Fauquier community rallies around Stribling Orchard, who suffered three disasters this year.
By Beth Luna
Markham, in northern Fauquier County, is home to several popular destinations for families looking for fresh air and great views in the beautiful Virginia countryside. Stribling Orchard tops the list as a Fauquier family tradition for six generations and just over 200 years, offering pick-your-own apples, cider, local honey and baked goods, picnicking, and farm animal visits. The fall season usually brings visitors by the carload to the orchard to enjoy this much-loved family destination, but 2020 served up several hits to the Stribling family — COVID-19, a heavy frost, and then a barn fire — rendering the operation closed until 2021.
“We always get some sort of frost, and we welcome that because it thins the trees,” said Stacia Stribling. “Apples grow in bunches of five, and you don’t want them all to survive because the apples compete for nutrients and stay small. There is a critical temperature you can’t drop below for a critical number of hours or there are devastating consequences, and that is what we had in May — 98 percent of our crop was lost. A few survived — the Yorks and Romes — because those are late-season apples. We thought okay, we can open for one weekend in October, but then we had the fire.”
Stacia’s sister in Florida pressed the couple to let her start a GoFundMe account when orchard fans asked about donating after the fire. “Insurance covers the buildings, so we were hesitant. But with no monthly income to cover the orchard costs and get the trees ready for next year, we agreed.” Donations from the community poured in,
On a Friday afternoon in September, while Stacia and her daughter were reading, her husband Robert was in his home office with their son, who glanced out the window and saw the barn in flames. “We have one full time and one part time employee on the farm, and they sprang into action, letting the animals out and going into the buildings that were not engulfed, saving equipment, iPads, safes with money — anything they could grab,” Stacia said. “Thank God for them. They directed our son to watch the goats in the field, giving him a focus, while they worked. We did lose some equipment and all of our supplies for the orchard, like maps, pick poles, toilet paper, and other supplies.”
With the orchard supplies lost, the one planned October weekend was not possible, and the family turned its attention to recovery. “We are trying to think of the positive in this,” she said. “For instance, the entrance has always been single-car and we talked about changing it to re-route traffic and make things easier, but never got around to it. This is our opportunity — we can make those changes as well as moving the snack shack to a better location and we can build the barn differently. We would like to make room for partnerships, too. Randy Morgan, who owns Naked Mountain Winery, has approached us about doing a hard cider and we’ve tossed the idea of a cider shack around. For now, we are beginning the long process of cleaning up, sketching out ideas, and working with insurance who will cover the barn costs.”
Stacia is a native New Yorker, growing up on Long Island, cutting school to go to the beach and Broadway shows. “I had not lived the farm life before moving here 14 years ago, and now I am snuggling goats and gathering eggs!” Robert grew up on the very farm where the orchard is located and it’s all he has ever known. Born in California, he and his family moved back when he was three years old. “His dad was running the farm, and we assumed we would inherit it at some point because he is the oldest of five and his grandmother established the line that way,” Stacia said. “We also assumed his dad would be on the farm until the end of his days, and we were a little surprised when he announced in 2006 that he was done and was ready to hand it over to us.” Stacia was living in Jeffersonton at the time, finishing her doctorate, and Robert was (and still is) at Northrop Grumman. They commuted for several years, working at the farm on the weekends while Robert’s sister and her husband managed the operation. “When the kids were born, we wanted to be in Fauquier County full time, so we decided to dive in. We totally gutted the 200 year old farmhouse, finishing a huge renovation three years ago.”
Anyone in farming will tell you that it’s not the money that keeps you moving. “Our cousins own nearby Hartland Orchard, and they have branched out with agritainment, like a corn maze and vegetables,” Stacia said. “This can extend your season and help profits. Rob is at Northrop Grumman and I teach in the School of Education graduate program at George Mason University, while both of us manage the farm.” Their cousin raises beef cattle, and when his sales dropped because of the pandemic, the Striblings saw an opportunity. Pasture-raised Stribling Beef is now available for order on the Stribling Orchard website.
Stacia’s sister in Florida pressed the couple to let her start a GoFundMe account when orchard fans asked about donating after the fire. “Insurance covers the buildings, so we were hesitant. But with no monthly income to cover the orchard costs and get the trees ready for next year, we agreed.” Donations from the community poured in, and to date over $24,000 has been raised in support. “Our customers and orchard families have been amazing — families who have been coming for years, past employees and seasonal workers like our Leeds Episcopal friends. Most of the workers at the orchard are from the church community — their attendance drops during apple season because of us!” The tightly-knit farming community, including Naked Mountain Vineyard and Hollin Farms, are helping as well and looking at ways to collaborate. “Our three orchards are always hanging out,” Stacia said. “Last year, we had a Farmsgiving together with farmers in the area. It just speaks to our community here.”
“It is very powerful to see what his place means to people,” she added. “We have Family Legacy Day, when we see three generations of people at the orchard making memories. There are picnics and pictures in front of the same apple tree year after year — It’s truly amazing.” While the orchard is not welcoming guests for the 2020 season, they absolutely have their sights set on 2021. “We are Stribling strong, and we are coming back! We appreciate everybody hanging in there with us and know we appreciate you and will see you soon!”
11587 Poverty Hollow Lane, Markham