Crowds flocked to the annual Culpeper Harvest Days Farm Tour Saturday and Sunday for a first-hand experience of diverse agricultural life at 14 different sites around the county.
The September weather was warm and sunshiny and attendance high at the free, outdoor program sponsored by Culpeper County Economic Development.
There was lavender beer to taste and buds to smell, miniature trains to watch race around tracks and animals of all sizes and types to interact with or view from a distance grazing in the fields.
Plants, bees and honey, moonshine whiskey, barns, tractors, hayrides, history, brewery, cider and bison were all on the bustling tour that seemed to well accomplish its goal of highlighting the county’s No. 1 industry.
Most sites direct sold products raised on the farm, and even downtown on Saturday, commerce was in full swing with many dining and strolling before and after the Farm Tour.
Harvest Days Coordinator Winona Pritts greeted tour takers at the welcome center outside the homemaker’s building situated at the back of Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises.
“It’s going great,” she said just after the tour officially started at 10 a.m. on Saturday. “We had lots of people out before the event even started.”
New this year, a Harvest Days Farm tour app provided maps, directions and scheduled events with a just a few taps of the phone.
Pritts said in an email later Monday that many at the Welcome Center shared it was their first time on the Farm Tour. In addition to regular visitors from Madison, Orange, and Fauquier, lots of people also came from Warren, Fredrick, Spotsylvania, Henrico, and Albemarle, she said.
"The restored antique tractors shared by Taye Griffin from Griffwood Farms were a huge hit, with kids lining up to check them out," Pritts said. Final numbers were still being tallied, she added, but many of farms saw the highest visitor count they’ve ever had.
"Andora Farm had almost 1,300 visitors for their Daniel Boones Day celebration! Many of our farms added additional site activities, food offerings, and vendors, and those with products to sell reported a significant increase in sales," Pritts said.
Inside the homemaker’s building, miniature trains chugged on tiny tracks at the Piedmont Railroaders display. Member Doug Boomer has been showing his models for three years running and this year had a midway theme complete with a Ferris wheel.
“I made everything myself,” he said, showing off a suspension bridge fashioned with weed-eater strings. “I had no plan in my head when I started it–just let my imagination go.”
Boomer’s display incorporated two different trains running opposite each other around the small carnival, one on the Lionel Railroad and the other an American Flyer. Handmade mountains were produced from plaster.
“If you look closely, you can see horse trails going up, and waterfall,” Boomer said.
The Piedmont Railroaders have about 40 members, said club president David Dutton. The railroad enthusiast group appeals to all ages, he said. Dutton started with them 20 years ago as a junior member.
“The trains,” he said of what got him into it. “Bringing joy to people through the hobby.”
Over at Seek Lavender farm off of Bradford Road, near town, Mary Seek led tours throughout the day of their homestead. The purple flower herb, in the mint family, is native to the Mediterranean and blooms around Memorial Day, she said. The Virginia climate is not ideal for their growth due to the ice, wind and humidity.
“They recover beautifully over time,” Seek said, noting they prune around weather damage on some 100 plants on the property. The farm is not for picking, but for making products, which Seek and her husband do, dozens of varieties for bath and kitchen. “We really use every bit.”
At the farm, children made lavender-filled cloth sachets in a setting resplendent also with a variety of other herbs and flowers including witch hazel and eucalyptus.
Seek’s 12-year-old granddaughter, Brooke Birdwell, manned a table of lavender crafts and trinkets including gourds grown on site filled with the aromatic plant. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Birdwell said she loves spending time at the place.
“I helped all through the years before she had the business,” she said.
Over on the county’s western side, dozens of tour takers came to see (and taste) magnificent bison at Cibola Farms, off of Sperryville Pike. Bison burgers, dogs and chili could be had at the retail shop at the farm’s entrance and near the back, groups of bison, also known as buffalo, grazed near a barn.
Amanda Atwell of Warrenton brought her 3-year-old, Parker, for a visit to the sprawling site.
“We came to visit papa and see the animals,” she said of her father, with Options, working on the farm with youth participants. “Parker has never seen a bison.”
The toddler knew all of the other animal sounds though, mooing and baaing to prove it.
Cibola Farm offered hay rides down to see the animals raised by Mike Sipes and partner Rob Ferguson on the 500-acre site. They’ve been at it for 24 years, turning raw land into a lively livestock operation. Though the large beast may appear docile from faraway in a field, bison are wild, Sipes told an assembled crowd.
“These animals look like they’re all chill and domesticated here, but we get them in that corral it’s a whole bison ball game,” he said. “They are so wild, will kill a calf right next to them if it’s not theirs, ram and gore a yearling just random. The bulls will fight each other.”
Cibola Farms added Virginia Bison Co. to its name in 2019 and has a herd of around 280, Sipes said. Demand is high for consumers of the healthiest red meat with calves born in the spring. Around 75 were born this past season.
Sipes, who grew up in Manassas with no agricultural experience, said the farm has been successful. He prefers living in the country to the city.
“I’m really glad, got what I wanted, a little cabin with 10 acres of wood around me, nobody bugging me, that’s what my goal was. I like the animals better than I do people,” he said. “No offense.”
Farm Tour Coordinator Pritts said they couldn't be happier in this year's turnout and feedback.
"We’re extremely excited to celebrate the 25th Annual Culpeper Harvest Days Farm Tour in 2022!"