder, 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a food processor and pulse until a paste forms.  
Lightly season the pork with salt and pepper. Rub with about 3/4 of the paste. Cover and set in the refrigerator 30-60 minutes. Preheat grill to medium. Combine the rest of the paste with the other 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small bowl and set aside for basting. Brush grill with some oil. Thread 3-4 pieces of pork onto each skewer. Grill, turning until marked all over, 6–9 minutes, basting with the remaining paste during the last minute. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Apple & Cheddar Soup w/Roasted Apple Garnish

Anyone who’s been to Locke Store in Millwood knows how tasty the food that comes out of their kitchen is. They shared two seasonal recipes with us, sure to thrill your taste buds.

4 tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

2 large stalks of celery, diced

1/4 cup flour

1 sprig fresh thyme, picked

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

2 cups fresh apple cider

2 cups water

1 lb (about 3 medium) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into ½ inch pieces

1 ½ lbs (about 3 medium) tart cooking apples, cored, peeled and diced into ½ inch pieces

2 cups half and half

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 lbs (about 2 ½ cups) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded


Sautee first four ingredients over medium heat until onions are translucent (about 7 minutes).

Add celery to onion mixture and sautee for 5 minutes. Next add flour, thyme, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Sautee for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Add cider, water and potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are almost cooked through. Add the apples and simmer for an additional 10–15 minutes, until apples are soft. Remove from heat.

Next, stir in half & half and heavy cream. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend soup until smooth.

Incorporate cheese into finished soup. Adjust seasoning with salt to taste.


Roasted Apple Garnish:

1 large or 2 small tart apples, cored, but not peeled, and sliced thinly

1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbs sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

Toss all ingredients together and spread in single layer (well spaced) on baking sheet. Roast about 20–30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Katie’s Pumpkin Raisin Bread

Yield: Two 9” X 5” Loaf Pans

2 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 pound pumpkin puree

3 eggs

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 Tbs baking powder

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 cups raisins


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease loaf pans. Mix vegetable oil and sugar together. Add pumpkin and mix. Break up eggs separately in a small bowl, then add slowly to pumpkin mixture. Sift all dry ingredients together and then add slowly to mixture.

Scrape the bottom of your mixing bowl, and mix until all ingredients are evenly incorporated. Mix in raisins. Split batter evenly between both loaf pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the loaf. Let cool completely in loaf pans.

Some things sweet, some things savory, all things to warm your kitchen and your belly during this beautiful season of harvest and home making. Bon appetit!

Contact information for local ingredients:

Mackintosh Fruit Farm: 1608 Russell Road, Berryville. 540-955-2161.

Burwell-Morgan Mill: 15 Tannery Lane, Millwood. 540-837-1799.

Briars Farmstead: 2535 Pyletown Road, Boyce. 540-837-2554.

Locke Store: 2049 Millwood Road, Millwood. 540-837-1275.

Now You See Me

Now You See Me

A Cowgirl of the Yee-Ha Sisterhood

by Mark Andrews


Few characteristics of the Shenandoah Valley create our sense of identity as strongly as our relationships with horses. Mark Andrews visited a special place in next-door Frederick County that shows how our fondness and respect for equine companions connects us with nearby communities.


Everybody has a story. Once in awhile we meet a personality large enough to exert some measure of influence over our perspective on things. It’s at times like these that real opportunity exists. But, life moves pretty fast. And, well if we’re not paying attention we’re liable to get thrown from the saddle so-to-speak.

Sam Snapp has spent most of her life in a saddle. A fixture on the rodeo circuit, she’s renowned for her skill. And admired for her grit. But from all accounts, Sam is equal parts style and substance. Her piercing eyes softened by a comfortable smile and disarming sense of humor. A braided leather belt fastened by a shiny ornate buckle. Polished turquoise stones set in sterling silver bracelets on her wrists. Dust streaked denim with frayed hems sweeping the soles of her boots. Sun soaked skin and calloused hands. A genuine cowgirl with the spurs and scars to prove it.

She hasn’t always wanted to be seen, though. For much of her career as a private investigator, Sam skillfully practiced the art of not being noticed. “The best PIs can hide in plain sight,” she says. “Turns out, I was very good at it.”

While most of her colleagues hailed from backgrounds in law enforcement, Sam “just sort of fell into it.” After high school she worked days as a bill collector for the local Southern States Co-op. Her evenings were spent exercising (called galloping) thoroughbred racehorses at the local track. Eventually, Sam took a few courses at a community college that focused on investigative techniques. “I figured it’d help me chase down money for the Co-op,” she said. “And, it did. A lot.” It wasn’t long before she’d built a stellar reputation and a booming business that followed.

Over the next twelve years, Sam spent her days on horseback and her nights on stakeouts. Criss-crossing state lines in search of deadbeat dads. Chasing down leads on runaway teens that had fallen in with the wrong crowd. Bouncing down pot-holed back roads, twisting interminably in hopes of catching a lucky break. Sitting in parked cars outside seedy motels watching cheating spouses with video rolling, microphones wired for sound. Camped out on courthouse steps, digging for answers to uncomfortable questions that needed asking. More often than not, Sam got what she came for. But not without her own expense. “There came a point, when I just didn’t have the stomach for it anymore,” she said. “Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t necessarily make it worth doing.”

So she sold off the business and headed west with her husband Wayne to raise cattle and compete on the rodeo circuit. There she logged endless hours in the saddle, reconnecting with the comfort and reward of working her horses. She rubbed elbows with cowboys in between roping steers and negotiating barrels on horseback, racing against the clock. She sat at farmer’s tables entertained by conversation and bound by principle. She listened to live music in roadhouses and honkytonks alongside Native Americans, folk artists, and migrants workers—disparate individuals loosely drawn together by the yield of the land and the livestock that roamed upon it.

But in time the pull of family called Sam and Wayne back East. They settled onto a ranch situated along the banks of Cedar Creek in Winchester, Virginia. A picturesque setting of rolling pastures framed by miles of board fencing, punctuated with massive live oak and sycamore trees. There Wayne and Sam busied themselves with raising Marlboro Angus and dreaming theirs would become a first-rate cattle operation raising pasture-fed Black Angus for market. With the years gone by, they’ve grown Marlboro’s herd to over four hundred head of cattle and established a reputation as one of the premiere providers in the local market. But, it was a conversation had over coffee one morning that would chart Sam’s course—albeit not in an altogether different direction. “What if I gave a riding lesson or two? Maybe started a trail ride?” she recalled asking Wayne over coffee. His response was cautious at first. “Do your homework,” he said. She did.

That was twelve years and quite a few lessons ago. Not to mention the many miles of trail rides enjoyed by folks who come to visit Sam from all over the country.

Today, Wagon Wheel Ranch operates from dawn to dusk seven days a week. Sam offers lessons and trail rides to a faithful following while she continues to assist Wayne in the cattle operation. The riding facility boasts an indoor arena and stables with plenty of seating for the weekly open class barrel racing competition that Sam hosts every Wednesday evening. Competitors of all ages come out to race their horses and enjoy each other’s company. “There’s a real sense of community to what we’ve built here” she says.

In fact, Sam has built her own community of women around horses. Once a week, a group of women come together for a morning trail ride at the ranch. They come from all walks of life. Their ages ranging from 38 to 68.

Before leaving the barn, Sam puts on coffee. Then they set off on the trail. Afterwards, they share life’s trials and triumphs over coffee and donuts before setting off about the rest of their days. They call themselves “The Cowgirls of the Yee-Ha Sisterhood.” Sam believes it’s what she was meant to do. “The stories I’m told. The life experiences—that’s worth more to me than I could ever be paid in currency,” she says.

Sam takes the same approach of gratitude into her daily work with riding students. “Many of the girls that I teach are still trying to figure out who they are,” she said. “I have two herds here—my horses and my students.”

When the opportunity to listen presents itself, she does. “My students, especially the teens, talk to me about things that maybe they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone else.” Sam won’t take all the credit for this aspect of her business, though. “Horseback riding is a partnership built on trust and respect” she says. “When you look your horse in the eye, it looks back.”

“What I’ve built here. This ranch. My herd. The students. It’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I’ve found my passion. Teaching others by sharing some of myself.”

There seems to be an unspoken understanding between Sam and her students born out of a shared love for the comfort of being in the saddle and building a partnership with the herd. Like when a student arrives at the barn dragging beneath the weight of everyday life and the challenges of trying to figure out their own “what’s next.” Sam greets each with a smile and a hug before directing them to saddle up the day’s mount. Together, they leave the barn and their troubles behind.

Then, as the trail turns up toward the crest of a ridge, there’s the exchanged look between student and teacher that’s instantly recognizable, without words: I’ll race you to the top.

See You at The Curve!

See You at The Curve!

Iconic establishment on the mountain serves up a one-of-a-kind experience

By Jennifer Lee


If walking into the Horseshoe Curve restaurant feels like you’re walking into someone’s living room, that’s because you are. Tracee and Jim Wink have been welcoming friends and not-for-long strangers into their cozy, colorful restaurant and bar, serving up simple, tasty food, drinks, and tunes on the first floor of their home for 25 years.

Sitting just inside the U-shaped turn on old Route 7 in Pine Grove, “The Curve” has been in operation since 1946, when Tracee’s grandfather Bob McClaughry bought it from George Bell for $5,000 on the GI bill after returning home from World War II. He and his wife Faye raised two daughters there in a 1-bedroom apartment attached to the restaurant, bar, grocery, and gas station—the room that now serves as Jim Wink’s office. “I don’t know how they did it,” Tracee says, shaking her head, “but they did.”

Tracee, too, grew up in the since-expanded home/meeting place, and has lived there all her life. She remembers as a child seeing, “these mountain people comin’ up over the hill on foot” to do their shopping and mingling. By the time she was 13 in the mid ‘70s, she was not only helping in the kitchen and greeting the customers, but entertaining them as well. “I didn’t go to the prom or much of anything else. I had too much fun playing right here,” Tracee remembers.

“I took guitar and singing lessons from the time I was around 5. I grew up thinking that I’d be a professional musician,” she muses. “Come Friday nights, some old gentlemen from Bluemont (Lou Allen Robey on Guitar and George Reed on bass, among others) would come sit at this table, and we’d play for tips,” she says, tapping on the table where we’re sitting. Some 40 years later, a myriad of musical acts come through on weekend nights, still playing just for tips.

When Route 7 was expanded to bypass Pine Grove, around 1973, Tracee remembers her grandfather being very concerned it would dramatically hurt the business. “It didn’t affect it at all. We’ve always been a word-of-mouth kind of place and, by then, were pretty well established,” she said.

When Mr. McClaughry died in 1987, Tracee’s stepfather suggested she take it over until her grandmother could sell it. “I remember some old guy saying ‘That little girl can’t run this place.’ I don’t know who it was, but I remember hearing it, and I figure that’s what convinced me to do it.”

Petite and pretty as she may be, it is clear that Tracee Wink is no shrinking violet. Her husband’s favorite modeling picture of her, taken some time ago and among many framed on the wall of his office, is of a glamorous, big-haired gal proudly toting a large rifle. Just as glamorous now, her sweetly raspy voice and sparkling smile are reason enough to visit the establishment.

Jim Wink must have thought so when he stepped in there in 1987 while with the Secret Service doing a project at Mount Weather. “We went on one real date,” Tracee said, explaining that every other “date” was spent at the restaurant, where she has worked six days a week for most of the last 30 years. Ten months after meeting, Jim and Tracee were married in May 1988. They celebrated their 25th anniversary this year. “We always say we wish we had a place like this to go on our days off,” Tracee laughed.

They bought Horseshoe Curve from Tracee’s grandmother that same year, keeping a Clarke County institution alive and well. Any changes they’ve made since then have been gradual, “really just adding a feminine touch, I guess,” Tracee says. They added wine to the drink menu, “and some fancy stuff with the meals,” Jim added. In addition to their popular cheeseburger with homemade fries, diners can get grilled ham and cheese, seafood specials, homemade soups, and other daily specials—most all of which Tracee cooks up herself.

The clientele has changed a bit over the years, too. “We used to have a lot of government people through here,” Jim said, referring to Mount Weather’s operations just up the hill on Route 601. Since many of those employees, namely FEMA, have moved to Winchester, some of that crowd has waned, though Jim sees a resurgence in the near future. He adds that ten years ago customers came from a defined local radius, but now many more are coming from Loudoun County and beyond.

The décor of the place is notable for its rich assortment of funny signs, figurines, tchotchkes, and old photographs, one of which shows a young Tracee posing with her tot-sized guitar. A neatly organized bulletin board holds dozens of customers’ business cards. Artifacts from Jim’s distinguished career with the CIA, Secret Service, and other government agencies that led him all over the world are interspersed throughout the place. Old-fashioned lanterns hang over the small wooden bar and colored Christmas lights line the ceiling. There is enough eye candy in one room to keep you entertained for hours.

The Curve also seems to have special powers when it comes to finding romance for its customers. “When people meet here, they stay together,” Tracee said. “We’ve had many engagements here—and a wedding.”

“And almost a baby!” Jim adds, remembering a woman who went into labor in the restaurant’s bathroom before the emergency squad arrived just in time to whisk her to the hospital.

Music became a major part of The Curve experience about ten years ago when a friend’s 14-year-old daughter started playing guitar on occasional weekend nights. Now, you can find excellent local and regional musicians on Friday and Saturday nights—and some Thursdays—playing a variety of genres, from rock and roll to bluegrass to blues and country.

“We are now booking through December 2014,” Tracee said, giving evidence of the place’s popularity with the performers, especially considering their only monetary compensation is based on the generosity of their listeners. “They say it’s their favorite place to play. Many of them call it The Bluebird Café of Virginia,” referring to the famed Nashville venue. “We have a band coming from Boston on October 10 who said they were told they HAD to play here. We don’t go out looking for bands, they just seem to find us.”

The size and character of The Curve makes the listening experience particularly intimate. There is no stage, and between sets musicians usually sit down with the audience. It’s also been a great training ground for young performers, many brought by their instructor Todd McDonald, Clarke County’s own guitar-teaching traveling gypsy who just played at The Curve last month. “He brought a 5-year-old drum player here one time,” Jim said.

On Tuesday nights, Tracee and a few of her friends—Richard “Duke” Huber on accordion and harmonica, Jimmy Haile on bass, Phil Jones on guitar and banjo, and Tracee on guitar and mandolin—gather to sing and play “mostly old hippie music and alternative country: Grateful Dead, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, stuff like that,” Tracee said.

Tracee and Jim pretty much do it all at The Curve. They have one part-time guy who helps in the kitchen. “And the locals pitch in, take out the trash, help whenever we need it,” Jim said. “And I do whatever my wife wants me to do.”

That attitude of neighbor helping neighbor is prevalent among members of the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association (HSCBA), a nonprofit charitable organization the Winks formed in 1998. Their fundraising efforts began before then, in 1993. “There were two real bad fires up here on the mountain that year, and we wanted to do something to support the Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue folks,” Jim said. They raised $1,400 in that first fundraiser, and the Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company 8 has become the backbone of their charitable efforts since then, Jim added.

Since then, the HSCBA has raised over $350,000 for charities from Winchester to Purcellville, from animal shelters to children’s programs to an annual $1,000 scholarship given to a Clarke County High School graduate who has had perfect attendance during their school years. “We didn’t want to get into having to pick, so this way the recipient picks him or herself,” Tracee said.

In January, the HSCBA hosts a Polar Plunge in the Shenandoah River to raise money to send needy kids to sports camp for a week. This year, the event raised enough funds to send eight kids to camp. In June, the restaurant hosts a big party for the Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue, complete with silent and live auctions, barbecue, fire truck rides, and live music. In October, HSCBA hosts a Police Appreciation dinner. In November, the organization sponsors a dance at the Blue Ridge fire hall; this year a raffle of a sapphire ring and a helicopter ride will raise funds to help purchase a much-needed and very expensive new ambulance for Company 8. At Christmastime, HSCBA members prepare and serve lunch to the residents of the Johnson-Williams apartments in Berryville. Various other events and efforts are spread throughout the year, making the HSCBA a well-known and well-loved group of locals having fun while helping others in this area.

So if you’re looking for a juicy cheeseburger, a friendly smile, great music, and a cold beer, you won’t find a more authentic and welcoming place than The Curve. “There’s no article or description that can properly convey the experience of The Curve,” one Clarke County resident and Horseshoe Curve fan said. “You just have to go there.”

Horseshoe Curve restaurant is located in Pine Grove at 1162 Pine Grove Road. Hours are noon to 11pm, Tuesday-Thursday, noon to 2am Friday and Saturday, and noon to 7pm on Sunday. Phone is 540-554-8291.

When Piggy Met Murph

When Piggy Met Murph

CrossFit for the Esteem-Challenged Self

by Mark Andrews

My mother affectionately called me Beau. To my Sicilian Grandmother, I was Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor. My dad called me Marko, cheering loudly from the stands during Friday night football games. But to the boys from my childhood neighborhood, I was Piggy.

I wasn’t unpopular. Didn’t get picked on. It was just a nickname that spilled out over bowls of chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. And it stuck. Other boys had nicknames that I secretly envied. Termite was an older kid with a mouthful of braces and powder blue eyes. Simon was my best friend, Greg’s older brother. He got his nickname because of the coke bottle black framed glasses he wore to correct his vision. For some kids, we just used shortened versions of their last names, like ‘Czle’ (pronounced SLEE) or ‘Quillo’ (KEE-O).

I wonder if my life would have taken a different path had my nickname been something cool? Something that didn’t describe the way I saw myself. I didn’t necessarily want to be The Lone Ranger. But, Tonto would have been nice. Heck, anything other than Piggy. Having said that, I would be less-than-honest to diminish the value I’ve found in attaching significance to names and the experiences from which they were born in my conscience.

Just last weekend, my mother was talking to her grandchildren about me—recalling stories of my youth. She said to my oldest son, Owen, “Your daddy was fearless.” I sat across the table listening to her tell stories of me and the thought banging around in my head was, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The first time I walked into a CrossFit gym (called a ‘box’), I was most definitely afraid. I’d looked up the local affiliate online, punched the address into my GPS and driven by—twice. Finally, I’d summoned the courage to actually get out of my truck and make the long walk across the parking lot.

Once inside, it was like stepping into another world. Through the fluorescent haze I could see people sprawled out on the floor stretching. Others were chatting casually, perched upon wooden boxes with numbers spray-painted on the sides. Plated weights stacked in rows along the limestone-and-cinderblock shell of the place. Barbells hanging from machine screws fastened into the walls. Gigantic steel scaffold with pull-up rigs and barbell racks rising up from the floor. A massive PA system thundered in the corner, feeding the space with vibrant bass and screeching guitar riffs.

On a whiteboard, someone had scribbled in large block letters “MURPH.” Underneath the name a series of numbers: 100/200/300. I wanted to run from this place. I was about to do just that when a large digital time clock hanging from the rafters beeped loudly, counting down from ten. Nine . . . eight . . .

Most of the next hour is a blur to me now. Lost in my sweat and suffering and uncertainty. Actually 56 minutes, 13 seconds to be exact.  I completed “Murph,” my very first Workout Of the Day (WOD, in CrossFit-speak). And, in the process became a CrossFitter.

Murph is one of a collection of Hero WODs performed by CrossFitters to honor military men and women—those who gave their lives in service. Each workout is in memoriam of an individual and their ultimate sacrifice. The actual workout goes like this: First, you run a mile. Then you complete 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups, and 300 air squats. The repetitions are broken into small sets to make the work manageable—I did sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats. Finally, you run another mile to complete the workout.

In the farthest corner of the CrossFit box, I worked through Murph alongside a hulk-of-a-man. His massive arms were decorated with tattoos of screaming eagles and tattered American flags. We shared a water bottle and a broken shard of sidewalk chalk to mark off reps on the concrete slab in between puddles of our own sweat. Pushing each other, without words, and building a friendship.

I see Jeremy Almond now almost every day. We talk about CrossFit and music and fishing and the challenges of raising our kids. He came to CrossFit a year ago in an effort to lose weight. “I was over 300 pounds and tired all the time,” he says. Now, at 36 he’s in the best shape of his life. Jeremy wants to eventually compete regionally in the Masters Division. His workout partner Cait Lucas has similar aspirations.

From outward appearances, they seem an unlikely pair. She is a pharmaceutical sales rep with boundless energy. Cait hops around the CrossFit box with a smile that pulls at the corners of her mouth as she jumps into the arms of anyone nearby. “We’re huggers here,” she says before bouncing off toward her barbell loaded with heavy weighted plates.

“I talk to doctors every day about the benefits of fitness and exercise,” she says. “Diet alone isn’t enough. CrossFit gives me a reference to be better informed.”

Together, Jeremy and Cait form a level of accountability that would be difficult to maintain without each other. “Cait pushes me, especially on days when I don’t want to show up,” Jeremy says. “We don’t want to let the other one down, so we show up—no matter what.”

Most days, you’ll find me at Shenandoah CrossFit in Winchester among the other members as we work together in pursuit of our own definition of fitness. Pushing each other past the limit, both real and imagined.

Lindsey Swaim, a.k.a. Swami, has been with Shenandoah since they opened in a small garage off Braddock Street. “I didn’t even know I was doing CrossFit,” she says. “It was just a couple of guys doing bodyweight exercises and throwing around weights.” While Swami enjoys the physical benefits, she says the best part is the friendships that have formed as the membership has grown. “All of my closest friends are here,” she says. “We work out together, but we also spend time together outside the box.”

Founded in 2000, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program designed to help people gain broad and general fitness. CrossFit programming concentrates on constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity to achieve overall physical fitness, so people are prepared for any physical challenge.

Shenandoah CrossFit offers a free week of sessions, so you can try it out before making a commitment. Their class schedule offers a range of times throughout each day, beginning most days at 6am. Membership includes instruction in all the movements and skill workouts by certified coaches. Sean Rider, co-founder and lead instructor says the most rewarding aspect of his job is watching the transformation. “I can only train those that walk through the door,” he said. But, he treats everyone that does the same. “I match their willingness,” he says.

Sure, there are quirky aspects to what some call the CrossFit subculture. They speak a unique language consisting of long acronyms like AMRAP, HSPU, PRs, and OHS scrawled across whiteboards. The workouts have names like Fran or Helen or Filthy Fifty. Many members subscribe to the principles of a Paleolithic Diet, which consists of consuming only unprocessed foods, lean meats, and vegetables with no sugar and very few carbohydrates. The bar to get started is actually rather low.

The programming can be scaled to anyone’s current fitness level or age. And because the movements are functional, they improve your ability to perform in everyday life, whether you’re a competitive athlete, stay-at-home mom, or retiree.

While the physical benefits are easily recognizable, for me there have been emotional benefits. Being afraid to try something new or of what others might think of me has been a constant refrain in my life. CrossFit offers me a platform to face those fears, whether I want to or not.

When I walk into the box each day, I know there will be suffering. I recognize that I will be challenged to do more than is comfortable, more than I could do yesterday. It’s the effort that matters, though. The willingness to push through and try my best, even when I don’t think I can do all the work. Such is the onward slog of a CrossFitter determined to improve: to welcome the suffering, embrace the grind, find the effort to complete one more rep, win the mental war between self doubt and conviction that ultimately signals, “I care about my life.”

Those are principles that I get to carry forward into the real world, where life unfolds without our permission. What I’ve come to recognize is that all of the relationships in my life benefit from the friendships I make and the work I do in that box. I’m more focused and energetic with my children. I have  genuine empathy and an open mind. I am determined and engaged in everyday life. I am getting stronger. And, in the process I seem to be putting a little more distance in the rearview mirror between the man that I see now and the scared little fat kid they called Piggy.

Shenandoah CrossFit

661 Millwood Ave.
Suite #104

Winchester, VA