Little Hat Creek Farm
Little Hat Creek Farm is located on a spectacularly scenic piece of land near Roseland in Nelson County, a few miles off Rte. 151. They grow dozens of varieties of seasonal vegetables and berries using regenerative ecological practices, and they have an on-farm wood-fired bakery that cranks out the most delicious sourdough breads - using mostly local and regional organic grains - and sumptuous pastries, all of which they sell through a CSA and at local farmers markets.
The farm, which started in 2013, is run by husband-and-wife team Ben Stowe and Heather Coiner. It is located on a 5-acre property formerly known as Appalachia Star Farm, a long-running CSA in Nelson County. Ben and Heather had great soil to start with, but have honored that legacy with a staunch commitment to regenerative practices and stewarding the farm's biology by building soil, protecting pollinators and natural predators, and nourish their plants so they stay healthy on their own, taste great, and provide peak nourishment to those who eat them.
Ben and Heather first met in 2012 at a music festival and quickly bonded over their mutual passion for producing healthy, clean food. Heather earned a Ph.D. in plant ecology and, as a diversion in grad school, she started baking bread and delivering it by bicycle around Toronto, where she was living. Ben started his career in eduction after graduating from college, but got hooked on farming after doing several internships through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Eventually he spent two seasons at Waterpenny Farm, a well-know vegetable farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Together they have built a farm business that is expected to be a shining star in the many years to come. Community is a big focus of their efforts. They prefer the inconsistency of selling at farmers markets, versus the predicability of wholesale, because they love personal interactions with a community committed to local, fresh food.
Initially, Heather was baking bread out of their house oven, but eventually in 2015 they installed an outdoor wood-fired oven on the property. Then in 2016 they built out a 1,000 square foot bakery around the oven, which allowed them to increase volume dramatically, and also add new types of products, including croissants. With only about 1 and 1/2 acres in vegetable production at any given time, the bakery adds valuable diversification to their business, and is often a major draw at the farmers markets.
The 0% SOIL Loan received by Little Hat Creek Farm from Slow Money Virginia in April 2019 was used to purchase a commercial dough sheeter for the bakery. It is a machine that rolls out pieces of dough to a desired thickness. The resulting sheets are smooth, uniform and completed in a few minutes, a much shorter turnaround than rolling by hand. Over the first several seasons the farm had been able to produce up to 250 croissants in a single bake, but they were still using rolling pins to roll out this dough by hand. While this is an amazing feat, it was not conducive to growing their business. The dough sheeter not only reduces labor hours, it will greatly increase production to meet the demand for their pastries and put them on more solid financial footing in the years to come.
Below are some photos and a video of the dough sheeter being installed and tested in June 2019: