While there are countless Virginia businesses committed to practices that reduce their impacts on the environment, some go above and beyond, making huge strides towards bettering Virginia’s beautiful landscapes. Visit these eco-friendly destinations or book a tour to learn about how they implement sustainable practices in their businesses.
Polyface Farms is a prime example of eco-friendly agricultural practices, raising animals and growing produce using only the most sustainable, environmentally-sound methods. For a casual view behind the scenes, the farm offers a self-guided tour Monday-Saturday during business hours, but if you want to hear from the staff, you can sign up for their Grass Stains tour, a two-hour educational walking tour of the farm, or the Lunatic Tours, which are limited to 100 people and are given from the casual pace of a hayride.
In addition to displaying a wide array of unique sea creatures in safe, natural habitats within the aquarium, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center operates the Stranding Response Program, a statewide effort to provide aid to all stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. The program examines distressed animals and offers the most humane treatment courses based on the diagnosis. Over the years, the aquarium has helped thousands of stranded, sick, and injured animals return to their homes off the coast of Virginia. Additionally, the aquarium facilitates visitor science programs, works on conservation projects like restoring coral reefs and rebuilding local osprey populations, and studies ocean trends to help marine life thrive in areas where human activities have damaged their ecosystem. To contribute to the important work done by the Virginia Aquarium, you can make a donation online, plan a visit to the aquarium, or book one of their whale and dolphin watching boat trips, where a portion of your ticket sales will support the aquarium’s education, research, and conservation efforts.
Want more eco-friendly destinations in Virginia Beach? When visitors hop on board The Nature Bus at the Virginia Beach REI they learn about the natural heritage and biodiversity that’s unique to the surrounding area. Learn about conservation efforts of natural resources and get hands-on with environmental stewardship projects. Group packages for groups of 10-16 people are offered with differing price points and tour lengths.
Another environmental stop in Virginia Beach, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center is the definition of sustainable building. Its solar panels and residential wind turbines produce more energy than the building uses, for starters. There are also geothermal wells that collect rain for drinking water, waterless toilets, and natural landscaping, all adding to the center’s status as an international model for energy- and water-efficiency. Call ahead to arrange a tour or take a virtual tour.
Virginia oysters are a delicious, flavorful treat, but they are also one of the most environmentally-friendly foods out there. These plump bivalves clean the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways, filtering the waters and creating clean water wherever they live. Once harvested, they are taken to restaurants all over Virginia, like Gabriel Archer Tavern at The Williamsburg Winery, where they are served on the half-shell, fried, grilled, or in other savory dishes. Paired with the wines made on-site, these oysters are the perfect way to practice ecotourism while enjoying one of Virginia’s most popular foods. And after your meal, the restaurant recycles the shells with the VCU Rice Rivers Center Oyster Shell Recycling program, which are returned to Virginia waters to act as reefs for new generations of oysters.
The Chincoteague Bay Field Station—Wallops Island
Chincoteague Bay Field Station, located in Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore, has been serving and educating eco-enthusiasts since 1968. They offer a variety of field visits and hands-on learning opportunities for all ages in coastal Virginia, often in partnership with NASA Wallops Flight Facility, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and more. Check out the variety of school programs, family programs and summer camps to find the best fit for you.
Wild Wolf Brewing Company received the Green Brewery of the Year Award from the Virginia Green Travel Alliance for three consecutive years (2015-2017). Recycling, composting, and water and energy conservation are the main focal points for sustainable practices at Wild Wolf. A careful composting process is used for the restaurant’s on-site garden, creating rich soil to grow their own vegetables and herbs. They also grown their own hops, keeping resident chickens and ducks in the fields to eat the bugs and keep down the weeds, avoiding the use of harmful chemical pesticides. Like many Virginia breweries, Wild Wolf sends most of their spent grains to local beef farmers for feed, who then provide beef for Wild Wolf’s restaurant, creating a sustainable loop of eco-friendly business practices. Additionally, the brewery side uses recycled materials for their six pack carriers and uses cans rather than bottles for their beers, which are lighter and easier to recycle.
Richlands Dairy & Creamery—Dinwiddie
Richlands Dairy & Creamery in western Dinwiddie County was originally established in the 1700s and the house there today was built by the Jones family in 1913. There are four generations of the Jones family living and working on this farm, opening a creamery in spring 2019 that operates as a “Cow-to-Cone” business. The cows are fed with grass and silage grown and ground on the farm. They are open for school and group tours, the Fall Festival is every weekend in October, and they offer Farm-to-Table dinners several times during the year.
Focusing on sustainable development, nature reliance education, and ecological land design, The Sustainable Homestead Institute is a non-profit organization that provides an immersive experience in the skills that were used by earlier peoples to survive off the land. Sign up for courses ranging from one to five days to learn valuable outdoor skills, including how to build shelters, start fires, and create safe drinking water. Additionally, this educational facility has transformed hay fields into a research farm that produces honey, grazed beef and mutton, free-range eggs, heirloom apples, timber products, and biodynamic vegetables in a large commercial greenhouse.
Laurel Fork Sapsuckers Farm—Hightown
Laurel Fork Sapsuckers Farm is a six hundred acres dedicated to sustainable tree farming. Located in the western portion of Highland County at an elevation of 4000′ feet, head up to the farm to learn about the health benefits of maple syrup as well as the many culinary uses beyond pancakes. You’ll see how maple syrup is made by attending the tree tapping demonstrations during both weekends of the Highland County Maple Festival, or by attending one of the farm workshops. But it’s not all about the syrup here – responsible, sustainable farming is the main focus. They’re also creating a migratory bird habitat and working on tree restoration and Heritage Apple restoration projects.
If you’re looking to do your own part in keeping the local communities clean, consider signing up for a self-guided cleanup program in Virginia. There are many different organizations that provide the tools and information for cleaning up throughout the Commonwealth, including the James River Association, Keep Virginia Beautiful, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which hosts a Clean the Bay Day on the first Saturday in June, bringing together thousands of Virginians to help clean dozens of watershed areas that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.
Looking for more eco-friendly businesses and things to do in Virginia? Here are a few more destinations worth a visit to learn about sustainable practices:
- Beagle Ridge Gardens & Herb Farm—Wytheville