From Farm to Table at National Trust Historic Sites
With the harvest season upon us, three National Trust Historic Sites are celebrating their agricultural roots with festivals and dinners. Here, we explore the harvest-related events at these sites—Woodlawn in Alexandria, Virginia; Filoli in Woodside, California; and The Shadows in New Iberia, Louisiana—and how celebrations like these connect with their history.
If you were lucky enough to snag tickets to the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture’s third annual Fall Harvest Dinner at Woodlawn on October 9, come hungry. This year’s event features nine local chefs who will each prepare a dish, and a local mixologist who will provide cocktails.
If you didn’t get tickets to the sold-out event, organized by chef Will Morris of Alexandria, Virginia’s Vermilion restaurant, set a reminder for yourself for next year. Not only does the Fall Harvest Dinner treat your taste buds to dishes based around seasonal, locally sourced ingredients (many of which come from Arcadia Farm on Woodlawn’s grounds), but it’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with the history of Woodlawn, a 126-acre estate in Alexandria, Virginia, with deep roots in farming.
Tables are set up in view of Woodlawn’s Federal-style mansion, which was constructed between 1800 and 1805 for George Washington’s nephew Major Lawrence Lewis, and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter. It was once part of a 2,000-acre plantation. In the 1840s, Lewis sold much of the land to Quaker timber merchants, who created a farming community using free labor to show that a farm can be run successfully without using enslaved workers.
A National Trust-owned site since 1952, Woodlawn today features a restored house and gardens, and since 2010, it’s been home to the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more equitable food system in the Washington, D.C., area.
“Arcadia is all about creating a supply of well-grown food and farmers who grow food well,” says Arcadia’s executive director Pamela Hess.
The Fall Harvest Dinner is a continuation of Arcadia’s mission of celebrating and promoting locally grown food. It’s also a fundraiser for the Arcadia Veteran Farmer Program, which trains military veterans for careers in agriculture.
Diners at Filoli’s third Farm to Table Dinner event in August started with an arugula salad with shaved fennel, Filoli-grown stone fruit, pecans, pecorino, and a pear vinaigrette. Dinner ended with an apple crumble (featuring apples from Filoli’s orchards), topped with lemon verbena-infused whipped cream. In between, there was roasted chicken with lemon, rosemary, and prosciutto; a petite tenderloin; summer ratatouille with zucchini, bell pepper, eggplant, onion, tomatoes, and basil; creamy mashed potatoes; and broccolini with toasted garlic and lemon.
“Where we can supply produce from the garden, we do,” says Jim Salyards, head of horticulture at Filoli. Other ingredients came from nearby farms. And all the wine served hailed from Northern California’s wine region.
The feast was a celebration of locally grown foods, served family-style in the front courtyard of the estate. Filoli is in the middle of a three-year centennial celebration. Last year’s celebrations focused on the land; next year’s will focus on the gardens. This year, the focus is on the house and collections. So, Salyards says, hosting the dinner in the shadows of the Georgian Revival mansion made sense.
Filoli was designed between 1915 and 1917 for prominent San Franciscans William and Agnes Bourn. It was a gentleman’s farm, with a small orchard and a kitchen garden, as well as extensive formal gardens. The Bourns both died in 1936, and after new owners took over in 1937, the garden gained international recognition. The house and land was donated to the National Trust in 1975, and since then, the estate’s house, 16-acre English Renaissance garden, 6.8-acre orchard, and extensive trail system has been open to the public.
While the Farm to Table Dinner is a nod to Filoli’s history, it’s also aligns with the site’s mission to promote the roles of gardens and farming in modern life.
“People are recognizing the importance of preserving farms and supporting farmers,” Salyards says. “[This event] is a chance to recognize where your food comes from—from places like this.”
Built in 1834 on the banks of the Bayou Teche, The Shadows in New Iberia, Louisiana, was originally the home of sugar planter David Weeks. The Classic Revival-style home housed four generations of the Weeks family. Today, visitors to the National Trust Historic Site can learn the family’s story through the site’s rich collection of family letters, photographs, documents, and other artifacts.
While the site’s origins in the sugar industry are always on full display, this fall, it was celebrated with extra gusto. On September 22, The Shadows partnered with the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival Association to host the first-ever Farm Fest, a celebration of the state’s sugar cane industry, as part of the 75th annual Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival.
It’s been many years since The Shadows played host to events at the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival. The festival’s return to the site was exciting, says Pat Kahle, executive director of The Shadows.
“We have a lot of people here who remember those early festivals, so we wanted to recreate that,” she says.
The family event featured carnival games, a petting zoo, square dancing demonstrations, live music, a farmers market, food stands, and, of course, sugar cane tastings. The Shadows offered free tours of its fully restored house and gardens to visitors, focusing heavily on the site’s connection to the sugar cane industry and the industry’s regional development.
“This has been a chance to re-introduce people to The Shadows, and to bring new people to us,” Kahle says. “And it’s a chance to celebrate the [sugar cane] industry.”