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
Jason making friends
Piglets first day on the farm
One of the school’s riding camp horses
“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.
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.
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.
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
I’m not sure how I feel about butchering my own livestock. I do feel that it is important to know how it is done. Whether or not you’re a farmer, you should always be mindful of where your food comes from, how it’s raised, and how it’s processed. I think it gives you more of an appreciation for your food.
I love this short film. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s filmed incredibly well and in a tasteful manner. There is obviously an art to butchering.
On The Anatomy Of Thrift: Side Butchery from farmrun on Vimeo.