Deep in Purcellville lies an 18th century Quaker farm with a vibrant commercial greenhouse full of herbs, flowers and clusters of bananas. But it’s not run by a big company—every plant, every patch of soil is tended to by one man. And grower Nick Donnangelo is a man on a mission: to supply his family with farm-fresh produce grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or carcinogenic chemicals. Each of his 20 banana trees produces 30-40 pounds of fruit per harvest, meaning he has a lot left over—a family can only eat so many bananas. Where do the rest go? Donnangelo has recently begun supplying Market Table Bistro with the main ingredient in their house-made banana pudding.
Donnangelo describes his bananas—Cavendish-Gros Michel hybrids—as possessing “a mildly spicy flavor that commercially produced fruit just can’t approach.” He explains that large companies often artificially ripen their fruits with gases that can affect their flavors. By allowing his bananas to ripen slowly, he says, they gain a taste complexity that chemical-treated fruits just can’t approach. Because of the all-natural growing process, they end up a little smaller than the bananas you buy at the store. But the culinary possibilities are endless. According to Donnangelo, they work well in banana muffins, chocolate banana cakes and pureed into smoothies.
As an added bonus, the pesticide-free process is “healthier and better for the environment,” adds Donnangelo on growing his produce the way they did in a bygone era. “They’re free-pollinating, they’re not genetically modified, they’re the types of whole foods people ate hundreds of years ago.”
Though he’s currently growing in a sizable commercial greenhouse, he recently applied for an EQIP grant to construct a 25-by-45-foot high tunnel dedicated entirely to growing organic, heirloom variety produce. If all goes well, he plans to expand his agriculture business to include more local eateries. “If [Market Table Bistro] doesn’t have a reliable source for organic, heirloom variety produce, then others probably don’t,” says Donnangelo on new potential clients. “So, I do anticipate bringing this to the attention of other local eateries that are concerned about local produce.”
In the end, Donnangelo says it’s all about growing the perfect banana. “The ideal fruit is one that’s raised without chemical pesticides or herbicides, raised organically, ripened on the tree, it’s friendly to the environment and it’s sustainable.”