Blue Ridge Sprouts celebrates community as festival goers enjoyed delicious fare and fun filled contests while learning new culinary and gardening skills. Tenth generation West Oaks Farm Market recently played host to hundreds of locals and Valley visitors. And a teenage chef, with a little help from a seasoned pro, took the title of “Sprout to Finish Cheftarian.”
Blue Ridge Sprouts Celebrates Community Family Style
Family fun is a top priority for the Johnstons, also known as FamilyAdventuresVA on social media. They were special guests of VA Kids Trail at Blue Ridge Sprouts. Twelve year old Britton competed in the “Sprout to Finish” cooking competition. She and her brother Sawyer also took part in the Apple Baking Trivia Game – and made some pretty good looking apple crisps.
“Sawyer, Britton, and I had a fabulous time,” said Mom Kori. “We loved meeting the locally sourced food community and learning from them. They were all so friendly and willing to share their knowledge. We loved the abundance of activities.” And the Johnstons also enjoyed the countryside of West Oaks Farm Market. “The setting couldn’t have couldn’t have been more perfect.”
The Chance to Cook with a Pro
“Britton was nervous but excited to participate in the “Sprout to Finish” competition,” said Kori. “Where else would she have the opportunity to be paired up with a top chef? I loved watching the competition and seeing Britton shine.”
“ Afterwards, she told me, ‘Mom, I had the best time, and I had the best chef. Chef Jan was showing me how to do things. He was teaching me. He wanted me to learn.’ Britton was eager to come home and make a similar dish for our family. That competition definitely was her highlight. She learned vegetarian cooking can be fun!”
Even Something for Teens
Britton’s brother Sawyer is 15. “I’m always worried about bringing my teens on our adventures,” explained Kori. “It’s hard to get them excited about much.”
“(But) Sawyer had a great time at Blue Ridge Sprouts,”continued Kori. “He enjoyed creating his own terrarium and planting some microgreens, but his absolute favorite activity was the Apple Baking Trivia game. Sawyer really got into making his own apple crisp during this event. And he wanted to make sure I took a picture of the recipe so he could replicate it at home. I’ll have to say he was also very eager to eat his apple crisp. What teen doesn’t love eating? Sawyer downed most of his while we were waiting for our lunch.”
“Sprout to Finish” Crowns 1st Winning Pair
Another teen at Sprouts was Dominik Nettnin, the 15 year old son of Taste of Blue Ridge Top Chef Erik Foxx-Nettnin. He won the title of “Sprout to Finish Cheftarian” and showed how kids can rule the kitchen. Dominik, Britton and 8 year old Myla Zanella, daughter of Hillbrook Inn & Spa owner Carissa Zanella, were paired with three professional chefs and challenged to make a vegetarian dish using only the ingredients provided. The chefs were allowed, however, to bring one “secret” ingredient and use a burner.
Joining the junior cooks were a former White House chef, an international culinary competitor, and a Food Network winner. Myla was paired with Chef Kashif Browne of Ridgewells DC. Britton worked with Chef Jan Van Haute of Hillbrook Inn. And Dominik was joined by Chef Santosh Tiptur of Leesburg’s The Conche.
A Contest Based on Community
Chef Miriam Conroy, Department Chair and Chef Instructor at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, Academy of Hospitality and Culinary Arts in Martinsburg, WV, judged the dishes. Author and vegetarian food Blogger Liz Thomson of I Heart Vegetables and Jonathan Reimer, Vice President and Commercial Relations Manager of F&M Bank, completed the panel.
“I learned that really young people are into cooking and very good at it! Their attention to detail and ability to focus on the project was very impressive,” said Mr. Reimer. “They also seemed to work very well with their professional chef counterparts. I could not have done that when I was that age!”
“Sprout to Finish” would not have been possible without Hillbrook’s Carissa Zanella. “The contest was based on community and friendships,” Ms. Zanella pointed out. “Creating laughs, special moments, and showcasing the great work of phenomenal Chefs and their partners. We wanted the kids who love the culinary world to be immersed in an experience and give them an opportunity to learn something new. The kids were wonderful and the best part of the day. ‘Sprout to Finish’ was a success!”
Local Experts, Guest Speakers & Top Chefs
Local experts, guest speakers, and Taste of Blue Ridge Top Chefs also joined the Sprouts festivities. Attendees dropped in on demonstrations, had thoughtful one on one conversations, heard from industry leaders, and enjoyed fresh, locally sourced food.
Along with being a “Sprout to Finish” judge, Chef Miriam demonstrated her fine knifing skills and gave advice on the most important tool in the kitchen. Attendees closely watched her techniques and asked questions about knife selection and care.
Small space gardening was another popular workshop. More and more, foodies are finding delight in preparing dishes with ingredients grown from their own small spaces. The panel included Joanne Royaltey of the Virginia Tech Extension Agency, Denton Weber of Sunny Meadows Garden Center in Boonsboro, MD, and raised bed garden enthusiast Richard Sankovich.
Richard is the author of a “Simplistic Raised Vegetable Garden” and is teaching a course on raised beds this winter through Frederick County Parks and Recreation. He even brought the discussion to life with a prototype raised bed. Complete with trellises and cages, it’s a raised bed built for maximum production.
One on One Conversations – a Cross Section of Community
Want to get the best advice? Go to the source. Throughout the day, folks sat at sunny picnic tables, enjoyed the fresh air and engaged in knowledge and conversation. When he wasn’t cooking or cheering his son, Chef Erik Foxx-Nettnin, owner of farm-driven catering company The Polished Foxx, gave tips on how to punch up a family meal and the advantages of a vacuum sealer for meal planning.
Suzie Smith, General Manager of The George Washington Hotel, also shared her passion for being a home chef and how she passed that love on to her family. And Jared & Holly Burner of Burners Beef gave a crash course on buying beef – from weight and cuts to freezer size.
There were “make and take” microgreen gardens courtesy of A Farm Less Ordinary (one of the nonprofits supported by Blue Ridge Sprouts) and a mixology course from Lilah Restaurant of Shepherdstown, WV. And everyone stopped by and said hi to Mike and Mose, two Chapel Hill Randall Lineback heritage breed oxen from Green Gables Farm. Attendees sampled cider and different varieties of apples from Mackintosh Fruit Farm. Valley Health made smoothies and gave out snacks and the Headwaters Soil and Conservation District gave folks a view beneath the soil with their mobile classroom.
Blue Ridge Sprouts Celebrates Sustainable Communities, Healthy Lifestyles
Locally sourced food is just a part of a sustainable community and healthy lifestyle. Covering those topics were Rich Rosendale of The Rosendale Collective and Scott Dolly, CEO & Founder of Evolution Human Performance & Rehab.
Rich Rosendale is a Certified Master Chef, international competitor, and entrepreneur. He is also the founder of The Rosendale Collective, a consortium of cooking classes, culinary labs, catering services, restaurants, and online products. Sustainable and community go hand in hand with Chef Rich. “When you cross pollinate all these small businesses and the customers, you understand the impact they have when they’re buying local products. And it just makes a healthy ecosystem for any community,” said the chef.
And healthy individuals make healthy communities. Scott Dolly is a pioneer in the field of sports medicine and human optimization and sought after by scientists and clients alike. He encouraged attendees to “move better to live better” and increase longevity. And he tied “training your body” to embracing “real food” and not “food-like substances.”
Taste of Blue Ridge Top Chefs
Sprouts attendees had their choice of “crush puppies,” fried chicken or seafood boil from Taste of Blue Ridge Top Chefs Erik Foxx-Nettnin of The Polished Foxx and Jose Marty, Executive Chef and Owner of locally sourced catering company LoCo Kitchen.
Both chefs are avid supporters of the “real food” movement, whether serving grab ‘n’ go at a festival or catering an upscale event. “Our offerings are for those who appreciate fine foods, quality experiences, and being a positive part of the local fabric,” said Chef Erik. And for Chef Jose, “Food should be approachable and exciting at the same time. My aim is to create foods that people are familiar with but add a few twists to make it memorable.”
Local food artisans and a beer and wine tasting room rounded out the Sprouts experience. And before leaving, folks dropped into the community store for some take home locally sourced goodness.
A Day of Community and Giving
Blue Ridge Sprouts supports the locally sourced food community and small businesses. “I think it’s important to raise awareness of the variety and quality of food available locally,” said F&M’s Jonathan Reimer. “The more a farm or market can be at events like this, the more they can build their customer base.”
Continued Reimer, “ It’s important for businesses to support local operations because we are all interdependent. As a local resident, I also value what our farmers and small businesses are doing. If they don’t succeed, the land is converted to a solar or wind farm or some other less desirable use.”
Proceeds from Blue Ridge Sprouts go to three nonprofits – the Virginia Chapter of Future Farmers of America, A Farm Less Ordinary, and Sustainability Matters. For Taste of Blue Ridge and VA Kids Trail Founder Nancy Craun, Blue Ridge Sprouts is the first step in establishing a charitable connection supported by these two small business communities.
Thank you Sprouts Sponsors!
F&M Bank stepped up early to support Blue Ridge Sprouts. Their commitment to the Valley is deep – since 1908. Read about why they value community . Along with F&M Bank, Farmer Focus provided major backing for Blue Ridge Sprouts. This Harrisonsonburg-based company is upending the traditional poultry farming model in favor of the family farmer. Meet the folks at Farmer Focus.
An army runs on its stomach. And an event like Blue Ridge Sprouts runs with lots of great sponsors like Mid Atlantic Farm Credit, Shenandoah Valley Electric Co Op, the Virginia Pork Council, and Martin’s Grocery. And through the generosity of local businesses, “Ticket Angels” covered festival admission for many low income area families. Special thanks to Southern States Co Op, Valley Health, Tractor Supply, Bank of Clarke County, First Bank, Judy Brady Smith/AllState Insurance, Aikens Group, and Waters & Waters Insurance.
Visit Winchester, Chick-Fil-A, and Charlottesville Family were instrumental in spreading the word about Sprouts. And finally, thank you West Oaks Farm Market for being such a gracious host!
The Takeaway from the Day
Whether it was learning how to wield a knife or grow a garden – or simply enjoying a friendly cooking competition and a great meal, Blue Ridge Sprouts was a unique recipe of food and family fun. Mom and Family Adventurer Kori sums it up:
“My takeaway was the power in locally sourced food and its connectedness. I loved all the hands-on activities for myself and for the kids. All that we participated in caused us to think about food in our lives – where it comes from, how we are using it, and how we can be better stewards. I welcomed these conversations with my kids. There really can be food, fun, family and learning.”
Plans are already in the works for Sprouts 2022. Watch this space for details!