“We started with 36 trees.” David Weinschel tugged at the nearest overhanging branch, ripe with apples, and handed it to me. “Now we are close to 100.”
Though 100 apple trees sounded like a lot to me, the amount of actual space (and fruit-yielding potential) the orchard takes up on its 50-acre property is pretty minuscule, relatively. But it’s more than the land, largely overgrown with disuse, has produced in awhile.
Whitehall Manor is a historic piece of property at the western edges of Northern Virginia, within sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mansion itself, first built around 1787, stood at the center of acres and acres of surrounding farmland for over two centuries. When the farm officially closed operations in 1992, it had been recognized as one of the largest working dairy farms in Northern Virginia’s 20th-century history.
The mansion itself was preserved and converted into an event (most wedding) venue, and 50 acres of the original property saved from imminent development. But the land ceased to function agriculturally.
Until David Weinschel realized its potential.
Though Weinschel owns one of the largest catering companies in Northern Virginia, he wasn’t the first to start connecting his catering services to sustainable practices. Dozens of caterers in the D.C. metro area either source directly from local farms or work (and cater) on the farms themselves.
Weinschel, though, started from scratch. “We bought Whitehall Manor with the intention of having events,” Weinschel explained. “We said we grew events here. That was our crop. Now…we are really growing food too.”
He’s starting small, with herbs, grapes and apples. Over time, he anticipates expanding to include plums, peaches and perhaps, someday, vegetables. He also planted a tree farm to jumpstart the process of reforesting land that is disappearing at a rate parallel to county’s population growth, which has doubled in the last decade.
Weinschel was one of six chefs and caterers I interviewed for a recently published feature in Loudoun Magazine about sustainability and its foray into niche local catering markets. I had the chance to travel across Loudoun County, some of the richest farm (and grapevine) land in Virginia. The underlying theme resonating at the heart of each chef’s endeavor to make sustainability more accessible to the community was one of journeys. Sustainability is a journey.
Given the parameters they work in, no chef is able to operate completely sustainably. Society isn’t built for it. Not yet, anyway. Little steps are the path to progression.
As I was leaving Whitehall Manor, Weinschel showed me the next step in his company’s journey: a new tractor. “Our 19th-century buy!” he laughed.
It seems that the path forward toward a sustainable future is also one that also moves backwards in time.
To see the whole story about sustainable event catering, check out the Fall 2012 of Loudoun Magazine, on sale now. The issue is also available online.