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    Rural innovators eye hops as new crop

    Times-Mirror File Photo/Andrew Sharbel Brossman’s Farm on Route 15 south of Lucketts was honored with a Innovation Award at the Forum for Rural Innovation for their unique take on a CSA. Brossman’s Farm Stand, pictured here in 2012, opened last year with widespread success.
    Loudoun County's Rural Economic Development team, along with other rural jurisdictions from Fauquier and Clarke counties in Virginia and Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia held their annual Regional Forum on Rural Innovation March 8 in Winchester.

    Many local rural business jurisdictions are looking to build what already has been successfully established for the area.

    Kellie Boles, agricultural development officer for Loudoun County's Department of Economic Development, estimated that 60 to 70 percent of attendees came from Loudoun County and explained the purpose of the forum.

    “We try to showcase replicable models of innovation. So whether it is an innovative way to market, funding or new production, we do a cross section,” Boles said. “If any of these innovations help to make better use of existing lands or use land that isn't in use, then we have done well. We want to show people viable options for using all the available land in western Loudoun for agriculture. It will help us build a stronger rural economy.”

    In a different twist to this year's forum, the regional Innovation Award winners were recognized and organizers decided to form a panel to share their innovations.

    “This year we felt we had some great examples here and we wanted them to share their businesses,” Boles said.

    One of those award winners was a Loudoun County rural business owner.

    Locally owned Brossman's Farm was one of the businesses to be recognized with an Innovation Award.

    “Rick Brossman has changed the dynamic of a CSA. Instead of people picking up a box of produce every week, they actually plant their own row of produce and then pick it when it is ripe,” Boles said. “It is sort of a twist between a CSA and a community garden, because [Rick] provides the seeds and seedlings and then takes care of them by watering, fertilizing and weeding them. It is just a great model.”

    According to Boles, Brossman sold out last year and added another 40 percent to what he was offering this year. He is again sold out.

    While innovative businesses were honored throughout the day, the forum's first speakers talked about a new product that is growing in interest in Virginia.

    “Our first speakers of the day were about growing hops because we are getting a lot of interest in Loudoun and its surrounding counties on growing hops and putting in breweries. That is an innovative example because it is a new crop and one we are not currently growing.”

    According to Boles, there are not a lot of hops growers in Virginia or even on the East Coast. Most production of hops occurs in the Pacific Northwest in places like Oregon and Washington.
    Boles thinks hops could be the key to fulfilling the county's rural economic development plan.

    “In our plan one of our recommendations is to enhance marketing programs to enhance the linkage between rural and urban economies. One of the ways we currently do that is through our winery sector,” Boles said. “If we can put more hops in the ground in western Loudoun and more breweries in western Loudoun then that brings that urban segment out to western Loudoun for another reason.”

    Rural businesses also had the opportunity to learn new ways to receive funding for innovative operations.

    “We had someone from the Virginia Department of Agriculture speak because innovative ventures fall outside the realm of a traditional lender,” Boles said. “The VDA representative talked about the new community planning grant and farmer's value added grant.”

    Boles noted that the value added grant definition has been changed from recent years and now can be defined by how a product is produced and who produces it as well as how it is marketed.

    “We need to make a complete picture of the rural economy and any examples we can give of doing that through this forum feed right back into what our strategy is moving forward,” Boles said.

    Our wine industry here in Loudoun is very cognizant of both our beneficial impact on the rural economy as well as the responsibilities that come with the growth of our industry.  Through the Loudoun Wineries Association, we regularly hold roundtable discussions with both the Virginia ABC and the Loudoun Sheriff’s Department to maintain open lines of communication.  In addition, we regularly include both Visit Loudoun and the Department of Economic Development in our meetings and have a positive, respectful relationship with all of the above entities. 

    The Virginia Department of Tourism conducted a study in 2007 that illustrated each dollar spent at a winery reflects seven dollars spent in the surrounding rural economy.  With the decline in commodity agriculture, value-added agribusiness as well as agritourism will prove to be the most viable in this sector.  Maintaining an ongoing positive dialogue, not only with government entities but also our surrounding communities, will be key in ensuring a thriving sustainable rural economy as well as our quality of life. 

    Devolving into baseless finger-pointing and name calling would not only take Loudoun down the hopeless path forged by Fauquier, but erode decades of positive growth and opportunity.  Should anyone ever have a specific issue with a specific winery, I would urge you to present your concerns directly to the winery owner.  Speaking on behalf of my industry colleagues, we respect everyone’s rights and concerns and are open to any constructive dialogue offered in a genuine attempt to resolve issues.

    Stephen Mackey
    Wine Composer, Notaviva Vineyards
    President, Loudoun Wineries Association

    How is trying to curb the abuses by people who camouflage their wedding event/bar/eatery businesses as wineries so they can operate in residential areas “out of control?”  I’ve seen a couple that didn’t have enough grapes on site to make a glass of juice.

    You can disagree around the margins of what happened in Fauquier but you can’t say there weren’t abuses of the system. 

    We have a few wineries here in Loudoun that are skirting the spirt of the various laws that give them tax breaks and let them operate in residential areas and so on. 

    The hope should be that they don’t ruin the this important county business for everyone else.  If the local wine industry won’t police it’s members in some way, you can be sure one of these days someone else will.

    FTA:  “Loudoun County’s Rural Economic Development team, along with other rural jurisdictions from Fauquier and Clarke counties in Virginia and Jefferson and Berkeley counties in West Virginia held their annual Regional Forum on Rural Innovation March 8 in Winchester.”

    Hopefully this effort will not be obstructed by Fauquier County’s out-of-control Zoning Administrator Kimberley Johnson.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t a definition for “CSA” in this article. What does it stand for?

    The idea of putting wineries around the county has been subverted…now it’s primarily a bunch of people running wine bars, sticking signs all over the landscape and along what might otherwise be scenic highways…there are surprisingly few picturesque acres of rolling hills covered with grape vines.

    Maybe hops will prove to actually be a useful addition to our rural culture.

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