You Should Know… Anna Isserow

Photo by Justin Katz

Anna Isserow has always loved food. The Fairfax native, 25, initially planned to pursue her passion with a career advocating in Washington for the nation’s farmers. Two things made her change her mind.

The first was realizing she doesn’t like spending her days in a cube in a highrise, something she learned during an internship.

The second was making the decision that she could not properly advocate for farmers if she had never worked on a farm herself.

That’s why she now manages the market at Whitehall Farm in Clifton, Va.

What sparked your interest in farming?

At the very end of my sophomore year at Virginia Tech, the school offered an exam break stress-relieving program. One was to go to the school farm, which grows food for the dining hall. I decided to go because I thought it would be really different, and I had never grown anything before.

I was the only one who showed up. While I was out there the farm manager told me about this [class] about community food, understanding where food comes from and how that impacts your life.

I signed up and it was an incredibly interesting class that I really enjoyed, and I went on to take all the other ones in the minor.

You worked at a farm after you graduated, but why did you abandon a career in policy?

The [farm I worked at] sent me to farmers’ markets that spanned all income levels and areas. On one day I’d go to a market where 80 percent of the people are paying with food stamps. The next day, I’d go to a market where people are coming with hundreds of dollars in cash.

But neither of those types of people knew how to cook the food that I had just slaved over for months. So I got really interested in trying to figure out how to be a bridge between the farmer and the person, not necessarily the government and the farmer. I found that I could make a bigger difference in individual people’s lives if I could help the farmer sell the product, and help the customer be happier with the product.

Whitehall Farm uses community-supported agriculture. What is that?

It’s a crop-share program. People buy a share upfront, and then every week for the summer you pick up a box of vegetables. It’s like buying a stock and then you get your share every week.

How does that play into your role at the farm?

My favorite part of the job is that I am the face of the community-supported agriculture. I am the person people come to when they pick up their boxes of food. When they open their box and they don’t know what something is, I’m there to explain it to them. It seems very basic but it’s a big deal when people are not well versed in what’s coming out of the ground.

A lot of the education stuff I do is very cooking-based and food-identification based. There is very little connection to the land anymore. People don’t have their own gardens and they don’t know what is growing when in the year.

What is a misconception you run into when talking with the public?

Seasonality. What is coming in very much depends on the season and if you want local food, you should do some research and find out what should be coming in. People don’t get that just because it is sunny out right now in April, that there is going to be tomatoes. I get a lot of people who come in and want tomatoes and watermelon at the wrong time of the year. They get frustrated because they don’t understand that this is spinach weather.

Whitehall Farm also raises pigs, cows and other animals. Is it difficult if you get emotionally attached to these animals?

This is the question I get all of the time. I really believe that if you are eating meat, you should be eating meat from a responsibly raised source. These animals get the best care, the best food, they get attention every day. These are happy animals.
We like to say around here, they have one bad day. If you’re going to eat meat, you should know where it comes from. n

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