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The women of #rvadine

Seven female cooks and restaurateurs working in Richmond right now sat down at Pasture, sharing a spread of Sub Rosa’s finest and a pot of strong coffee, to talk about family, loyalty, and the future of women in the industry.




In the year since The Southern Foodways Alliance debuted Sara Wood’s stirring oral histories “Women at Work in RVA,” as part of their series chronicling women throughout the food system in the South, women in the food and beverage industry have been the subject of increased attention on a national level. As though deploying some sort of bizarre reverse-psychology bomb, Howard Chua-Eoan’s November 2013 TIME article, “The 13 Gods of Food,” a circle-jerk on the forefathers of the current food movement, marginalized the contribution of females in the industry to little more than a sidebar. The article has served as a discussion point around which women and men across the country vehemently argue that women are, in fact, the backbone of the industry: strong, influential, and irreplaceable.

Cherry Bombe, a biannual magazine that focuses on women and food, recently held its Spring Jubilee, “a celebration of women in food.” The event boasted a jaw-dropping lineup of panelists including April Bloomfield, Christina Tosi, Anita Lo, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ruth Reichl and addressed topics ranging from the media to motherhood, to a standing-room-only audience of 250 women (and maybe a dozen really smart men) that were the envy of the countless twitter followers who hung on their every hashtag. And culinary publications from Eater to The New York Times have sought to reexamine the perennial subject of women in the kitchen.

All that noise might not make much difference to the women who are cleaning out the walk-in, breaking down the fish, plunging toilets, and filling out schedules; but it signals something important nonetheless: now is a great time to be a woman in the restaurant industry. Such was the consensus among seven female cooks and restaurateurs working in Richmond right now. The group sat down at Pasture, sharing a spread of Sub Rosa’s finest and a pot of strong coffee, to talk about family, loyalty, and the future of women in the industry.



Michelle Jones grew up in the restaurant industry. “In Virginia Beach, you get your first job bussing tables when you’re about 11,” she says. Michelle owns and manages both Pasture locations with Jason Alley.”I always joke that my job is mostly camp counselor and, you know, big sister. I’m involved in the people’s lives because I care about them, and I want them to stick around.” That’s not hard to imagine when Michelle admits that Pasture is her life or that its staff are her family. She says her real family jokes (a bit grimly for my taste) that Michelle will die alone, but she, with characteristic cheer, smiles and says proudly, “But I won’t be alone. I know I’ll be with all sorts of people.”

Among them could easily be Beth Dixon. I’m sure the two, who consider each other family and speak to each other even more frequently, would be fine with that. They have an obvious mutual admiration, and it’s easy to see why. She describes herself as the “co-beverage director” at Pasture, to which Michelle adds laughing, “event planner, manager, photographer, social media head…We wear a lot of hats around here!” Beth identifies that kind of multitasking as a female characteristic and says that’s one of the things that “makes women so good in this business.” The single mother is also an intrepid homesteader, who canned, jammed, and pickled her way to creating RVA Swappers, a monthly group of likeminded food makers who get together to swap everything from homemade tonic syrup to olive tapenade.

Beth’s role at Pasture allows her to advance professionally while recognizing her needs as a mother. Michelle points out, “we knew you wanted to do more than just bartend, so we made it so that you could, ’cause you’re awesome at what you do.” For Beth, that consideration is invaluable: “I’ve worked places where, if you’re sick or something bad happens, they don’t care. They want a note from the doctor, a death certificate” There’s tsking and head-shaking among the other women. “Whereas, in this place, they’re like, ‘You’re sick. We don’t want you in this building. Go home, get some rest. And I’m a mom…that kinda thing really makes you feel more like a family when your boss is like, ‘your daughter’s sick, we’ll get you covered. Just go be a mom.””

For Jessica Bufford, owner of Estilo, Toast, and most recently, Dash, creating an atmosphere where the staff feels valued personally is essential: “The humanity of this business is so touching because you are so much more involved in these people’s lives than in a corporate setting. People aren’t just coming in and punching a clock. They’re representing everything you’ve worked for.” For her, it’s natural that women would excel at creating that type of environment. “If you don’t devote as much time as you possibly can to make sure those people feel like they’re well taken care of and they are a part of what’s going on, then it’s just not going to work. And I think that’s why women are so strong in this business because it is something that we do that most men just don’t, it’s that maternal instinct.”



With Estilo’s Elby’s win in the ‘best new restaurant’ category, Jessica Bufford emerged from her self-proclaimed obscurity as a woman in the Richmond restaurant scene who makes things happen. The Bufford’s family of restaurants recently expanded to include Dash in the former Cous Cous location, which was the latest host of the Shindig potluck, benefitting The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a cause for which Jessica is a Woman of the Year nominee.

Jessica has orchestrated a ticketed charity dinner1 benefitting LLS, which will feature an all-female crew of chefs, servers, bartenders, and bussers: “We’re trying to, from the front of the house to the back of the house, have all women, so [Michelle Jones] agreed to wait tables, and Kendra [Feather] is waiting tables.” Teams of prep cooks and chefs will be grouped together by dish. “Katrina Giavos and Stella Dikos are going to do a dish…All of the female food writers have all offered to do something. They’ve actually all offered to be the buswomen…Karri [Peifer,] Brandon Fox, Deveron Timberlake, and Robey Martin want to be, like, the bussers.” She adds, laughing, “They’re like ‘We could clean up after y’all.'” Someone mumbles the requisite “We’ve been cleaning up for them for years,” and they all chuckle.

One chef contributing to the April LLS dinner is RVA native Brittanny Anderson, who sharpened her knives on the whetstones of NYC before moving back to Richmond with her husband, Roosevelt bartender Kjell Anderson. Brittanny says that the decision to move back to Richmond was influenced by the couple’s interest in starting a family, a reality that Brittanny attributes to the loss of some female chefs, but one she’s confident she and her husband can make work. She credits new moms and restaurateurs Emilia Sparatta and Kendra Feather as inspirations and also finds encouragement in Gabrielle Hamilton’s experience of cooking while nine months pregnant in the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, a must-read for any woman in the restaurant industry. When Brittanny admits frankly that the idea still scares her, Velma “Mama J” Johnson, cuts through the murmurs of support with a sage motto: “Don’t be scared. Be consistent.”



Mama J is such a warm, maternal influence that a moment in her company feels like a well-timed hug (and is usually followed by one). The former deputy sheriff of 17 years grew up cooking her mother and grandmother’s recipes among her 13 brothers and sisters. “My mama was always pregnant,” she remembers. Velma opened MamaJ’s with her son almost five years ago. She recalls, “The first year was hell, it really was. My son came to me and said, ‘Why [are] we doing this?’ And we shook our heads, we didn’t know.” They soon realized that they would need to hire people they could trust, people they could make a part of their family, people who would treat MamaJ’s as dearly as they did.

She tells a story about one employee who spent 31 years in prison for a robbery gone wrong, incarcerated at the age of 17. She says, “He’s the best employee you could ever have, so sweet and kind…You could trust him with your life, leave your pocketbook there, and he won’t touch it.” Velma nurtures the potential in her staff with an unmistakably motherly touch. For her, success isn’t about playing by someone else’s rules; it’s about doing what comes naturally to her. Once instructed on the proper way to cook yams by a charismatic culinary school graduate, she set the record straight, “That’s what you do. This is what I do. This is how I do it.”

Now in the process of opening Metzger Bar and Butchery with partner Brad Hemp, Brittanny Anderson wants to be an advocate for young females in the industry and hopes to create an environment in which they can thrive. She says, “we really need to be mentoring young women cooks…If we, as female cooks, can be kind and bring other girls into the fold, even from front of the house, I think there are women who might be really interested but are afraid of the ‘Boys’ Club.'” And that’s exactly what she wants to do at Metzger if she can find the right cooks for the job: “They’re out there, and I’m trying to find them.”

C’est le Vin’s Executive Chef Carly Herring has worked in Richmond restaurants for over a decade. She and Lilly Clem, Pasture’s newly appointed sous chef, agree that part of succeeding in the boys’ club is beating them at their own game. Carly says, “I started joking years ago that when you work with a bunch of guys in the kitchen, all you’ve gotta do is pull your dick out and put it on the table to see whose is bigger. I’ve found that the best way to get guys to respect you is to blatantly show them up…You play their game and just play it better.” Lilly nods and adds, “You have to be tough.”

Carly and Lilly both say they knew from a relatively early age that they wanted to be “lifers,” in the restaurant industry–to put in the time, work the line, and come up through the ranks, learning from every chef they could. Neither says much during the interview, instead quietly and intensely listening to the veterans, occasionally cracking a joke or a sly smile, suggesting a hint of what they must be like in the kitchen–keen and focused. They’re the type of chef that doesn’t broadcast their triumphs; they don’t have time for it.

Richmond has plenty of examples of women filling important roles in the food system, from food policy coordinator Anne Darby and GrowRVA’s Karen Atkinson, to farmers like Amy Hicks of Amy’s Garden and Autumn Campbell of Tomten Farm, as well as restaurateurs like Michelle Williams and Katrina Giavos, and increasingly as owners, executive chefs, and front of the house managers at Richmond’s most acclaimed restaurants. Its their humility that keeps women out of the spotlight, which leads to a lack of realistic female role models, making it hard to attract women and creating a weird self-fulfilling cycle. Brittanny, Carly, and Lilly, agree that supporting one another and recognizing each other’s triumphs is one easy way to help the media, especially on a national level, tune into what’s really happening in RVA and throughout the industry.

Photo by: Adrianna Gallo

  1. Monday, April 21st at 525 at the Berry Burk



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Virginia legal landscape shifts as cannabis support grows

Farmers are wrapping up the first industrial hemp season in Virginia since the passage of the 2018 federal Farm Bill. Industrial hemp is poised to be a fast growing sector of agriculture in Virginia. Hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp estimates 2017 retail sales of hemp products neared $820 million nationally and will continue to climb. Growers, agricultural officials, and politicians are all coming to the table to discuss the future of cannabis, and even the legalization of marijuana in Virginia.

Capital News Service



By Jeff Raines and Morgan Edwards

“We do grams, eighths, quarters, half ounces, pounds, wholesale pounds — however you want it,” Jacob Stretch said, standing between crates of dried hemp in his living room that doubles as his hemp processing and drying facility. Stretch, owner of Chesapeake Blue, just finished his first season growing industrial hemp as a registered grower and processor on his family’s farm.

Industrial hemp is poised to be a fast growing sector of agriculture in Virginia. Hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp estimates 2017 retail sales of hemp products neared $820 million nationally and will continue to grow.

Hemp is a versatile material that can be used in foods and beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials and other manufactured goods, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

In an October press release, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Virginia’s first commercial industrial hemp fiber processing facility. Appalachian Biomass Processing, in Wytheville, will create 13 new jobs and purchase more than 6,000 tons of Virginia-grown industrial hemp over the next three years, at a value of more than $1 million, the governor stated.

“I am committed to pursuing every path that will attract economic prosperity to our rural communities, and hemp production opens up a wealth of opportunity to bring new jobs and new business to Virginia,” Northam wrote.

The processor will mainly create hemp hurd, a woody fiber extracted from the plant stalk to be used for animal bedding. Hurd can also be used to make industrial items such as hemp-based concrete and hemp-derived plastics.

In 2018, when hemp could only be grown for research purposes in Virginia, there were 135 acres of hemp planted and about 85 registered growers, according to Erin Williams, senior policy analyst with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As of Nov. 15, VDACS had registered 1,183 industrial hemp growers, 262 processors and 117 dealers, Williams said. Nearly 2,200 acres of hemp were planted in Virginia this year. The economic impact of industrial hemp in the state has yet to be determined, Williams said. The harvest season has just finished and crops are being sold to processors.

“So we should know soon what this past growing season’s impact will be,” Williams said. “We’re going to conduct a grower survey towards the end of the year and hopefully have some data at the beginning of next year.”

When the 2018 federal Farm Bill went into effect, industrial hemp was listed as an agricultural commodity and removed as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. It is now placed under United States Department of Agriculture regulation. The bill also allowed state agriculture departments to submit plans for the regulation of hemp cultivation to the USDA.

VDACS expects to submit its state hemp production plan to the USDA before the end of the year, according to its website. It is likely there will not be major issues with the plan, according to Tyson Daniel, a trial lawyer and founder of Virginia Hemp Lawyers, a law firm specializing in the hemp and cannabis business.

On the VDACS website, there is a list of applications and guidelines for the industrial hemp grower registration, industrial hemp processor registration and industrial hemp dealer registration. Each registration costs $50 annually and one person can have all three registrations.

“It will be interesting to see if it stays at that rate,” Daniel said. “Compared to some other states, it is a very reasonable rate.”

An industrial hemp grower registration in Maryland costs $250. In North Carolina there is a $250 initial fee with an annual fee of $250 for less than 50 acres or $500 for more than 50 acres. Additionally, growers must pay $2 per acre of hemp or $2 per 1,000 square feet in a greenhouse of hemp.

Stretch, who is also a registered processor, said he was approved for his grower registration in around 40 days. Jacob Williamson, owner of Hens and Hemp, said he is registered as a grower and is on his way to becoming a registered processor. Williamson said having both permits is worthwhile because of their low cost and the extra level of protection it provides — since growing and then drying, trimming and packing hemp could be considered processing. Williamson, like many other small farmers, mainly grows hemp to be sold as CBD products.

Defining the difference between hemp, marijuana and CBD

In its infancy, the Virginia hemp industry is not without issues — namely in defining the difference between legal industrial hemp and illegal marijuana. There is also general confusion surrounding hemp and hemp products derived from the cannabis plant, namely CBD. CBD is considered non-intoxicating and touted to have multiple medical benefits. It is sold in a variety of ingestible and topical products, and also in flower form that looks identical to marijuana.

Daniel explained the distinction between legal cannabis derived products and marijuana.
“If you are going to draw a diagram, put cannabis at the top, hemp on one side, marijuana on the other,” Daniel said. “They are both the cannabis plant, it’s just the level of Delta-9 that is different.” Delta-9 is the THC molecule associated with intoxication or “getting high.” It is commonly referred to as THC instead of Delta-9 THC.

The non psychoactive version of THC is THC-A; it does not produce a high. The molecule is considered the precursor to THC, and once heat is applied THC-A is converted into THC, say through the use of a vaporizer.

The combined amount of THC-A and THC present in hemp is referred to as total, whole, or max THC.

Legally, when hemp reaches a THC concentration of more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis, it is classified as marijuana. According to the VDACS industrial hemp registration guide, anything grown above the 0.3% limit will be destroyed, in accordance with Virginia code.

Growers contest how the hemp is tested to determine that 0.3% and its validity as an indicator of whether or not hemp has crossed into being marijuana. Daniel said the biggest issue right now has to do with testing; whether it is strictly THC or combined THC and THC-A.

Williamson said one passage of the USDA guidelines sounds like it’s talking about THC and another passage says whole THC, which would include both.

“That’s why everyone freaked out about the USDA guidelines,” he said. “All the sudden it was total THC that was 0.3%.”

CEO and founder of East Coast Cannalytics, Rebecca Hobden, said the VDACS testing method for appropriate levels is to heat up the hemp. It then goes through a heating process which converts THC-A into THC. So if a crop has combined THC-A and THC, the testing process will increase the actual THC, potentially raising it over the acceptable levels allowed.

Williamson harvested his hemp plants at 13% CBD and 0.1% THC. “I probably pulled them a little early because I was nervous, but that’s fine –13% is plenty,” he said.

Hobden explained that as THC levels increase in a plant CBD levels increase. She said farmers will try to get as close to the allowed 0.3% THC limit as they can to raise CBD levels. Hobden said hemp with CBD levels closer to 20% is more desirable for farmers, as it has a higher market value.

Stretch said the 0.3% limit is arbitrary and could be a colossal loss for farmers.
“The number 0.3% was put on there by who, you know? Who decided 0.3% was the right number?”

“I’ve heard more experienced growers talk about how it can creep up in the flower period and then at a certain point, it will go back down,” Stretch said. “So, if you harvested at the wrong time you run a higher risk of being hot.”

The limit needs to be raised from 0.3%, according to Rebecca Caffrey, founder and chief scientific officer of Delta-9 Scientific, a cannabis testing lab based outside of Richmond.

“There’s no functional difference between something that’s 0.3% THC and something that’s 1% THC,” she said. “Neither one of them is going to get you high, no matter how hard you try.”

Caffrey said she has tested thousands of hemp samples for “honest” farmers. “They are spending beaucoup money on hemp seeds and hemp clones, and you know, then it comes back and it’s like 0.57% [THC],” she said. Caffrey believes farmers should not be penalized for that.

Williamson said he didn’t think VDACS tested many hemp farmers to see if their hemp was “hot,” meaning above the 0.3% limit.

“I guess they originally wrote the law because they thought people were going to pretend to grow hemp and then grow real bud … I thought there would be more of that, but I don’t see anybody doing that,” he said.

VDACS used random testing to track THC levels. Hobden and Caffrey believe VDACS did not test many farmers.

“I was in a meeting of probably about 40 farmers and asked how many people actually got tested and one person raised their hand,” Hobden said.

Hemp and CBD products in the marketplace

The General Assembly this year approved a bill that allows CBD and THC oil with up to 10 milligrams of THC to be legally sold, with a doctor’s recommendation, through an approved state pharmacy. THC above 0.3% is federally illegal and CBD of any level is legal.

However, the Food and Drug Administration does not allow CBD to be marketed as a dietary supplement or be advertised as having medical benefits. The FDA has only approved one CBD product, for epilepsy. The agency recently issued a consumer update, noting that “there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing CBD.”

Mike Betts, owner of the online hemp and CBD store Red Beard Alternatives, believes CBD offers relief from anxiety, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Betts is a retired Marine Corps veteran who for years battled to treat physical and mental wounds sustained while serving. Betts said he turned to hemp and CBD after finding no relief in prescribed medications and self-medicating. He uses hemp products and grows his own hemp plants as a form of therapy in itself. He said nurturing them from a tiny seed has given him something to look forward to and it is something he wants to share with fellow veterans.

He said the purpose of Red Beard Alternatives is to provide veterans access to alternative forms of therapy, the proceeds from his online market help fund alternative therapies for veterans.

“Whether we give them a greenhouse or a gym membership… in order to fund that mission we’ve created an online farmers market where other hemp farmers can showcase their products and sell them to consumers,” Betts said.

However, he said is not allowed to advertise his products due to legal restrictions and a wariness from various social media sites in advertising products that closely resemble marijuana. He said many consumers are unfamiliar with hemp and often confuse it with marijuana. Betts sees the next step in expanding his business centered on product education.

Betts alongside growers Williamson and Stretch hope to see more defined regulations and loosened restrictions for growing and selling hemp and CBD products. Daniel said the easiest and fastest way for this to be accomplished would be through legislation in the General Assembly.

Legal landscape rapidly shifting as cannabis support grows

Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, said he has encountered a groundswell of support for changing state law.

“Over 80% of all Virginians, regardless of political stripe, advocate or support the decriminalization of simple possession,” Heretick said. “You can’t get 80% of the people in Virginia to agree on anything, but they agree on that much.”

The statistic Heretick quoted refers to a September University of Mary Washington study. The poll noted that 80% of Virginians 25 and under support legalization, not all Virginians. However, 61% of all Virginians are in favor of legalization, according to the poll.

Heretick said he plans to form a “cannabis caucus” — the second state caucus of its kind in the country — “to put all of the stakeholders at the same table.” He believes the caucus will foster productive conversations on how to move the hemp industry forward and how to eventually legalize adult marijuana use in the state.

“I think in creating the cannabis caucus we’re trying to create an organization that we can invite all the stakeholders to participate in,” Heretick said. “Not only members of the legislature, but members of the farming community, the community that would do distribution advertising and dispensing.”

Heretick sees decriminalization of simple possession as the first step on the journey to legalization and is confident that the General Assembly will pass Senate Bill 2 or a similar bill on the issue in 2020. SB2 specifically calls for the decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana; turning the offense into a civil penalty with a fine of no more than $50 attached. Heretick said he and his colleagues want to make sure that legalization in Virginia is thoughtfully enacted.

“I really don’t think that legislatively we’re doing anybody any favors by legalizing marijuana and then having nothing in place to do that effectively,” Heretick said. “We’re trying to avoid the obvious problems that have plagued other states that have beat us to the punch in terms of legalization.”

Daniel explained the differences between decriminalization and full legalization. He said the short answer is that decriminalization means it is no longer being prosecuted.

What separates decriminalization from legalization is that legalization provides a mechanism for marijuana to be brought to market, according to Daniel. “But we haven’t set up a mechanism for it to go to retail sale,” Daniel said. Regardless, he believes people would work around this.

The gifting system in Washington D.C. is an example of creative solutions when marijuana is legalized but no system is established to regulate the buying and selling of it. People can purchase a shirt, sticker or even cookies — that comes with a free gift of marijuana.

“This is a civics lesson,” Daniel said. “We don’t need permission in our country to do something. We act under the premise that unless it’s prohibited specifically by law, then we can do what we want to do.”

Hemp Becoming Less of a Partisan Issue

“I don’t think that it’s so much a partisan issue,” Daniel said. “Frankly, I think both sides of the aisle see it as an enormous revenue producer and a gigantic cost saver in terms of the amount of money that’s spent on the prosecution and enforcement of marijuana laws.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring expressed his support for decriminalizing cannabis in an op-ed for the Daily Press in June, writing that criminalizing minor marijuana possession has major “human and social costs” that disproportionately affect minorities and people of color.

“That is why Virginia should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, address past convictions and start moving toward legal and regulated adult use,” Herring wrote.

In a November interview with Capital News Service, Herring said that while he acknowledges the economic benefits of legalization, he is more concerned about the criminal justice aspects of the state ban on legal marijuana.

“Virginia is moving in the wrong direction,” Herring said. “We have 29,500 Virginians who were arrested for marijuana possession in 2017. That is a huge number and it is not working.”

Herring stated in his op-ed that citizens arrested for marijuana possession could “still be stuck with a criminal record, lose their job, student aid, certain public benefits including housing assistance, and it can even affect custody rights.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director for the nonprofit Virginia National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the 2020 General Assembly session could be incredibly consequential for the future of the cannabis industry in the commonwealth and feels that “several very historic” bills could be passed.

NORML has worked since the 1970s to legalize non-medical marijuana in the U.S. and advocates for responsible, adult cannabis use without penalty.

“Last year, we became the fourth state in the nation to allow school medical professionals to administer medical cannabis to registered kids,” Pedini. “We really are doing big things in Virginia — it just largely goes unnoticed.”

Back on the farming side, Williamson and Stretch are finishing what they consider to be a successful first harvest. This winter will be used strategize how they can improve their operations and accommodate more plants. Williamson said that smaller farmers like themselves are working cooperatively to purchase wholesale seeds and streamline operations. Williams said VDACS expects Virginia hemp to grow in acreage as growers ramp up their operations in the spring.



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TIPS! How to pick out and care for the perfect Christmas tree

Virginia is home to more than 500 Christmas tree farms. With annual sales of Virginia Christmas trees around $10 million, the Commonwealth’s Christmas tree industry is a strong contributor to the state’s agricultural economy. Here’s how to pick out the perfect one.

RVAHub Staff



It’s a popular holiday tune. “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches.” But how do you keep the branches looking lovely all season long?

“Start by picking the right Christmas tree,” says Joel Koci, associate Extension specialist in agriculture and natural resources at the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University.

There are around 350 million real Christmas trees growing in the U.S., and 25-30 million of them make their way to homes across America for the holidays.

In fact, Virginia is home to more than 500 Christmas tree farms. With annual sales of Virginia Christmas trees around $10 million, the Commonwealth’s Christmas tree industry is a strong contributor to the state’s agricultural economy.

So what should you look for when buying a live tree?

Koci, a board-certified Master Arborist, offers tips on how to select, care for and dispose of Christmas trees.

“Trees are like produce. You want the freshest one you can find. The fresher, the better,” Koci says. “If possible visit a cut-your-own tree farm in your area—that’s the best way of making sure you have a freshly cut tree.” If that’s not an option and you’re buying your tree from a lot, ask the salesperson where the trees were grown and when they were harvested.

Buying a Virginia grown Christmas tree is not only an important way to support Virginia farmers, but is also great for the environment, as Christmas trees are both renewable and recyclable, and for every tree cut, growers replant two to three seedlings in its place. You can search for Virginia Christmas tree growers online at and on the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association’s website at

Koci advises talking with your local county Extension agent to learn about the best local trees in your area.

Trees suitable for Christmas have different characteristics so it’s good to know what you’re looking for in a Christmas tree. Here are some popular holiday tree picks.

  • Frasier fir: Holds needles the longest of most soft-needle trees. It’s fragrant, easy to decorate and one of the most desirable and available trees. The Fraser fir is native to southwest Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Spruce: Has prickly needles; loses needles early; is expensive and hard to find.
  • Juniper (Eastern Red Cedar): Native and easy to find in the wild. Its prickly, weak limbs make it hard to decorate, and it dries out rapidly.
    White Pine: Very limp limbs make it hard to decorate; has medium needle retention; and no fragrance.

Whatever tree you choose, remember to inspect it before leaving the lot. Here’s what to look for when inspecting a Christmas tree.

  • Observe the overall shape and whether the needles are a good green color. If the tree is off-color, choose another.
  • Tamp the butt of the tree on the hard ground to shake out old needles and any debris.
  • Once you have selected your tree, have the lot salesperson cut 1–1.5 inches off the end and place the butt in water for a day.

A good tree stand is essential for keeping your tree at its best through the holidays, Koci says. Most trees will have a 6-inch diameter at the base. Make sure your stand is large enough to hold the tree. Water the tree as soon as you place it in the stand and keep the water level around the trunk about 2–3 inches. The tree will keep absorbing water until the tree plugs its water-conducting vessels.

The tree is unsafe and a high fire hazard when the green needles turn a grey/green color and fall off when you pull on the twig. There is no scientific evidence that any additives to the plain water will increase the water uptake and prolong the absorption of water, Koci says.

Before decorating, check electric cords of tree lights for frayed insulation. Do not use if the cord is frayed or if light sockets are malfunctioning. The heat buildup from poorly maintained electrical cords and sockets could ignite a tree. Keeping pets away from the tree is also a good idea.

After the holidays, recycle your tree, which is beneficial, especially for urban wildlife. Used Christmas trees can be placed in a pond for fish habitat or piled in the open for bird or small mammal cover and breeding. Trees can also be placed near a window and decorated with bagels with peanut butter, pinecones with peanut butter and other fruits tied to the limbs, which provide birds a place to roost and feed and birdwatchers a great view to observe the birds.



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Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” statue to be permanently installed at the VMFA December 10th

Since September 21st, one thing has stood quietly amongst the dizzying maelstrom of Times Square providing solace, contemplation, and stillness. Kehinde Wiley’s 27-foot bronze statue, Rumors of War. That was until December 1st when the artwork began the journey 330 miles south to its permanent home at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.




To put it gently, Times Square in New York City is a four-block den of entropy, filled with noise, lights, smells, and motion that would make anyone exhausted by the mere thought of entering. Times Square is hysteria, avoided by most New Yorkers at all costs unless they have to for work or Jah forbid, find someone or something.

The giant LED advertisements, the people dressed as Elmo and Superman, those poor souls employed by the open-air SuperBus handing out flyers obstruct the sidewalk; the cacophony of tourists hollering over the symphonic racket of chaos flood the ears. Wafts of cheap tubed meats, grilled peppers and onions mix with bus fumes and unidentifiable odors to create a unique, confusing olfactory sensation. It is the opposite of tranquility unless sensory explosion is your thing.

Since September 21st, one thing has stood quietly amongst the dizzying maelstrom of Times Square providing solace, contemplation, and stillness. Kehinde Wiley’s 27-foot bronze statue, Rumors of War. That was until December 1st when the artwork began the journey 330 miles south to its permanent home at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Depicting a man of color in casual wear atop a horse, Wiley’s first public sculpture stands on a base of limestone not dissimilar to the sculptures that line Monument Avenue. The name of the piece may derive from a verse of Matthew 24:6 (King James edition): “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

December 10th, Rumors of War will be unveiled on the front lawn of the VMFA along Arthur Ashe Boulevard in a ceremony beginning at 330 PM. The artwork will be facing north and will undoubtedly provide public and private discourse with the Richmond community and beyond.

Gaudy advertisements and hordes of tourists may not constantly surround Rumors at its permanent location. There will certainly be commotion though, and there will be thought. Wiley’s artwork should be considered on its own and within its environment. Nuance, amongst the disarray.



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