In December, Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville debuted its beautifully transformed Trout House Farm. The $11 million renovation included the farm’s new hydroponic system as well as a reimagined Mill Room and barrel-aging program.
Executive Chef Dale Ford explains that when the Trout House was first built its purpose was to connect guests with the resort’s culinary team. Boar’s Head visitors could catch several varieties of trout including rainbow, brown and brook, and deliver them to the chef to be prepared for a meal. For the past four years, however, the house has sat empty.
For Ford, the empty space transformed into a canvas for the resort’s culinary future. A prior visit to Charlottesville’s Babylon Micro-Farms sparked an interest in introducing hydroponics to the property. “Chef [Ford] brought forward the idea of [converting] this very cool historic structure which was originally used in a way that promoted food and cooking in a sustainable way [for hydroponic operations],” says General Manager Russ Cronberg.
In March 2018, Boar’s Head met with the Babylon Micro-Farm team to discuss their vision for sustainability and determined the Trout House as an ideal fit for the project. Boar’s Head then began research on the farming process for the 10-plus plants they hoped to produce. On the docket were seven types of lettuce—butter, arugula, green star, red cross, skyphos, rouxai and nasturtiums—pea sprouts, cilantro, flat leaf parsley, as well as a handful of micro-greens including radish, wasabi arugula, horseradish and leeks.
To produce the greens, the heirloom seeds from Babylon Micro-Farms must first be placed in a smart soil system that facilitates proper air and water distribution, as well as root growth. The plants are then transferred onto germination racks where they undergo seven to 12 days of observation. Once sprouting begins, the plants enter their final stage of growth and are placed in their proper growing location with access to a recipe-based, nutrient-rich water source and data-analyzed lighting. “Harvesting generally is within 45 to 50 days from seed germination to harvest. As a chef, this allows our culinary team to plant according to menus and projected business levels,” says Ford.
The resort’s current growing system allows for the weekly production of almost 300 heads of assorted lettuce. “The Mill Room menu is built around this hyper-local source of heirloom produce, so many of our dishes will utilize with lettuce, herbs, micro sprouts or flowers from the house,” says Ford.
Trout House’s climate controlled space will also allow the resort to launch their own barrel-aging program. The house’s nine-barrel capacity will permit the production of bitters for cocktails, a chef’s hot sauce and barrel-aged honey bitters from the resort’s very own apiary. With 10,000 bees in the resort’s current colony, team members plan to add an additional three colonies by spring.
“I think that this initiative really takes what people are calling farm-to-table, sustainable cooking and healthy eating to a new level for not only restaurants, but also resorts,” adds Cronberg.
Weekly demonstrations and garden talks with the chef will also be offered at the resort to educate guests on the hydroponics system.
Boar’s Head Resort is located at 200 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville.