Farm Trails & Tales

Visiting Virginia’s “Sweet Spot”



By Rachel Salatin

Winter is often a great time to visit a farmer. While the ground sleeps, production typically slows and farmers enter the “maintenance and planning” season. This is why on a cold (almost snowy) Saturday in January, my friend DJ and I found ourselves one-hour west of Staunton in Highland County, one of the least populous counties in Virginia. Located in the Allegheny Mountains midway between the eastern border of West Virginia and western border of the Shenandoah Valley, Highland County is often referred to as “Virginia’s Switzerland” or “Virginia’s Sweet Spot” for its mountainous terrain and extensive maple syrup production.

Highland County is rural Virginia. Internet is spotty (I recommend downloading directions in advance), population sparse and farms prevalent.

Our first stop was Riven Rock Farm. “Riven” is an ancient Gaelic word meaning “to split or shatter”; appropriate for the rugged rock formations, cliffs, and caves on the property. On 700 acres of land, Chuck and Lou Ann Neely raise clean, nutrient dense, grass-fed meat.

Joined on the farm tour by Maggie, the guard dog, we learned that the mountains (which reach the highest average elevations east of the Mississippi River), spring fed waters, and cool summer temperatures of Highland County, create the perfect environment for world class, grass-finished beef and lamb.

Two refurbished cabins are located on the property and are rented to visitors looking for a tranquil experience. This one sits next to a trout stream and features a beautiful and usable stone fireplace.

Following Chuck and Lou Ann’s recommendation, we enjoyed lunch at the Curly Maple general store in downtown Monterey, across from the Highland County Courthouse.

The second farm stop was Mill Gap Farm, Virginia’s only USDA Certified Organic maple syrup farm. Kevin and Emily Conner with their children, moved from Richmond, Virginia to Highland County in 2017. Using high-tech syrup collecting and evaporating equipment, they joined the ranks of the many expert syrup producers in the area. While Kevin is running and maintaining sugar lines on the mountain, Emily tends the farm’s alpacas, sheep, and two rented farm lodges.Kevin generously shared his knowledge of tree identification and explained how the size of a maple tree’s canopy effects the saps sugar content. Check out the view behind him!

The finished maple syrup is smooth, golden, and a rich combination of sweet and earthy.Highland County’s contrast of high, narrow ridges forested in hardwoods and broad, open valleys dotted with grazing sheep and cattle offers the perfect place to slow your pace and reignite your senses. Both Riven Rock Farm and Mill Gap Farm welcome visitors and the opportunity to share their products and livelihood with the public. In March, Mill Gap Farm will be open for Highland County’s annual Maple Sugar Festival.

A Day in Highland Itinerary:


8:45 to 10:00 am: Staunton to Riven Rock Farm – Drive is 1 hour and 10 minutes

10:00 to 12:00 noon: Riven Rock Farm – 10 minutes from Riven Rock Farm to downtown Monterey

12:00 to 1:00 pm: Lunch at Curly Maple – 10 minutes from Curly Maple to Mill Gap Farm

1:30-3:00 pm: Mill Gap Farm – 1 hour back home to Staunton

My friend DJ and I both have a strong connection to the land and hold immense respect for the land stewards who are lucky (and brave) enough to tend our ecosystems plants and animals. Our passion for food and farming is supported by our professions related to agriculture – he as an agricultural photographer and storyteller and I with my work in agritourism. 

Left to right: Rachel Salatin is the Agritourism Coordinator of the Fields of Gold Farm Trail. Daniel James (DJ) Doherty is the founder of Herd Ventures.

Small Business Saturday on the Farm Trail

Get up, get out and #ShopSmall by celebrating #SmallBizSat with our members! Skip the long lines and crowds of the big box stores and make a difference in your community by shopping at small businesses to find unique gifts centered around local products.

Need some ideas? Visit our website and type what you are looking for in our member  search bar. You will get a list of all our members offering those products.

Here are a few inspirations:

Rocktown Gift Shop PhotoGift baskets are a great choice for family and friends who like to entertain or an easy idea for coworkers and business associates. Include cheeses, meats, sauces and jellies, local wines, handmade chocolates and other festivity friendly foods.




goatBody and home goods are readily available at farmers markets and our members’ retail stores. Think goat’s milk, honey and beeswax-based beauty products, soaps, lotions, balms and candles.





Holiday decorations are another option to prepare for the upcoming season with the perfect evergreen embellishments! From picking out your very own Christmas tree to beautiful evergreen wreaths, roping, kissing balls, loose greens and much more!




There are plenty of options for holiday gifts from our members. Remember, when you purchase from our farmers, you create an economic ripple that encourages and strengthens our community.

Sipping Ciders



Cider Week Virginia is coming up, November 10-19, and we have the lowdown on what to check out on the Fields of Gold Farm Trail.

There are two member cideries participating:

Big Fish Cider in Monterey, VA micro cidery in Moneterey, VA making cider with traditional apples, traditional techniques and a completely new flavor.




old hill hard ciderOld Hill Cider in Timberville, VA

www.oldhillcider.comOld Hill Cider is located on one of the oldest orchards in the Shenandoah Valley-Showalter’s Orchard. Sarah and Shannon’s family has been growing apples on their Old Hill for over 50 years. The Showalter’s are working to revive an American Tradition…crafting cider in a way that the Colonial Cidermakers of early America would be proud to drink and to serve.




And several events

Inn- Cider Dinner – featuring Big Fish Cider Co.

Saturday, November 11 at 6 pm
Highland Inn, 68 Main Street, Monterey, Va

Join Cidermaker Kirk Billingsley for the 2nd annual Inn Cider dinner – 5 Big Fish ciders paired with 5 delicious seasonal dishes prepared by chef Dan Evans. The 2016 dinner sold out early so call the Highland Inn for tickets at 540-468-2143.

Meet the Cidermaker from Old Hill Hard Cider

Thursday, November 16 from 5-7 pm
Midtowne Bottleshop, 29 W Water St., Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Shannon, Cidermaker and owner at Old Hill Hard Cider, will be doing a tasting to celebrate Cider Week VA!

Open House at Big Fish Cider Co.

Friday, November 17 from 4-7 pm and Saturday, November 18 from 2-7 pm
Big Fish Cider Company, 59 Spruce St., Monterey, VA

Enjoy the rustic tasting room with tours, glass giveaways, Cidermaker’s talk and specials.

Steal the Glass – Big Fish Cider Co.

Friday, November 17 at 5 pm
Capital Ale House, 41-A Court Square, Harrisonburg, VA

Take home a free Big Fish Cider Co. logo glass with cider purchase.

Cider Making Workshop & Open House at Old Hill Hard Cider

Saturday, November 18 from 10 am – 5 pm
Showalter’s Orchard & Old Hill Hard Cider, 17768 Honeyville Rd, Timberville, VA

Celebrate Cider Week Virginia at the orchard with a cider-making workshop from 10 am – 12 pm and special tastings in the tasting room. There will also be a food truck, apple cider glazed donuts and hot mulled cider.
Workshop registration is free with kits available for purchase.

Brunch featuring Old Hill Hard Cider

Sunday, November 19 at 12 pm
Joshua Wilton House, 44 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA

Join us in celebrating Virginia Hard Cider Week this year by teaming up with Showalter’s Orchard to bring to you an Old Hill Cider Brunch! The chefs are creating a multi-course brunch tasting menu specifically paired with a lineup of Old Hill Hard Ciders. Price per person is $45 excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations are limited and required, so call 540-434-4464 to make yours today!

Everything Pumpkin



Tis the season for EVERYTHING pumpkin. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, list goes on and on! Here are a few more tasty ideas for you to try this season.  Starting with the inspiration for this blog post by one of our members, The Iris Inn, posting about their delicious sounding pancakes.

  1. Homemade Pumpkin Pancakes: If you want something warm and filling to start the day as the mornings get cooler, this recipe is for you. (via The Iris Inn)pancake
  2. Homemade Pumpkin Puree: Grab your pumpkin and get to work, because the good stuff is on the inside. Slice, scoop and de-seed your way to homemade pumpkin puree that’ll knock any canned pumpkin product outta the patch. (via Pioneer Woman Cooks)

  3. Roast Pumpkin the Perfect Way: Once you’ve spilled the guts, work on gathering all of those white seeds. Here are some great tips and pics on how to roast those pumpkin seeds to perfection. Not only do seeds have nutritional value, but they’re excellent for munching on their own. Or try topping your favorite salad and soups with them for some added texture and flavor. (via Oh She Glows)pumpkin-seeds-1
  4. Sweetly Spiced Roasted Pumpkin Seed and Raisin Snack Mix: Now that the secret’s out on how to roast perfect pumpkin seeds (thanks, Oh She Glows), it’s time to take things to the next level by playing with flavor. (via In Sock Monkey Slippers)pumpkin-snack

  5. Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal: Oatmeal is no longer boring when you awake to a bright orange bowl of pumpkin spice mixed in. With a dash of nutmeg, some crunchy pecans and tart, dried cranberries, it’ll taste like a fall party all up in your mouth! (via Keep Your Diet Real)pumpkin-spiced-oatmeal_logo
  6. Overnight Pumpkin Butter: Once you’ve had the sweet and spicy taste of warm pumpkin butter hit your taste buds, you’ll never look at a pumpkin the same way again. Grab a pumpkin and get digging, because these guts make something quite grand. (via A Beautiful Mess)butter
  7. Pumpkin Ale: Cheers to fall and all things pumpkin! (via Home Brewers Association photo Liquid Bread)pumpkin-ale


Are you hungry yet? What is your favorite pumpkin flavored food?

Fall in Full Force on the Farm Trail

Autumn is a time of year that so many of us cherish and look forward to all year. It is a season that puts our senses on full alert. With the cooling temps and the falling leaves comes the call of the crow, sweaters & scarves make their debut, favorite soup recipes get pulled out, porches are adorned with mums and hey bales, and harvest festivals move into full swing. It is truly a magical and charming time of year.

Pumpkin picking is a very popular activity on the Trail this time of year, so it is for this reason we have decided to highlight some of our favorite farms for this traditional pastime!

Whether you decorate with them or use them in your best recipes (they are super nutritious) – we have the pumpkin that is just right for you.

Back Home on the Farm (corn maze & pumpkin picking)
2915 Willow Run Road
Harrisonburg, 22802

Every Soul Acres (fun fall activities & pumpkin picking)
2411 Flook Lane
Keezletown, 22832

Mulberry Hills Farm (pumpkin picking, gourds, Indian corn, straw)
6442 Crosskeys Rd.
Mt. Crawford, 22841
Showalters Orchard (pumpkins, apple cider, mums, apples)
17768 Honeyville Rd.
Timberville, 22853

Swisher Farms (pumpkins)
574 Ridge Rd.
Fairfield, 24435

Valley Harvest (pumpkins & fall decorations)
6711 Crosskeys Rd.
Mt. Crawford, 22841

Valley Star Farm (pumpkins & hay rides)
1104 Springfield Rd.
Luray, 22835

Our farmers are waiting, so get out there and start making memories today!

Behind the Scenes



Have you had a chance to watch our new video? Click on the picture below to check out how scenic the Farm Trail really is.

Now that you’ve seen the beautiful final product, here are some behind the scenes shots to show you the not so glamorous production side.



Ava and Parker did a great job looking ‘natural’ in this strawberry picking scene at Troyer’s Produce! You would never believe there were this many people behind the scenes, would you?


A Better Way Farm



Say cheese! Is that one, two or three times?



It wasn’t all just hard work though. There was some fun in there too! Just like you’ll have spending a day on the Farm Trail!

A Better Way goatsimg_3331

Fast & Fresh Farmers Market Recipes

So, you are trying to enjoy the last of summers bounty while it lasts? Maybe you have grown tired of the same old recipes? Here are some genius ways to make the most of summers finest goodies!

Roasted Asparagus with Egg and Tomato


  • 1 pound thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, optional
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely shaved Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • Crusty whole-grain bread, optional

How to Make It:

Step 1

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Toss asparagus and tomatoes with oil in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold vegetables in a single layer. Roast, shaking pan halfway through, until asparagus is just tender and tomatoes have wilted, about 12 minutes. Immediately drizzle with vinegar, if desired.

Step 2

Crack eggs over asparagus mixture. Return to oven and roast until egg whites are just set, about 7 minutes. Top with cheese, sprinkle with chives and serve. Offer crusty bread on the side, if desired.

Quick Twist on Caprese


Slice heirloom tomatoes and layer with baby romaine leaves. Top with blue cheese (add a little crumbled cooked bacon, if you like), toasted almonds and fresh basil leaves. Finish with a splash of sherry wine vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt.


Raw Beet Salad


Thinly slice or grate raw peeled beets. Toss with feta, fresh mint and minced red onion. Whisk together fig or cherry balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle over beet mixture and serve.