The Grace Farm Tour’s 10th-anniversary event actually has its origins in a fact-finding mission that started a dozen years ago, soon after Don and Deede Cady joined Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick.
At that time, the recession’s grip was strong, and more people from the community were seeking food aid and other help from the congregation.
When conversations turned to finding a sustainable new way to raise money for the church’s growing number of charitable concerns, the new couple described a successful event from its previous hometown. Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville presents the Hunt Country Stable Tour, now in its 60th year.
William Anda, who has been part of the Grace Farm Tour since the beginning, said a small group of organizers from Grace decided to attend that year’s tour of noted horse farms and equestrian facilities to get a feel for how it worked — and whether Grace was up to the task of hosting such a big event.
“We’re such a small church, and we didn’t want to bite off something too big for us to chew,” Anda said.
When church members approached neighboring farms and estates to see if they’d open their gates to visitors, they agreed — on one condition.
“The farms didn’t want a penny being spent on the church. Nothing but charity,” Anda said. “That has made it what it is today. They do it because they know it’s going to the community and not to Grace Church.”
A decade later, “we’ve raised $450,000 so far, and we hope to clear the $500,000 mark this year,” Anda said. “We’re supporting 22 different local charities this year.”
To recognize their creative thinking and community spirit, Anda said, the Cadys have been named honorary co-chairs of this year’s event.
Eight sites await this year’s visitors. It’s possible to start anywhere along the route, but “a lot of people begin with the country fair, because you can buy tickets there,” Anda said.
The country fair is on Grace’s church grounds. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions, and there will be a variety of artisans and farm-to-table vendors.
The popular llamas will be back, and pony rides for children will begin at 2 p.m.
Visitors can step inside the church to see the renovations underway to prepare the church for the installation of a new organ later this year.
Food truck vendors will be on the church grounds, and the Grace Grill will return to serve affordable hamburger and hot dog meals with chips and drinks. Blue Ridge Mountain Rotary Club volunteers will staff the grill.
Live music at the country fair begins at 10 a.m. with Wishful Thinking and continues at noon with Brandon Wayne. At 2 p.m., the Earlysville Boys will perform — but not until after they’ve shown their 4-H animals in the only recognized 4-H livestock show in Albemarle County.
“They’ll be showing their animals in the morning and jumping on the stage to play in the afternoon,” Anda said of the band. The musicians are participating in a steadily growing show that draws 4-H members from Albemarle, Fluvanna and Orange counties.
“We started with a few kids with chickens and rabbits, and now we’ve got sixty entries,” he said.
Over the past decade, Grace’s team found a formula that fits the congregation and the surrounding community. History, horses, dogs, gardens and picturesque views combine to capture a slice of Keswick spirit.
Other stops that will beckon visitors along the tour include:
» Old Keswick will host equestrian Tad Coffin at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Coffin, who won two gold medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, will discuss and demonstrate his new SmartRide Rex and Thera-Tree saddle technology. Equestrian Anne Sutherland will be on hand to demonstrate the sport of combined driving, which demands skills from driven dressage, marathon and cones, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Old Keswick has seven foster horses from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the foundation will have horses available for adoption.
» Castalia, owned by relatives of Meriwether Lewis, will fill its massive historic barn with antique dealers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region; look for art, textiles, furniture, jewelry and books, among other items.
» Belvoir Cemetery is new on the tour this year. At nearby Montanova, a farrier will offer a demonstration from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and twin sisters Lise Pratt and Marcy Burke will present dog agility training demonstrations at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. There also will be time to learn about Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary and its work.
» Cismont Manor Farm will present a collection of rare antique carriages — and early horseless carriages for antique automobile aficionados.
» Ben Coolyn is back again this year. Vineyard manager Emily Pelton will offer presentations at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.
» Fruitlands will offer demonstrations by the Farmington Beagles at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
» And speaking of hounds, Keswick Hunt Club will welcome visitors to see its American foxhounds in action at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Right on the heels of the 10th-anniversary Grace Farm Tour comes another milestone for Grace Episcopal Church; next year is the church’s 275th anniversary.