Early on a cool Saturday morning, the Harrisonburg Farmers Market is bustling. Local farmers happily peddle fresh herbs, sweet potatoes, asparagus and black walnuts as patrons browse homemade soaps, baked goods, honey and an array of plants ready for home gardeners to stick in the ground. Although the local vibe is rooted in events such as these, Harrisonburg’s homemade and homegrown movement has flourished to nearly every facet of this colorful and cordial college town in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
At a nearby stand, Brian Bogan, executive chef for the Joshua Wilton House, is preparing crostinis with asparagus, arugula and watercress pesto, topped with goat cheese and grated, cured egg yolk. He demonstrates to a group of fascinated onlookers how to prepare the dish, then offers samples and a recipe at the end.
The Joshua Wilton House has been a staple in Harrisonburg for many years (it was the first house in Harrisonburg to have electricity, if that’s any indication). A classically-restored Victorian home-turned restaurant and inn, it’s a favorite place for visitors and locals alike. Their fabulous restaurant offers a seasonally-focused menu, with approximately 90 percent of their ingredients sourced in the Shenandoah Valley. The feel here is Southern with a French influence, which can be seen (and tasted) in menu items like their all-natural duck breast served over hickory-roasted delicata squash and red onion with French lentils and concord grape gastrique.
The theme can also be found in their heavenly pastries from extraordinary Pastry Chef Elizabeth Stover, who refers to her baked goods as “edible love.” When you try one of her pastries, you’ll wholeheartedly agree. Stover shares the Joshua Wilton House vision of supporting local farms to offer the best ingredients, noting that it’s always important to be a good steward of the products that you serve.
“Food is so much about community, and I think that is why what is happening here in the Valley is so incredibly special because it’s so community-based—the love of it, the production of it, the promotion of it,” she says. “There’s such a beautiful relationship between food and agriculture and the preservation of both of those.”
About 15 minutes outside of the city, there’s a new kind of agricultural movement that involves lavender, grapes and enough purple to make any JMU student or alumni very happy. At White Oak Lavender Farm, the Haushalter family grows up to 9,000 lavender plants on their farm in many different varieties. They sell endless lavender products, including essential oils, lavender-themed gifts, culinary lavender, lavender ice cream and the lavender plants themselves. But what sets them apart is their lavender-infused wine found at their on-site winery, Purple WOLF Vineyard (the WOLF is an acronym for White Oak Lavender Farm). CEO Julie Walton Haushalter is well versed on the many cultivars of lavender, recognizing that each one tastes a bit different, so she thought to create various lavender infusions to match up with different grape varietals. “It’s been a really fun, interesting project,” she says. “It’s just a big science experiment.”
Visitors of White Oak can participate in a wine tasting paired with cheese, crackers, organic pistachios and dried fruit available for purchase, then mosey outside to stroll through the lavender fields, kick back in an adult-sized hammock, meditate in a labyrinth or mingle with friendly farm animals, including alpacas, horses, mini horses, Welch ponies, chickens and bunnies. “It’s all in that theme of how to relax,” Haushalter explains.
Another ideal place to relax is at Brothers Craft Brewing, located in a renovated soda bottling plant and founded by three siblings who share a passion for brewing unique beers that emphasize and support the Harrisonburg community. Visit their taproom to sample their current selections (the Hoptimization is always a treat).
Beer isn’t the only craft coming out of Harrisonburg by any means. In Harrisonburg’s Ice House center, you’ll find an incredibly unique collection of jewelry from Huge Kohl, a jewelry maker and collector of rare hubs, which are blocks of steel with hand-carved designs that were used to make jewelry in the 1800s. Kohl learned how to put his collection of hubs (which has grown to over 3,000 designs) back into jewelry production, and their exquisite collection can be purchased on site. “We use the same machine, the same tools, the same process, the same skills so that we can be in every way authentic,” Kohl says.
There’s plenty of other places to love in Harrisonburg, so take some time to explore for yourself. Revel in a bite of a delicious meal that’s purely local. Take home an exclusive ware that was crafted just miles—or moments away. Relax as you inhale the calming aroma of lavender on a quiet day. And be sure to talk with the friendly folks who pride themselves in making Harrisonburg distinctively homemade.
Want to eat and drink your way through Downtown Harrisonburg’s Culinary District? Rocktown Bites Downtown Food Tours are held most Saturdays and selective Thursdays and include six independent restaurants, food shops and local businesses to sample food and drink and get a behind-the-scenes dish from restaurateurs and chefs. Visit RocktownBites.com for dates.
Check out VisitHarrisonburgVa.com for helpful information when planning your visit.
More Places To Love
Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint and Billy Jack’s Beef, Bacon, Beer,
Bird are both casual and delicious places to grab a bite and a beer. Want a sample before you go? Jack Brown’s recently opened a Norfolk location on Granby Street. JackBrownsJoint.com
Midtowne Market & Bottle Shop is the place to go for an unparalleled selection of Virginia craft beers (and national craft beers, too) as well as a variety of snacks and other necessities. MidtowneVa.com
The Virginia Quilt Museum promotes a unique blend of Virginia’s art and cultural heritage with three floors of rotating, curated gallery space of bright and beautiful quilts. VaQuiltMuseum.org