Farms, History, and Homemade Bread

With the semester winding down and students immersed in final papers and exams over the last couple of weeks, I have had a little extra time on my hands to leave Grounds and continue my exploration of the Charlottesville foodshed.

On Monday, December 9th, head chef Bryan Kelly and I ventured up to the northern part of Albemarle County to tour Currituck Farm. This cattle farm is notable for a few reasons: it is a potentially hyper-local source of grass-fed beef, arriving at UVa Dining halls from just twenty minutes away (processing takes place in-state, as well); supporting this local farm would also mean supporting our own county's economy; and Currituck happens to be owned and operated by one of Albemarle County's very own Supervisors, Ann Mallek.

Currituck is a beautiful farm, and even from a brief visit it was evident that every cow in the small herd is healthy and contented. Students (hopefully) will be fortunate indeed to get a taste of beef raised and processed in such a sustainable way.

At the end of the same week, I traveled down to Raphine, VA, near Lexington, for a visit to the historic Wade's Mill; a still-functioning mill that has been in operation since 1750. I had the chance to poke around the historic structure and learn more about its workings from owners Jim and Georgie Young.

After a delightful local lunch at Jim and Georgie's lovely farmhouse, I mused aloud at the likelihood of Thomas Jefferson himself ever eating something containing flour ground at Wade's Mill. Georgie explained that mills were rather commonplace in the 18th century, and Thomas Jefferson probably consumed flour ground closer to home. This doesn't rule out the possibility, she admitted, of Jefferson's travels to Poplar Forest or to Lexington taking him perhaps right past Wade's Mill, or even along the same road as the mill. Regardless of how close the two ever actually came, there's something compelling about the thought of Jefferson being a contemporary of this steadfast building - and the fact that his writings and ideas continue to nourish our minds, just as the mill still grinds out a product that continues to nourish our bodies.

Over this past weekend, while trapped inside my house thanks to the Blizzard of 2009, I had plenty of time to try my hand at making bread from scratch, using - what else? - Wade's Mill flour. The bread turned out perfectly, and the time and care I put into crafting it, combined with my gratitude for the miller's work, made the eating quite a pleasurable experience. There is certainly a satisfying symmetry to it all.

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