Ramble On

Friday, September 30, 2011

Brocken - the Stasi site in the Harz

Torfhaus Ski Resort in Germany's Harz Mountains.  Brocken in the background.
As a final review, for now, of Manfred's trove of old videos from the end of the Cold War, this one was of interest because it puts to rest some speculation many of my friends and I had shared over the years.  Here's the caption he wrote for this video:

"This is the highest hill in the former east Germany. A small exhibition exists to their State Security monitoring station at the top."

Now, the speculation I mentioned is based on the postcard scan above - you can see the antenna masts in the background from this ski resort in the Harz Mountains. It was a place we used to go as often as we could during season, despite the 4-hour drive and two border crossings from Berlin. We figured it was either a spy station, or maybe, but not likely, a television broadcast station.

Much of the video tracks the very interesting train ride up the mountain and back down,.  There is a first glimpse of the old Stasi site at around 6:45-50 and another begins at around 7:30. A tour of the site begins in the 11th minute.

Manfred continues with some video of hiking in the Harz. We exchanged a couple of messages about that, it's something that I'd be interested in, if the chance ever comes up.  Definitely beautiful countryside. And excellent memories.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Tunnels of Tempelhof - another video

Here is a video my friend Manfred posted of a tour of the tunnels under Tempelhof Central Airport (TCA, as we called it), taken during August 1991.  I'm hoping a number of my friends will get a chance to take a look at this one - it is quite a point of interest about old building. 

The accompanying photos include a plan of the building from the '80's, pointing out some of the features on the side the USAF used.  Also, there is a photo from the annual Open House below, dated 1984, which would have been one I participated in.  (I've lost the source info for this photo...if you recognize it, please leave a comment.)
Here's a plan of Tempelhof Airport from the late '80s.
The tunnels are legendary; there are any number of stories of adventures of people exploring down there.  I often heard stories of people going long distances in them until they found a guard at a desk or came out above ground over in Potsdamer Platz.  What we do know for sure is that the tunnels were used during World War II for communications, and aircraft manufacturing actually took place here later in the War.

An aerial of the airport during the 1984 Open House.
The "modern" infrastructure of the building figures prominently in Manfred's clip, but starting at around 6:50, there are areas that still show a connection to the War history.  The area was burned - the fires went on for weeks - and there are a bunch of initials scratched into the burned areas.  It looks like there are years marked there in some cases - I saw some from the '50's all the way to the '80's.

I'll close out this post with a reference to my colleague Dale Lindemann's book "Last Flight from Tempelhof" - Amazon link below.  The tunnels figure prominently in this thriller that weaves a story connecting the Cold War and today's geopolitical terrorists.  A good read! It's on Kindle now too!

Last Flight from Tempelhof

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Last" Video of Marienfelde

Since the posts this week have featured a video or two and some photos of old haunts in Berlin, I wanted to post this video as a follow-up to yesterday's and this morning's.  I should note I am planning a couple of additional posts using Manfred's videos during the remainder of this week.

This afternoon's clip is done in drive-by style and it dates from August 1991.  It documents the demolition-in-progress of the Marienfelde installation, prior to its turnover, which was featured in the post yesterday.

Also of interest, Manfred notes the refugee and asylum housing that was nearby.  Also prominent is the IBM plant.  There is some noise from wind in the microphone of his video camera, so be advised you may want to turn the volume down - but tune in carefully for his remarks.

Selected Berlin Photos: Marienfelde

After viewing the video that Manfred shared on YouTube - the one I posted yesterday - I got to thinking about the images I've found on the web of the Marienfelde facility over the last few years.  I've managed to collect an image from each decade, the 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's; these would be bookended by the video yesterday and two more that I will share later today.

Here is a web link that supplements the unit history Colonel Leech provided in his speech at Marienfelde:  http://berlinerphil.tripod.com/inactmemebishop.htm - this is the program and other materials from the unit's deactivization in 1992, the link is part of the "Berlin Island Association" organization. 

I should clarify that there was also a refugee center in Marienfelde at the time - many folks settled there
Without much further detail about the images, here are some the photos I've found over years.  I've long ago lost the source data about them, if you find something here that you can identify, please leave a comment.  It's not my intention to profit from these, only to make them available for sharing historical information with my friends.

Mari in the early days, the '60's.  The installation was built on a rubble heap of war debris.
Later in the 1960's, after a "permanent" building was located there.

My notes date this as 1971.  I was always amused by the design of the apartment block in the lower right as our shift bus passed on the way into work.

Here is a mid '80's image - my era.

I have this as late '80's.  Obviously taken during some kind of celebration nearby.

Final one, an aerial taken during the winter, dated 1990.

Even during my short tenure - 1981-1986 - there were plenty of changes, not only to the facilities at Marienfelde.  This district of Berlin included a canal and significant rail lines, as well as a highway connecting the city to the rest of the country, so there was plenty of industry here.  Beginning in the early '80's, a large IBM installation had sprung up across the street from the Marienfelde facility.

As I'm thinking about how to close this post, it occurs to me that I should include a more current image.  This one is from Google Earth, current as of this writing in September 2011: nothing remains of the old site.  It's fairly typical of Berlin these days, as the scars of the Cold War heal over and are increasingly hidden from view.

The thumb tack marks the spot...the old rubble heap and one to the southeast have been turned into nature parks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tapping into some old Cold War era videos

Recently, a friend of mine found a link to the video embedded below and posted it on Facebook.  After I took a look, I went onto Youtube and checked out a number of videos from this user, Manfred...my tour in Berlin, 1981 through 1986 overlapped his career at Tempelhof, which began in the '70's and continued into the '90's. 

Manfred and I have started a correspondence as well, he told me about his work for the Air Base Group as a German civilian (and native Berliner) - I'm sure that there are plenty of stories he could tell!

This video takes an inside tour of the building I worked in those five years - as opposed to the one I lived in, which was Tempelhof Central Airport, or TCA, as we called it.  Throughout the history of this building, it was constantly receiving upgrades.  For example, the second floor was added after I left Berlin in 1986.

There is a speech by a Colonel Leech starting at about 8:30 that includes a site and unit history; that was particularly interesting. 

I have a couple of additional videos from Manfred I would like to upload over the next few days...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Honey, What's a "Skolithos"?

In my travels throughout the Park, I'll sometimes hear a reference to the geology of the areas I'm visiting - I've even posted on that topic from time to time when I learn something new.  I'd often heard about this variety of "trace fossil" - the skolithos, and finally had a chance during the Wildcat/RipRap hike to learn how to identify them.

Referring to the website for Shenandoah National Park, there is a good article on Park geology at this link:
http://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/chilhowee.htm.  Quoting from that, here is the reference to skolithos:

"...the one observable fossil can be seen in the Erwin Formation, a preserved worm burrow known as skolithos, which appears as long, straight tubes within the white quartzite."

The quartzite, shown in the two photos, is a sedimentary rock that dates from 500 million years ago, an era  before any of Earth's complex life forms had appeared.  Wikipedia (search on skolithos) goes on to describe this particular type of fossil as being "usually associated with high-energy environments close to the shoreline."

As we walked through these areas, Dan mentioned that we were walking along an ancient beach, adding to the adventure of that day's hike.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wildcat Ridge/RipRap Hollow: A "75 at 75" Hike

The famous swimming hole.
 For the sixth hike in my “75 at 75” project (check that label below for more details on the project), I chose the big loop at RipRap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge. In the introductory post on the project, I summarized the trail, drawing from Henry Heatwole’s guide, as follows:

Rocky formations in the hollow.
 “Riprap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge: mile post 90.0, 9.8 miles and 2,400 feet; includes the two Civil War lookout points Chimney Rock and Cavalry Rock, 3 miles of AT section, cascades and a falls.”

Early on, as I began thinking about the project itself, I mentioned it to my neighbors Dan and Sally, who both thought it was a great idea. They both work at the Park, and they’ve been generous with insights and inspiration about the place over the years. When I mentioned this trail, Dan was particularly interested and he ended up joining me.

Apparently, in his job as a GIS specialist, there were some details of the trail he wanted to check out better on his own – he’d done the one-way trail from the RipRap trailhead to Wildcat before, without the AT section; some colleagues had subsequently done the whole thing and given him some hints on things to look for. In any case, Dan being the only person I know who has walked every foot of Skyline Drive, I knew I was in for some interesting insights on this trail, and I hope that he (and Sally too) might be able to join me again on another of the hikes.

Here's a Google Earth view of the trail, with a fine blue line marking our GPS trace.
 We left our neighborhood at 8am and made our way via the Elkton entry to the Park, arriving at the trailhead at around 9am. This was something new for me…even though the Heatwole guide lists the route as taking 8.5 hours, it was very likely that we would complete the trail before darkness (for my regular hiking buddies, I kid because I love). We began the steady descent on Wildcat Ridge by 9:15.

Neighbor Dan down in the hollow.
I’d hypothesized that the name of this trail section had something to do with earlier residents seeing bobcats, or even pumas, here; or else, it was a reference to mining activities that had taken place nearby at Crimora (there are a couple of lakes there that were associated with manganese mining in the late 1800s). Shortly we came upon a series of small pits just off the trail, about 10 feet by 10 feet each, and up to six feet deep. The holes were enough to convince me that name’s origin referenced the mining industry, that the “wildcats” were people doing exploratory digs up here hoping to strike it rich; Dan has subsequently confirmed that there are some records of this type of activity in the area.

We went onward, finally reaching the hollow, where our destination was the swimming hole down here. Heatwole calls this the largest in the Park. The swimming hole is 50 feet or so in diameter, and during our visit, it probably reached depths of six feet. The water is crystal clear and spring fed, so too cold for a dip in mid-September. Instead we settled in for lunch.

While a couple of other hiking parties came and went, we broke out our lunches…Dan’s was much better than mine: moose sausage snack sticks and smoked salmon that he had acquired from an Alaskan friend during a recent trip out west. He invited me to share, supplementing my Clif Bar and raisins; I did pass along a Honey Stinger Waffle in exchange for his generosity.

There are a couple of mentions of an old picnic shelter near the pool. It’s been taken down, but the areas around the pool show a lot of wear and tear – this is a popular place during the summer, and it is near the Park boundary, so there is a convenient hike-in route.

Old beams in the stream.

Old masonry and more beams.
Making our way through the hollow, Dan finally gave me a little more insight as to why he was so interested in this trail. While the popular references I had drawn from for the hike have very limited information about the cultural aspects of the area, mainly because of few indications of post-Columbian activity here (the exploratory pits on Wildcat Ridge aren’t even well documented), a colleague of his had identified a trace in the stream where there are remnants of what appears to be an old sawmill.

We found the spot and made a short detour down to the stream edge. I have some photos of old beams in the streambed, and some masonry joined to the rocky cliffs that line the stream. As we looked, I tried to imagine what the work here would have been like, a few miles into the woods, a long track to the nearby mining activities. Not much of a challenge to hardworking mountain people, but pretty difficult for my “chairborne” lifestyle!

Me at a less crowded view point.
As we got back to the trail we headed next for Calvary and Chimney Rocks, two quartzite outcroppings that offer wonderful views of the Shenandoah Valley. The walk along this section of our route was interesting; Dan told me that during the summer of his arrival at Shenandoah National Park, this area had been in a fire and it was his first ever support of that kind of an effort. The hillside is still recovering with low, scrubby vegetation and numerous young pines (the variety in this area produces serotinous cones, which release the seeds after a fire).

Upon reaching the two viewpoints we found them crowded with visitors sitting on ledges and enjoying the look out over Paine Run Hollow and Horsehead Mountain, so we didn’t stay long. We continued on to the AT connection and did that 3 mile stretch back to our parking area; we were passed on the way by a south bound thru hiker, who’d been held up in the rains and tropical storms of late. “Beautiful day, much better than last week!” he offered as he passed us by.

We finished the route in about 7.5 hours, making better time than Heatwole’s estimate. After a quick chat with the ranger at the Elkton gateway, we headed on to Mamma Mia’s in Shenandoah for dinner, before heading home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doyles River/Jones Run: A "75 @ 75" Hike

Jones Run Waterfall - 42 feet.
Knowing that I had a big hike planned for the upcoming Saturday, and because I’d planned to take that hike with neighbor Dan, who not only recently had completed a half marathon and is a GIS specialist at the Park, but also is one of the few people on the planet who has walked every footstep of Skyline Drive, I went looking for a warm-up hike on Wednesday, September 7. I chose the Doyles River/Jones Run combination because of its length and elevation, and because all of the waterfalls on that trail would give an interesting destination. Incidentally, I’ve hike the entire circuit of this trail before, you can find it under the “Day Hikes: Moderate” label.

Google Earth route for this hike.
When I do warm-up hikes like this, they don’t necessarily have to meet the rigorous qualifications I’ve set for “75 @ 75” hikes, although this one, at 5.8 miles and 1,120 total elevation gain, certainly met the requirement (a combination of at least five miles in length and 500 feet of net elevation gain). I thought that two days of rest between the warm-up and the actual hike would be enough, but my legs still stung from the lactic acid on Saturday morning as we made our way to the Wildcat Ridge trailhead for the main hike – which I’ll review later this week.

Before getting to the details of this one, I want to make a note about how I calculated elevation on this one. Normally, I’ll just take an altimeter reading on my Casio Pathfinder along the way of any given hike, catching the highest and the lowest point s. When I make the blog post about that hike, I simply subtract the lowest from the highest for net elevation, and that’s what I report – which typically will vary, for several reasons, including barometric pressure variations or the fact I don’t count “pointless ups and downs,” or PUDS, in my calculations.

Casio Pathfinder check point.
Elevation reference point.

In this case, I knew I was in for a descent from the trailhead down to the confluence of Doyles River and Jones Run, and then another climb to the Jones Run falls. As shown on the photos of the park markers, the altitude of these three locations were 2,200 feet, 1,480 feet, and 1,880 feet, respectively, giving a total climb of 1,120 feet. For reference, the 580 meters read out on my Casio translates to 1,798 feet, 400 or so feet off of actual, which is a typical variance due to the barometric method used by the watch – by the way, the operator’s manual suggests taking this kind of reading for reference early in the hike.

On to the hike: I decided to start from the Doyles River side, since that was a section of the trail I had not been on, since Chris, Tom and I had cut back along the fire road on our previous hike. This meant my route would follow Doyles River most of the way to the confluence with Jones Run, then make a southwesterly turn to begin the climb up to the trail alongside that watercourse.

Doyles River lower falls.
Doyles River upper falls.
Three waterfalls are the feature of this trail, two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run – the Jones Run waterfall is among the ten highest in the Park, at 42 feet. Both streams flow down steep gorges, and there had been some strong rains recently, so the sound of many smaller waterfalls and cascades accompanied me on the walk on those trails. Both waterways are designated trout streams, so with your license you can enjoy catch-and-release and harvest fishing.

There is a PATC cabin not far down the route on the Doyles River side, there is a nice stream there also. I met a couple who were staying the Labor Day week at the cabin; their two lab mixes could not stay out of the water during the hikes. Later, coming back, there were three does drinking from the stream at this same place, I was downhill and downwind from them so they were surprised when I suddenly appeared only 10 feet away!

One of the plentiful cascades along this route.
“Shenandoah Secrets”, a PATC publication by Carolyn and Jack Reeder (Amazon link at the end of the post), mentions that there was a lot going on in this area before the Park was founded – lumber mills, two distilleries, and farms. There was even a dedicated rail line here to support the timber industry, but today it would be challenging to even find a trace of these, even though they are reported to have been located near the spring.

The Heatwole book speculates that Confederate General Jubal Early used this area for a strategic retreat to regroup and reinforce, since there were probably pastures in the area and the steep rocks cliffs would have made Union General Sheridan’s pursuit difficult. Heatwole acknowledges that this is conjecture, there’s no record at these locations; only the reporting that the events took place nearby.

While, this hike wasn’t one of the planned efforts from my “75 @ 75” project, it turns out that it qualifies, so I’ll count it; as of the last status report I still have about 25 miles to go before Thanksgiving to meet my goal…which I hope to exceed. The next hike I’ll review is the Wildcat Ridge/RipRap Hollow Trail; this trail was a warm-up for that one.

Amazon link to the PATC Shenandoah Secrets book:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Old Rag Saddle Trail and Weekly Hollow: A 75 @ 75 Hike

Old Rag as seen from Skyline Drive.
When I set out on the “75 @ 75” project, I didn’t include the Old Rag hike on my list, even though it is one of the most popular moderately difficult hikes in Shenandoah National Park, and in the greater Mid-Atlantic region. That popularity is exactly the reason I kept it off the list; besides, I enjoy a weekly update on that beautiful trail from Bob Look’s blog (see the blog roll to the right for “Old Rag Patrols”) and I did the hike four years ago (check the label “old Rag”).

Still, hiking buddy Tom asked if I wouldn’t mind doing this one again with him, since he hadn’t done it before, and I thought we could make a go of it as long as we didn’t try it on the weekend. Tom had an August reservation for a campsite at Big Meadows that ran Thursday – Saturday, so we chose that Friday to make a go of the trail. It was a good choice, as we only encountered about a half dozen hiking parties coming our way on the trail.

(Time is running out for Tom, as it has for my other hiking buddy Chris: Tom and his wife are expecting twins in November, so this may have been our last hike together for a while; Chris and his wife had a son in July, so he won’t be able to join us for the time being either.)

My request was that we do the trail in reverse direction from how it is usually done. Both of us are desk jockeys and I wanted to be sure we had a great experience, especially since I had some trouble on the hike the first time. I figured that we could summit Old Rag as an accomplishment and not be disappointed if we had to turn back on the rock scramble.

Google Earth image of the hike.
Old Rag parking, about a mile from the old small lot, which is not used anymore.
Old Rag fits into the “75 @ 75” plan because of its length and elevation change: Heatwole has it as a 7.2 mile circuit with 2,380 feet of climbing. The out-and-back route we took along the Weekly Hollow and Old Rag Fire Roads and Saddle Trail is 4.2 miles each way, but adding the nearly one-mile trek from the parking area to the trailhead makes the hike about 10.3 miles, as I have tracked it in my logbook. The trusty Casio Pathfinder indicated that we had climbed 2,249 feet net – which was remarkably close to Heatwole’s calculation.

The hard cores among my readers are going to ask, “What’s so interesting about Old Rag if you leave out the rock scramble?” It’s a good question, and one I’ll answer by quoting from Heawole, specifically regarding the Weekly Hollow Road section:

“The former village of Old Rag was near here, and the Old Rag Post Office was at the road junction…Originally, the Park intended to preserve some or all of the mountaineer homes in this area. But maintenance proved too difficult, and the houses were torn down shortly after the end of World War II.”

Tom on a rock.

Me at the summit.
Heatwole notes that the road has been relocated a few feet, but as we were hiking with good light, you could plainly see the old road trace, and there were a few scattered stones around that appeared to have been shaped for use as building materials. Also, if you check out the Google Earth image, there is a little envelope icon at the location of the old post office...

So in addition to the summit, distance, and elevation, a final attraction of this version of Old Rag is the cultural reference of the area, before the Park was formed. That is definitely an item on the checklist for “75 @ 75” hikes.

Summit photo, with view and "buzzard baths."
I’ve got a few photos I took from the area around the summit of Old Rag, which is listed as 3,291 feet. The geology is very interesting, and there are resources that explain why the rock scramble was formed and help interpret why these large boulders occur at altitudes on top of the mountain. They are beautiful, and exceptional weather the day of our hike gave us some spectacular views.

Another view near the summit.
As we made our way back to parking, we encountered four men in military style boots carrying heavy packs on the trail – then I saw a pick-up with a crew cab in the lot with a Quantico sticker. For Marines looking for a training workout, this hike accommodates.

On a final note, Tom and I bookended the hike with a morning stop at Central Coffee Roasters in Sperryville and an evening stop at the little burger joint at the crossroads of US 211 and 522. The folks at the coffee shop were very cordial, and allowed me to park the car in their lot for the day so we could carpool down to the mountain – thanks and a tip of the hat!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The 75 @ 75 Project: An Update

It has been a while since I posted an update on my “75 @ 75” project, which is a series of hikes I’ll be taking this year in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park. Honestly, the reason for the lack of posts was the summer: it’s too hot to take on these hikes, which by design are moderately strenuous, since each hike on the list must be five miles or longer, with a net elevation change of at least 500 feet.

However, over the last three weeks or so, I have managed to get three new hikes in, and so I will review those over the next few posts. There are Google Earth images for each of these three hikes, which were:

Old Rag Google Earth Image

  • Old Rag (we reached the summit off of the fire road and saddle trail) completed with hiking team mate Tom;

    Doyles River/Jones Run Google Earth Image
  • Doyles River/Jones Run, which I completed solo as a warm-up for the next one; and

    Wildcat Ridge/RipRap Hollow Google Earth Image
  • Wildcat Ridge/RipRap Hollow, completed with my neighbor Dan.

As shown in the table at the beginning of this post, with the completion of these three hikes, I have nearly reached 50 miles in the project, or two-thirds of the goal of 75 miles. From the project’s intro post, listed below are the hikes left on the candidate list that I hope to take on before the end of the season, which I count as Thanksgiving weekend, when the lodges in the Park are closed for the winter.

  • Bluff Trail/AT, mile post 17.6, distance 12.8 miles, altitude change 2,400. Includes two summits and some views, and about 5 miles on the AT.
  • Knob Mountain/Jeremy’s Run, mile post 24.1 (at the Elk Wallow Wayside), two versions either 11.7 or 14.0 miles, elevation from 2,600 to 2,800 feet. There’s a stream with cascades and a falls, and a summit.
  • Hazel Mountain, mile post 33.5, distance 5.3 miles and elevation change 1,070 feet (the easiest on this list!). No summit here, but it is interesting for a combination of a falls, cascade, and a small cave. Depending on when we go, maybe no spelunking – the snake scene in True Grit still creeps me out.
  • Pocosin Mission and South River Falls, mile post 59.5, distance 8.5 miles and elevation 1,800 feet. This combines the ruin of an old cabin and mission, and then takes in the South River Falls, which was one of Chris’s and my main training hikes for the Half Dome a few years ago.
  • Black Rock/Trayfoot Mountain Loop, mile post 84.8 or 87.4, distance approximately 10.0 miles and unestimated altitude change. This trail is shown on one of the Park’s maps, which include distances but not altitudes, and I cannot find a review in any guide. This will take in the rock scramble at Black Rock, an old fire observation point at the summit of Trayfoot Mountain, and the hollow where the Black Rock Springs Hotel was located in the late 1800’s.
The trail review posts will begin tomorrow, starting with the Old Rag hike I did with Tom.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Page County Grown Farm Tour: Public House Produce

Arriving at Public House Produce.
The tour assembles.
Today’s post is about a visit to Public House Produce, and is the final post reprising the inaugural Page County Grown Farm Tour, which took place on Saturday, August 27, 2011. There were more than 40 of us on the tour, always looking cautiously at darkening skies, threatening rain, as hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast. We visited several of our local farms: Khimaira Farm, Skyline Premium Meats, Willow Grove Farm Market, Wisteria Farm and Vineyard, Paw Paw’s Honey, and Public House Produce, and luckily the hurricane held off until after the Farm-to-Table Dinner at the Mimslyn on Saturday evening. All of the posts on this topic include the label “2011 Farm Tour” at the end, so a simple click will pull them all up, including some posts I put up in advance of the tour, and the one I made about the Farm-to-Table Dinner.

Here is the short description of Public House Produce from the Farm Tour overview:

This is a family owned and operated farm located about one mile north of Luray. The farm’s produce is available at the Luray-Page Farmers Market and via their CSA. Over 80 varieties of fresh produce are offered, along with pasture based, heritage chicken and fresh farm eggs. Public House’s goal is high quality produce and poultry from a local source you can trust.

Some of the fields, with the new brooder hens in the distance.
I made this my fourth stop before heading over to Wisteria as I’ve mentioned in the previous posts; while we visited this farm we also had the chance to meet up with Paul from Paw Paw’s Honey. Soon after I arrived at Public House Produce, quite a few of the other tour members joined us – whereupon, David took us on a tour of the operation.

More Public House Produce Fields. And a nice tractor.
 Reaching the fields, David pointed out where the farm actually started – the first plots, and then the progress through his property as more and more of the fields were put into production, so that they now total six acres. He also showed the irrigation systems and some of the in-ground connectors, discussing the well and its capacity.

Back under the barn, the crowd had the chance to look at some of the produce. I’ve included a photo of that day as the opening photo, supplemented by some more recent ones.

"Japanese Pumpkins" curing in the barn, a few weeks after the tour.
Pie pumpkins.
At the time of the tour, Public House Produce was doing direct sales from the farm for the day, as opposed to their normal selling from the Luray-Page Farmers Market. In the first photo, some of the produce of the day is shown, including sweet corn, tomatoes, festival squash (a variety of winter/acorn squash), and some peppers. The more recent ones show the green “Japanese Pumpkins” – a variety of winter squash, and pie pumpkins. Most of these are contracted and will soon be on their way to markets elsewhere.

The next stop for the tour was to go inside the cooler – that was a big hit with a couple of folks, even though the day was overcast and rainy. I understand their interest was more in the technical details of how the system worked, as opposed to getting into the cool temps!

There was a lot of discussion about the farm and its produce. I overheard a lively discussion of the heirloom tomatoes (I’m guessing this was about the pineapple variety – one of the tour members said that he knew from tomatoes, being from New Jersey, and that “this was the best tomato I ever tasted!"). David also talked about the pasture based chicken operation, using the “Red Bird” or poulet rouge, another heritage breed that is hardy in the pasture and yields a very tasty chicken.

That very chicken was served in the second course at the Farm-to-Table Dinner at the Mimslyn that evening.

And David tells me that he’s already seen a couple of folks from the tour back at the farm to talk about next year’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

The Page County Grown vision statement is, “Page County Grown is thriving family farms driving local food economies and promoting healthy communities where quality farming is a valued heritage and a staple for growth.” That said, I’d have to say that the tour helped meet the expectation of the mission statement…not only that, but it appeared to be successful beyond expectations, with more than 40 participants – where the organizers thought there might be 20. At the Mimslyn, there were more than 70 diners, again, only 50 were expected.

That goes a long way to describe how interested people are in knowing their farmers, and in knowing where their food comes from!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Page County Grown Farm Tour: Wisteria Farm and Vineyard

Wisteria's sign on Marksville Road.
Winemaking equipment.
Today’s post is the fifth in my series of six reprising the inaugural Page County Grown Farm Tour, which took place on Saturday, August 27, 2011. There were more than 40 folks who joined the tour despite hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast. We visited several of our local farms: Khimaira Farm, Skyline Premium Meats, Willow Grove Farm Market, Wisteria Farm and Vineyard, Paw Paw’s Honey, and Public House Produce. All of the posts on this topic include the label “2011 Farm Tour” at the end, so a simple click will pull them all up, including some posts I put up in advance of the tour, and the one I made about the Farm-to-Table Dinner.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had connected with my neighbors John and Nina at Skyline Premium Meats. While we proceeded to Willow Grove Farm Market and Public House Produce from there, we made a plan to visit Wisteria at the end because it is very close to where we all live. Due to some note taking issues I’ve moved up the post about our Wisteria stop to fifth, and will round out the series with a post on Public House on Friday.

Here’s the write-up on Wisteria from the farm tour program:

Patti (Patchwork Pastures) talks about the sheep to a guest.
"Wisteria is a local vineyard located near Stanley; it is also a working farm with a colorful flock of Romney sheep and free-ranging chickens. Wisteria’s current wine offerings include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Traminette, Seyval, Merlot, and Norton, as well as a semi-sweet rose blend – Velvet, and a dessert wine – Sweet Daisy."

By the time the three of us arrived at Wisteria, many of our fellow tourists had already been there – and since we live nearby, we were familiar with some aspects of the operation. Winemaking equipment was on display – mainly the grape crushers that are used after the harvest to start the process.

I should note that Wisteria has an annual “stomp,” a celebration that includes a blessing of the vines, volunteer workers helping to harvest - and then, in a throwback to a beloved “I Love Lucy” episode, folks can climb into the vats and stomp the grapes with their bare feet! The event was originally scheduled for the same weekend as the Page County Grown Farm Tour, but they rescheduled it for the following weekend due to the storm. (They kept the time the same: 7am. Let’s just say Mary and I missed it again this year!)

Raw and washed wool from the Romney sheep.
Other farm goods at Wisteria.
In addition to the winemaking equipment, Sue had arranged to display some of the raw wool from the flock of Romney sheep they keep at the farm, along with some farther along in the process of being spun and then woven. The Wisteria crew was joined at their farm by Patti, whose Patchwork Pastures is also one of the Page County Grown family farms. One of the photos has Patti talking to another farm tourist about the Romney flock.

The plums Nina picked and shared.
Acoustic Thunder provided accompani - accompani - music.
There were two more treats in store for us at Wisteria. The farm has a wide variety of fruit trees planted all over it, and Nina knew where there were some plums just ripening – I have a photo of them, highlighting their beautiful color. The second treat: while we were there, Mokey and Hector of Acoustic Thunder were preparing for a “Music under the Arbor” event, so we had musical accompaniment!

The final post in the 2011 Farm Tour series will be about Public House Produce, and it will appear Friday morning.