I do (know where some of my food comes from), after accepting an invitation from Calvin Riggleman of Bigg Riggs Farm to visit their farm in northeastern West Virginia. Bigg Riggs proudly sells their home-grown produce and homemade preserved products at many farmers markets in northern Virginia. Read here about the farm visit; scroll down for farmer's market locations.
Cavlin Riggleman, of Big Riggs Farm in Loom, West Virginia
Friday afternoon, my friend Catherine and I headed out feeling giddy about our visit to the country. I was certain that we would get lost, especially since our directions included pieces of information like: "You could drive through the town of Loom without even knowing it," and (my favorite instructional piece) "You've arrived when you reach the fruit stand." The uncertain location only added to the excitement of the trip, of course.
As we drove through winding mountain roads, we strained our eyes for the fruit stand. Five miles after the small town of Capon Bridge, we saw a little stand on the right side of the road. Catherine read it to me: "Smith's Fruit Stand."
"That must be the competition," I replied.
"Well, we don't want to stop there!" she agreed.
We kept driving. Three miles later we realized that we'd somehow missed it. After putting in a call to Calvin, we determined that we'd indeed driven exactly three miles too far. Smith's Fruit Stand was actually their fruit stand: Smith was Grandma's maiden name, apparently.
After successfully arriving at the Riggleman home, we hopped in the truck with Calvin and his fiance Erin to drive up to the orchards. During the ride, Calvin explained to us that his great-grandfather selected this spot in Hampshire County due to its rocky soil. He felt it would impart a richer and improved flavor to whatever grew in it. The first trees were planted in the 1930's and their fruit stand opened for business in the 1940's. "Wow," I responded, impressed.
Cavlin continued, "But, my family has been farming this land since the Revolution." This time a more emphatic "wow" was deserved.
We drove through their extensive orchards; Calvin pointing out all the different varieties of trees like: apples (including ripe yellow transparent apples which we each picked and sampled), peaches, plums, pears, and cherries. He explained that they have many varieties of each because the fruits mature at different times. This way, they can extend their growing season. This diversification is really important for reasons beyond selling the product for a longer period. As we learned, the farm is a family operation with every family member pitching in to get the work done. Spreading out the harvest times is a necessity.
The Vegetable Gardens
We moved on down the road to the site of their four acre vegetable garden.
Rows of vegetables and a few flowers too (the flowers are for Calvin and Erin's September wedding- which will be celebrated with from food grown on their farm)
We walked through the 3-4 acre space while Calvin described the various vegetables that are growing: tomatoes in four different growth periods, potatoes (red, white, and blue ones too), multi-colored peppers, beans, garlic, onions. . .
cucumbers (you can see a row of plants here)
zucchinis (blossoms and a baby zucchini if you look closely)
Catherine and I also learned a little bit about the practical side of farming. Calvin described his irrigation system and even showed us the pond across the road where his water comes from. He explained that his rows of plants are elevated to avoid flooding. Weeds are a problem too, so he plants on plastic because it prevents the weeds from choking out his vegetables. The plastic he uses is biodegradable, by the way, and gets worked into the soil at the end of the season.
He also explained that picking vegetables for long hours can be extremely tiring and painful from bending over and squatting in the hot sun. One of his neighbors invented an electric cart to help out with this problem. Calvin climbs in the cart and lays down facing the ground. The controls for operating the cart are accessible in this horizontal position, but most importantly, he can reach his hands through the cart to pick the vegetables. Calvin showed us his favorite part of the cart: when it's put into reverse it emits a loud beeping noise into the quiet country air-- the same noise a large motor-bus in a crowded tourist destination might make. We asked whose benefit the beeps were for. His response: "The mice."
Calvin poses with the electric cart used for vegetable picking
Beyond the harvest
What's especially noble about Bigg Riggs Farm is Calvin's determination to further expand his family's farm business. While serving in Iraq with the US Marine Corps, Calvin described his family farm to his fellow comrades. Some of the other soldiers came from cities like New York and D.C; they were particularly interested and amused by his life on the farm. As time went on, Calvin expressed farming difficulties to them: mainly the problem of having a product with a short season and making the business more successful. Together, they brainstormed how to alleviate this problem. Eventually, they got the idea to "capture the taste in a jar" and Bigg Riggs' preserved products were born. All of the recipes for these products were created by chefs. Each bottle is produced by a local company, and the jars are stored in the Riggleman family basement (between trips to the market) over the year. I've sampled a few of the products including the sweet pepper jelly which is incredible served alone or mixed with some cream cheese. I also really like the Ramp Mustard, which makes an excellent pretzel dip or Polish sausage topping. My favorite way to use the mustard is a bit biased: my own recipe for roasted potatoes with ramp mustard.
Calvin's comrades also told him about farmer's markets. He admitted to us that he had never even heard of a farmer's market and had initially sort-of laughed at the idea. Now, of course, he loves selling their products at farmer's markets throughout northern Virginia. (And see if you aren't impressed with how friendly he is after waking up at 1:30 AM to drive to the Old Town Alexandria market when us city-dwellers meander into market eight hours later).
You can find Bigg Riggs and their products at the following Farmer's Markets (click links for location and months open) or shop on-line at http://www.biggriggsfarm.com/index.html.
- Old Town Alexandria Farmer's Market, Saturdays 5:30 AM- 11 AM
- Great Falls Farmer's Market, Saturdays 8AM-12 NOON
- Leesburg Farmer's Market, Saturdays, 8AM-12 Noon
- Alexandria West End Farmer's Market, Sundays 9AM-1PM
- Cascades Market(Sterling, VA), Sundays 9AM-1PM
And of course, if you ever get the urge to drive out Route 50 West into West Virginia, you can find their farm stand (remember it says "Smiths") about five miles down the road from Capon Bridge, West Virginia. We purchased a few items before heading back down the road to our big city lives.
Thank you, Calvin and Erin, for your tour of the farm during your busy summer season. We certainly appreciated seeing everything and your willingness to spend the afternoon with both of us.
You can read more about this trip at Catherine's blog "A Yogini's Lessons on the Path of Life".