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Eatocracy editor Kat Kinsman on being compelling and kind online

Kat Kinsman joins the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium speaker lineup for a discussion on creating compelling social media content, which Kinsman believes is essential for writers at any stage in their career.



When Kat Kinsman, managing editor of CNN’s Eatocracy, heard the line-up at the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium, she knew instantly she wanted in. She’ll be joining Esquire Food Blogger Josh Ozersky, Washingtonian Food Editor Todd Kliman, cookbook author Kendra Bailey Morris and others, sharing their expertise with fellow writers, bloggers, and food photographers. Says Kinsman, “It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be in the same room as them, so I didn’t even have to think about it.”

Kinsman will join Lisa Fain, Monica Bhide, and Josh Ozersky at the Library of Virginia for a discussion on creating compelling social media content, which Kinsman believes is essential for writers at any stage in their career. With over 50,000 Twitter followers of her own and 27,000 Tweets and counting, Kinsman has a keen insight on what flies and what flops on the weird and wonderful world wide web.


What do you, as a writer, take away from writers’ symposiums like this, and what do you hope to share?

Writers are often strange, solitary, mole-like creatures who shy away from sunlight and human contact (except on Twitter). Being in the physical presence of smart people with stuff to say reminds you that you should do that more often. I come out of these conferences inspired and energized–and often with new friends. What I’m hoping to share is, well, hope. I took a really strange path to get to the job I have now (my master’s degree is in metalsmithing and I used to work in advertising), but I wrote wherever I could. I wrote wherever I could, with as much artfulness and voice as I could–whether it was banner ads, blog posts, or even internal e-mails–and eventually people took notice. I would like for other writers who may just be starting out to know that any writing you do, even if it’s just a tweet, can get you on the path to where you want to be.

How do you think food writing is unique from other media–do you think food writers have a responsibility to advance the food system or level of culinary understanding, or is the role simply that of reporters, critics, etc.

We live in a funny age where the thing we knew for many decades as “food writing” (newspaper food sections and glossy cooking/travel magazines) is now perhaps the most rarefied part of it. It’s in a state of rapid expansion, and we talk about that a LOT in our meetings for the James Beard Awards Journalism Committee. For goodness sake, a Twitter feed won the humor category a few years back! Barriers to publishing no longer exist, so I think there’s more freedom for food writers to self-define. There is room for both cake-pop blogging and investigations into cattle downing, for meticulous step-by-step galleries of malolactic sauerkraut fermentation and analysis of school lunch regulations. You don’t have to be all things to all people, so long as you throw yourself into what you do.

I know you’re discussing “the beast that is social media.” How important is social media for food writers who want to advance their careers? Can you give an idea of what you plan to discuss at the symposium? How can writers tap into engaging content on social media without sounding self-promoting or hackneyed? (That’s three questions in one!)

You can’t be a writer and not be on Twitter. OK, maybe you can if you’ve got a Pulitzer shortlist slot under your belt or a book franchise that’s been made into movie blockbusters (a la Suzanne Collins), but the rest of us mortals have gotta hustle. And it’s a delicate balance I’m constantly assessing. Yes, you want to promote what you’re doing, because ideally you’re really proud of it and want to share it. But social media is all about karma. For every item of yours that you promote, shine your light on a couple things that other people are doing–whether it’s sharing something they wrote, boosting a message they want to put out in the world, or just making them feel a little better about themselves that day. It costs nothing to post. It costs nothing to be supportive and kind. It pays back more richly than you could ever imagine.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite Smiths song?

This really depends on the context. The sentimental favorite is “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” because there’s that mordant, romantic intensity that hits you like a ten-ton truck and imprints itself on your 17-year-old heart forever. I have a special fondness for “Unhappy Birthday” because my best friend has sung it to me on every birthday since I turned 19. She’s the sweetest human on the planet, and it’s such an evil little song! But I may have to call it for “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” because we played the instrumental version while my husband took his place at the altar at our wedding. It filled my heart with such joy that day, and lord knows, it won’t be the last time.


For all her poise and personality, Kinsman is upfront about her personal battle with anxiety. Her book, Hi, Anxiety, anticipated for release in early 2015, will lessen the stigma around anxiety and panic because, “stigma sucks, and stigma kills.”

The Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium takes places June 20th – 22nd at the Library of Virginia. Tickets are on sale now.

Photo courtesy of Kat Kinsman

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PHOTOS: RVA Road Trip to Harper’s Ferry

An evening and morning spent in Harper’s Ferry was an evening and morning well-spent.



After dropping our only child at college we turned to the mountains and explored. Over the next week or so I’ll be sharing the sights that my wife (Page) and I captured. These are from the first and second day.

We rolled into Harper’s Ferry fairly late in the afternoon and since it was on the way pulled into Harper’s Ferry Brewing. A theme from this trip is that the beer we tried was fine but compared to RVA the beers in other spots aren’t as good. We’re beer blessed in Richmond. You hear over and over how Legend Brewing has an awesome river view. I’ve always found that somewhat questionable. The view from Legend is a great view of the floodwall and city skyline. The skyline is the star not the river. At Harper’s Ferry the river is the real star. Harper’s Ferry Brewing is massive. If you pull up and the parking lot is packed don’t worry you’ll be able to find a spot with a view. They served pizza which we didn’t try but smelled great.


Can you spot the tubers?

We then headed over to Charles Town which you can check out here. An impressive thunderstorm rolled in as we drove back into Harper’s Ferry to the Barn of Harper’s Ferry. The Barn is between the olde timey part of Harper’s Ferry and Bolivar. I’m 99% sure we were the only non-locals there, which I always enjoy. Busy but not crowded, folks on laptops, one reading a book, couples, small groups all enjoying a drink as a bluegrass jam session played. It was also here that we saw one of the brightest rainbows I’ve seen.

The young lady looking at the camera was talented. In the hour and a half or so that we were there, she played at least four different instruments.

That wrapped up our first day of the road trip. The next morning we got up earlyish and hit Harper’s Ferry proper. Those that don’t know the history of Harper’s Ferry can check this out. Quick summary John Brown a white abolitionist tried to lead an uprising of slaves. His efforts failed and he was executed. In no way am I doing the story justice and you should hit that link to get some knowledge in your brainpan. Parts of Harper’s Ferry are a National Historic Park so make sure and pay the entry fee if parking in certain spots. The Park Service will ticket you if you try and skirt the rules. We parked at the train station around 8 and by 10 it was full and about half the cars had tickets on them. The Park Service provides a shuttle from their main entrance.

The light was super bright and harsh but here are some shots that give you a decent feel for the town. We’d like to hit the town again in the fall when the leaves have turned and the sun and humidity aren’t trying to kill you.

Technically not in Harper’s Ferry but across the river in Maryland. All that remains of a small community that was built around one of the locks of the C&O canal.

An old sign painted above the train tunnel. I highly suggest you walk across the railroad bridge and check out the tunnel the C&O canal. Very easy walk and one of the few flat walks in the area.

Church ruins on the way to Jefferson Rock.

Non-ruined church.

I hope you like stairs and steep inclines. Harper’s Ferry has them both in abundance.

This section has the gift shop and several buildings that show what stores would have looked like in the mid-late 1800’s.

If that mist would have lasted longer there would some much cooler-looking pictures.

There are plenty of eating and shopping option if you so desire. We had a decent breakfast bagel at Battle Grounds Bakery (although it was the plainest everything bagel I’ve had in recent memory) and enjoyed True Treats Historic Candy Shop. The crowds greatly increased as the day wore on and we hit the road for our next destination of the day, Dinosaur Land.

Previous RVAHub Road Trips

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PHOTOS: RVAHub Road Trip to Charles Town West Virginia



After dropping our only child at college we turned to the mountains and explored. Over the next week or so I’ll be sharing the sights that my wife (Page) and I captured. These won’t be in chronological order because that would make too much sense. Surprisingly these photos are from the first day.

We make it a point to try breweries in towns we visit. There are three reasons for this, one we like beer, two it often takes us into a part of town that we might not otherwise hit, and lastly, brewery staff often have an excellent scoop on other spots to hit that can’t be found with a google search.

Harper’s Ferry was our general destination on the first day of this road trip. We decided to hit Abolitionist Ale Works in Charles Town which is just about 15 minutes past Harper’s Ferry. It was doing this research that I realized that instead of staying a fine but not remodeled since Jimmy Carter was president hotel, we could have stayed in an Airbnb directly above the brewery. Live and learn. The brewery is right on Washington Street your chances of getting lost in Charles Town (population aprox. 6,000) are very slim. The beer and food were all good, nothing mind-blowing but quenched the thirst and filled the belly. The staff were excellent and there were plenty of seating options ranging from a small bar by the front door, dining room, and a nice little patio out back. The Shenandoah Saison  was one of their better beers and they take pride in a variety of sours which I wasn’t up for trying.

Word of warning if you plan to go to Charles Town. Pretty much everything (that we saw) closes early. After drinks and a little food we wandered down Washington Street and took a few photos.

Tobacco Use Only

It’s hard for me to pass up a good sign. There are many more photos of Feagans Jewelers on my hard drive.

Not dissing Grandma but the bartender at our hotel didn’t have high praise for Grandma’s Diner.

In retrospect we should have gone looking for the Old Opera House.

This was part of a giant mosaic taking up most of the side of a building. The jury is still out for me on whether the town is Historically Hip.

Ominous rain clouds ended our Charles Town exploration early. The next time we hit Harper’s Ferry we’ll probably stay at the aforementioned Airbnb and explore the town a bit more.

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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.



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.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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