PURCELLVILLE, VA — Moutoux Orchard has undergone a lot of change in the last decade. In 2005, the orchard pulled up stakes from its original location near Tysons Corner, moving its operation, barn and all, to what had previously been a companion orchard here in Loudon County. Just as dramatically, the family operation has also transformed itself from a commercial orchard into a full-diet, year-round CSA. This process took place in a number of stages.
In 2008, under the influence of third-generation farmer Rob Moutoux, the operation stopped using a conventional pesticide program in the orchard. It also started diversifying; adding vegetables, grains, lambs and laying hens to its production efforts.
In 2009, Rob started a CSA, providing food for 50 families. Two years later, the CSA became a whole-diet, year-round CSA, adding to their already diverse mix pork, broilers and milk from a small Jersey herd. They also provide beef, though at present that is sometimes sourced off-the farm.
“Our ultimate goal is a closed circle,” said Rob. “To produce everything we grow, including the hay and grain we feed our animals. The only inputs we would buy are minerals.”
In a way, the development of a diversified operation at the orchard is a full-circle evolution, bringing the orchard back to its roots.
The orchard was started by John and Katherine Moutoux as a diversified backyard project with a variety of fruit trees and chickens. As the effort grew, they purchased a 40-acre farm, which became a peach orchard. Son Charles and his wife Sue continued through the years, expanding the operation by buying land and planting orchards further west in Loudon County.
For 30 years Moutoux Orchard was the last commercial orchard in Fairfax County, Virginia – the densely populated community on Washington D.C.’s western edge. Much of their production was sold through a roadside stand. Selling that location and moving west was the initial step in the transformation of the farm into a CSA dedicated to providing, as Rob’s wife Mo (Maureen), said, “wholesome and nutrient-dense foods to a community of members.”
At first, the CSA would deliver produce to its members. Now, the members come to the farm themselves every week, half of them on Tuesdays, the other half on Fridays, to pick up their food for the week, in the orchard’s original barn.
But the food isn’t pre-boxed or pre-bagged: it’s available ‘free choice’. “You can liken it to an all-you-can-eat,” Rob said. Despite not having limitations on what they can take, the CSA members tend to know how much is enough when they’re selecting their Moutoux-supplied groceries for the week. “It’s self-policing,” Mo said. The system works in part because they “shoot for abundance,” as Mo said. “We grow like we’re homesteading for a bunch of people, we grow a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers for people to store themselves.”
That’s about two-and-a-half acres of vegetables. Mo is largely in charge of growing the vegetables, while Rob takes care of the livestock, cover crops and grains. But they and their three full-time employees all pitch in whenever and wherever needed.
The orchard, on a 40-acre site, has the advantage of being surrounded by a fence installed in 1996. It helps keep the deer out of the vegetables and provides a perimeter fence for livestock, kept on smaller parcels of land with electric fence.
The Moutoux family is still working on their ideal production rotation, but for their non-orchard acreages, it will probably be something like three years for cattle, one year for pigs and one year for vegetables.
At present the CSA milks seven Jerseys, made available to the CSA members through a cow-share program. The cows have a bedded pack barn that is a large hoophouse. Compost from the bedded pack is spread on orchards, hayfields and grain fields.
When they have excess milk (and time) they occasionally make yogurt and soft cheeses like ricotta for themselves and the cow-share members.
This year they are aiming to grow enough hay to sustain all of their farm animals. They use perennial forage like an alfalfa-grass mix and will grow annuals like teff. As for grains, they raise wheat and barley, also black beans and kidney beans. This year they’re going to experiment with hulless barley as well. To take off those crops, they have a John Deere 45 combine which they were able to find in well-maintained condition.
Also this year they are trying something new with some of their peaches – growing them under a hoophouse, as a way to keep bugs out and moisture down, thus hopefully reducing the incidence of brown rot.
Inside the hoophouse they also keep ducks for eggs to provide their CSA members.
In addition to orchard fruit, the orchard also grows blackberries, blueberries and figs for their CSA members. “We’ve come a long way in five years,” Rob said. Building a whole-diet, year-round CSA, with such a wide array of products, isn’t something that happens overnight.
With the CSA fully subscribed and their production system largely in place, growth in future years will be directed toward finalizing infrastructure improvements and perfecting production methods.
Their growth has only been possible, Rob and Mo both stress, with the support of both their CSA members and Rob’s parents. “They’ve been very supportive,” Mo said.
The CSA members – and the hopeful members on the wait list – aren’t the only ones who appreciate what they are doing. This year, they were recognized with a Rural Innovation Award from a local regional association dedicated to highlighting agricultural producers with distinctive approaches to economic prosperity within the agricultural realm.