“Roads Scholar: Eat Your Way Across VA” by Heather S. Cole
VA Homeschoolers Voice, March-May 2019
On a trip through Vermont many (pre-kid) years ago, my husband and I stopped at so many dairies, farm stores and breweries that we joked that we could live for a week on free samples. While I don’t advocate taking advantage of small, family-run businesses, I do advocate eating local as much as possible. And it’s so much more fun if you can see how your food is made, or even make it yourself. In our homeschool, we count food field trips as science, home economics, math… even history. To that end, here are some family-friendly destinations for your own food tour across Virginia.
Every food tour should begin with chocolate! The Arlington store for Artisan Confections (artisanconfections.com) is also their production kitchen, so you can often see the chocolatiers at work. If you want to make sure, the store holds “demonstration and tasting nights” where you can make your own delicious chocolate goodies. Demonstration nights are $30 per person and are for ages 13 years and up.
Another option for your chocolate fix is Gearharts Fine Chocolates (gearhartschocolates.com) in Charlottesville, which offers private tours and tastings, starting at $20 per person.
The only thing better than chocolate is an entire county devoted to liquid gold! For two magical weekends a year (the second and third weekends of March), the towns of Monterey and McDowell host the Highland Maple Festival (highlandcounty.org/events/maple-festival). In addition to local businesses selling pancake breakfasts, maple donuts and other sweet treats, the streets are usually packed with artisans and vendors of all types. But the best part of the weekend is visiting the sugar shacks where the sap is tapped from local maple trees and boiled down into thick syrup. The festival website has a map with hours and directions to the sugar shacks and other activities.
If you bring home some maple syrup and want to try making your own buckwheat pancakes, you may want to pick up some stone-ground flour at Wade’s Mill (wadesmill.com) in Raphine. Wade’s Mill is the oldest, continuously operating commercial grist mill surviving in the Shenandoah Valley. Visitors can “mill around” three floors of historic milling equipment and learn about the history and process of traditional stone-ground milling. They operate the historic water wheel Saturdays 10 a.m.-noon and Sundays 3-5 p.m. between March 31 and December 23. Admission and parking are free. They will do group tours with advance reservations and visitors can purchase stone-ground flours and mixes on site.
Another historical mill is George Washington’s Gristmill in Mt. Vernon (mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/gristmill). They are open April-October and tickets are included with general admission to Mt. Vernon. Their website has some nice videos on the milling process and a virtual tour.
If you still haven’t had enough sugar, visit Red Rocker Candy (redrockercandy.com) in Troy to watch them make their candy-coated pretzels and nuts. Their factory store is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m. and offers free samples. During the summer they also have kids days where, for a small fee, kids can make candy to take home.
Once your sugar craving is sated, what about that salty one? Route 11 Potato Chips (rt11.com) in Mount Jackson fries up an assortment of flavored potato chips for your crunching pleasure. Although you can’t walk through the factory, their retail store has large windows that allow visitors to see the process of making potato chips and staff is happy to answer questions and offer free samples. They recommend you call in advance to make sure they are cooking on the day you wish to visit: 540-477-9664.
Of course you’ll need something to wash down all those treats. Perhaps a tall glass of fresh milk from Mt. Crawford Creamery (mtcrawfordcreamery.com) in Mt. Crawford? Although visitors are not allowed in the processing plant, if you time your visit right you may get to see the Holstein and Jersey cows being milked. (Currently they’re milking around 3:30 p.m.) The creamery also offers organized tours of the dairy and free samples in the farm store. If you visit in the summertime, they have a new ice cream parlor. The creamery is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
For another option in the Piedmont region, visit Richland’s Dairy Farm (richlandsdairyfarm.com) in Blackstone. They offer scheduled tours, field trips and a homeschool day in the fall.
If you’re feeling the need to balance out your diet with some healthier food, I’ll remind you that Virginia also has a myriad of pick-your-own farms offering local produce from March through November. Many of the larger farms and orchards offer field trips or an educational component to your visit. For listings, visit: pickyourown.org/VA.htm or vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown.
Finally, if the grown-ups in your family want to take an adults-only field trip, I’ll suggest this website as a starting point: virginia.org/directory/wineriesandbreweries.
What are your favorite Virginia food destinations? Click on over to the VAHomeschoolers community Facebook page (facebook.com/groups/virginia.homeschooling) to let us know.
Heather Cole edits the Roads Scholars column and wants to know about YOUR favorite Virginia field trip destinations. Email your tips or comments to VoiceEditor@VaHomeschoolers.org attn: Roads Scholars.