Foodlore Friday in Bath County

On a warm Friday evening in Bath County, a sleepy farm in Warm Springs comes wide awake. Kids toddle among a flock of sheep, running their hands across tufts of downy wool. A reggae band sends a song out on the breeze, and couples gather by an Airstream trailer-turned-kitchen, sipping cider and waiting for plates of food. 

This small gathering isn’t a party, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so; it’s a weekly gathering called Foodlore Friday, a time for locals to come together to eat, drink, and be merry, all while collecting thoughtfully curated groceries for the week ahead. 

Will and Cornelia Hodges bought Oakley Farm in 2016, when they returned to Virginia from California. Their vision was to transform the land into a cidery called Troddenvale, where the couple would produce ciders of origin, made with apples harvested from the orchards that thrive at Bath County’s high altitudes. Soon after settling in, they discovered something was missing.

“When we moved back to the area, we noticed a gap between the food scene and the agrarian producers of this region,” says Cornelia. “So we launched a dinner series that we called Foodlore, a play on the word folklore.” Just as customs and traditions are passed through stories, Cornelia says, the same is true of food.

Photo credit: Erin Cowden

Like so many things, the dinner series came to a halt in 2020, just as Troddenvale was preparing to release their first vintages of cider. When restaurants were shuttered, it threw a wrench in the debut of Troddenvale cider, forcing the couple to pivot. They weren’t alone, of course. 

Local  purveyors, from growers to bakers to ranchers, all found their livelihoods at stake. In a show of community support, the Hodges summoned their digital-design savvy to launch Foodlore Provisions, a weekly online market. In a Bath County first, locals could place orders from area farms—and pick them up at Oakley Farm every Friday. 

“It started in a confusing time, but then it became this amazing thing,” Cornelia adds. With its subtly stylish website, Foodlore Provisions created a place for producers throughout the Alleghany Highlands to market their bounty, while sharing their food and their stories with people from the community. It’s an innovative model for a rural farmers market, where the crowd is smaller but no less interested in high-quality, sustainably sourced food.  

At Foodlore Provisions, shoppers can find pastured eggs, chicken, and lamb from Fireside at Oakley Farm—Fireside owners Jim and Catie King raise their chickens on Oakley Farm in an closed loop arrangement that benefits both—as well as seasonal produce from Poplar Ridge Farms in Goshen, and European-inspired pastries and bread from Reunion Bakery in Staunton. There’s grass-fed beef from Apple Horse Farm in Hot Springs, maple syrup from Tonoloway Farm in McDowell, and of course, plenty of cider from Troddenvale. Shoppers order online by Wednesday and head to the farm to pick up on Friday.

After a few months of drive-thru pickups, Will and Cornelia noticed that folks were starting to linger, leaving their cars to wander the pastoral grounds. This gave them an idea:

“Being cider producers, we thought, wouldn’t it be nice if people could hang around outside on the farm and have a glass of cider?” says Cornelia. They threw open the doors to their North Stables and set up a cider and wine bar inside.

Photo credit: Erin Cowden

The move was a welcome one. And it inspired Will and Cornelia to think bigger: What if people could stay for dinner? And what if those dinners showcased chefs from their restaurant partners, who were also navigating the shutdowns?  

The Hodges were onto something. With help from their friends at Fort Lewis Lodge in Millboro, they transformed an Airstream trailer into a working chef’s kitchen. Then they put out a call to the chefs who’d been set to pour Troddenvale cider to share their idea and extend an invitation: Come to Warm Springs and cook for our crowd on Friday, they said, then stay for the weekend as our guests. 

With their restaurants closed, the chefs were eager to do what they love—cook great food for an appreciative audience. Then they reached out to local artisans to curate an on-site makers market. Visitors could sip and shop as they waited for their food.

In July of 2020, Foodlore Fridays was born. And with each summer that’s followed, word has spread beyond the locals to chefs and foodies, who find themselves drawn to these grassroots evenings. Guests from the nearby Omni Homestead or the Gristmill Inn, just up the road, come too, to experience an authentic slice of Bath County life.

Now, as shoppers pick up the provisions they’ve ordered online, the Hodges’ invite them to hang out, sip a glass of their cider, browse the market—and stay for dinner under the stars, prepared by a rotating cast of chefs from restaurants across Virginia and served from the Airstream parked in the driveway. 

Photo credit: Erin Cowden

One of the first, chef Donnie Glass of Grisette in Richmond, had met the Hodges when they’d invited a group of chefs for a get-together on the farm. Glass says he found kindred spirits in the couple and, in their farm, he found the ideal “secret escape.” Seeing an opportunity for a getaway, Glass offered his services as a chef for Foodlore Fridays. When Will and Cornelia enthusiastically agreed, Glass packed up his infant son and his mise en place, along with two staff members and their significant others, to make the three-hour drive to Oakley Farm.

“We wanted to bring a little piece of our restaurant out there,” Glass says. The Grisette team prepared a menu that included the restaurant’s beloved steak frites, a zippy carrot salad, chicken liver mousse, and Cabra la Mancha, an earthy, Basque-inspired goat cheese that pairs particularly well with Troddenvale’s cider. “What makes Foodlore so fun is that it can be anything—from tacos to steak frites to sandwiches,” he observes. “The whole point is to share what someone else is doing.”

Glass and his crew hung around Warm Springs for the weekend, hiking and enjoying meals together before heading back to Richmond on Sunday. He says he sincerely hopes to repeat the experience this summer and for years to come.

Other chefs have presided over Foodlore Fridays, taking their own star turns in the Airstream.  Ty Walker, founder of Smoke in Chimneys in New Castle, showcased the mountain trout he farms there and sells on the Foodlore site and at fishmongers throughout the state. Kate Stephenson of Kate Uncorked, has shared her elegant take on plant-centric meals; while fellow Richmonder Laine Meyers has served her Oro line of handmade fresh pastas, summer pesto, and sauces.   

Jil Harris is a regular at Foodlore Fridays. She’s known Will and his family for years. After splitting time between Warm Springs and Richmond, she finds her mountain house exerts the strongest pull. “The beauty of Foodlore is how it creates community spirit in Bath County,” Harris says. “On Friday nights, there are all kinds of people there. We all come together and catch up with each other. For me, the community spirit is what’s so important.”

Photo credit: Erin Cowden

For Cornelia and Will, the gatherings continues to inspire. In March, they hosted “A Hungry Gap Feast” to share the foods that once bridged the seasonal gap between winter and the first shoots of springtime. “People connect around food,” she notes, “So for us to be able to create something that connects to the producer who grew the food and a place where you can consume delicious food made by really talented chefs and pair it with cider that’s thoughtfully made—those layers are really exciting for us.”

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