Local Food Hub Honors Critzer

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Whitney Critzer
Whitney Critzer

The Local Food Hub in Ivy, a two-year-old nonprofit organization that serves as a marketing and warehouse service for local farmers, presented its annual Community Food Awards Sept. 15. Afton farmer Whitney Critzer was awarded the Agricultural Endurance Award.

Given the podium, Critzer told the crowd on hand to witness the presentations, which included local government officials from Albemarle and Nelson Counties and representatives from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, that his farm traces back five generations. He said when he first heard of the Local Fund Hub, he thought to himself, “‘just what the world needs, another Internet farmer.’ But that year we began together and the relationship has been good for us.”

Critzer said he is the descendant of a Hessian soldier captured during the American Revolution and held in Albemarle. When the war ended and he was released, his ancestor started walking west and at Afton found a man who took him in. In the end, Critzer said, he inherited the farm.

“Thirty years ago we got into direct marketing of things we didn’t know much about,” he said. Formerly the family had mainly raised cattle. “We found out people would drive from Charlottesville to pick strawberries, but not for a head of broccoli. The Hub gives us access to buyers we otherwise couldn’t get to. We thank you.”

Critzer said some 2,000 children have picked strawberries on his farm this year. “We give them an outing on the farm. Most people do not know where food comes from.”

He said that 90 percent of their crops had been destroyed in a hail storm July 3. It was a $100,000 loss. The next day, the family started replanting everything. “Hopefully they have time to make it.” He asked the crowd to please buy local broccoli, tomatoes and cauliflower.

The Community Mentor Award went to Richard Bean of Double H Farm in Wingina, known locally for its flavorful sausage and as a stalwart of the Charlottesville city market.

The Partner Producer Award went to father and son Jose and Adolfo Calixto of Singing Earth Produce, a 30-acre farm in Augusta County. LFH leaders credited them with consistent production, and twice-a-week delivery, of top quality produce. “They have the productivity of a small village,” said LFH co-founder Kate Collier.

The LFH also honored buyers of locally grown food. The Institutional Leader Award went to the University of Virginia Health System for its efforts to include locally grown food in the hospital cafeteria and its other food service operations. Accepting the award, health system senior director John Nichols said, “It’s great to get recognized for doing the right thing. We started four years ago to get healthy local food for our patients. We needed a reliable supplier. We reached the ultimate goal.” In the last two years, he said, U.Va. has bought $83,000 of local food. “It’s a great partnership.”

The Small Business, Big Impact Awrd went to Integral Yoga Natural Foods, which has put an earnest emphasis on providing local products since it opened in 1975. They are a large buyer from the LFH.

The Trailblazer Award went to Alicia Cost and Sandra Vasquez of Charlottesville City Schools, who the LFH praised for overcoming red tape to get fresh local food in the city’s school cafeterias.

The Volunteer-of-the-Year Award went to Wayne Hansen, alias “super Wayne.”

Working within existing markets, the LFH has purchased more than $750,000 of locally grown food from more than 70 area farms since it opened in 2009. ver 120 local businesses—restaurants, schools and grocery stores—are getting supplies from the Hub.

“The real reason we exist is because of our farmers,” said LFH co-founder Marisa Vrooman. “It’s the hardest profession out there. They endure financial hardship. They keep local food available. They are the trustees of our heritage.”