Cowan Community Center Grow Appalachia participants traveled to Check, Virginia this week for a tour of 7 Springs Farm. Not only is it important to know where your food comes from, but we wanted to know where our fertilizer comes from. It’s a beautiful farm with beautiful people, which I’m sure is no surprise. We loaded our van with a picnic and interested participants and 14 of us traveled to 7 Springs farm. This was a four hour trip, so folks were dedicated that signed up for this adventure. I’ll say this right off, even visiting a farm on a hot day is hard work.
We gathered at our Letcher County Extension office, which provided a wonderful driver and van at 7:00 and headed out. We had nice weather, good company and beautiful scenery along the way. Our compass directed us on the scenic route traveling the last 23 miles in a little under an hour, but we all got to claim beautiful farm houses we would love to live on our journey.
We arrived at noon and had a picnic with Ron and Lorie in their back yard and got to stretch our legs before the tour. Their flower gardens alone in the yard were beautiful. Apparently they also raise and sell Dalia bulbs.
After our picnic we began our tour of their 100+ acre farm. Lorie was our tour guide and gave good information. Lorie shared her husband Ron and Polly purchased the farm in 1990. The difference in price of real estate allowed them to sell two acres in Rhode Island and purchase the farm in Floyd County Virginia. Although the farm itself is massive, their equipment and operation seemed relatively small scale. The shed held two tractors and one backhoe/dozer.
Along the way, we stopped at a very old an out of use manure spreader, which she used to point out that gardening organically is not a new concept. We did not invent this fashionable concept at all, but are just returning to it’s origin.
Lorie shared the process of their irrigation system and the tiered gardening they do which helps immensely in the water distribution process. Rather than one large garden, we passed several on our path. With each garden containing several varieties of crops, rather than single crop gardens. She explained to our participants the reasoning for that, by simply asking our youngest member, Landon, who was on an educational day from fourth grade to look down at the grass and notice there are several types of grass growing, not just one variety and explaining a premise of gardening organically is to mimic nature as much as possible. Also, sharing this technique helps in pest control.
All gardens were also fenced with 8′ high fences to keep the deer out. Their fences were metal stakes and plastic fencing. She said deer do not break through the plastic fencing, but on occasion have jumped the fence. Gardens were lush with greens.
We traveled past the home/camp site of the summer intern workers. Very primitive accommodations for the workers who stay with them for the growing season. I admire the young adults who embark on this challenge and spend this time not only growing food but their own sense of self. I also have a gut feeling this would be a more successful form of drug rehabilitation than many of the programs that are out there now. Seems working with the land and the solitude would surely work for some.
We would stop about every twenty feet to point out some project that had or was taking place, but the land was very natural. Noticing their fruit and nut orchards along the way or bees that others maintain on the farm. Did I mention it was hot and we did plenty of walking.
We were happy to get to Polly’s portion of the farm and learn more about her CSA enterprise. Polly has 140 families that she provides either a half or whole share of produce to each week. Pick ups and deliveries are on Tuesday and Saturday each week. Produce is gathered at 7:00 on those mornings and produce prepped and sorted out. Fresh produce is provided from mid May until December. My understanding this was roughly $100 per month for a bag of fresh produce each week. Her share holders were as far as an hour away, serving Roanoke, Blacksburg and Christiansburg. Some of her share holders received discounts for work on the farm or help in transporting to distribution locations. She also had a system that you could sponsor a share holder so those less able to afford could get fresh produce at a reduced price. I’m still learning and educating myself on all the possibilities for agriculture and community development, so this walk thru of her set up was of benefit to me. Ideas are churning on how a youth leadership group could do this in our community garden with the benefit of a high tunnel. I’m thinking maybe ten share holders. This concept may be old school for many GA sites, but this would be a new venture in our community and we are making baby steps, but we’re moving forward. On that note, I’ll say what I said when I first attended a GA meeting and met the partner sites, the weaker me is intimidated and in awe of so much I hear happening at your sites, but the stronger more positive me is inspired and encouraged. Live Strong!
Polly’s place on the farm is totally self sufficient. She uses solar power for her CSA structure and for her home in combination with DC power. Produce is kept in a root cellar and squash room for distribution later in the season. I know I don’t understand it all, but it was an impressive battery system she had in place for supplying energy at the price of about $28,000. Her water for her home and CSA operation is gravity fed. All waste is collected and used for composting, although NOT used on the gardens she uses to supply CSA members. Polly retuned from the garden as we were finishing our tour there and was a pleasure to meet. Our first question for her was, “Is it worth it?” She did not hesitate to answer YES. She says she could go larger, but this is as big as she cares to be now. When asked if she would like anything to help her in her gardening, first on her list was a high tunnel. I was sort of surprised there wasn’t at least one on the farm, perhaps a deal could be made w/GA for fertilizer??? When asked her biggest expense, she said labor, but then recounted that her gardens are mainly worked by herself, her husband and one intern. She commented this had been a hard growing season for sure and Lorie had shared that if produce was scarce on the farm, Polly would try to purchase from other farmers.
The last leg of our tour was the 7 Springs Store, the loft of the original dairy barn that was there when they bought the farm. Ron is in charge of this aspect of the farm and when asked earlier which portion of the farm was the most successful, Lorie’s answer was that it was difficult to make a living farming. Ron and Lorie showed some of their most requested and go to products to the group. I was happy that we had Spinosad for our participants and we picked up some Serenade. We’ll be ready to follow David’s plan of rotating sprays weekly. Fresh garlic was also available and we picked up 25 lbs. each of regular and elephant garlic for about $8 a lb. We also got about 150 lb. of cover crops in a few varieties-Austrian Winter Peas, Cowpeas, Radish, Spring Oats and Winter Rye. Participants got to talk to Ron about the advantages of each. Our youngest participant got a t-shirt, a free sample of deer repellent, a flower for his mother and carried out a fairly large quartz rock. I was gifted a small fig tree and look forward to planting that at the Community Center.
We loaded back up to begin our trek home about 3:30. We continued our theme for the day with fresh veggies and stopped at the Harvest Table in Meadowview, Virginia. Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Good Life, is one of the owners of this restaurant. Unfortunately, we never got to meet her, but we did talk with one of the owners who stated all food served there was either grown in their own garden by their gardener Sam, or purchased locally. He shared more information about the restaurant and our next trip may include a working in the morning to earn our afternoon lunch. The food was delicious, the menu was pricey, so we all probably settled for a little less than we would have liked and resisted dessert, but after our stop there, all were happy and content for the last two hours home.
After fifteen hours on the road or field we were all glad to be home and in good spirits and happy with a day well spent. Again, our group was diverse with different ages, varying economic, religious and political backgrounds to be in a van for over eight hours. We talked a lot about gardens-the common ground for all. Thank you Grow Appalachia and John Paul DeJoria for making this trip possible.