Inaugural Homegrown Harvest Festival highlights home

Published 8:40 pm Saturday, October 14, 2023

The inaugural Homegrown Harvest Festival showcased the culinary, recreational, educational and cultural offerings of Western Tidewater from Franklin on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 8, and raised at least $30,000 to benefit Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and The CROP Foundation.

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

“Honestly, I am thrilled with the turnout, how it all went, the cause,” said Marshall Rabil, director of sales and marketing and co-owner of Hubs Peanuts.

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

Helping make the festival possible were culinary students from Franklin High School and Southampton High School, who worked with acclaimed chefs from around Virginia that came to Franklin to prepare food for the event.

“Watching the students work together alongside the chefs was great,” Rabil said. “I thought that was really special to see students from Franklin and Southampton working with Chef Walter Bundy and Harper Bradshaw and all of the folks we had in town.

“I think the food was phenomenal,” Rabil continued. “The oysters, the crab, the clams, rockfish, we had tomahawk ribeyes, we had Cartwright family pigs.”

Rabil noted that the clams came from a local company, Lambert Shellfish; the oysters were courtesy of Capt. Chris Ludford and Pleasure House Oysters; Cartwright Family Farms smoked the pigs; River Road Farm provided the tomahawk ribeyes and eggs; and the rockfish and crab came from the Chesapeake Bay.

“Those were really nice ingredients that we were able to use,” Rabil said.

HOW THINGS WENT, EVENT BY EVENT

The festival began Saturday morning with the Opening Kickoff Chicken and Fish Fry, which drew 75 to 100 people to Blackwater Park for food prepared by David Rabil, Elisha Barnes and the students.

“We were eating the invasive blue catfish that the Virginia Marine Products Board donated,” Marshall Rabil said. In the area, the catfish are “eating a lot of the crab, and they’re eating the rockfish, and so we’re currently harvesting 3 million pounds of the catfish, and we need to harvest about 10 million pounds in order to create a sustainable ecosystem for the bay.”

The Harvest Reception at The Hubs Vine on Saturday evening drew 150 to 175 people.

Then on Sunday, the festival moved to River Road Farm, first for the Franklin Rising Brunch and then for the Music in the Country concert series.

Rabil said 225 to 250 people attended the brunch.

“What a beautiful day yesterday was, just ideal fall weather,” he said in a Monday, Oct. 9, interview. “Chris Ludford, from Pleasure House Oysters, was smoking some trout and bluefish that he had caught the day before. Harper Bradshaw grilled the tomahawk ribeyes with the eggs, and I think that was probably a highlight obviously at River Road Farm to be eating River Road Farm beef on the farm.

“We did have people paddle from Barrett’s Landing to the farm,” Rabil added, “so we had Blackwater Outfitters involved with getting guests from Barrett’s Landing in Franklin to the farm, which is a pretty unique element. That was really cool.”

Rabil described the brunch as the pinnacle of the festival because of all the displays of food preparation offered to those in attendance, including the cooking of crab and clams, the roasting of the pig and the chopping of steaks.

“Just having all of that as an open-kitchen format was really the highlight, and it was really special,” he said. “It was just showcasing, really, some phenomenal ingredients, with great chefs.”

The Music in the Country concert series featured Holy Roller and Coach, and Rabil said it drew 325 to 350 people, including everyone from the brunch.

“It was good to kick that off for the fall season,” he said of the concert series. “I’m very excited about the acts that are coming the rest of this fall.”

HOW THE MONEY RAISED WILL BE USED

Rabil said while the amount of money raised by the festival is still being reconciled, with confidence and an underestimation of what the festival will ultimately be able to donate, he cited an amount of $30,000.

He said 80% of the funds will go to students at The CROP Foundation for culinary arts experiences and education. 

Through the foundation, the students working at the festival were paid a stipend to be there.

The festival is also making scholarships possible.

“One student will be able to go to at least to The Inn at Little Washington, which is a Michelin-star restaurant and lodge near D.C.,” Rabil said. “There’s discussions about potentially working with someone in Paris as well.”

The remaining 20% of the funds raised will be for the Foodbank to fund Izzie’s Field next year.

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.

“So the seeds and whatever’s needed out there, they estimate that their expenses were about $5,000, so we’ll easily be able to fund Izzie’s Field, which I think is a really cool community garden project that has evolved from Hubs Peanuts’ partnership with the Foodbank,” Rabil said. “So that’s pretty cool that we can fund that, and that’d be a goal in subsequent years to always be able to do that, plus some.”

THE FUTURE OF THE FESTIVAL

Rabil said he hopes to see the Homegrown Harvest Festival become an annual celebration of both the harvest season and the best that Franklin and Southampton County has to offer.

“We certainly would welcome more (festival) volunteers,” he said.

Additionally, for future iterations of the festival, he is considering the possibility of adding an opportunity between the Opening Kickoff Chicken and Fish Fry and The Harvest Reception for attendees to volunteer to shock peanuts for an hour or so at Izzie’s Field.

“Part of the homegrown harvest would be to get our hands in the dirt and be a part of that project as an attendee,” he said.