While some fear Purcellville is losing its small-town identity as new shopping complexes and subdivisions emerge from former farmland, the town isn’t surrendering its centuries-long status as the economic hub of western Loudoun’s rural economy.
That role will be on full display Saturday, Feb. 25, when the town hosts the Loudoun Grown Expo at the historic Bush Tabernacle Skating Rink.
The event, now in its seventh year, showcases under a single roof the area’s rich diversity of small farms, wineries, a rapidly expanding craft brewery movement, artisans, galleries, specialty food providers, and restaurants. Consider it a feast of the best of western Loudoun’s agricultural traditions, as well as a mingling of the area’s fast-emerging spirits and artisanal-focused trades.
The Loudoun Grown Expo will draw representatives from nearly a dozen farms—including stalwarts Great County, Wegmeyer, and Potomac Vegetable Farms—five area wineries, including longtime notables Fabbioli Cellars and North Gate Vineyards, as well as award-winning Adroit Theory brewery, and numerous arts and crafts vendors. Food will also be available, from kettle corn, artisanal cheeses, to Lothar’s Gourmet Sausages.
The town today is very different from the Purcellville of 1903, when the tabernacle was built in the tiny rural outpost mostly known as a railroad stop where anti-prohibition rallies drew thousands. Open-air, Evangelical gatherings decrying the evil of drink became so popular they were known as “Bush rallies”—so-named because they were held amidst literal dusty bushes.
Decades later, when the building was converted to a skating rink in the late 1940s to cater to bored rural youth, the facility was named the “Bush Center.” Kids in Zoot suits, cool and aloof, affected by the revolutionary new music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, strapped on roller skates and tirelessly skated around a small, wooden floor while attentive adults hovered, monitoring for consumption of the “devil’s brew” or other such immoral, rock ’n’ roll-inspired activities.
The 7th Annual Loudoun Grown Expo
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25
Bush Tabernacle Skating Rink, 250 S. Nursery Ave., Purcellville
Cost: $2/person ($3/family), free to Purcellville residents
More information: loudoungrownexpo.org
“How ironic that, 114 years later, western Loudoun is now known as the epicenter of the wine and craft beer industry,” said a laughing Philip Message, president of Purcellville’s Bush Tabernacle Skating Rink.
Message and his spouse, France, took over day-to-day operations of the Bush Tabernacle, which the Town of Purcellville renamed after assuming control of it from the local fire department in 2010. The expo was launched by town government leaders as a way to spotlight the area’s agricultural and artisanal bounty. The town government funded the Loudoun Grown Expo for the first five years of its existence. Once that support expired, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development, which previously supplied marketing support, didn’t hesitate to step in provide financial assistance.
“We’re very supportive of the Loudoun Grown Expo,” Kellie Hinkle, Loudoun’s agricultural development officer, said. “It’s important to our rural-based economy in western Loudoun. It’s a celebration of our agriculture, especially since it’s the winter and no one’s thinking about the beauty of what’s to come in the spring. It’s a glimmer of light in a bleak winter period,” she said, “a rich reminder of the bounty to come.”
Loudoun Grown Expo vendors agree about the event’s positive impact.
“Our farms need more exposure in the local community. Farmers need to know their customers, and it helps for consumers to meet and get to know the people growing their food,” said Jill Evans-Kavaldjian, farm stand manager for Potomac Vegetable Farm, which has participated in the Loudoun Grown Expo the past two years. “It establishes long-term relationships.”
The farm has provided sustainably grown produce for area residents and passersby for decades and it supports events that emphasize the contributions of local growers. Evans-Kavaldjian adds that the expo also has a welcome absence of red tape, which helps artisans of all kinds, with limited budgets, to easily participate.
“Supporting local farming and area artisans just makes sense to us,” Evans-Kavaldjian said.
Message, a Brit who came to Loudoun County in the 1980s to work in the nascent IT industry and now calls Purcellville home, said the event has evolved organically, as a result of his team’s careful attention to feedback from vendors and participants over the years.
“Our vendors take less and less time each year to sign up for the next expo. They recognize the value of it, which consistently attracts several thousand people annually,” Message said. “It’s become one of Purcellville’s signature events and we’re proud to host it.”