In a lifetime of many residences and travels the world, Dielle Fleischmann has spent more of her adult life at Over the Grass Farm, her 420-acre property near the Plains, than perhaps elsewhere. An unwavering love for horses and the great outdoors had drawn her to the hunting country of Virginia. But it is her passion for organic and sustainable agriculture that has linked her to the land.
Fleischmann died on June 6 at the age of 90. During her 40 years in Fauquier County, she became a pioneer in transforming her land into a diverse farm that provided organic produce, grass-fed beef, raw milk and other products to customers. across Northern Virginia. Family members remembered the woman who had been around the world on her family’s yacht, who had lived in London, New York, Florence and modeled for Christian Dior in Paris; they said she could be found most of the time walking the property with a purpose, overseeing milking and happily digging in the dirt.
“She was kind of Johnny Appleseed,” said Richard Viets, former ambassador to Tanzania and Jordan, and Fleischmann’s fourth and last husband. “[Dielle] was very early in persuading the people of the region to grow things organically and to cultivate with a sense of the environment, ”he said.
He remembers the woman who had dinner parties as always having her sleeves rolled up and dirt under her fingernails.
She also enjoyed serving the organic produce grown on the farm at these gatherings, which often included friends, neighbors and influential people from Washington. “You never knew who was going to show up to his dinners,” said Charles Fleischmann V, his eldest son. “She was the kind of person she was: she loved being a hostess and she loved meeting new people.”
Fleischmann, an heiress of Fleischmann’s Yeast, bought Over the Grass Farm in 1980 and quickly began producing naturally grown food. After seeing his father battling cancer (he died in 1968), Fleischmann began to learn about the adverse health effects of artificial fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. She wanted to provide natural food for her family. “I saw what people were eating and I was appalled,” Fleischmann said in a 2017 article in the Fauquier time. “So here I grew chemicals free of chemicals, grass-finished lamb and beef, and laying hens. “
At first, Fleischmann only grew produce for his family and guests. But as word of her fresh, local produce spread among her friends and neighbors, she realized the business potential, family members said.
Within a few years, Over the Grass was selling so many products that “production was almost over capacity,” Viets said.
With over 300 head of cattle, 300 sheep, and expansive gardens, the farm catered to restaurants like The Ashby Inn in Paris, Girasole in The Plains and The Whole Ox in Marshall, as well as customers from as far away as Washington DC, according to Fleischmann’s personal assistant, Margaret Rhodes.
Perhaps most noteworthy is Fleischmann’s “cow sharing” program, which provided nearly 100 customers with fresh raw milk every week. The cow-sharing program allowed customers to buy dairy cow stock to circumvent laws restricting the sale of unpasteurized milk, Rhodes said.
“Dielle was doing everything the right way,” said Amanda Luhowiak, co-owner of The Whole Ox. “Especially in the region of hunting country, she was a pioneer.”
Ironically, Fleischmann was not allowed to label its products as “organic,” even though it hit the threshold, because it never bothered to submit Over the Grass for organic accreditation. “She felt there was no benefit to having that label when everyone knew we were doing it anyway,” said Charles Fleischmann. “It’s different these days. “
In his role as landowner, Fleischmann has built a reputation for candor and high standards. “She always had her own opinions and thoughts… she was always right,” said Lacy Warner, longtime worker and farm manager. “Dielle wasn’t going to settle for anything less than top of the line.”
But to those who responded to her requests, she displayed unwavering loyalty. “We were well taken care of,” Rhodes said. “I loved going to work every day, and there was nothing you could do with an hour early.
Commenting on his temper, Tom Foster, a close friend of Fleischmann, remarked: “His wickedness was to be avoided and his wisdom to be cherished.
In the years when her business was flourishing, Fleischmann remained a staunch evangelist of local organics, inviting visitors who wanted to learn from her methods, said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, where Fleischmann was a member of the board of directors. and financial support.
“Its leadership in local sustainable agriculture was state-of-the-art,” Miller said. He worked with Fleischmann to promote the Buy Fresh Buy Local program. “A lot of people went to see her to see how it all worked out on the ground… and almost every farmer is making these investments now.”
As a philanthropist, Fleischmann has also been involved with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Great Meadows Foundation, and several other charities and nonprofits around the world.
In 2016, Fleischmann fell into a terminal illness and, no longer able to personally supervise the farm, dissolved much of the Over the Grass operation. His children, however, plan to rehabilitate the farm as part of his legacy.
Many years of care and attention went into building the farmhouse, said Charles Fleischmann, “and we can’t let that go.”