Tag Archives: farm history

We’re on the cover!

We’re thrilled to be on the cover of the Winter 2017 Maker’s Issue of Edible Blue Ridge! Thank you so much to Natalie and Eze for your great work and attention to detail. You can read the full article here.

 

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Bakery/shed 2: Foundation and Floor

It was bound to happen. Any winter construction project has to build in time for snow. Ours arrived mid-January, and delayed the foundation by two weeks.

But once things thawed, the project entered a phase where things start taking shape very fast. It is very exciting. We were delighted to hire our neighbor Scott Franklin to build the foundation. This is what he and his crew accomplished in three three short days.  They did a wonderful job.

They incorporated charred block from our first oven into this foundation, which feels good and has a nice resonance.

The next step was to frame the floor, and we both helped Craig, our awesome contractor, finish this stage in three days. On the first day, we built the beam and secured the rim board.

On the second day, we added the joists, and on the third, we glued on and screwed on the subfloor. This floor is not going anywhere!

And now that we have a floor, our first thought is: let’s have a square-dance on it!  And if we have our way, that is just what will happen at our annual old-time music party, Thorny-O, which is coming up this weekend.

Day 4: We bought the farm!

When Ben and I moved onto this property in 2013 we signed a two-year lease with the owners who had farmed the land for a decade as Appalachia Star Farm. Leasing is a great way for prospective farmers to start farming without enormous resourse outlay. For example, we benefited from the work the owners had done working the fields, installing infrastructure, and developing markets. And some farmers craft long-term leases that give them the stability of owning while allowing them to keep their cash. In the end, we opted to buy.

And, as of Thanksgiving, we now own this beautiful little farm!  Michael and Katherine, we will do our best to carry on your legacy of stewarding this land.

The biggest barrier that we faced was, as you might expect, accessing credit. Few lenders will consider offering credit to a small business with less than two years’ track record. And it is challenging to make a farm look as successful on paper as it actually is, because the lifestyle is rich in ways unrelated to the bottom line.

But in a twist of conventional wisdom, the government bureaucracy made possible what the private sector couldn’t. The Farm Service Agency, an offshoot of the U.S.Department of Agriculture, offered us a great loan with a competitive interest rate and a repayment schedule that accomodates our seasonal cash flow. And we have an loan officer whose policy in times of trouble is to “just call me”. Strange as it may sound in today’s cut-throat lending climate, it’s enough to make us feel like our lender is actually trying to help us.

The Farm Service Agency and its many farmer-friendly loan programs are funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. We never could have imagined that there could be such great support for small farmers tucked into its nearly $1 trillion budget.

A little farm history

This afternoon I drove up the road to my neighbor’s house to talk to him about when he might be available to help us out with his 80 hp tractor. Just before thanksgiving, we bought an old chisel plow, but don’t have the horsepower to pull it. The ground is too wet right now, but I thought I’d see if my neighbor had time early next week, if conditions are right. When I drove up, he was supervising some siding being put on an old barn. He agreed the ground was too wet, but said that he’d stop by sometime in the next week. But he invited me in, and said, I want to show you something.

He took a book down off the shelf, a coffee-table book of photographs that his daughter had put together about a few years ago. It was professionally printed and looked very nice. It appeared to be a one-off, self-published book that she had printed as a Christmas or birthday gift. Inside were portraits of family ancestors, snapshots of my neighbor as a boy, sometimes alongside snapshots of his grandchildren doing the same things: playing in the spring-fed horse trough, or posing with a rifle next to a freshly killed buck. There was also a page on Hurricane Camille, a 1969 storm that unleashed devastating rains on parts of Virginia. According to the Washington Post, parts of Nelson County experienced the heaviest rains, with over 25 inches falling in just eight hours, causing flash floods and mudslides that killed at least 150 people in Nelson County alone.

When I got home, I wanted to show Heather the photo of a Camille mudslide I had seen in my neighbor’s book. A Google image search of “Hurricane Camille Nelson County” turned up the photo in the first page of results:


(for a hi-res version, see here)

My neighbor’s house is at the top of the photo. The road is Shaeffer’s Hollow Lane, and the East Branch of Hat Creek flows along the bottom of the photo. The house in the group of trees in the center of the photo is where we live now! My neighbor said that the big trees around the house caught the logs at the head of the mudslide and created a little dam around the house, which is why the mudslide parted around the house. Today, our fields are to the left of the driveway, and our greenhouses are to the right of the driveway. Had they existed in 1969, both fields and greenhouses would have been devastated by the mudslide.