It is time once again for the Loudoun County Spring Farm Tour, and this year promises to be as varied and comprehensive as every. Held every spring as a preview for the spring and summer growing season, the farm tour allows residents from all over Loudoun County to learn about the many farms and vineyards the county has to offer.
Now in its ninth year, the farm tour is always held the third week in May. This year it will be held May 20 and 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The third week in May is a little early for a lot of crops, but it is a very pretty time of year," Warren M. Howell Jr., the county's agricultural marketing manager, said. "Often you can't beat the weather."
Twenty-nine farms are participating in the tour this year, with three new farms, Al's Orchid Greenhouse in Leesburg, Alpacas of Middleburg at Flowing Fleece Farm and the Brossman's Orchard near Lucketts.
"We always try to get new people on the tour every year," Howell said. "Once a farm is on the tour people tend to recognize it and come back."
Brossman's Orchard, which is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Rick and Stephanie Brossman, specializes in peaches, nectarines and plums and has been in operation for seven years.
However, Stephanie Brossman said, very few people know about the orchard, which spurred them to want to participate.
"We're very excited to be involved this year," Stephanie Brossman said. "We thought this would be a good way to introduce our family farm to the community."
VISITORS ON THIS year's farm tour will get a variety of experiences, depending on which farms they choose to visit.
"We like to have a mix of fruit and vegetable farms with animal farms," Howell said. "And we try to add an educational proponent, which provides that little connection that people will then have to farms."
There are seven farms that specialize in flowers or vegetables, including the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden in Leesburg, where master gardener Carol Ivory said children will have the opportunity to plant their own hyacinth seeds. The hyacinth were chosen because they were once grown at Montecillo by Thomas Jefferson.
"We are in the beginnings of our planting season right now," Ivory said. "We haven't planted a lot yet, but eventually we will have vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and shrubbery."
The demonstration garden, which does not use any pesticides and is completely organic, has been designed this year to reflect the original gardens of the settlers in Jamestown, Ivory said.
At Brossman's Orchard, visitors will have the opportunity to tour the orchard and learn about how the farm functions, including how to care for fruit trees on their own properties.
While the peaches will not be ripe enough to pick, visitors will get too observe the farm in its thinning period, Stephanie Brossman said. The thinning period occurs while the peaches are growing when some of the peaches are cut from the branch in order to avoid over burdening the tree and allowing the peaches to grow to a larger size.
"It is nice to have the opportunity to get our name out there and let people know what we are doing on our farm," Stephanie Brossman said.
ONE OF THE most popular attractions on the farm tour are the animals.
"People love getting to see which babies were born over the winter," Howell said.
This year there are 10 animal farms on the tour, including sheep, llama, cattle and horse farms.
The Fox Chase Farm in Middleburg is known for its horses. Typically not open to the public, Fox Chase Farm participates in the tour for the opportunity to teach people about horses and to allow them to learn the history of the farm, director of operations Maureen Hanley said.
"The farm was built by one of the most famous horsemen in history," she said. "So it is great opportunity for people to learn the rich history of the farm."
Visitors to the Fox Chase Farm will get the opportunity to tour the farm in groups and will get a horse demonstration at 3 p.m. each day.
The demonstration will consist of a course of jumps, either inside or outside, depending on the weather, and a parade of breeds.
"We have 11 different breeds here," Hanley said, "so we will bring out a horse of each breed and talk about the differences between the breeds and what each is used for."
Visitors will also get the opportunity to walk amongst the horses for what Hanley called a real "hands-on experience."
IN ADDITION TO working farms, there are 12 wineries on the spring farm tour that specialize in wine ranging from the traditional varieties, such as chardonnay and merlot to rarer varieties.
The Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg focuses on rarer varieties, such as the French viognier and the Spanish albariño wines.
"We are a vineyard that specializes in eclectic and alternative white wines," owner Jennifer McCloud said. "We do a lot with experimental planting as well."
While the vineyard is currently not in production, visitors will get the opportunity to walk the land of the winery and out through the vineyard. McCloud said that as long as they are not spraying the orchards, people would be allowed to walk amongst the vines.
After touring the grounds, visitors will have the opportunity to taste the vineyard's wine.
"Our tastings have two levels," she said. "Our estate tasting is $5 and includes seven wines and our reserve tasting is $10 and includes 11 or 12 wines."
Each tasting also includes a complimentary tasting glass.
McCloud said that the real treat is in the grounds and vineyard itself.
"We're in the business of presentation," she said. "And I think the grounds show that."
For more information about all of the participating farms, visit www.loudounfarms.org.