A day trip around farms of Floyd County

Photos from the day

I-81 has been my best friend over the past several months!  I’m getting to know all the towns from Roanoke to Bristol…hitting all the high peaks and low valleys in between.  The many, necessary road miles is a working effort to get out and connect with folks in Virginia agriculture.  It’s been great to travel all around SWVA to visit farmers, farms, and service providers.

It was an extreme pleasure to be invited to a farm tour in my own neck of the woods, Floyd County.  The day trip,  arranged by Jenny Schwanke of Hale Y Gardens in Blacksburg, included five stops.  And I didn’t have to leave the county.   The tour was a field-trip planned for Concepts in Community Food Systems (ALS 4204).  A course offered in the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Minor from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at VT, which Jenny serves as a community partner.  The five stops covered many sects of the food system, from vegetable-livestock production to the final farm product on a store self or on a local restaurant’s lunch plate.

The tour started in Check at Seven Spring Farm, owned and operated by Ron Juftes and Polly Hieser.  Polly is in charge of the growing and the  CSA, Community Supported Agriculture project. She welcomed us, and we toured through her newly plowed field plots.  Some plots were still covered in hairy vetch, clover, and a mix of other winter cover crops.  Seven Springs consists of 111 acres of rolling pasture and wooded areas, 4-5 of which are in organic vegetable production.  The farm has been in production since 1990, and supports up to 110 shares during the growing season.  If you are not familiar, a share is your portion of the “agriculture” or farm products.  It depends on what type of CSA you subscribe to.  A person purchases products at the beginning of the season; they invest in a share of the farm.  Most often, with vegetable CSAs, a share
equals a set number of vegetables each week.  The share is also often referred to as the ‘veggie box’.  Polly has worked hard to make the shares at Seven Springs accessible to folks at all levels.   The farm serves persons/families of Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke.

The second side to Seven Springs is the Organic Farming & Garden Supply store, which supplies many farmers in the area with the fertilizers, amendments, and sprays they need for production.  The supply house also works from a website to fill online/mail orders.  So, it is a busy time around Seven Springs.  You can check them out and learn more at:  http://www.7springsfarm.com/

OK, we got our veggies down, now let’s go see some protein production.  Weathertop Farm is not a stone’s throw from Seven Springs.  We traveled down a dirt road, and then we saw the rustic Weathertop Farm sign.  As we approached, we were greeted by two friendly dogs.  Then hobbled out Cedric Shannon, who was recently injured coaching the Floyd girls soccer team…one of his many projects.  Sarah quickly followed him out and gave us a little history on the farm and their family.   They are a lovely couple that produce sustainably raised pastured chickens, rabbits, pigs, turkeys, and eggs.  They sell their products through many local CSAs and direct markets.  The farm consists of 65 acres.  They have been working the land for the past nine years, since 2003.  It is great to see the chickens out eating grasses & bugs in the pasture.  The Shannon’s rotate the chickens around the pasture and also use chicken tractors.  It was the appropriate season to see beautiful, healthy bunnies, but these were not Easter pets…these were good ole’ meat rabbits.  You see rabbit in so many upscale-gourmet restaurants these days.  The market really seems to be growing. The group of us learned a lot about livestock rules and regulations in our discussion with Cedric and Sarah, and all they do to comply with current regulations.  We also learned about the Shannon’s mentors.  The folks they looked to locally and within Virginia for support and help with the ever evolving life of agriculture.

Weathertop is looking for interns for this season.  Check out the  Farmer/Mentoring/Internship Opportunities at the top of the page.  I’m going back to visit the Shannon’s soon.  Stay tuned for a follow-up report.  More info on Weathertop Farm can be found at  http://www.weathertopfarm.com/index.html.

Our next stop took us closer to the town of Floyd, and to a lady that everyone in the
circle of agriculture knows around Floyd county and the surrounding area.  We went to Green’s Garage to visit Tenley Weaver from Good Food, Good People, another successful CSA in Floyd.  Tenley and her husband, Dennis Dove also own Full Circle Farm, a organic/sustainable vegetable production operation.  Full Circle Farm is one of the many suppliers to Good Food, Good People (which in many ways could be described as a growers collaborative).  Tenley had an ag background when she moved to Floyd.  She worked and learned all she could from Polly & Ron at Seven Springs and saw room for an expanding market.  With the good graces and blessings from Polly & Ron, GFGP was born.  The collaborative was founded in 1996 and stated with only 3 growers.  Today, GFGP works with over 50 producers (30 of which are produce growers) to supply Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke with local meats, eggs, value-added farm products, and fruits &
veggies.  It’s really amazing what they have done.  GFGP not only has the CSA share program, but they also sell local farm products at 5 local farmers markets.  They have even teamed up with Homestead Creamery for a milk/veggie share.
The email list for 2012 is up to 900 names long.  Starting in 2013, GFGP will offer their first winter share, which allows persons to purchase farm products all year long…..it also gives farmers a market to sell their products all year long!    To learn more about GFGP check out, http://www.goodfoodgoodpeople.net/

By now, we had all worked up quite an appetite.  It was scheduled that we would all meet  in town at Natasha’s, a local restaurant featuring local farm to plate ingredients.  Natasha’s prides it’s self in providing their patrons with a menu of at least 75% local, sustainably raised products.  The menu changes with the season…but it’s always YUM, YUM, Good!  It was such a gorgeous day for the tour.  Natasha’s is an open space, full of bright-natural light.  There are large windows, where you can view the quaint town of Floyd and the beautiful surrounding mountains from every angle.  The restaurant also hosts an art gallery where you can pick up some local pottery, glass, art.

Natasha took a break from the kitchen to come out to talked to us about how she  purchases local products used in the restaurant, and how she has built  a relationship with suppliers and farmers all across the area.  Mike Burton from SustainFloyd joined us for lunch, and gave us an overview of the efforts of the NPO.  SustainFloyd is working really hard to open up markets, create/improve agriculture infrastructure, and increase profitability for farmers .  Our order came, and we all ate and chatted about the happenings-interesting things in life.  For more info on Natasha’s check out their
webpage at http://www.natashasmarketcafe.com/.   For more info on SustainFloyd go to, http://www.sustainfloyd.org/.

After lunch, we were all full from the wonderful food at Natasha’s,  so it was a great time to talk about folks in need.  Our final visit of the day was to the Floyd Community Garden and Plenty headquarters.  Plenty is an organization that helps to provide people in need with food, materials, and caring.  Karen Day and McCabe Coolidge are committed to improve individual lives & the community, as a whole.   We have a lot to learn from Karen and McCabe.  You can find them at http://www.plentylocal.org/home.html.

This was a day to remember for a long time to come.  I was able to make contacts, that will assist us with the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project and the Farm Mentor Network.  I also got to get my boots dirty, learn more about local food systems,  and see agriculture at work….that’s what I love to do best!

Stay tuned for my next farm adventure, and keep some dirt under those fingernails~

If you would like for me to come visit your farm and share your story, please
contact me (Kelli) at kescott1@vt.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

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