Belle Meade Farm

Today some of my fellow sustainably minded Mason students and I went on an adventure to tour Belle Meade Farm. Organized by the wonderful people, and my former co-workers, at the Office of Sustainability, we gathered into two vans to travel the hour and a half to Sperryville, VA.

Belle Meade is owned and operated by Mike Biniek and Susan Hoffman. This couple had a story that really resonated with me. In 1993 Mike and Susan grew tired of their urban life style. Mike worked as a newspaper distributor and Susan spent her days as a teacher. Just like me, one day they decided they wanted to leave the city life behind. They bought a 138 acre farm where they would soon start a bed & breakfast and a children’s summer camp. At the time they were in their 40s and had little farm experience but their passion motivated them. Now, along with their summer camp and bed & breakfast, the farm consist of organic vegetables, horses, bees, pasture raised cows, pigs, chickens, laying hens and turkeys as well as a small school that incorporates sustainability with traditional education. This is a truly amazing farm!

Jen with the chickens

Jen with the chickens

Jason making friends

Jason making friends

Piglets first day on the farm

Piglets first day on the farm

Hello ladies

Hello ladies

One of the school's riding camp horses

One of the school’s riding camp horses

I’m not 17 anymore…

“Lift with your legs!”

Those are the words I heard over and over again today from Farmer Katie. The concept was lost on me. I thought I WAS lifting with my legs. She then proceeded to demonstrate by doing some crazy ballet style squatting that looked very similar to a frog getting ready to leap. I laughed as I tried to imitate this awkward movement. I felt like my knees were going to give out on me. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the many years I spent wearing combat boots on a big steel ship while I was in the Navy. My knees aren’t what they use to be, neither is my back!

It’s amazing how something so simple as proper lifting can be a challenge to those of us who have apparently been doing it wrong our whole lives. However big the challenge though, this is a very serious subject. In 1995 a study done on “Injuries Among Farm Workers” in the United States by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that back injuries account for 14.4% of lost-time farm injuries. Back injuries are only preceded by the broad category of leg/knee/hip injuries, which holds the number one spot at 17.4%. Farm injuries can lead to a lifetime of problems as well as lost wages, not to mention a decline in the production of the farm. These injuries are not only seen amongst the older age brackets either. The same study shows that 36.5% of all injuries resulting in lost time come from farm workers 20-39 years of age.

In a nutshell, if you are working on a farm you need to take care of your body. Do some stretches before you head out to the field, learn how to lift properly, and pay attention to what is going on around you. Farming is a wonderful and fulfilling career, but it’s also one of the most dangerous.

Farm Job!

I was hired for my first ever farm job! I will be working as a farmhand at Willowsford Farm in Loudon County, VA. This farm is pretty special because it’s set amongst a growing suburban community. We have 30 acres to potentially grow on but this season we will be focused on 2 1/2 acres. We will be providing vegetables to 50 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members every week from June through November. I don’t know much about growing veggies as most of my prior experience is in raising farm animals. I will be working along side Farmer Mike, who manages the operation, his gorgeous, yet shy, farm dog Bella, and his assistant Katie. They both have many years of experience and I look forward to picking their brains.

When I first had my epiphany that I wanted to be a farmer I never really considered vegetables. I’ve never been known to have a green thumb. I’ve been known to kill house plants before they even have a chance to get settled in. But with some guidance and a little patience I’m sure that I can improve my growing skills. I look forward to some hard work and dirty hands.

I feel like I’m finally making the first step to becoming a farmer.

Beginning Farmer (finally)

I’m finally on my way to becoming a farmer! I was recently accepted into The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program (NPBFP). Yay! The program is 7 months long with online information and biweekly saturday field trips to the Fauquier Education Farm. The curriculum was developed by VA Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension so it should be full of great info. I’m beyond excited! Here is a video that discusses farming in Virginia and mentions this program.

Permaculture Design Certification

My care for people has once again been expanded. Over Spring Break I took a Permaculture Design Certification Course taught by Rev. Marjani Dele. This program was organized by the Office of Sustainability‘s Danielle Wyman, Lenna Storm, Jenny Upton, and myself. My efforts in helping organize the class were repaid when I was allowed to take the course for free. At the time the little knowledge I had on Permaculture was obtained during the planning process.

​Permaculture is based on three foundations of ethics devised by Bill Mollison:
1. Earth care — care for the earth and all of its living systems
2. People care — care for yourself and others (individuals, families, and communities)
3. Fair share — be fair: take, have, and use only what you need, and when there is surplus, give to others and recycle resources back into the system.

These three ethics really made be begin to look at life differently. I’ve really started taking peoples needs into consideration. I realized that there are ways for humans to live in harmony with nature and there are people who truly care.

It is now my goal to figure out how I can implement Permaculture principles into a farm operation.

Geoff Lawton – Permaculture Teacher

Soil and Human Health

Mmmm Corn Bread

I know I know I keep posting about making bread. To me cooking, baking, and canning (which I plan on learning as well) is a big part of self sufficiency and farming. Also, it’s one of the few things I can do while living in a tiny apartment. This recipe is very simple and you don’t have to wait for the bread to rise!


  • 1 1/4 cups yellow or white cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 to 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
  1. Bring all ingredients to room temperature, about 70 degrees F.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Grease an 8 inch square pan with butter or oil.  Place in the oven until hot.
  3. Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Add eggs, butter, and milk.  Combine with a few rapid strokes.
  5. Scrape the batter into the hot pan.  Bake 15 to 18 minutes until nicely browned.

Fast White Bread

I’m still working on perfecting my bread making skills. I picked up Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary from the library which is packed full of great recipes and has some nice tips. I decided to try the “Fast White Bread” recipe (pg.597) and it turned out wonderful. My other breads were very dense, I’m guessing I used too much flour, but we enjoyed them no less. However, this bread turned out so soft in the middle and slightly crunchy on the outside. Great for sandwiches. I will definitely be using this recipe again!



  • 2 cups bread flour + extra
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 package active dry or quick-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
  1. Stir together bread flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in large bowl.
  2. Add water and butter to mixture.  Add an additional 1/4 cup of flour at a time (up to 1 1/4 cup) until dough is moist but not sticky.
  3. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over to coat with oil.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (75 to 85 degrees F) until double in bulk, 40 to 45 minutes.
  4. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.  Punch down the dough, form it into a loaf, and place seam side down in the pan.  Oil the surface and cover loosely with a clean cloth.  Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, 20 to 45 minutes.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  7. Remove the loaf from pan and allow to cool on a bakers rack.

Beekeeping class

I’m so excited right now! I will be taking a beginners beekeeping class offered by Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia.  Once I have completed the 9 week course I will be helping to start an apiary at George Mason University.  I will also have the wonderful opportunity to teach a beekeeping workshop offered by the Mason Sustainability Institute..dates TBD.  This is going to be a great learning experience for me as I am planning on having a small apiary on my farm.  Nothing like some fresh honey. Stay tuned for my ramblings on beekeeping and how wonderful these little critters are!

And now for your viewing pleasure..a work of art produced by my love jonmills

Pizza party of two

Since I mastered the art of baking bread (and by mastered I mean I’ve baked one loaf my whole life), last night I decided to try my hand at homemade pizza.  The dough recipe seemed easy if it turned out bad it’s still pizza..who doesn’t like pizza?  So Jon and I decided that I would make the pizza and he would help me eat it.  He eats anything so I wasn’t too worried about my lack of pizza dough making skills.  Fast forward 2 ish hours and wall-a! Pizza! I’m not trying to brag or anything but I have to say it was probably the best pizza I’ve ever had..seriously..I’m awesome!


  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 3 cups bread flour (adjust as needed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar


  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups bread flour, olive oil, salt, white sugar and the yeast mixture; stir well to combine. Beat well until a stiff dough has formed. Cover and rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Turn dough out onto a well floured surface. Form dough into a round and roll out into a pizza crust shape. Cover with your favorite sauce and toppings (we used spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes) and bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.