Homegrown Harvest Festival set for Oct. 7-8

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The city of Franklin will be the celebrated home to the inaugural Homegrown Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 7, and Sunday, Oct. 8, showcasing what Western Tidewater has to offer across four different events over the course of the weekend.

Tickets were still available for three of the four events as of Tuesday, Sept. 26.

The festival will begin Oct. 7 at Blackwater Park with the Opening Kickoff Fish + Chicken Fry. Festivities will move to The Hubs Vine that evening for The Harvest Reception, which was the event sold out as of Sept. 26.

On Oct. 8, the festival will move to River Road Farm for the Franklin Rising Brunch, and then that afternoon guests can take in the latest edition of the farm’s Music in the Country concert series that has drawn national recording acts during its run.

Partnering to help make this inaugural festival possible are Hubs Peanuts, Commune Restaurant and River Road Farm, with cooperation from the city of Franklin.

A news release from Hubs noted that the event will benefit Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and The CROP Foundation, furthering their missions and creating new opportunities for student involvement with the Foodbank’s new Western Tidewater Branch in Franklin.

HOW THE FESTIVAL CAME ABOUT

“I think we have such an incredible region of ingredients in food culture in history that I feel like there’s a much bigger opportunity to celebrate it,” Hubs Peanuts Director of Sales and Marketing and Co-Owner Marshall Rabil said. “We’re in peanut country and ham country just in Western Tidewater, but the access that we have to the Chesapeake Bay with our oysters and our crab and rockfish and the different seafood that we have is pretty much unmatched.”

He said that since moving back to the area, “I’ve wanted to create a festival around the food and the scene. And the peanuts, really, for us, is a big part of a party but also just can be used as an ingredient in a number of different ways. And so how do we put our brand and our region at the forefront of food? Well, have a party in peanut country where we bring chefs from the state that are already working so well with these ingredients.”

He noted that the people from Commune Restaurant were an inspiration to him when he first returned to the area, and he said they were early adopters of the farm-to-table movement.

WebstaurantStore.com notes that “farm to table, also known as farm to fork, can be defined as a social movement where restaurants source their ingredients from local farms …”

Commune has locations in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and its website describes it as a farm-to-table restaurant that “is founded on the philosophy that the best tasting food just also happens to be the freshest and healthiest food both for the eater and our environment.”

Rabil said in addition to his loving Commune’s farm-to-table approach, the restaurant was using peanuts from Hubs. In 2021, Commune representatives came to Franklin and helped Hubs put on an event to kick off its partnership with the Foodbank.

The partnership between Hubs and the Foodbank has developed and led to a partnership with local peanut farmer Elisha Barnes and a project called Izzie’s Field.

A release from the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce noted that Izzie’s Field is a farm-to-Foodbank project aiming to increase the availability of fresh produce to the community while also supporting Barnes’ hardworking and generous spirit.

“What we hope to do is fund Izzie’s Field with our (festival) efforts here,” Rabil said, “and the BackPack Program, depending on how much money we’re able to raise. But our goal would be to fund the projects that are specifically happening here in Western Tidewater.”

River Road Farm is described on its website as a place where its owners “specialize in providing ethically raised, grass-fed beef to your restaurant or home.”

Rabil said that when David and Claire Benjack also opened up their home to the Music in the Country concert series, it created an opportunity to expand the festival to the farm.

Referencing the concert series, Rabil said, “We get anywhere from 100 to 200 people out there on a Sunday afternoon to listen to national recording acts that have come. We’ve had some really good musicians, and that’s all now a fundraiser for the Foodbank as well.”

Education is also a thread that Rabil has woven into the fabric of the Homegrown Harvest Festival, and one key area in which that is represented is in the involvement of The CROP Foundation.

The foundation’s website notes that it is “fostering educational and employment opportunities for innovative culinary students through unique culinary events.”

The Hubs news release about the festival noted that student volunteers from local high school culinary programs will help facilitate the festival’s food offerings, with assistance from chefs and mentors from the Hubs, Commune and River Road Farm teams.

Rabil said he wants the festival to be for everyone in the community — particularly Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties — who is interested in food, community engagement and education.

“I want this to be a celebration of home, something that we can be proud of,” he said.

He asked the question, “Can we get high-caliber chefs and entertainment to come out here, like what River Road Farm is doing with Music in the Country?”

He later added, “We can have elevated events with higher-quality food and ingredients and entertainment as well out here, so let’s try.”

As noted in the Hubs news release, food featured during the festival will be handcrafted by acclaimed area chefs, including Harper Bradshaw from Harper’s Table in Suffolk; Kip Poole, who was on HBO Max’s “The Big Brunch” and runs The CROP Foundation; and Sedley native and experienced chef Nic Hagen; as well as select out-of-town guest chefs like Walter Bundy, owner and chef at Shagbark in Richmond; Chef Sarah Betcher, of Zoe’s Steak and Seafood; and Chef Willson Craigie, owner and executive chef of Commune. Capt. Chris Ludford, from Pleasure House Oysters, will serve Lynnhaven’s best oysters and provide education on sustainable aquaculture.

The release also noted that beverage providers at the festival will include Michael Shaps Wineworks, Cirrus Vodka, Crunchy Hydration Barboursville Vineyards, Williamsburg Winery, Smartmouth Brewing Co., Backpocket Provisions and Ragged Branch Distillery.

Following is scheduling information provided by Hubs in its news release.

OPENING KICKOFF FISH + CHICKEN FRY

This event will take place Oct. 7 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Blackwater Park, which is located at 1716 N. High St. in Franklin.

Guests can expect fried chicken and catfish from David Rabil and Elisha Barnes with fixings. There will be live music from bluegrass band Common Ground and hiking around the park. 

“We didn’t have (Blackwater Park) until this past year,” Marshall Rabil said, noting he hopes the festival will raise awareness about the resource that the park is and the educational value that it holds for students and the community. “We haven’t had any kind of party there yet. This’ll be the first party there.”

THE HARVEST RECEPTION

This event will take place Oct. 7 from 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. at The Hubs Vine, which is located at 1459 Armory Drive in Franklin.

The reception will feature the best of Virginia cuisine with multiple food stations and passed bites, as well as wine, beer and cocktails with live music from acclaimed area musicians.

FRANKLIN RISING BRUNCH

This event will take place Oct. 8 from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at River Road Farm, which is located at 1300 N. High St. in Franklin.

For those interested, there will be a group kayak paddle to the venue leaving at 9 a.m. from Barrett’s Landing in Franklin. Kayaks can be rented through Blackwater Outfitters and Nottoway River Guides, or guests can bring their own. The brunch will feature a seated three-course open-fire meal with specialty cocktails and music by South Hill Banks. Tickets include entry to Music in the Country.

“I’m so excited about the open-fire brunch that we have on Sunday that people can kayak to if they chose to,” Rabil said, “because you come from downtown and pass the mill and get into the Blackwater and then go to the farm, which I think is really cool.”

MUSIC IN THE COUNTRY

This event will take place Oct. 8 from 1-5 p.m. at River Road Farm.

Guests can look forward to a family-friendly event with local food trucks, provisions from Moontide Sundries and live music from Boston-based Couch, with opening act Holy Roller from Richmond.

HOW TO PURCHASE TICKETS

Rabil referred people to secure.givelively.org/event/crop-foundation/homegrown-harvest-festival-2023 as the go-to place to purchase tickets for the Homegrown Harvest Festival.

He said they can also access this site through the festival’s Instagram page — www.instagram.com/homegrownharvestfestival/, and there are posters up around Franklin with QR codes that, when scanned, will also direct people to the ticket site.