I’ll be honest. I’m still not quite sure how I got invited to this event. The folks who invited me probably wondered how I got invited as well. But I did. And, as one of my friends put it in an email, it was “a fantasy straight out of Mindyland.”
Pulling out of our driveway in the midst of a downpour on an unusually cool Sunday afternoon for August (and feeling a bit like we were transplanted into that scene from “Dirty Dancing” when they run out to the car in the pouring rain and Johnny has to knock out the window, except there was no glass-shattering that day, just a few cuss words because I forgot to write down the directions before we left the house), with my husband starting to wonder aloud where the hell I was taking him, I knew there was no way I was going to miss out on Lambstock.
This is a culinary event held by gracious host Craig Rogers and his family at Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, VA. Now in its third year of festivities, Lambstock features everything, well, lamb. Those in the restaurant business show up to the event (which spans three days/nights) to talk food, yes. But they also show up to celebrate what Craig and his farmers do everyday: raise quality meat in a humane way.
I’ve admitted before that great chefs are the equivalents of rock stars to me, and there were plenty converging at Lambstock to make this girl slightly giddy. Even after I chose college over culinary school (following my parents’ wise counsel to work a summer with a chef), those in the restaurant industry who are producing exceptional food remain strong inspirations. I respect the hell out of what they do, the hours they keep, the passion that goes into what they do on a daily basis. The opportunity to meet some of those people made for a great day. But it was more than that.
It was a chance to visit Border Springs, to see a small farm in operation.
Those who know me know that, aside from the health and environmental benefits of eating locally, I also choose to do so to directly support small farmers who care about what they produce/what they grow/what they raise. It’s not about the bottom line above all else with these folks; it’s about quality and care.
It’s a conscious choice I make to eat locally, but it’s also one influenced by heritage. My family has a background in farming. My great-grandparents on my mom’s side lived off the land (probably more so out of necessity of feeding 11 children). My great-grandparents on my dad’s side made a living off of farming, setting up “camp” in an area known as Rich Valley in Southwest Virginia. Supposedly our Scottish ancestors chose the area because it reminded them of home. It’s easy to see the similarities with the rolling hills, the incredible vistas. Our family name is entrenched in the area, with current family members overseeing a substantial chunk of mostly federally protected farmland.
I have plenty of strong memories connected to farmland. My grandfather would help on the farm in Rich Valley, even though he lived a few miles down the road in a neighboring town. I remember his myriad cars usually smelling of cow manure, of him having to go corral some stray cattle that meandered into the road. Before my great-grandmother died, our Christmas days would be spent in the main household of the farm, eating ourselves silly on oyster soup. Last year, to celebrate the 78th birthday of my grandfather and his twin, dozens upon dozens of family and friends came to Rich Valley to eat, dance, ride four wheelers, and eat some more. With the ever-so-comforting smell of hamburgers and hotdogs in the air, the sounds of banjos and an upright bass mingling with laughter, myriad shaggy dogs running around and between everyone’s feet, it was the perfect evening to make everyone forget what was inevitably looming on the horizon.
My grandfather now holds permanent court over the land since being buried in Rich Valley nearly six months ago (I can’t say this strongly enough: fuck cancer). To me, farms and farmers have always in a way represented home, stirring memories that are now bittersweet but consoling nonetheless. Being at Lambstock and being surrounded by people who appreciate and support what small farmers do was, well, it was heartwarming, if you want to get sappy about it.
We arrived at Border Springs as the rain cleared, just missing a huge breakfast. But, we were treated to lamb hotdogs (I’m not big on hotdogs in general, but these had a fantastic, fresh taste and the perfect hotdog “snap” when biting into it); an astounding spreadable fennel salami brought in by Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress in Charleston (that one’s going on the must-eat-at list for the next Charleston trip since we only managed to snag some tasty drinks there last time); and my new favorite seasonal beer, Summer Basil, from small-batch brewery Fullsteam in Durham, NC.
Though I’m a technical editor by day, I am doing freelance food writing (on top of this blog and training for a marathon; man it’s been busy). Food in general and the use of regional foods in particular are passions of mine. Some probably think I’m fanatical about it. As with other things, I don’t care what people think. To me, it’s a no-brainer to support small farmers. Thank god folks like Craig are around to raise meat in a humane way that, well, tastes damn good. And thank god there are chefs who buy his products so he can continue his labor of love.
And thank god I had the opportunity on Sunday to meet some of these folks. To stand around with them in awed silence watching a whole lamb being dressed, spiced, and placed over a spit to roast felt like I was among kin. Watching fat drip into the open fire on a day that heralded the coming of autumn while overhearing talk of oysters and drunk-eating fistfuls of heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with Maldon salt (because chefs don’t drunk-eat the way most of us do) was just the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Maybe that sounds odd to others (and most likely downright evil to vegetarians and vegans), but those watching the lamb-roasting process had nothing but respect for that meat, for its farmers, for the entire cycle of life. The same can’t be said of factory farms. To know your food, to know the source, to meet the face behind the farm, is something downright special.