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Meals on the farm gaining in popularity

In an era when many Virginians have never visited a working farm, some farmers have begun hosting visitors. The Arbogast family in Rockingham County hosted a Breakfast on the Farm event May 27, and Richlands Dairy Farm will hold Dinner on the Dairy June 23 in Dinwiddie County.

farm“It’s something you’re seeing more and more farmers do,” said Coley Drinkwater, a co-owner of Richlands Dairy Farm and a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation dairy advisory committee. “There’s a growing movement of people interested in learning where their food comes from and how it was grown, raised and produced. Unfortunately, a lot of what you read on the Internet and social media is not really accurate. Farmers are not usually the sources of that information, and we want them to have a chance to answer those questions.”

Drinkwater is making a point of serving locally produced foods exclusively at her event, and only those that are in season.

“Spinach is not available right now; it’s a spring crop. And the sweet corn is not in yet. So those two items are not on the menu,” she said. But after a tour of the dairy farm, visitors will enjoy local beer and wine while dining on chicken and vegetables and goat cheeses, followed by grilled local peaches and ice cream made with milk from Richlands’ cows.

For several years caterers have created fine-dining experiences for visitors at scenic farms around the country. Farm breakfasts deliver a more down-to-earth experience that has been popular in the Midwest.

The real goal of on-farm meals is to start conversations among farmers and consumers, said Lauren Arbogast, who fielded questions from some of her 250 breakfast guests. That event was co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“There were a lot of questions that centered around antibiotic use in cattle,” she said, “and how we use our natural resources, what we do to protect them. And some were just out of pure curiosity. For example, at our poultry house people learned that chickens are raised in an open barn environment, not confined in cages. That was a surprise to many of them.”

While the Breakfast on the Farm event was well-received, Arbogast said she has no immediate plans to repeat it. “There’s a dairy farm in our county talking about hosting one later this summer or fall. The hope is that we can be the ones who kicked this off, that we can show that this can be done and it’s a great event,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dinner on the Dairy in Dinwiddie County is full, but Drinkwater said she’s planning a follow-up event next fall.