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Fresh local food: Celebration dinner to support area farms, kick off harvest

A variety of vegetables, jams, jellies and fruit
A variety of vegetables, jams, jellies and fruit are available each week at the market on Boscawen Street. Andrew Thayer/Daily (Buy photo)

Fruits at farmers markets
Fruits at farmers markets are picked when ripe, earning the produce a reputation for being fresher than supermarket fruit. Andrew Thayer/Daily (Buy photo)

Mark Bishop watches for the rain to stop
Mark Bishop, of Master's Touch, right, watches for the rain to stop and the people to arrive to see the organic vegetables and flowers he has for sale at the Freight Station Farmers Market in Winchester on Friday. Andrew Thayer/Daily (Buy photo)

Elizabeth and Edgar Boling look over the many vegetables
Elizabeth and Edgar Boling, of Winchester, look over the many vegetables for sale at the Freight Station Farmers Market in Winchester. Andrew Thayer/Daily (Buy photo)

Joanne Leonardis chooses vegetables
Joanne Leonardis, board member of Preserve Frederick, chooses vegetables to buy at the Freight Station Farmers Market in Winchester recently. The local farmers market is one of many donating produce to the Preserve Frederick-Buy Fresh Buy Local Celebration Dinner on Sept. 24 at One Block West Restaurant in Winchester. Andrew Thayer/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Northern valley residents will soon have another way to appreciate local farmers and their products: The Preserve Frederick-Buy Fresh Buy Local Celebration Dinner at One Block West Restaurant in Winchester on Sept. 24 will not only offer some of the best produce Frederick County has to offer but will also present it in several decadent courses.

Because the produce will be as fresh as possible, One Block West owner and chef Ed Matthews does not yet know which foods he will prepare or even how many courses he will serve, but he assures patrons that it will be a night to remember.

Preparing meals on the fly and updating the menu at the last minute is nothing new to Matthews, who offers local produce regularly at his restaurant at 25 S. Indian Alley in Winchester.

"Our menu is based on local products," he says. What he plans for each day depends on what the farmers can give him, but the wait and the possibility of spontaneous changes is worth it to those who show up for dinner on any given night.

Nothing beats fresh, local produce, according to those involved with the celebration dinner -- a first for Buy Fresh Buy Local, part of the Piedmont Environmental Council and a partner of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is partnering with Preserve Frederick on the initiative.

"It's been done in other locations, and we think that this would be a wonderful way to celebrate our growing season," says Wendy Hamilton, president of Preserve Frederick, a nonprofit citizens group in Frederick County that protects natural resources and rural character and promotes projects that strengthen the community.

"We're very excited with working with Ed Matthews," says Hamilton.

"This is the first time; we're hoping to make this our first annual [dinner]," says Joanne Leonardis, a member of the board of directors for Preserve Frederick. Most of the produce for the event will be donated by local farmers, she says.

Whatever he does not receive in donations Matthews says he will buy, himself.

"I'll have a good idea what's going on the week of the event," he says.

"It's a special thing that we've got, this opportunity," Hamilton says of the partnership with Buy Fresh Buy Local. The two groups wish to inform the public that local food is available to them, especially in the current economy. Locally grown food is less expensive, she says, and offers the added benefit of supporting businesses that will give back to the community, as opposed to supporting a corporate conglomerate in a far-away state.

Once you've tasted local produce you'll be hooked, she says.

"There's a big difference -- to bite into something that's literally come from next door or across the street," she says.

Another big reason for the event is to facilitate knowledge of local farmers and crops in the community, says Gem Bingol, field officer for Loudoun and Clarke counties for Buy Fresh Buy Local.

"Knowing where your food comes from" ought to be important to people, Bingol says. When they buy produce at the supermarket they really have no way of knowing how long ago the food was harvested or how long it sat on a truck or on a shelf before they purchased it.

"When you go to a farmers market you won't know what you're going to get but you do know that it will be fresh, it will be just picked, it will be seasonal," says Leonardis. "What we do know is it will be fresh and it'll be local."

Another benefit of choosing fresh produce is making use of all the food has to offer.

"It has a lot better nutritional value, when it's fresh," Bingol says. "Not only that but you're contributing to the sustainability of the area."

Recently published materials for the event paint a serious picture of the troubles of local farmers: "Each year since 1987, Virginia has lost more than 45,000 acres of farm and forest land to development and land conversion and the number rises each year," a news release for the celebration dinner explains. "If each household in the Shenandoah Valley spent $10 per week on locally produced foods and farm products, it would generate $113.2 million annual dollars of direct economic investment to our region's farms, communities and economy."

"We're trying to preserve our land, our agricultural land, and what better way to do that than to support the farmers that grow on that land," says Leonardis.

"Often it's overlooked; we're reminding people that there's a wealth of agriculture around us, that it's good for you, it's good for the farmer," she says.

Bingol agrees: "It's a lot more value to the community to have open farmland."

The Preserve Frederick -- Buy Fresh Buy Local Celebration Dinner will begin seating at 6 p.m. on Sept. 24 at One Block West Restaurant at 25 S. Indian Alley in Winchester. Tickets are $65 per person and will include a multi-course dinner of fresh products from local farms. Dress is casual. For more information call One Block West at 662-1455 or go online to www.oneblockwest.com. For more information about Preserve Frederick and Buy Fresh Buy Local go online to www.preservefrederick.org and www.buylocalvirginia.org.


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