Good Farmers Give us Good Food : Humanely Sourcing Virginia Farmers

Images: Unsplash

Images: Unsplash

Making the decision to be a GOOD farmer who is a responsible steward to the animals you raise is not necessarily the easiest choice, but it is the GOOD choice. Here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have some incredible farmers that are producing good food for a better foodie future.

Every morning Lina Mercer, the owner of Big House Farm, goes out around 6 am to tend to her 100-acre farm nestled in St. Brides, Virginia. As a fourth-generation farmer, Lina grew up with farming in her blood. After attending college, she moved to New York City for quite a few years, but the farm life called her back for a significant reason–her daughter. Lina wanted to teach her now 5-year-old daughter about the value of good food. She wanted to be able to provide her with the healthiest and cleanest food possible. What better way is there than to learn to grow it herself and teach her about the methods of organic, transparent and humane farming? Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farm, has been a mentor and consultant to Big House Farm and has led them to transform their land to become an all organic farmstead. In addition, Lina is also raising the happiest chickens she possibly can. “It’s so wonderful to see them be let out to pasture every day, they are pecking at insects and scratching at the dirt excitedly,” Lina says. Her young daughter gets to handle the chicks, and learn about their behavior and needs. The hardest thing for Lina as a chicken farmer is the attachment and worry she has for her chickens, so she does everything she possibly can to give them the best life. She believes the best chickens for her and her customers to eat are chickens that get to live as naturally as chickens can. She loosely quoted her mentor Salatin by saying “If you don’t pay for quality food, you will pay for it later in life.”

Images: Big House Farm

Images: Big House Farm

We took a trip to Warrenton, Virginia to meet Jesse Straight, owner of Whiffletree Farm. Jesse says “We raise chicken, eggs, turkey, pork, and beef all on pasture and without any GMO feed, chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics (except in rare, life-threatening situations for our cattle). Our goal is to farm in a way that is good for all parties involved: the land, the animals, our families, our customers, and our community.  We do that by respecting the needs of the land and the animals, working in coordination with nature.”

Jesse has made Whiffletree a place where animals have wide open spaces and pastures to forage and graze as they roam. His pigs spend their days wallowing in mud, shoving their little round snouts in the dirt and munching on nuts in woods. His cows and chickens wander freely in green pastures, snacking and taking in the sunshine as they roam the farm. In a previous interview, Jesse mentioned how Wendell Berry's environmentalist philosophy changed his life and encouraged him to be the type of farmer he is today.

“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”

-Wendell Berry

Image: Virginia Foodie: Whiffle Tree Farms

Image: Virginia Foodie: Whiffle Tree Farms

Through that philosophy, Jesse was able to become the type of farmer that can be admired. Luckily, Jesse and Lina are not the only farmers in Virginia that incorporate these practices. These farmers are true guardians of the animals and the land. No huge factory farms here–just happy, healthy animals straight from the farm to your table. There’s nothing quite like a humanely raised, grass-fed meat fresh from a local farm in your region. Not only does local, sustainably-raised meat taste better, it is also better for you. It contains essential nutrients and vitamins, including Vitamin E, beta carotene, and essential omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are lost in meat that is mass-produced and mass-distributed. Local meat is also far less prone to hazards caused by contamination and food-borne pathogens, like E.Coli, because of smaller facilities and processing procedures. If you want to improve your diet and develop better eating habits but still want to be able to eat the meat you enjoy, choose local. Purchasing local, naturally-raised products is one of the smartest things you, as a conscious consumer, can do.

Virginia is a cornucopia of agriculture, and as Wendell Berry says, “Eating is an agricultural act.” Supporting a good farmer in your area is a way of engaging in community and build real relationships. Finding your farmers is not always comfortable or convenient at times. Organizations like Real Local RVA, located in Richmond, Virginia are finding new ways to help tell these farmers’ and makers’ stories by creating events that connect them to consumers, chefs, and retail stores. Their organization has over 90 active members and is growing as fast as the local food revolution is.

Not so long ago, eating locally was viewed as an admirable but somewhat impractical option, especially for those living in parts of the country where access to these things is seemingly out of reach. As technology has changed, so has the consumer landscape, making it easier than ever to connect with local farmers. If you want to do your part, find a local farmer and support them whenever you can. Jesse from Whiffletree knows that the change to choosing local is not always an easy one to make, mostly due of cost and convenience, but he suggests small steps, like buying local eggs from a quality farmer for a good starting point. As you become more committed to using local farm-raised meat, you will start to treat all your food with importance, as you reap the benefits. Supporting local farms is a step in the right direction for your health, community and sets the foundation for the type of world you want to leave for the next generation.

Interested in finding a local humane livestock farmer? Check out the lists below:

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Central VA/Richmond

Blue Ridge Highlands

Shenandoah Valley

Southern VA

Tidewater

Northern VA/DC

 
 

Special thanks to list contributor Real Local RVA for Central VA/ Richmond-Area farms

 

If you want to find more farmers in Virginia, check out our GROW list. Know of a GOOD farmer we missed? Send us a message, and we will add them to our list.