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The Farm at Sunnyside is in a heavenly setting tucked away in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains and bordering Shenandoah National Park to the north. When standing in the middle of the farm, the heavily forested surroundings makes it feel like you are the only people around for miles and miles, but actually it is only two miles away from the historically rich town of Washington, VA. Sunnyside in its entirety is a massive 400+ acre property. Currently, they have around 15 acres of active vegetable patches and another 15 acres dedicated to orchards growing apples and pears.
Sunnyside has a rich history; in fact, it was one of the first commercial apple orchards in Virginia. The last time the property changed hands was in 2006, when Nick and Gardiner Lapham purchased the farm along with other members of their family. When purchased, the farm already had its organic certification and Nick and Gardiner decided to leave it that way. Despite their lack of farming experience, the couple had a vision for the property that was largely based in their backgrounds in public health and environmental policy. All that was needed was a team of seasoned farmers who could make that vision come to life.
Enter Stacey Carlberg and Casey Gustowarow, a now married couple who had met on the farm and previously spent 4 years managing other Virginia farms before making the switch to working together to run the Farm at Sunnyside. Stacy has a background in Ecology and worked at several environmental non-profits before she caught the farming bug. Back in 2006, Stacey took a summer apprenticeship at Waterpenny Farm. She was under the impression that she just wanted to try out being a farm-hand for one season, little did she know this was the first step in her new career as a farmer. Casey has a background in environmental biology and first started farming after spending time working in the field of marine conservation in the Philippines. The Philippines’ vibrant produce markets and exposure to new treats ignited Casey’s interest in food. Upon returning, Casey joined Sunnyside where he met Stacey..and the rest is history.
Currently the farm operates under 10 staff members. Five permanent staff and 5 seasonal staff. We met most of the seasonal staff and right from the beginning it was obvious that the work environment was high energy and positive. Stacy stressed that camaraderie was important in a farming team and that working together to grow food is a great opportunity to bond. This was made clear to us as we saw the girls joking around and smiling while harvesting summer squash. One interesting tidbit that Stacey shared (there were many) is that 4 out of every 5 applications they receive for their job postings are from women, which is interesting as the farming industry is infamously male-dominated. Stacey also made us laugh saying that they take the winters off because all of the farmers she knows who work in the winter are grumpy!
The Farm at Sunnyside runs on the philosophy that agriculture and environmental protection can go hand in hand. They have an on-site biologist who monitors the biodiversity of the wildlife and plants. To date, the Farm at Sunnyside has recorded over 429 species of plants, 136 varieties of birds, and 17 mammals. The staff also pays close attention to providing pollination for pollinators, being extra sensitive to the environmental effects of their pest control efforts, and much more. Because of the proximity to the national forest, they are quite often battling critters. The bears have learned that they can get through the electrical wire; the groundhogs and deer have learned how to crawl under the fencing through small holes. Although these problems can cause thousands of dollars of crop loss, it’s a sign of the health of the ecosystem the farm has maintained.
In addition to their 100 member CSA, The Farm at Sunnyside also had a large amount of success selling at the Dupont and Reston farmers markets where you may have seen them around. They also provide produce for Restaurant Nora in DC, the famous Inn at Little Washington and Jaleo in Arlington.