In her life of residences and trips around the world, Dielle Fleischmann spent more of her adult life on Over the Grass Farm, her 420 acre property near The Plains, than perhaps anywhere else. An enduring love of horses and vast expanses had drawn her to the hunting ground of Virginia. But it was her passion for organic, sustainable agriculture that connected her to the country.
Fleischmann died on June 6th at the age of 90. During her 40 years in Fauquier County, she pioneered the transformation of her land into a diverse farm supplying customers throughout Northern Virginia with organic, cattle, raw milk, and other produce. Family members remembered the woman who had sailed the world on her family’s yacht, lived in London, New York, Florence, and modeled for Christian Dior in Paris; They said she walked purposefully around the property most days, supervising the 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 convincing the people in the area to grow organically and to farm with environmental awareness, âhe said.
He remembers the woman who threw lively dinner parties, her sleeves rolled up and dirt under her fingernails, as always.
She also loved 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 coming to your dinner,” said her eldest son Charles Fleischmann V. “That was the kind of person she was: she loved being a host and she loved meeting new people.”
Fleischmann, an heiress of Fleischmann’s Yeast, bought Over the Grass Farm in 1980 and soon started producing naturally grown food. After watching her father’s fight against cancer (he died in 1968), Fleischmann began to learn about the harmful effects of artificial fertilizers and genetically modified organisms on health. She wanted to provide her family with natural nutrition. “I saw what people ate and was horrified,” said Fleischmann in an article in 2017 Fauquier times. “So here I grew vegetables without chemicals, lamb and beef from grass and chickens that laid eggs.”
Fleischmann initially only grew products for her family and house guests. But when the news of her fresh, home-grown goods spread among friends and neighbors, she saw the commercial potential, family members said.
In just a few years, Over the Grass sold so many products that “production almost exceeded capacity,” said Viets.
With more than 300 cattle, 300 sheep and extensive gardens, the farm supplied restaurants such as The Ashby Inn in Paris, Girasole in The Plains and The Whole Ox in Marshall, as well as customers from all over the world as far as Washington, DC Fleischmann’s personal assistant Margaret Rhodes.
Perhaps most notable was the Fleischmann âcow shareâ program, which supplied almost 100 customers with fresh raw milk every week. The cow-share program allowed customers to buy shares of dairy cows to circumvent laws restricting the sale of unpasteurized milk, Rhodes said.
“Dielle did everything right,” said Amanda Luhowiak, co-owner of The Whole Ox. “She was a pioneer especially in the hunting area.”
Ironically, Fleischmann was not allowed to label their products as “organic” even though they crossed the threshold as they had never bothered to subject Over the Grass to an organic accreditation. âShe had the feeling that there was no benefit in having this label if everyone knew we were going to do it anyway,â said Charles Fleischmann. “It’s different today.”
In her role as landowner, Fleischmann built a reputation for openness and high standards. “She always had her own opinions and thoughts … she was always right,” said Lacy Warner, longtime associate and farm manager. “Dielle wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than first class.”
But she showed an unwavering loyalty to those who complied with her demands. “We were well looked after,” said Rhodes. “I loved going to work every day and it was nothing to leave an hour early.”
Regarding her disposition, Tom Foster, a close friend of Fleischmann, remarked: “Your meanness should be avoided and your wisdom should be valued.”
In the years that her business flourished, Fleischmann remained a staunch advocate of local organic products and invited visitors who wanted to learn from their methods, said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, of which Fleischmann was a board member and financial supporter.
“Your leadership in local sustainable agriculture was cutting edge,” said Miller. He worked with Fleischmann to promote the Buy Fresh Buy Local program. “Lots of people went to her to see how everything worked on site … 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 became terminally ill and closed a large part of the Over the Grass business because he could no longer personally supervise the business. However, their children plan to rehabilitate the farm as part of their inheritance.
Many years of care and attention went into building the farm, says Charles Fleischmann, “and we mustn’t let that get away with.”