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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 10/12/2010

Neighborhood Restaurant Group to begin food education initiative

By Justin Rude

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group already has a big local footprint with a handful of restaurants, a butcher, a caterer and a fantastic beer bar. Now you can add a teaching farm on a historic site to that list. The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, a nonprofit organization started by restaurant group co-owner Michael Babin, will maintain the 128-acre self-supported and environmentally friendly model farm on the grounds of the Woodlawn plantation in Northern Virginia.

The ultimate goal of the farm will be to provide fresh produce to schools and local retailers, but it will also be open to the public. The site will serve as a distribution center for area farmers and feature a stand selling produce grown on the farm itself.

Despite its historic location, Arcadia is not going to be a re-creation of a historic farm. "It's going to be a very contemporary farm," Babin says. "It's going to use the best sustainable farming practices out there, some of which are old-fashioned and some of which are new." Product-wise, the farm will have an eye on history, however, and focus on heirloom and legacy produce.

By next spring, the farm will be producing food and hosting school groups, but it will also be offering classes to the public. "We are going to be a resource for the community," Babin says, "If you are somebody that wants to start an urban farming project or a community garden, we can help you get started and avoid common pitfalls."

DC Central kitchen's Erin Littlestar has been tapped to be the site's farm director, and Babin suggests that the Central Kitchen will be a natural partner. Neighborhood Restaurant Group chefs are also heavily involved; all of the group's chefs are on the board of advisors. That doesn't mean that the restaurants are going to be using the farm as their own backyard garden. "No, they will be purchasing produce at market prices from the farm." Babin explains. "Those purchases will help to support continuing operations there."

-Justin Rude

By Justin Rude  | October 12, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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