- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

Springtime always sends city folk flocking to the country.

Worlds away, but actually only miles from Metro and museums, country life is celebrated in the odoriferous air, the homegrown fruits and veggies, the snorting sows and the inquisitive billy goats.

These days, scores of farmers make a business out of welcoming city slickers to the greener pastures just outside the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Most small-farm operators are wholesale or retail growers, and they provide a welcome change of pace for their day visitors.

Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Va., is one such place. Just an hour door-to-door (beware speeders) from North Arlington, Great Country is a 200-acre potpourri of animals, plants and minerals (which certainly are found in the ever-present mud, an unhappy byproduct of this year’s onslaught of snow and rain).

The site is owned and operated by Kate and Mark Zurschmeide, who live on the property with their four young children. The farm’s mainstay is community-supported agriculture, says the amiable Ms. Zurschmeide: Consumers pay for homegrown fruits and vegetables in advance of the growing season, the farmers plant based on the investment, and the consumers share in the bounty.

In addition, during the months of April through October, public visits are welcomed daily by the Zurschmeide family, who invite children and adults alike to take a mostly self-guided look at farm life.

There’s a lot to behold.

A domestic flock of geese, headed by mom Lucy and the great white dad Hinky-Dinky who was hatched at the farm, by the way waddles about the barnyard. Pens of animals ripe for the petting include bunnies, miniature donkeys, calves, goats and pigs galore.

There’s a little herd of adorable ponies yes, rides are offered on weekends including Partner, an impossibly tiny, creamy brown Chincoteague pony.

People enjoy meeting the animals face to face and finding out about them, Ms. Zurschmeide says.

“You learn about farm animals and the big red barn when you’re young,” she says. “I think there’s a trend that people really want to come back to the farm.”

It might seem that way if Great Country Farms’ numbers are noted: May and October are the busiest months at the property, with more than 1,500 visitors over a May weekend, Ms. Zurschmeide says. Fall harvest time can bring 2,000 to 3,000 per weekend, she says.

They’re not just coming to take a gander at the animals. Visitors to the farm also can fish in a half-acre catch-and-release pond stocked with catfish and bass. They might see a turtle within and even may be able to lure one to the surface with a tasty morsel of bread or turtle food from a quarter-operated machine.

Visitors can take a hayride out to the pick-your-own fields with everything from herbs to asparagus to broccoli, or maybe even visit the flower garden to cut a bouquet to take home for the table.

A large, grassy play area for children contains a 60-foot slide, tunnels, a willow maze and an old tractor just right for climbing. Visitors can picnic, stroll or take a nap.

It’s all enough to exhaust a tenderfoot, but Ms. Zurschmeide says a visit to a farm really is meant for repose.

“People just want to relax and create memories with their children,” she says. “They want to start the tradition of berry picking with their kids. It’s a great getaway. Come and spread your picnic blanket out. There’s not a better way to see the countryside.”

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