From farm to restaurant table

Christina’s Cafe owner prefers good, home-grown food for her customers/h3>

By Katie Demeria

STRASBURG — Crissy Willis firmly believes in the benefits of locally grown food, and she has dedicated her life to providing it to Strasburg residents.

Willis owns Cristina’s Cafe, at 219 West King St. in Strasburg. She farms on a piece of property on Back Road, not far from the restaurant. Called Rancho Cristina, the farm has been up and running for a year. During the spring and summer, it provides about 25 to 40 percent of the restaurant’s food.

Kale, cilantro and spinach have been harvested at the farm, which also supports tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash, zucchini — a little bit of everything, Willis said, along with pigs and chickens.

“Trying to produce food as closely linked to where it’s grown as possible — I love that concept,” Willis said. “I think people are starting to really become aware of how messed up the commercial, factory farm food industry is.”

Cristina’s Cafe is also the only Virginia Green Certified restaurant in Shenandoah County.

Willis said her green practices only increased when she started the farm.

“The nice thing about connecting a restaurant to a farm is your waste level goes way down,” she said. “All our scraps go right to the pigs, and chickens too, and into compost.”

Both Willis and her sister, who helped her set up the business, have academic backgrounds in environmental studies. Her sister is pursuing a master’s degree in what Willis describes as food politics at a school in California.

The sisters are hoping to continue providing local food to the community, Willis said. Though uncertain of when they will be able to start pursuing it, their next big hope is to open a food co-op in Strasburg to allow residents a direct, easy source of locally grown food.

“It’s something that’s really important to both of us,” Willis said. “And even with her being across the country, we still talk about it all the time and brainstorm about ways to change.”

The restaurant usually hosts a farmer’s market in its parking lot, she added, but it had to be canceled this year due to construction on King Street.

One aspect of working the farm has allowed Willis to develop a sense of community, she said, which she never felt when growing up in Strasburg.

“Now, with the business and the farming and what this restaurant has become, I’ve been able to make connections and find people who also care about the things I care about,” she said.

She said she hopes to allow the community to access the produce that is grown in the valley.

Oftentimes, eating good, locally grown food is equated with higher income demographics, she pointed out.

“This isn’t an elitist, pretentious town,” she said. “These are blue-collar people for the most part, and they want to eat good food. I don’t want this kind of food to be elitist, I want it to be accessible to everybody.”

That is her ultimate goal with both the restaurant and her plans to open a co-op. Those goals will have to be achieved step-by-step, she added, but she is always thinking of her “grandiose ideas.”

“We have a direct relationship with the things we eat, and I feel like it’s something customers can appreciate, on an emotional level,” she said. “It matters. It really does.”

To learn more about Cristina’s Cafe, go to www.cristinascafe.net.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com