by Suemedha Sood, Photography Courtesy of VisitStaunton.com
This winter, Michael Reeps got the chance to bring an idea to life: creating an online farmers market to connect Staunton farmers with town residents. The Staunton Creative Community Fund gave Reeps a grant to kickstart his website, Staunton Fresh. It’s not surprising: this is a town that thrives on nurturing the local food movement.
From its fresh dining options to its farm-centric tours, this Shenandoah Valley enclave is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves tasty food and scenic views.
Start your trip by building up an appetite with a tour of Polyface Farms. When farmer Joel Salatin showed the world how he raises, slaughters, and guts his chickens in the movie “Food, Inc.,” he put Central Virginia on the locavore map. Transparency is a central tenet to Polyface, which allows visitors to explore any and all parts of the farm through self-guided tours. Watch the pastured chickens and hens, the foraging cows, or the foraging rabbits. Or,for a more intense experience, opt for one of Polyface Farms’s Lunatic Tours, a two-hour hay wagon tours offered twice a month. (Lunatic Tours must be booked in advance.)
Next, head into town for a hearty brunch. Cranberry’s Grocery and Eatery is known for its sumptuous locally roasted organic coffee, Lester’s Best. Its menus feature a variety of local delights, too, including eggs, sausage, honey, maple syrup, and gelato. Try the homemade yeast ‘n malt waffles or the Southwest tofu scramble.
The arts are also revered in Staunton. The Virginia Hot Glass Festival (April 28 and 29) celebrates the art of glass blowing, flame working, and bead making at the Sunspot Studios in historic downtown, which showcases artists from across the state. A different expression of art can be found just two blocks away at Mockingbird, a lively music venue with fantastic food.
Local roots music is the specialty here, though Mockingbird’s stage welcomes jazz, rock, and soul/funk performers as well. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a season dinner composed of meats and produce from local farms. (If live music isn’t your thing, check out the five playhouses in town.)
Staunton’s historic Stonewall Jackson Inn is the largest but not the only lodging option. There are plenty of cozy bed-and-breakfasts, including the historic Artist’s House Bed and Breakfast run by painter Sharon Kincheloe. After check in, be sure to walk in the colorful gardens.
After a good night’s sleep, embrace the morning at the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market, open till noon on Saturdays. Then, take a jaunt out to the countryside. Barren Ridge Vineyards is a lush vineyard set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just 10 miles east of Staunton, the winery offers complimentary tours and tastings every day of the week.
Appetite whet, head back into town to Ox-Eye Vineyards. Although its grapes are grown out in the country (about 10 miles southwest of town), Ox-Eye’s tasting room is right in downtown Staunton.
Finish off your day at Zynodoa, where Chef James Harris crafts his menus daily to reflect what local farms are delivering. His sources include Harvest Thyme Herb Farm, Veritas Vineyards, Mountain View Farm dairy, and Polyface Farms, and Zynodoa boasts its own vegetable garden. A recent menu featured ricotta gnocchi with pickled shallots, sunchokes, and rosemary potato butter with a pork roast smothered in caramelized apples and onions served with herbed spaetzle.
But you’ve only just scratched the surface of Staunton. There’s George Bowers Grocery —which stocks an array of locally grown food, both plain and fancy, as well as beer and wine, and serves as something of a town gathering center (as well as a pop-up restaurant space); Shenandoah Hops for an array of beers; Giancarlo European Pastries—exquisite tarts and cakes; Cocoa Mill Chocolatier; gelato at the Split Banana; and fresh made bread at Newtown Baking. And we never leave town without a bag of Kitch’n Cook’d chips.
Suemedha Sood is a columnist for BBC Travel and a lover of local food, craft beer, and cute dogs.