(Along with River Road Farm and Commune, Marshall Rabil — pictured — and his team at Hubs Peanuts are spearheading the not-to-be-missed Homegrown Harvest Festival to benefit the Foodbank and The CROP Foundation. Photo credit: Kyle LaFerriere Photography)
By Marisa Marsey
“Me first!” Remember the urgent tug of primacy as a child? Now that I’m grown up, I get that same rush being part of the inaugural anything. How gratifying to preen, “I was there at the start!” Hence my glee when I heard about the Homegrown Harvest Festival, slated for October 7-8 in Franklin, the first in what organizers hope will be a long line of annual celebrations to showcase “the best of Virginia and create national awareness about the bounty that comes from the birthplace of our nation.”
“Best of” encompasses cuisine, music and more during this weekend fest strung over four events. “At the core of Homegrown Harvest is our love and concern for the community we’re so deeply a part of,” says Marshall Rabil, director of sales and marketing for Hubs Peanuts, the festival’s engine along with Commune Restaurant and River Road Farm.
Proceeds will benefit Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore (including its recently opened Western Tidewater Branch) and The CROP Foundation (a non-profit providing education and experiences for students interested in culinary arts, agriculture and related fields).
Rabil shares that the idea for Homegrown Harvest has been swirling in his mind for two decades, since his first job out of college in a small Japanese village near Mount Yoshino, renowned for sakura (cherry blossoms.)
“The Japanese celebrate seasonal changes more than any culture I have experienced,” he says, recalling his two years teaching there. “I came to appreciate the matsuri (festival) of seasons and the variety of foods that came along as they changed.”
That appreciation compelled him to reflect more deeply on his Tidewater upbringing, delighting in its bountiful, cyclical produce, and he lamented a lack of commensurate celebrations. “We are not known as the culinary gem that I think we deserve,” he says. “Across the United States, most regions do not have the same access to all that Virginia has to offer.”
He recounts the fruit and vegetables growing in his grandfather’s garden – tomatoes, corn, butter beans, snaps, cucumbers and squash – like a king inventorying jewels. He remembers picking crabs with his grandmother and following in his parents’ footsteps to oyster roasts.
“Rockfish and tuna was a treat, and we ate country ham sandwiches on the regular. To this day, country ham is the only ham that goes on rolls, biscuits, on a Thanksgiving plate, or with my eggs,” Rabil says, signaling that while he’s third-generation peanut royalty – his maternal grandparents created the specialty peanut category in 1954 by launching Hubbard Peanut Company from their home in Sedley – Homegrown Harvest is more than a peanut party.
Indeed, festivities kick off Saturday at Blackwater Park with a fish and chicken fry, inspired by the fried fish breakfasts Rabil’s grandfather served at Fred’s, Franklin’s oldest restaurant (founded 1945). But along with waxing nostalgic, it nods vigorously to the future. “We’re frying catfish because they’re delicious,” he explains. “But they’re also an invasive species to the Chesapeake Bay, disrupting our national ecosystem, so we need to eat them.”
Further accentuating food’s inextricable link to environmental sustainability, guests can hike amidst loblolly pines and a cypress swamp in the newly-created park to view a turkey nesting conservation project.
Later that night, The Hubs Vine (the dining and shopping venue Hubbard Peanut Company opened in 2020) is the site of the signature Harvest Reception and then Sunday starts with Franklin Rising Brunch at River Road Farm, where Claire and David Benjack raise grass-fed cattle and host a community concert series.
Throughout the weekend, prominent Virginia chefs who have led the locavore charge like Harper Bradshaw (Harper’s Table, Suffolk), Tony Caruana (Luce, Norfolk and Luce Secondo, Chesapeake), Nic Hagen (restaurateur and educator) and Walter Bundy (Shagbark, Richmond) will flex their farm-to-table know-how.
And because Homegrown is not only a salute to abundance but also a way to help secure it for tomorrow, they’ll be assisted by local high school students including those mentored by The CROP Foundation founder Kip Poole (seen on HBO Max’s “The Big Brunch”) along with the visionary chefs at Commune; teens on track to become the next generation of food enthusiasts and professionals.
Still more Old Dominion pedigree flows with beverages by Michael Shaps Wineworks, Cirrus Vodka and Crunchy Hydration and an appearance by Chris Ludford and his acclaimed Pleasure House Oysters.
While news of the festival is spreading, organizers see this first year as an intimate event, drawing primarily from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., planting the seeds for a regional event that will grow in size and impact.
“This is an opportunity to unite our region through a common love of delicious food, great music and art, while helping to put Tidewater on the map nationally as a culinary destination,” says Rabil.
Get your tickets here: secure.givelively.org/event/crop-foundation/homegrown-harvest-festival-2023 and join in this not-to-be-missed, down-to-earth premiere…before those further afield catch wind of it, and we have to get in line.
Homegrown Harvest Festival 2023
Pick and choose events individually or do the whole caboodle for $225.
Saturday, October 7
Opening Kickoff Fish + Chicken Fry (10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), Blackwater Park, 1716 N. High St., Franklin, $50 per person. Fried chicken and fish from David Rabil and noted farmer Elisha Barnes with all the fixings plus live bluegrass music by Common Ground.
The Harvest Reception (6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), The Hubs Vine, 1459 Armory Dr., Franklin, $100 per person. Multiple food stations and passed bites of world-class Virginia cuisine as well as wine, beer and cocktails set to live music.
Sunday, October 8
Franklin Rising Brunch (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.), River Road Farm, 1300 N. High St., Franklin, $100 per person. Seated, three-course open fire meal with specialty cocktails. Guests may arrive via group kayak paddle launching at 9 a.m. from Barrett’s Landing (rentals available through Blackwater Outfitters/Nottoway River Guides or bring your own). Includes entry to Music in the Country.
Music in the Country (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.), River Road Farm, 1300 N. High St., Franklin, $35 per person. Local food trucks and live music from local artists promise a family-friendly afternoon.