Written by Kelli Scott-Farm Mentor Coordinator—Southwest Virginia
The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project hosted a Floyd County Farm Tour on July 18th. The farm tour was a follow-up to a June Information Session, which provided general information on the project and details on the Virginia Farm Mentor Network.
The purpose of the farm tour was to allow farmers, of all stages, to get out on working, successful farms. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with producers in many different sects of agriculture. Floyd County, VA is a very unique county. It has a rich, deep, and long tradition of agriculture, as well as a great appreciate for the arts and all things eclectic. Floyd and the surrounding areas, like most of Southwest Virginia, has always been known for beef cattle production. Over the past 20 years, the diversity of agriculture has increased in the county. Today you can see a number of sustainable farms from beef to shitake mushrooms. Floyd presents a great opportunity to visit a number of different farms in a close geographical area.
To learn more about Floyd County, visit: www.floydvirginia.com/
The day began bright and early, meeting at Food Lion parking lot to load up on the 2 Virginia Tech vans. I had the trusted help of Ms. Jennifer Helms, a PhD student in the department of Agricultural and Extension Education, working with the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems minor, to assist me and drive a van for the day. We were expecting 22 folks to join us on the tour. Everyone arrived, got settled, and we were off~
The first stop of the day was in Check, VA at Seven Springs Farm, specializing in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, and organic farming and garden supplies. We were met by Ron Juftes and Polly Hieser of Seven Springs. First we toured the Community Supported Agriculture portion of the farm. Polly runs the CSA and serves 100 families in the New River Valley with fresh garden veggies. She allowed us to visit her greenhouse where she had fall vegetable seedlings started. We also saw the pack shed where all the vegetables from the farm are gathered, washed, sorted, and bagged up into shares for the CSA members. From the farm, the shares are picked up and/or delivered to drop points in Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke. Polly walked us through her vegetable garden plots. She had different growing areas spread out across the farm, which allows her to take full advantage of her naturally rich areas of soil and microclimates. Polly and Ron started Seven Springs in the 90’s. They have developed a successful working system. “We are committed to growing the freshest, healthiest food we can by using only sustainable and biodynamic practices”.
Ron picked up with the group and showed us the organic supply house. Seven Springs supplies farmers all along the east coast, with most of their customers being in Virginia and North Carolina. You may have seen their booth at a trade show or conference you recently attended. Ron does a great job at promoting his products. It was great to learn more about what is available in Floyd and what Seven Spring has access to. They are a key player in the agriculture system, which helps farmers stay local.
To learn more about Seven Springs, visit: www.7springsfarm.com/
The next stop was right next door at Weathertop Farm, a small family-owned and operated farm dedicated to holistic sustainable animal husbandry, land stewardship, soil conservation, and composting. The main business of Weathertop Farm is raising and selling pastured chickens, rabbits, pigs, turkeys, ducks, sheep and eggs. We were greeted by Cedric and Sarah Shannon and family. I have visited with Cedric and Sarah many times. I really enjoy learning from them and watching their farm expand. They have now incorporated sheep into the pasture rotation.
The group learned about the importance of pasture maintenance to support grazing animals and daily livestock rotation. Everyone got to learn about “Chicken Tractors”. This is a great comparison to the small chicken tractors we saw at Seven Springs. Where they used a narrow rectangle movable cage with just a few chickens in the vegetable rows, which helps to eliminate a great deal of bugs from the garden. At Weathertop, we saw chickens, (broilers & layers), hogs, rabbits, and sheep. The day after our visit, the Shannon’s were schedule to get in 600 baby chicks for the next round of broiler production.
To learn more about Weathertop Farm, visit: www.weathertopfarm.com/
Once we left Weathertop, we headed back towards the town of Floyd. We stopped off at G.J. Ingram’s on HWY 221, just outside of town. Ingram’s, as it’s known around town, is known for all things farming. It is a great gathering/meeting place for farmers. It is a local country store, gas station, and farm supply house. They have almost anything you need…or they can get it. The family welcomed us into the store and offered us snacks and cold drinks. G.J. Ingram’s is a multi-generational dairy farm and farm supply house, with a long history of farming everything from cows to corn in Floyd County. Ingram’s, and farm stores like this, are a great place for beginning farmers to go and hang out….Get to know some folks, build relationships, and see what you can learn.
We left Ingram’s store and headed to The Floyd Country Store for lunch. They had us all set up and hosted us to a wonderful lunch. This was a great chance to cool off from the hot summer day. We all enjoyed wonderful fresh, local food and cold ice tea. Lunch was a great chance for networking. Dr. Kim Niewolny (project director) joined us for lunch and the afternoon session of the tour. She addressed the group and discussed the purpose of the farm tour and gathering. It was a great chance to talk about the opportunities of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project and the Virginia Farm Mentor Network.
Floyd Country Store: www.floydcountrystore.com/
After lunch we went to visit with Tenley Weaver at Good Food, Good People. Tenley runs a Community Supported Agriculture project. In many ways the basic model is similar to Seven Springs, but Good Food, Good People also aggregates farm products from many different local farmers. Tenley helps market over 30 vegetable & herb growers’ products. She works very hard to support over 50 farmers total, which includes all her meats, dairy, eggs, and vegetable products. Good Food, Good People serves families in Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke. Tenley has even stretched out into Franklin, Bedford, and Botetourt counties. GFGP also does 6 different farmers markets, and has many successful wholesale farm to restaurant — farm to store accounts. Tenley was generous enough to rearrange her schedule to spend time with us talking about local food systems, the importance of strong markets, and her lessons for the immeasurable lengths achieved through honesty and integrity. “It’s amazing how far the basic skills learned in Kindergarten will get you…in farming and in life”~
For more info on Good Food, Good People, and the farmers they help to serve, visit: www.goodfoodgoodpeople.net/
Next was Full Circle Farm, which was just a quick drive down a country dirt road. Full Circle is the primary farm that supplies Good Food, Good People. It is owned by Tenley Weaver and her partner, Dennis Dove. Full Circle’s only client is Good Food, Good People and the many families and accounts they work to supply. As we drove up to Full Circle farm, the skies were beginning to darken. We continued on with the tour, but kept a close eye above. Full Circle farm is “off grid” = totally solar. They have a spring on the farm that is pumped to a high location into a holding tank. From the high point, irrigation water is gravity fed down to growing areas and greenhouses. Dennis took us down to the spring and showed us the pump. He discussed the process it took to get the spring up and running. He also talked about his environmental vision, agriculture philosophy, and a little about why he and Tenley live on and operate a solar farm. Full Circle has 5 greenhouses. They were all full of grape & cherry tomatoes and specialty peppers. It was thrilling to see all those wonderfully sweet, juicy grape tomatoes ripening on the vine. I love to pop them in my mouth like candy! But, they are so much better than candy~
As we left Full Circle Farm, the skies opened up and we were treated to an afternoon down pour that cooled down the extremely hot July day. It came fast and hard. The drive to our last farm was an adventure, but we all made it safe. Riverstone Organic Farm was the final stop of the day. Woody Crenshaw, the owner of Riverstone had joined us for the full day of touring. It was great to get his perspective on all the different farms in Floyd. Mr. Crenshaw is also the president of a local non-profit, SustainFloyd, which is working to promote agriculture, local food systems, sustainable rural development, and overall quality of life in Floyd County, VA. SustainFloyd is a member of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project. They will be implementing Whole Farm Planning programing and many other opporunities for beginning farmers & ranchers.
Riverstone Organic Farm is a working, model farm. It is an example of the best of what is possible for vegetable production in Floyd County. This farm is new, but well respected, greatly due the staff Mr. Crenshaw and his wife has hired to manage and operate the farm. Riverstone employees a number of farmers that have been doing it well for years. The staff comes to the farm with a full understanding of farming in Floyd County and they also bring a well rounded understanding of markets necessary for success. Riverstone Organic Farm is also working very hard to support the next generation of agriculture. They have a very active internship program.
To learn more about Riverstone Organic Farm: www.riverstoneorganicfarm.com/
To learn more about SustainFloyd: www.sustainfloyd.org/
We were all very grateful to the farmer’s hospitality. We were welcomed so graciously onto their working farms. Many of the farmers rearranged their schedule to meet with us. They took time away from their busy day to share their experiences in agriculture with the Beginning Farmer & Rancher group. Many thanks and appreciation to all the famers that allowed us to tour their farms and ask questions. Your time and input is invaluable!
Most all the farms we visited had an internship/work experience program. Visit the website links above or inquire with Kelli Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on the farms or related work experiences they may have to offer.
Want to keep up with other meetings, events, and gatherings hosted by the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project, Like our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Virginia-Beginning-Farmer-Rancher-Coalition/239686926056659