In bucolic western Loudoun, a trio of idealistic millennials are working to transform a family farm into a community institution. And one of their first initiatives is a new program to educate and empower teen girls.
Potomac Vegetable Farms near Purcellville has long been a beloved spot for locals, with its charming summer produce stand. But this summer, third generation farmer Stephen Bradford, his partner Julia Metzger-Traber and longtime family friend Sophia Maravell are taking things up a notch at the farm.
PVF launches its inaugural Root to Rise farm-based leadership program this July. The program will bring together a small group of young women to work on everything from gardening and nature skills to discussing ecology and economics to building self-confidence through movement and creativity.
“Root to Rise is one of our first pilots that’s an expression of the new branch of community and engagement that we want to be developing out here,” Metzger-Traber said.
It’s an exciting new chapter for the farm, launched by Bradford’s grandparents, Tony and Hiu Newcomb, who started their farm in Fairfax County before expanding west to Loudoun in the ’70s. For the three 30-somethings, the power of farming goes beyond agriculture. And Root to Rise is of the first of many planned programs to make the farm a community hub.
For Bradford, 30, who grew up on the family farm in Fairfax County, coming back to Northern Virginia and taking an active role on the Loudoun farm was a journey inspired in part by meeting Metzger-Traber while both were earning master’s degrees in Peace and Conflict Transformation at Innsbruck University in Austria.
“Julia became a bridge back to the farm for me. What I was looking for was a way to engage with the potential that I experienced growing up on the farm,” Bradford said. “There was an incredible sense of overlap and mutual inspiration in the visions that we had for developing and cultivating the farm as a place that speaks to the broader needs of society and that really taps into the full transformative potential of this place, not only for producing vegetables but also for impacting the surrounding communities and creating an opportunity for living differently.”
Bradford wrote his thesis on boosting community engagement at the farm, and the couple moved to a house on the 180-acre property near Wheatland last year. Their 10-month-old daughter, Shaia Rose, was born on the farm last July, bringing the family’s fourth generation onto the land. Bradford’s grandfather died in 1984 but grandmother Hiu is still very much at the helm of the operation, and his aunt Hana Newcomb manages the farm.
“We feel incredibly blessed to have access to elders who are both a source of wisdom and experience but also have been very open and generous in allowing us to experiment and to try to find our own way in this process,” Bradford said
Bradford’s longtime friend Maravell grew up in Montgomery County, MD, where her father Nick Maravell ran the well-known Nick’s Organic Farm, which he still operates in neighboring Frederick County. With farming in her blood, Maravell cultivated her passion for working with children at the Brickyard Educational Farm in Potomac, MD, and earned a master’s degree in education. When her friends brought up plans to boost community programming at PVF, she was all in.
“We all have been talking about similar visions for a broader community education center that’s based around a farm—how can a farm be a center for community and how can it be a space for healing,” Maravell said.
The trio has plans to expand community engagement with an interactive garden and plans to welcome school groups starting this fall. But all three knew that the first step would be a program for high school-aged girls, in part because of the farm’s long history of female leadership.
“We looked at the amazing female role models here,” Maravell said “We thought it was important at that stage as young women who are really getting a lot of influences about how their bodies should look, what kinds of jobs they should be going into, what they should be interested in. It’s really important to offer an alternative model to that. … I would love for them to come away with a deeper sense of themselves—physically within their own bodies, more spiritually or ecologically connected with nature.”
The program will host teens ages 14 to 18 and offer two five-day sessions: July 24-28 and July 30-Aug. 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with a celebratory overnight on the last day of each session. Organizers are currently accepting rolling applications on the farm’s website. The program fee is $300 but sliding scale fees are available, and organizers are committed to making the program accessible to a diverse population of all income levels, with a focus on building teamwork and leadership along with a sense of the land.
“Farming offers this glimpse into realizing your agency in life,” Metzger-Traber said. “In society, you aren’t taught all the options you would actually have as an adult and what life could look like and how creative you can be…It opens up a whole sense of agency and creativity with your life as your creative project.”
The Root to Rise farm-based leadership program for girls ages 14 to 18 is offered in two sessions, July 24-28 and July 30-Aug. 3, at Potomac Vegetable Farms. Apply at potomacvegetablefarms.com/r2rapplication.