Good land, good farming practices, and a little hard work normally make for good food, but when you add great people, the food itself becomes amazing. At Double H Farm in Nelson County, the people themselves are amazing. 32 acres of beautiful land on a gentile sloping hill, Double H Farm, is so much more than a farm exactly because of the people who tend the land. Richard Bean and his partner Jean Rinaldi came to Nelson County from New York in 1997, and have created an oasis based on the premise of Happy Hearts, hence the Double H.
I first came across the wonderful people from Double H Farm at the Charlottesville City Market back in December when I was doing a photo shoot with Payne Ross & Associates for the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Visitor bureau. In the end, the photos of the folks from Double H didn’t make the final cut for the ad campaign, but Ara and Gayane Avagyan, Armenian immigrants who were working the market for Double H that day, left an indelible impression on me for sure.
Since December, when I started to do more photography and delved into the foodie world that is Charlottesville, many of the people I’ve come in contact with have mentioned Richard, Ara and the Double H Farm. After a few interactions and more casual meetings, it became apparent that this little farm in Nelson County was somewhat of a nexus between all those I was meeting. Ben Thompson of The Rock Barn spent time there under the tutelage of Richard, and spoke very highly of him. Richard himself took knife in hand at an Easter goat roast at the Ivy Inn, and Ara was an indispensable part of the pig slaughter at Gail Hobbs-Paige’s place I wrote about back in February.
After missing one appointment due to weather, last week I finally made it out to Nelson County to visit with Ara and his wife Gayane, and I came away with a clear understanding of the passion, knowledge and love they have for what they do, and desire to bring the best possible products to their customers, Ara saying, “our goal is to grow healthy food for the people of our community, and to always be number one.”
Ara came to the US in 2000 through a Farmer to Farmer exchange program that lasted seven months. He visited California, Pennsylvania and ended his stint with Richard in Nelson County. Back in Armenia, where Ara’s family also owns a farm that his brother works now, Ara has a Master’s degree, but was looking for more of an opportunity. Because Ara has a Master’s degree, getting a visa to return and work with Richard was somewhat easier, but as Ara said “Richard, he worked very hard to get me a green card.” Richard, looking for someone he could work with and trust to eventually take over the farm in the long term, did work hard, and he hasn’t looked back. Since 2005, when Ara and his family came back from Armenia, they have been working based on a rent-to-own agreement with Richard, and together they all make up the amazing folks from Double H Farm.
On the farm, before heading into the large barn like structure that houses the processing sections for meat as well as vegetables, Ara and I jumped into a Gator and headed down to visit the pigs. Ara explained how he divided up the pigs using a school yard analogy, first introducing me to the “grade school pigs,” and then the “kindergartners.” Grade schoolers had been weened from their mothers and were young and full of spunk, while the kindergartners were just born and happily traveled in packs following their mother.
We then stopped by to see a five year old sow, who at about 500 pounds or more, was ready to give birth to a litter of piglets a week ago but hadn’t yet delivered. Ara rubbed her belly and checked her teats to see if milk was on the way, which is a sign she is about to give birth. Still dry, she ended up giving birth to 13 little ones two days after my visit.
During my tour of the farm it became immediately apparent that they do everything at Double H Farm. From eggs and chickens to pigs and peppers it can all be found on this one little farm in Nelson County, and that manifested itself when Gayane brought us all a ham sandwich and traditional yogurt drink for lunch. So amazing to eat a lunch that was completely local, absolutely everything on the serving tray came from the farm, down to the fresh baked bread by Gayane, which until recently she used to sell at the farmers market as well.
During lunch, speaking with Ara, he explained, “If you compare us to others at the Farmers Market, some sell just eggs, another vendor just meat, we do so much … like with pigs, we grow, we start from zero, and because we do the right thing, it’s a health food for the community.” And not just directly to the community either, as many of the clients of Double H Farm are local restaurants and the Local Food Hub as well.
Summing up our visit Ara said, “If you do it right, you can produce the best,” and really who can argue with that? When asked about what is next for Double H Farm Ara answered, “the next step is I’m looking forward to owning this property, and making investments in equipment to make things easier and to expand more.” That in itself is not only good for Ara and his family but will surely be good for the Charlottesville community.
Thanks for reading along and remember, F2% Because Heavy Cream is Always Better!