Every year, in the spring and fall, Loudoun County participates in the Farm Color Tour. The 2011 Fall Tour involved nearly fifty participants representing farms, vineyards, restaurants and other venues. For one weekend, visitors partake on a self-guided tour to learn about agriculture, see animals in their natural environments, sample wine and dine on locally grown food. The real treat is that many of the privately owned farms are rarely open to the public.
Our family of three packed snacks, sweaters and a camera and headed out to the wild blue yonder. We love any excuse to get out of the ‘burbs and smell the country air. At this time of year, the roads are tree-lined with hues of gold and crimson. Since the event is on the weekend, you can pick and choose which and how many locations you want to visit in Loudoun County, Virginia. Of the many choices our expedition centered around animals.
The Equine Rescue League
Activities included a parade of horses that are available for adoption, live music, face painting, a yard sale, used tack sale, bake sale and raffle. There was a donation jar and a sign that read “one dollar will feed one horse for one day.” In 1996, $5 was able to save an abused equine from being slaughtered.
I think the Equine Rescue League was new to the farm tour because they weren’t very organized. It is a small operation that had several volunteers assisting at the event. Also, you couldn’t get too close to some of the horses for photos. However, the compassion the league takes to saving animals from torture was the main reason I wanted to come and support them. I am a huge animal lover and while I spent a small amount of money at the event, I know that all the funds raised go toward feeding, veterinary care and rehabilitation of these beautiful horses.
Ayrshire Farm is an 800-acre certified organic and humane farm dating back to 1821. From the parking lot you board either a tractor ride or horse drawn carriage ride around the spectacular property. When you exit the hayride, children receive a ticket which entitles them to a free pumpkin. Visit the endangered Shire horses in their immaculate stalls and peek at the turkeys, chickens, Gloucester Old Spot pigs and cattle. A Scotch Highland calf was intrigued by all the laughter from the children and stayed relatively close to the fence.
This farm hit the jackpot offering children pumpkin painting, face painting, bobbing for apples, find the corn cob in the haystack, planting acorns, a hay maze (my kiddo’s favorite), bubble wands, a tree swing, sack races and free popcorn. The barn houses a few antique carriages and a small farm market with kitchen items, apples, preserves and honey made on the farm. The one gallon jug of apple cider was well worth the $8 price tag. Outside they were giving free samples of turkey soup and selling organic turkey burgers with chili tomato jam, turkey and ham baguettes, grilled sausage, wieners and beans, snacks and hot apple cider. Prices ranged from $1 for a brownie to $8 for entrees. I had to remind my husband that the food was pricey because it is an organic farm. With everything selling out, I was delighted to get something to eat. They also have an online store where you can get everything you need for Thanksgiving.
The only downside at Ayrshire Farm is there were no tables to enjoy the food. There were three benches, but they were all full. Note that the horse drawn carriage rides cease one hour prior to closing. We thoroughly enjoyed our time and the staff was so nice making it a great end to a great day.
Alpacas of Middleburg
Our second day started on a negative when we had planned to visit Butterfly Hill Farm. It ended up being someone’s home in a residential neighborhood with a backyard bearing one alpaca and a port a john. We nixed that idea and travelled to Alpacas of Middleburg at Flowing Fleece Farm instead. I’ve been to alpaca farms where you get up close with these cuddly critters, but we couldn’t do that here. While it is a beautiful farm, the alpacas were all behind fences and the animals were a bit frightened of people which I found a bit strange. There is a lil’ farm shop on the premises that sells beautiful hats, gloves and sweaters made from the alpaca wool. The tour was free and our visit lasted ten minutes.
Philomont General Store
Driving makes one hungry so our next stop was a visit to Philomont General Store. It helped that many of the stops had signs that read Farm Tour. The Philomont General Store was established in 1913 and is open daily. It is the last general store in Loudoun County to have a post office. From the floorboards to the shelves, everything is original. From groceries to glue and everything in between this store is a step back in time when life was simple. I purchased some inexpensive Virginia handmade soap, penny candy and a homemade BBQ sandwich. The store’s motto is “a little something for everyone” and it really is.
Fair Oaks Farm
Just outside the main street of Aldie at the base of the Bull Run Mountains is Fair Oaks Farm. It’s an example of a 19th century working farm sitting on 92 roaming acres. There were hot dogs, drinks, pumpkins and gourds to purchase. Arts and crafts in the barn, pony rides and the spooky cemetery hayride require you to purchase tickets which cost $1 per ticket. The historic graveyard dates back to pre-Civil War where some of the members who worked at the Aldie Mill are buried.
Unfortunately, the hayride was out of service. That was quickly forgiven when we noticed the animals roaming freely on the property. My daughter kept chasing the chickens and roosters while I admired the goats and donkey. There are pastures littered with cattle, sheep, llamas and horses. The best experience was observing the baby chicks in the chicken house. Having kids of her own, farm owner, Georgia Ravitz, welcomed children to hold baby chicks and feed the free range chickens in the coop. Toward the end of the day, newly picked radishes from their sister, East Lynn Farms, were available at a reduced price. In the future, Fair Oaks Farm plans on having a monthly weekend open house for children to experience a day on the farm.
Interesting facts about Loudoun County
- There are a total of 1,427 farms.
- Largest equine population in Virginia with approximatelyÂ 15,500 horses.
- 4th largest hay producer in the state.
- 31 alpaca farms (making it the largest in VA).
Know before you go:
- Fill up your gas tank and bring a map if you don’t have GPS.
- Wear sturdy shoes and clothes because you will get dirty.
- The tour stops we visited were all stroller friendly.
- The majority of the farms have port-a-potties and we encountered two that had no bathroom facilities.
Whether you are looking for information about gardening, see how wine is made or to learn where your food comes from, consider participating and supporting this annual, agricultural event. While the fall tour is over, check out the Spring Farm Tour which will be held the third weekend in May.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy