MEADOWVIEW, Va. — Jason Von Kundra never planned on being a farmer when he was a kid growing up in Northern Virginia.
He even begrudged the laborious task of working in his family’s garden.
But while studying environmental science at George Mason University more than five years ago, something clicked for the college student who grew a passion for the field of agriculture.
By all accounts he looks and talks like a farmer these days.
Dressed in soil-covered T-shirt and cargo shorts, Von Kundra made his way through rows of garden produce at Harvest Table Farm on Smyth Chapel Road in Meadowview, Virginia, where he has been the farm manager nearly a year.
“I’ve spent the day planting mustard greens, cabbage, and broccoli that will be ready to eat by October. August is a good time to plant fall crops,” advised Von Kundra, as he toured the farm.
Von Kundra nurtures a plethora of vegetables and fruits at the farm, supplying Harvest Table Restaurant in downtown Meadowview with at least 200 pounds of fresh produce each week. “It probably would be easier for me to list the produce we don’t grow,” he said with laughter.
“I’ve learned that growing healthy food is where I can have the best impact on this world, and I can contribute my skills and interests,” he said.
“I wake up in the mornings and feel so rewarded to be doing this work. I really am having the time of my life.”
An average day this time of year has the manager completing a variety of jobs. After rising at 6:30 each morning, Von Kundra is in the fields by 8 a.m. where he and farm interns and apprentices do maintenance work on crops already in the ground and those that need planting. As many as 45 annual and perennial crops are grown at the farm.
He’s never too busy to stop and eat a fresh tomato sandwich along the way.
“Awww, tomato sandwiches are wonderful. I love ‘em,” said Von Kundra, who lives on site at the farm.
“By the way, I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” he said with a grin.
“Most work weeks look like 60 to 70 hours, especially this time of year.”
Produce not used by the restaurant is prepared and sold at the Abingdon Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
And that doesn’t include time he spends with food preservation for the restaurant, like canning pickles, freezing beans and dehydrating tomatoes.
“I’m still harvesting summer produce, like cucumbers and squash, and I prepare ten pounds of salad mix year round every week for the restaurant.”
In January, tomatoes are started in the greenhouse and moved to a hoop house in March and April. “The goal is to get tomatoes mature as early as possible.”
Ginger and turmeric are close to being harvested at the farm. “They are rainforest crops, and we can create the environment they like by putting them under cover in a hoop house.
“We have a ton of onions curing in a barn on the hill,” he said.
“We like to grow things that no one else grows, things that are unique for the restaurant,” said Von Kundra as he loaded his hands with Mexican sour gherkins, a dwarf-like cucumber the size of a grape.
He also cares for chickens, sheep and cattle on the farm.
Von Kundra sees many benefits from the farm-to-table system that many small communities are enjoying.
“Our farm is about a mile from the restaurant, so that short transportation route significantly reduces the carbon footprint,” he said.
“Also there is more accountability between the consumer and grower, and that encourages better practices and methods.”
The farm manager believes the local food system builds social connections in the community and encourages shared knowledge between the farmer and the consumer.
“It makes our small community even stronger,” he said.
“It’s a win-win for all of us.”