Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows

Roundabout Meadows is the 140-acres of land that is bisected by Howser’s Branch Drive. The triangle of land that became stranded by the installation of the Route 50 traffic circles and the building of Howser’s Branch Drive contains the Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows; the address is 39990 Howsers Branch Dr. Aldie, VA 20105. In June, the Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows welcomed volunteers of all ages back out to the farm in a socially distant manner. They report that with the help of over 300 volunteers as of early September, they have surpassed our goal and donated more than 22,000 pounds of fresh produce to Loudoun Hunger Relief, including tomatoes, tomatillos, melons, and more. There is still lots more to harvest and the weather has turned fine to be outdoors. Everyone is welcome at the farm. You can visit, volunteer or donate.

The Piedmont Environmental Council was given the140-acres at the southeast quadrant of US Route 50 and US Route 15 known around here as Gilberts Corner by a citizen group led by Scott Kasprowicz, a former member of the PEC Board of Directors. The group, Roundabout Partners, raised the funds and purchased the property to prevent a planned development. After purchasing the land they then donated the 140 acres to the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) for conservation purposes. 

Now, the farm is being incorporated into a larger vision at Gilberts Corner that includes the establishment of the 155-acre Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park on the north side of Route 50, and the creation of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. In 2016 work began to restore the farm with a controlled or prescribed burn.  For more than a decade, the land had been left fallow and the open pasture was invaded by red cedar and non-native invasive species such as Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and autumn olive.

The Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows launched in early 2019 with Dana Melby as the Farm Manager. Dana is a native of Frederick County and earned a bachelor’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado and a Masters in International Agriculture at Oklahoma State University. While at Oklahoma State she worked with a local food bank to develop a garden and production plan to supplement their programs. Dana worked in a variety of roles in agriculture, from greenhouse production to orchard. Most recently she worked for Virginia Tech as a Field Research Specialist where she managed peach, apple, and cherry orchards as well as vineyards. She brings incredible expertise and enthusiasm to the Community Farm.

In its first season, the farm produced almost 5,000 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies including potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and melons. They plan to expand their production. All the food grown is donated with Loudoun Hunger Relief as the primary partner. In addition to growing food the farm hosted a variety of educational programs and events, including Family Day at the Community Farm. Dana says that a big part of their mission is engaging volunteers. Without the help of the volunteers the farm would not have had such a successful first season. Volunteers provide 544 hours of their time to the farm in 2019! You can help make this second year a huge success despite a pandemic!

So what's up with the rest of the land? Approximately 80 acres of the property, on the south side of Howsers Branch, is being managed for livestock grazing. In 2017, livestock exclusion fencing, hardened crossings and alternative drinking water were installed. You can see the cow watering station on the right as you drive from Route 15 down Howser’s Branch Drive to Route 50 (it is best if you are the passenger if you want to see). These improvement will protect the property’s streams and water resources. In addition, some areas are being converted to native warm-season grasses. The PEC reports that there has been a noticeable increases over the past two years in the warm-season grasses. In 2018, the lease for the pastures was modified to encourage rotational grazing.

Another 20 acres in the southeast corner is being managed to demonstrate wildlife habitat restoration. Along with the Old Carolina Road roadbed, this area will be accessible for education and passive recreation by a trail being designed in collaboration with Oak Spring Foundation, the Fauquier Loudoun Garden Club, and NOVAParks. Roundabout Meadows was a gift to the whole community even those of us across the county line in Prince William County. 

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