For Immediate Release
Contact: Cindy Sabato, Communications Adviser
email@example.com; 540-347-2334, x7021
ALDIE, VA. (May 25, 2021) – At its 141-acre Roundabout Meadows property at Gilberts Corner and elsewhere in Loudoun County, The Piedmont Environmental Council is proudly working with multiple community partners to support local farms and farmers, create more public access to outdoor spaces, and support the county’s food insecure population. Some of these initiatives were inspired or amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, while others continue to advance PEC’s core mission of protecting and promoting the Piedmont’s natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty.
Linear Parks and Trails Network, AKA Emerald Ribbons
From the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, people turned to iconic parks, trails, and green spaces for solace, exercise and restorative access to nature. Strong community input during Loudoun’s Comprehensive Plan process revealed a significant shortage and strong desire for more parks and trails within Loudoun County. Existing trails are generally short, fragmented, and impractical as a transportation alternative. PEC is proud to serve on a committee of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition that is working on a plan for a countywide, interconnected system of linear parks and trails, dubbed Emerald Ribbons, an ode to a similar system of connected parks in Boston called the Emerald Necklace.
“Parks, open space, trails and greenways distributed throughout local communities must be a goal for every county and town and a regular, committed area of local and state capital investment. These places don’t happen by accident. Rather, they must be planned and budgeted within each and every comprehensive plan and county capital improvement plan. They are a key to thriving communities where people want to live and can live well,” said PEC President Chris Miller.
The Emerald Ribbons concept has been presented to numerous organizations and officials in Loudoun County. Recently, PEC and other committee members have been working with the county’s consultant to finalize the draft framework plan for the trails system. Throughout the planning process, PEC has advocated for passive and active trail uses, including walking, running, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and others. PEC has also stressed that natural resource protection is a crucial part of the project and, along with partner organizations, is pushing for additional county budget allocations for staff positions within the Parks and Recreation Department to manage trails and protect wildlife.
The draft plan should be presented to the Board of Supervisors in early June and approved and adopted later this summer. PEC will provide input after adoption to ensure successful plan implementation and to assist the county with identifying projects that ought to be included in the capital improvement program. Effective community planning must involve public participation and engagement, and PEC continues to alert the public of such opportunities. Community members can offer comments and ideas through the Linear Parks and Trails Participate webpage at: www.loudoun.gov/5475/Participate or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old Carolina Trail at Roundabout Meadows
Meanwhile, at Gilberts Corner, PEC’s Old Carolina Road Trail at Roundabout Meadows is in full swing for the first time this spring. A new information kiosk and freshly planted native trees and shrubs form a beautiful half-mile walking corridor that offers convenient public access to the scenic, historic, agricultural and natural resources of Gilberts Corner. The parking area at NOVA Park’s Mt. Zion Historic Park gives visitors an up-close view of historic Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church, which was built in 1851 and used as a Union field hospital during the Battle of Aldie in 1863. The trailhead and kiosk, located in front of the church cemetery wall, direct hikers to the top of the historic Old Carolina roadbed, once a Native American trail used by early colonists as a north-south route through Loudoun County and beyond. The trail leads visitors past a portion of the 1852 cemetery, where 14 Civil War soldiers are buried, and past the 60 largely unmarked graves of the African-American congregation’s cemetery. It then leads visitors into the seven-acre Roundabout Meadows Wetlands Preserve, a sensitive wetland site with a fantastic array of flora and fauna. And finally, the trail goes down to the edge of Howsers Branch, where PEC has been working to restore water quality for the past six years.
A partnership of PEC, NOVA Parks, Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club and the Mount Zion Cemetery of Aldie, the Old Carolina Road Trail is part of PEC’s ongoing effort to make Roundabout Meadows a hub for community engagement, with interpretive history tours, pasture field walks, environmental education, native habitat restoration and volunteer service at the Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows, which serves Loudoun Hunger Relief and other Loudoun food pantries.
Community Farm striving to donate 35,000 pounds of produce this year – A Call for Volunteers
In fact, anticipating the pandemic’s effects on Loudoun’s food-insecure, PEC last year tripled production at its Community Farm to three acres and donated 25,000 pounds of produce to Loudoun Hunger Relief. Loudoun Hunger Relief, in turn, shared some of PEC’s donated produce with 10-15 other nonprofit charitable food providers in Loudoun, spreading its reach to all corners of the county. “Hundreds of volunteers who braved social distancing conditions to plant, harvest, sort and pack fruits and vegetables, along with The Phyllis Mills Wyeth Greenhouse, made possible from the Chichester Dupont Foundation grant, were instrumental in our ability to serve the community in this way,” said Farm Manager Dana Melby.
“We deeply appreciate that the farm takes into account the food preferences of the families we serve when planning planting. Produce on offer here at the pantry is often fresher than anyone could purchase at the grocery store thanks to the efforts of Dana, Pete, their volunteers and everyone on the PEC team,” said Loudoun Hunger Relief President Jennifer Montgomery.
Now, in this third year of farm operations, PEC’s goal is to donate 35,000 pounds of produce, and volunteers of all ages are once again invited to help plant, transplant, harvest and sort produce. With a capacity of 25 volunteers at a time, volunteer days take place regularly throughout the season, and corporate and group volunteer days can be scheduled. Volunteer activities outdoors will follow social distancing guidelines, and PEC will require volunteers to bring a mask to wear while packaging produce and when adequate social distancing cannot be maintained. The busiest time on the farm is May through September, but opportunities are available through October.
For more information about PEC’s Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows, visit pecva.org/farm, or contact Farm Manager Dana Melby at email@example.com. Sign up to volunteer through Loudoun Cares and Let’s Volunteer, at www.pecva.org/farmvolunteer, and to receive emailed volunteer information and updates.
Buy Fresh Buy Local Guide: Where to Find Local Food in Loudoun County
For Loudoun community members looking for food “direct from the farm,” PEC’s new Buy Fresh Buy Local Loudoun guide hit mailboxes mid-May. The free guide, mailed to 145,419 Loudoun residents and businesses, is a one-stop source listing of farms, CSAs, farmers markets, orchards, wineries, and breweries and other local food sources where consumers can buy fresh and locally produced fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and more. Loudoun County guides feature more than 200 local food producers and distributors. Among its listings are 220 local farms and orchards, seven farmers markets, 28 wineries and breweries, 29 restaurants and caterers, and 10 retailers, many of which are displayed on a travel map of Loudoun County. A refreshed, companion website — buylocalvirginia.org, helps consumers find local food near them with an interactive map.
“Despite being one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, Loudoun also remains rich with a bounty of fresh local food and drink. Our goal with the Buy Fresh Buy Local guides is to connect people to Loudoun’s locally-grown and produced food and beverages, thereby promoting local farms, supporting the region’s rural economy, and strengthening the local food economy in the region,” said PEC Local Food Systems Coordinator Matt Coyle.
Gilberts Corner Farmers Market Brings More Local Farmers to Market
One of the farmers markets featured in the Buy Fresh Buy Local guide is the Gilberts Corner Farmers Market, operated by Loudoun Valley Homegrown Markets Cooperative (LVHMC) at the property PEC owns at Gilberts Corner. LVHMC, which manages five farm markets around the county, shares in PEC’s goal of promoting local, sustainable agriculture and increasing economic opportunities for farmers and local food businesses. “Being able to come together to help build up the Gilberts Corner Farmers Market has been a wonderful and rewarding opportunity,” said LVHMC Board Secretary Jessica Rice. “We have been able to work with the amazing vendors that have been there over the years with PEC and to give other LVHMC vendors the opportunity to branch out and really grow this market to its fullest potential. Allowing it to be a place for families and visitors to have access to a varied assortment of locally produced or sourced goods and products,” Rice said.
“Our partnership with LVHMC is helping PEC carry forward Gilberts Corner’s history as a place to find local food and fiber, giving local farmers a central place to easily and efficiently sell their products. The cooperative’s full-time professional management is there to welcome visitors to the market, and our partnership opens up the market to more than 70 LVHMC producers,” said PEC Director of Conservation Mike Kane. “Our long-term vision is a vibrant market that serves as a place for visitors to taste the bounty of Piedmont and Virginia farms, and supports those farms by giving them a venue to easily share their products with others,” Kane said.
The Gilberts Corner Farmers Market is open Saturdays and Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at 39958 John Mosby Highway in Aldie.
Farm to Food Bank Initiative puts Milk, Meat, and soon Eggs, on Food Pantry Shelves
When the pandemic-related shutdowns at meat processing plants and demand changes at dairy processors made it difficult for local farmers to get their product to market, PEC found a new way to fulfill its mission of promoting the local agricultural economy, while helping the food insecure at the same time. Working with many partners, PEC launched an initiative that put locally-produced dairy and meat on the shelves in many of Loudoun’s food pantries, helping meet the needs of Loudoun’s food-insecure community. Soon, PEC plans to add farm-fresh eggs to that mix.
The Farm to Food Bank initiative began in partnership with the PATH Foundation, Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, Sacharuna Foundation, and Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative. “With our partners and the generosity of many private donors, PEC was able to purchase locally-produce milk and donate it to Loudoun Hunger Relief, Seven Loaves Services in Middleburg, Dulles South Food Pantry in Sterling, and Tree of LIfe Ministries in Purcellville for the better part of 2020. And in doing so, the initiative also supported 17 Piedmont-region dairy farms that are members of MDVA Milk, including Dogwood Farm, a fourth-generation dairy farm in Purcellville and the last remaining dairy farm in Loudoun County,” said Coyle.
In partnership with American Farmland Trust, Seven Hills Food Company, 4P Foods, and several cattle farms, a similar beef initiative enabled PEC to provide more than 3,000 pounds of ground beef and pork to Loudoun Hunger Relief, where it was then split up and redistributed in part to Seven Loaves, Dulles South, and Tree of Life Ministries. And soon, Coyle said PEC will shift its dairy donations to farm-fresh eggs from Whiffletree Farm. “We’ll be donating roughly 200 dozen eggs per month among Seven Loaves, Dulles South, and Tree of Life, through the end of the calendar year. Our food bank partners tell us that eggs are an important staple food for most families, allowing them to create many different recipes with common pantry ingredients. We are grateful to our partners and supporters who are helping make this effort possible,” Coyle said.
“People are still in need of food assistance. Fresh, whole foods are absolutely critical to health and well-being. When people eat good food, they feel better overall. Families without enough to feed their children are in a state of constant, toxic stress. Food supplies from pantries like ours, and sourced from partners like the PEC, help keep bellies full and spirits hopeful,” Montgomery said.
Coyle adds that “the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in our national supply chain and subsequently increased the hardship on food insecure families and demand on local food banks. Right here in our own region lies some of the most productive farmland in the nation, and the pandemic has brought local farmers and local consumers together like never before to overcome national food shortages.”
Since 1972, The Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. PEC empowers residents to protect what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place, and works with citizens to conserve land, improve air and water quality and build thriving communities. PEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and accredited land trust. Learn more at www.pecva.org.