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These guys want to provide the nation’s capital with a steady source of local food

Whitney Pipkin
Jim Epstein (left) and Mark Seale in one of the new Blue Ridge Produce greenhouses.

The maze of greenhouses, warehouses, and office spaces that is home to the Elkwood, Va.-based Blue Ridge Produce could have been custom-built for the company’s unique vision: to aggregate, process, grow, and promote local produce. But it wasn’t. In fact, the company’s founders lucked into finding an existing facility sprawled across 33 acres of land just south of the D.C. suburbs.

Blue Ridge Produce threw open the doors to its giant warehouse this growing season to welcome produce from across Virginia, only to have it quickly disseminated to wholesale buyers like Whole Foods and the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville.

The company also plans to lease 80,000 square feet of greenhouses to farmers who will grow tomatoes and lettuce year-round. Meanwhile, an extra warehouse will serve as a commercial kitchen for making jam, salsa, or other value-added products out of local produce. And the office spaces? Those will be a business incubator for food-oriented companies just getting off the ground.

Read more: Food

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The Chesapeake Bay: Another possible casualty of this year’s farm bill

Virginia farmer Buff Showalter relies on federal conservation funding to help him protect nearby Chesapeake Bay waterways.

Standing on the edge of a streamside habitat he helped restore, Virginia farmer Buff Showalter interrupts himself mid-sentence to point out a pair of hummingbirds overhead, barely visible as they sketch busy circles against a blue-sky backdrop. By late August, he says, there will be hundreds of them flitting around their favorite jewelweed wildflowers in this forage-covered patch of wetlands.

The patch used to be a favorite drinking hole for Showalter’s cattle as well, before he realized that having cows near and in the waterways could contribute to pollution in the nearby Chesapeake Bay. A decade later, the stream is fenced off and teaming with wild-looking shrubs and trees that help soak up pollutants before they reach the water.

Read more: Uncategorized