Bringing Local Back: Cristina’s Café Features Local Food in Strasburg, Virginia

Despite the recent popularity of the Local Food movement, many communities, particularly in smaller rural towns, have resisted the trend, citing the added expense or unavailability of local goods. But in the town of Strasburg, Virginia, a small café is striving to change negative perceptions about eating locally — one plate at a time.

Especially in rural areas, people do not spend as much of their income on food. ‘Organic food’ is seen as something for people with money — city people,” says Wendy Willis, who, along with her sister Cristina Willis, co-owns and operates Cristina’s Cafe. The café attempts to combat that perception by emphasizing the availability of locally grown produce, meats, and dairy products.
“Eating locally is most important,” says Willis, adding that Cristina’s café strives to “educate people about what is around them and what is available seasonally” by using locally produced ingredients (people in the ‘biz call this “locally sourced “) in their dishes whenever possible — sometimes as close by as the herbs and tomatoes grown in the café’s garden — and creating their menu based on what is available seasonally.

In addition to serving locally sourced alternatives to the fast food found in Strasburg, Cristina’s is also strengthening this Main Street community’s local food economy by hosting a farmers market in the café parking lot. “I go to a lot of farmers markets, so I know a lot of vendors,” says Willis, who initially organized the market to serve as a place both for local vendors to sell their goods, ranging from organic berries to handmade soaps, and as gathering spot for Strasburg residents to get out and socialize. The markets are held on Friday nights to avoid competition with Saturday and Sunday farmers markets, and attract a mix of locals and tourists alike, depending on the week.

The Willis sisters have a multifaceted approach to their conservation efforts. “It’s really all about being conscious of the waste you are producing,” says Willis. The café, which is the first Virginia Green-certified restaurant in Frederick and Shenandoah Counties, has incorporated various recycling and waste reduction strategies into their business practices. “There’s no local recycling pick-up for businesses,” says Willis, “so once a week we collect everything and take it out to the recycling plant.”

Beyond recycling raw materials, the Willis sisters put a compost bin in their yard to produce soil for their herb and vegetable garden. Dairy and other kitchen scraps are sourced to a local pig farm, which in turn provides the café with some of its meat products. Meanwhile, a stormwater management system consisting of a hose and gutter system and a 1,500-gallon rain barrel collects water off their roof, which they use to water the café garden. The sisters have also taken measures to reduce the environmental impact of their building by participating as a community pilot project for solar panel installation on the roof of their café.

Two Easy Ways to Green a Business

For business looking to green their practices, Willis suggests the following tips:

  • Be conscious of how much waste you are producing. Small changes in waste management can significantly reduce costs and environmental impact.
  • Look for recycling and community composting programs. Many areas now offer local pick-up, but if not consider doing your own drop-offs at local recycling plants. If your business is located in a rural area, contact local farmers to see if they can take organic waste; or if you have the space, start your own composting bin. Many urban areas have community composting sites as well.