by Heidi Baumstark
Farm-to-Fork Loudoun (F2FL) will run from July 23 to August 2, 2015. The eleven-day culinary celebration will feature two dozen restaurants, and for the first time, a food truck. Diners will feast on “just-picked” veggies, fruits, herbs, locally-raised eggs, meats, and poultry from nine participating farms. F2FL will also feature local spirits from seven vineyards and the county’s only meadery.
During the 11-day period, chefs keep their regular menu but develop a separate F2FL menu comprised of at least 70 percent purely Loudoun-sourced products offering at least two appetizers, two main courses, and one dessert. It’s the perfect recipe for farms, wineries, and restaurants to show off the fruits of their labor.
It’s been said, “Girls compete with each other; women empower one another.” That’s what seems to be happening in Loudoun County. For this year’s Farm-to-Fork project, we’re tipping the hat to businesses, farms, vineyards, and restaurants run by women.
Miriam Nasuti, of Leesburg, is the brainchild behind F2FL. Inspired by the 2008 movie, “Food, Inc.” and the subsequent “locavore” movement sweeping the nation, Nasuti started the first F2FL in the summer of 2011. This is Loudoun’s fourth F2F; in 2013 the team took a hiatus and focused on bringing Farm-to-Fork to Frederick, Maryland, which is now in its third year and unfolds a month after Loudoun’s event, running August 28 to September 7.
Nasuti says, “This project is exciting for me every summer, but this time, the focus on ladies stood out to me.” This year, there are five female-owned or co-owned farms, three women winemakers, and six restaurants that are owned or co-owned by women. With her ability to bring together a smorgasbord of businesses, it’s no wonder Nasuti tops the most recent “Women One Hundred” list published by Loudoun Business Journal magazine.
Now Nasuti wants to shift the spotlight on other Loudoun women: Jean Hagen of Moonfire Orchard in Purcellville; Katie DeSouza and her sister Anna Want, co-owners of Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg; and Yovanna Reiser, owner of Chimole Wine & Tapas Lounge in Leesburg. These are just a sampling of women committed to Nasuti’s concept.
When farm owner Jean Hagen told her husband, Pat, that she wanted a few apple trees, she never dreamed her idea would explode into an orchard of heirloom apples. In 2010, the couple bought the 24-acre property. “Now we have 270 heirloom apple trees of ten varieties, Asian pears, cherry, and plum trees,” Hagen says. “Moonfire grows 75 types of vegetables, each including different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, kale, squash, melons, and several varieties of blueberries– a perfect bundle for Farm-to-Fork Loudoun.”
But caring for the land is nothing new to Hagen. “My husband and I are from Oregon, and growing up, we both had large families and gardens. We got a taste of it as kids, but I never imagined this. My parents must be rolling their eyes thinking, ‘We can’t believe she’s a farmer!’ ”
Another woman in Moonfire’s fields is Melissa Modolo. As a graduate of West Virginia’s Shepherd University with a degree in environmental studies, Modolo says, “I grew up in Leesburg and always loved being outside.” Part of her role as farm manager includes overseeing the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that offers customers seasonal produce each week from June through September. You can pick up fresh produce at their farm stand on the property, or, on Sundays, drop by Brambleton Farmers’ Market in Ashburn between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., May through October. Modolo says, “Getting back to the roots and seeing the fruits of your labor, that’s what it means to be a human.”
Then there’s the sister act of Katie DeSouza and Anna Want at Casanel Vineyards. DeSouza describes herself as the “ace in the hole,” doing a little bit of everything. In addition to serving as the assistant winemaker, DeSouza also works in the fields and tasting room and handles sales. Want focuses on marketing, advertising, and event planning. DeSouza notes, “My sister and I have been behind the bar for years.”
Learning from world-renowned vineyard expert Lucie Morton, DeSouza practices everything from basic vineyard management to the importance of soil testing to maintaining a healthy vineyard. Casanel works with French winemaker and consultant, Katell Griaud, who has consulted other Virginia winemakers. The Casanel crew has been called the “all-girl dream team” by others in the industry because they are all young women. DeSouza says, “At 27, I think I’m the youngest woman winemaker in the state.”
The sisters’ parents bought the farm in November 2006. It was basically an abandoned cow pasture-turned-vineyard. The family planted the first grape vines, and now there are 10,000 vines on the ten acres of the 42-acre property, which is considered a “boutique winery” in the Middleburg American Viticultural Area producing, 1,200 cases per year. Since they are very involved from seedling to bottle, the idea of Farm-to-Fork just fit: “We’re a little less commercial, a little more crazy,” DeSouza admits. Although the winery practices techniques adopted from French winemakers, “we’re still in Virginia,” DeSouza says, “so we focus on creating unique vintages that reflect our terroir.”
As of last year, Cananel’s wines were in about a dozen F2FL restaurants. This sister team dreams about becoming a household name. “We’re young, female entrepreneurs and so we have to dig a little deeper to get our voice out there. My sister has pushed; without her we wouldn’t be where we are. We’re proud to promote what we do as a family,” DeSouza says.
Another woman entrepreneur participating in F2FL is Yovanna Reiser, owner of the stylish Chimole just steps from the historic Loudoun County Courthouse. Chimole is half-art gallery, half-restaurant, a unique twist that sets it apart from competitors. Reiser opened the art gallery in 2012 and started the restaurant the following year when the space next door opened up. She designs authentic tastes that reflect Honduras’ rich heritage with vibrant art, seafood, sophisticated tapas, desserts, organic Honduran coffees, a cigar lounge featuring handmade Honduran cigars, and a mojito bar on the patio. On cool nights, outdoor fireplaces warm the air. “We have a lot of unique dishes, and people really like the mojito bar outside,” Reiser says.
Other women come into play here. Reiser’s mother and grandmother are from Honduras, so she decided to open a restaurant focusing on her mother’s Honduran roots. Inspired by her grandmother’s recipes and the way past generations cooked, Reiser wanted to offer this mingling of cultures. She says, “Cooking is my passion, and I wanted to do this infusion of art and food. Basically, you’re eating in the middle of art.” Chimole highlights a featured artist from Peru or Colombia, and the food matches the art, which is also for sale.
And it seems to be working. Only six months after opening, Chimole was listed as one of the 50 best restaurants in Northern Virginia Magazine’s November 2013 issue. In 2014, Reiser was awarded the National Entrepreneur Woman of the Year by the Minority Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
Well-connected in the local community and the D.C. scene, Reiser hosts events at Chimole with the Honduran Embassy and the Smithsonian. “People from the Smithsonian came and purchased lots of my pottery from the indigenous people of Honduras,” she says. “I want to help the Honduran women and give back to them.”
Reflecting on past F2FL projects, Nasuti says, “It’s grown over the years; this year, we have the highest number of restaurants. Some have moved from the program, but it carries on. We’re welcoming new faces, and there’s a feeling of anticipation among our returning folks while new participants wonder what to expect.” Nasuti also has the backing of several important sponsoring organizations such as MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, and the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development.
DeSouza added, “For us, getting involved with F2FL was a no-brainer. Miriam’s enthusiasm is infectious. Going local is just smarter, healthier. Working with other Loudoun businesses brings together this sense of community. We’re producing a unique product that is Loudoun County. Why not expose people to that uniqueness?”
Passion. Determination. Commitment. Those are what these women have in common. I guess you could call it empowerment.
For a current listing of participating farms, wineries, restaurants, and sponsors, visitwww.FarmtoForkLoudoun.com
Photo: At this year’s Meet & Greet on May 18 at 1757 Golf Club in Sterling, Farm-to-Fork Loudoun founder Miriam Nasuti, center, enjoys a moment with Karen Alcorn, left, and Pam Maroulis of MedStar Georgetown Hospital, this year’s largest financial sponsor. Photo by Vicky Quick, QUE graphics