I find it fun to learn about surprising things right in your own backyard, and the connection Warrenton, VA has to Earth Day was unexpected.
Airlie is a hotel and conference center tucked away in the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont region. That’s where Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, was inspired to take the social consciousness of the 60s anti-war movement and channel it into a message of environmental stewardship. It was also at Airlie that Senator Nelson revealed his plans to formally announce Earth Day to a group of students at the conference center. It became a defining moment for Airlie’s identity.
The center began the Airlie Local Food Project in 1998 as a way to demonstrate sustainability by creating a 4-acre garden. A farm-to-table attitude is used in the hotel kitchens; the chefs and gardeners plan seasonal menus based on the time of year and what they can grow (and what they can find locally) to not only shorten the distance between farm and table but put money into the local farming economy. You can also learn about the food that’s headed to your plate on one of the garden tours, which include explanations of organic gardening, tours of the green house, chicken coop and a recently started orchard. You need to make sure you book in advance in order to have the chance to snack on some appetizers made from ingredients grown on the very plot of land you explored. You can also wash them down with a wine from one of the area’s many vineyards.
Airlie isn’t just focused on the helping save the planet by feeding you well, they also continue a decades-old recycling and composting program and they’ve upgraded all of their lighting in the main building and all of the cottages to energy-efficient LED lighting. The parking lot even has PEP stations for your cars plug-in power needs.
You truly find yourself immersed in nature on the 1,000-acre estate. Much of the property is designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The hotel has bikes that are free to use for exploring the property as you do your best to get back to nature.