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The Sweet Smell of Success in Accomack County

Ken Blair, Accomack County

Ken Blair, Poultry Producer

Ken Blair’s love of agriculture began when he started working on a potato farm at the age of 12. He rode his bicycle to the fields to help with planting, harvesting, and hauling irrigation pipe. He continued working for local farmers in high school and loved every second on the tractor and combine.

Though he enjoyed the work, Ken didn’t think he could make a living as a farmer and enlisted in the Army. The former medic travelled around the world in his 12 years of active duty service but jumped at the chance to return home to Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Now a nurse practitioner in the National Guard, Blair is proud to say that his son will be the 12th generation of his family to live in Accomack County.

He first began working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to explore options for reducing emissions from his operation. He started with a granular litter treatment and District Conservationists Tina Jerome and Jane Corson-Lassiter helped him develop a conservation plan that included concrete Heavy Use Area (HUA) pads, a waste storage facility, and tree plantings to serve as a windbreak for odor control.

“I’m a pretty big stickler on smell,” says Blair. “My neighbor recently came over and said ‘my wife was just talking about you.’ You hear a lot of negative comments about poultry operations, but she replied, ‘we’ve got a chicken farm nearby, and we never smell it!’”

Learn more about Ken Blair's conservation journey.

Enthusiastic Advocate for Rotational Grazing

Scott Miller, Windy Hill Farm

Scott Miller, Windy Hill Farm
(photo by Bobby Whitescarver)

Augusta County grazier Scott Miller faced a number of challenges when he began running his dad’s commercial cow-calf operation in 2011. Cattle had to walk half a mile to get water and moving them back to the barn was a difficult proposition.

“If I was going to make this work, there had to be more waterers for the cows and better grazing distribution,” Miller explained.

He reached out to Verona District Conservationist Charlie Ivins to explore options available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In 2016, Miller received funding to install two “frost-free” watering troughs and internal cross fencing to create seven grazing pastures.

These practices have increased the productivity of Miller’s forage and saved him time in the process. By dividing the pastures into smaller units with access to water, he is able to rotate his pastures and move his herd more easily.

“It used to take us two days and four or five people to get the cows into the barn to work them,” says Miller. “Now, I can get them into the barnyard by myself in an hour. The EQIP program made this happen.”

Miller has also installed exclusion fencing to keep his herd out of a 32-acre forest on Windy Hill Farm. This practice keeps his cattle from trampling feeder roots and scratching the bark - stressors that eventually kill the trees. It also offers herd health benefits by reducing the risk of acorn poisoning.

“I love his enthusiasm and interest in doing the right thing, says Ivins. “He didn’t waste any time implementing the practices in his contract.”

Soil Health Key to "Circle of Life" on the Land

Glen Pierce, Pierce Farms

Glen Pierce, Pierce Farms, LLC

Glen Pierce began farming nearly 30 years ago with 75 acres of cropland and 150-200 head of hogs in Surry County, Virginia. Today, he owns Pierce Farms, LLC, a 450-acre cash grain operation specializing in corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, and peanuts. He is also part of a proud farming legacy stretching back several generations. More than 75 percent of the land he farms is family owned or previously farmed by grandparents or other relatives.

Glen first began working with NRCS in 2012 after District Conservationist Mike Faulk shared strategies for improving his soil health. Glen is committed to conservation tillage, using no-till on all crop acres except those planted in peanuts. With NRCS and Virginia Best Management Practices (BMP) funding, Glen has planted cover crops on about half of his fields, and is working toward cover cropping his entire acreage. He also follows a nutrient management plan to improve farm profitability and water quality.

The 2014 Clean Water Farm Award winner says his conservation activities have reduced erosion and enhanced moisture management on his fields, leading to increased operational efficiency. He adds that the soil health benefits of cover crops have sold him on continued use of this practice in his operation.

Bullish About Soil Health

doesn't take a lot of “bull” when it comes to his soil health.

Jimmy Crosby, Cros-B-Crest Farm (photo by Bobby Whitescarver).

Jimmy Crosby doesn’t take a lot of “bull” when it comes to his soil health. The former professional bull rider left home 16 years ago to join the rodeo but has now returned to his family’s Virginia farm with a passion for making it more productive and profitable.

Though he’s a fifth-generation farmer, Jimmy only recently took over management of the cash grain operations at Cros-B-Crest Farm in America’s legendary Shenandoah Valley. Cash grains on this family farm are mainly corn, wheat and soybeans. 

“When I came home to farm, we needed to diversify our operation to create additional, steady income, corn after corn just wasn’t working,” Crosby says. “Healthy soil is the key to making money in the cash crop business. “

Learn more about Jimmy's journey to true Virginia Soil Health Champion.

Walking Straight: Ten Generations of Farming in Chesapeake

Melvin and Mario Albritton

Mario (left) and Melvin Albritton (courtesy photo).

Melvin Albritton and his son, Mario, come from a long line of African-American farmers who have worked the land in Chesapeake, Virginia, for more than 10 generations. Melvin, a Vietnam veteran, acquired his first 25 acres and a 450 International tractor in 1968. Today, Albritton Sutton Albritton (ASA) Farms has expanded to more than 500 acres planted in corn, soybeans, wheat, and specialty crops.

Like many long-time producers, the Albrittons want to be good stewards of the land and protect their soil and water resources. The duo transitioned to no-till farming about five years ago and worked with NRCS to install cover crops and enhanced conservation practices that protect wildlife habitat, reduce erosion, and improve soil health and water quality. These changes have produced dramatic results, helping them double yields and reduce fertilizer applications. Learn more about why voluntary conservation works for these farmers.

Mario serves as chairman of the Virginia Dare Soil & Water Conservation District, and is the first African American to serve on the board. The 2014 Clean Water Farm Award recipients actively share their conservation story through numerous outreach activities, including an interactive display that Mario takes on the road to educate Virginia and North Carolina youth about the importance of agriculture. The Albrittons received the Virginia NRCS Civil Rights Advisory Committee Farmers of the Year award in 2015 for their outstanding stewardship and outreach. View their full tribute video.

A Long Track Record of Stewardship at Susie Q Farm

Davis Tree Planting

Harrisonburg Soil Conservationist Philip Davis pitches in during a volunteer tree planting at Susie Q Farm (courtesy photo).

When it comes to restoring impaired watersheds, those involved in conservation activities must be prepared for a marathon rather than a sprint. Bob and Sue Grace have committed about 25 years of their lives to improving water quality on their farm in Broadway, Virginia.

Along the way, their work boots have covered a lot of ground to make Susie Q. Farm a model for earth-friendly agriculture. They started working with NRCS, then the Soil Conservation Service, in the mid 1980’s when they enrolled a portion of their 190+ acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

In addition to installing 15.9 acres of forested buffers in the Continuous CRP and 34.3 acres in Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Grace family has fenced livestock out of the main stem of Smith Creek, installed numerous riparian buffers, and initiated several streambank stabilization projects. Learn more.

Rockingham County Farmer Returns to His Roots

Holsinger Family

The Holsinger family out on the "home place" (courtesy photo).

After years of soaring above the earth as an Air National Guard pilot, James “Buck” Holsinger decided to plant more than his feet on the ground by moving back to the farm that had been in his family for over two centuries. He acquired the property in the midst of back-to-back tours in Afghanistan (2009 and 2010), and felt drawn back to his agricultural roots following the birth of his third child.

When they relocated from West Virginia to Rockingham County, Buck and his wife, Amanda, had yet to develop a vision for the historic property that included the original house Buck’s great, great grandfather had built. After much research and deliberation, they decided to rebuild the family farm by establishing a sustainable livestock operation focused on serving the local community. Learn more.

Former Physicians Assistant Focuses on Healing the Land

Thomas Roberson harvesting

Thomas Roberson, Jr., harvesting to heal (courtesy photo).

Thomas H. Roberson, Jr., has a retirement plan unlike most. After successful military and civilian careers in health care, the U.S. Army veteran has opted to begin a third as a specialty crop farmer. The former physicians assistant has shifted his focus from healing to horticulture, growing a variety of specialty crops and cut flowers, hosting field days, and greeting guests at his roadside stand in Spotsylvania County.

Tom and his wife Anita, a disabled Army veteran, purchased the property in the mid-1980’s and had been cutting grass there for more than 20 years. They eventually started a vegetable garden that grew to over two acres. With their background in the medical field, the Robersons’ vision for this operation was to provide healthy foods to enhance the wellness of their customers, and plants and flowers to beautify their homes. Read more.