Posted Jue 21, 2011

Papa Weaver’s Pork isn’t just selling its trademark pork sausages these days.

Tom and Tina Weaver have added cuts of beef raised on their Orange County farm to their offerings thanks to an increased interest in buying locally raised foods.

“Customers knew that we had beef and said, ‘We want to know where our beef is coming from,'” said Tina Weaver. “They’ve been asking for four years, and we finally had enough demand that we just had to offer it.”

An increased interest in buying locally grown food helped double the Weavers’ sales last year, and they’ve sold as much in the first quarter of this year as they did in all of 2010, she said.

The couple started noticing a big push toward buying locally two years ago, not just by consumers but by restaurants, grocery stores and farm clubs — businesses that use the Internet to list what farmers are raising and deliver orders to consumers.

“We can now actually break even farming,” Tina Weaver said.

Interest in buying locally, sparked by such things as the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me” and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” is creating additional opportunities for growers, said Charles Green, director of marketing and development for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“There are more agritourism opportunities available than there were 10 years ago, more pick-your-own places and a number of other activities such as hayrides or bed-and-breakfasts on farms,” he said. “People want to experience what it is to be on a farm and taste fresh farm products.”

Interest in buying locally also helped the number of farmers markets in Virginia to grow to 200, double the number five years ago, Green said. In addition, restaurants are incorporating more local meat, produce and other farm products into their menus, and grocery stores are highlighting local farms in their circulars and in-store signage.

Parker Farms in Oak Grove, for example, has gotten requests from restaurants and such grocery chains as Walmart, Wegmans and Food Lion for photographs and biographies of the 28 area farms whose produce it processes, packages and sells.

“It’s a marketing tool,” said Jimmy Carter, who co-owns Parker Farms with Joe and Rafe Parker. “It’s another way to promote their items in a store or restaurant.

“If you go to downtown Fredericksburg and see a menu that says the asparagus is from this farm or the squash is from that farm, it brings identity to the items they’re serving and gives people some peace of mind,” he said. “They know that farm, so they feel safe eating the produce from that farm.”

Buying local also helps reduce freight costs, something retailers and restaurants are especially interested in these days with the high price of gas.

Ben Miller, who runs the farming side of Miller Farms Market in Locust Grove, said he has seen an increase in sales of such things as strawberries, sweet corn and tomatoes every year since 2003, when his family decided to get out of the dairy-farm business and raise produce instead.

Customers include people who come to Miller Farms Market to buy the farm’s output and other locally sourced items, people who resell the farm’s produce at farm stands, and such restaurants as Robinson’s Tavern in Locust Grove, Kybecca in Fredericksburg and Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park.

Miller Farm also sells to The Fresh Link, a company that supplies Washington-area restaurants with fresh local food such as the family’s strawberries and lettuce mix.

“A couple other restaurants have contacted us,” Miller said, “but we haven’t worked out the details yet.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407 Email: [email protected]

Interested in finding farms, farmers markets and community-supported-agriculture groups?

The Fresh From the Farm to You link on the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website,, includes information about these and more.

To see more of The Free Lance-Star or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to .

Copyright © 2011, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

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