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Joe Meek grew up on a beef cattle and sheep farm on land that is now the Draper Valley Golf Course. Although he is not sure how many generations of his family have been in the livestock business, Joe is certain that his family farming heritage goes back for several generations. His father came to Pulaski County as an Extension Agent, then became a farmer and a major player in the development of the cattle industry in Virginia and beyond. Because of his love of working outside and with animals, Joe decided to become a farmer himself.
He recalls that his first job off the farm was as a field man for the Virginia Cattlemens Association (VCA). From 1985-1992, he traveled to feeder cattle sales all over the state.
Reflecting on his father’s contribution to farming in the area and to him personally, Joe commented, “My father, Roy A. Meek, Jr., farmed in Draper’s Valley from 1963-1989. Prior to that, he worked as the Pulaski County Extension Ag Agent from the late 1950s to 1963. He was very innovative using different marketing techniques for feeder cattle and lambs, and was active on many national boards including the National Cattlemens Association, Cattlemens Beef Board, and the American Sheep Industry. He was also active on many state and local boards including the Virginia Cattlemens Association and the Dublin Feeder Cattle Association.
“To me personally,” Joe continued, “he taught the value of hard work and integrity.” What greater legacy could a father leave his son, and what greater compliment could a son pay to his father!?!
A graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Animal Science, Joe and his wife Lisa and their three children Sarah, Allyson, and Jackson are the owners of Meek Farms. All three children have been active in 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America). He began farming on his own by leasing a 100 acre farm near Radford with sheep and stocker cattle. More acreage and a cow herd was added in 2001. The family purchased the farm where they now live in 2003. His farming has continued to grow and expand until now he owns 107 acres and leases an additional 1100 acres in Pulaski, Montgomery, and Wythe Counties. The core leased farms have been leased since the 1990’s.
The major focus of Meek Farms is now beef cattle, a cow/calf and stocker operation. The work of the farm is handled mostly by the family, with a few part time employees to assist with the larger jobs. Hay is grown for animal feed on the farm.
He believes that the key elements to success in the agriculture industry is “hard work, perseverance, and having a marketing game plan.”
Meek is pleased to be located in Pulaski County because “it is a great place to raise a family, and it has a strong agriculture community.”
The biggest change he has seen in the agriculture business is that “cattle marketing is now year round. When I was growing up, cattlemen sold cattle only in the spring and the fall.”
Additional positive changes he has seen is that farmers are taking better care of their cattle with improved health programs, are paying more attention to
marketing, and have better access to market news. One thing that some see as an
improvement while some view as a challenge is that there are now a lot of different ways and places to market feeder cattle in the New River Valley.
Although farming is hard work and time consuming, both Joe and his wife have additional employment away from the farm. Lisa is a registered nurse at Lewis Gale Hospital – Montgomery and Joe is Manager of the Pulaski Livestock Market.
Continuing to discuss the farm-related legacy he received from his father, Joe recalls that he was manager of the Pulaski Livestock Market from 1963 until his death in 1992. His father began selling lambs in the early 1970s via teleauction. He had one of the first feeder cattle teleauctions in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s he began selling lambs over a computer auction, and instituted
computerized record keeping at the market in the early 1980s.
Joe took over as Manager of the Pulaski Livestock Market after the death of his father in 1992. He still serves as an auctioneer for the VCA teleauction sales.
As Manager of the Pulaski Livestock Market he works closely with the Dublin Feeder Cattle Association, Virginia Cattlemens Association, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Most of the Meek Farms’ feeder cattle are sold in tractor trailer load lots via teleauction. The remaining feeder cattle and cull cows are sold at Pulaski Livestock Market.
The Pulaski Livestock Market has a sale at 6:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. They are marketing both state graded feeder cattle as well as slaughter cows and bulls.
Meek Farms “tries to take care of the animals and the land for the next generation. If farming was easy, everybody would be doing it!”
Like most farmers, Joe Meek hopes the next generation will continue farming “if that is what they really enjoy.” It is obvious that he himself enjoys farming very much!
SUBMITTED BY: SHEILA D. NELSON
ON BEHALF OF PULASKI COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Having grown up on Hillside Farm in Pulaski County, it seemed only natural to Scott Flory that he remain on the land that has been farmed by his family (the Guthries) since 1795, so he became a seventh generation farmer and a second generation dairy farmer. His parents, Dale and Janet Guthrie Flory, introduced the dairy component to the farm in 1980. When Scott married and brought his wife Laura into the partnership with his parents in 2009, the two young dairy science graduates of Virginia Tech started doing some research and planning. From this, they determined that a robotic dairy would fit their family and business goals very well. Farming has always been hard work and probably will continue to be, but many improvements can be made by working smarter with the technology that is now available. The use of a robotic dairy operation requires that farmers develop a wide range of technical and computer skills to maintain the equipment and troubleshoot any problems.
The farm consists of 800 acres, 500 of which are owned and the rest is rented ground. In addition to dairy farming, the Florys produce a variety of crops including corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and grass hay. Some of these crops (corn, soybeans, and wheat) are sold locally while their milk is marketed through a farmer-owned cooperative and is marketed on the east coast. Hillside Farm employs eight people with a wide range of responsibilities including calf care, feeding and nutrition; cow health and monitoring; business management; and crop production.
The Florys are experiencing excellent results from the robotic system. With the introduction of Lely robotics, they have been able to milk twice as many cows (now 240) with the same number of people. Despite the increased efficiency, there remains a lot to do behind the scenes of the system. On a daily basis the milking machines must be maintained, high quality fresh feed made available, data received from each cow reviewed, and all the other jobs that go along with operating a dairy farm performed. Even with the state of the art milking system, it is often necessary for someone to go out two or three times a day to round up any cows that have not come in for milking on their own.
Each of the 240 cows wears an ID transponder on a collar that carries all her information; it is scanned every time she walks up to a robot. (Scott laughingly refers to these transponders as “Fit Bits For Cows”). Each cow may come for grain and get milked up to six times a day. There are four robotic milkers, any one of which is capable of scanning a cow’s collar upon her approach. It tells how many times the cow has already been milked that day as well as her average milk production. The transponder captures a great deal of other health information about each cow, including how much she is eating, her body temperature, her udder health, and her pattern of activity. The system is designed to alert farm personnel to possible symptoms of illness so they can be addressed quickly before the problem can become serious.
In addition to benefitting the people on the farm, the cows also enjoy a lifestyle that makes them more contented. Experts generally agree that contented cows produce better milk with an increase in production. This has certainly been the experience of the Florys since they switched from the twice daily (2:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every day) milking system to the new robotic system.
The calves live together in a separate barn which is automated to allow the calves to choose when they want to eat. This way the calves are able to start early on a more natural and less stressful lifestyle.
The cows are able to be milked when they want and the system is able to sense when all four quarters of the udder are empty. The cows of Hillside Farm enjoy a wide range of low stress, high comfort amenities: automatic brushes scattered around the barn provide back scratches; shades and automatic fans keep the barn cool; a barn which flushes itself clean every hour (turning the aisles into rushing waterways that sweep debris and manure away to be filtered and recycled); conveniently and robotically placed piles of precisely mixed feed containing corn silage, soybeans and alfalfa grown right there on the farm; and choice of which straw or sand to use for resting. The farmers are better able to learn more about the unique personality of each cow, making for better relationships. An additional benefit is that the cows have become very calm and often don’t even notice when someone familiar walks through the barn.
The Florys are very good stewards of the land and use many recycling and sustainability practices to help carry out that stewardship. The new systems and innovative practices that have been adopted have not only increased the overall efficiency of the farm while taking good care of the land,but also allow more flexibility to enjoy a good balanced lifestyle outside the dairy. Laura Flory said,“While the cows are leisurely eating and milking as they please, we are like the pit crew that run around during a race making sure things are always running at their best.”
Although Virginia’s milk production is small as dairy states go, the dairy sector has a significant impact on the state’s economic productivity. Located in the southeastern section of the United States, which is considered a fluid milk deficit region, Virginia is learning that this fact can translate to opportunity for farmers. Milk ranks as Virginia’s number three agricultural commodity. Not only fluid milk but also butter, cheese, ice cream and condensed milk product manufacturing are included in the state’s dairy industry.
According to Laura Flory, “The southeastern region of the United States is growing in terms of dairy. We have a really good market, and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon.” Although their robotic dairy is relatively new, they are “getting the kinks out, fine tuning some things, and always looking at how we can improve.”
The biggest change the Flory family has seen in the business of agriculture is “the volatility of world driven markets. In recent years the price farmers are paid for milk can swing by up to 50 percent in just a year’s time. As if farming didn’t have enough unpredictability already, these kinds of market patterns make it extremely challenging to manage a business in which most of the input costs stay fairly constant.”
They have also noticed “an increased interest from consumers about where their food comes from. With most people now being several generations removed from the farm, the public has more questions and sometimes opinions about how their food is produced.”
The Florys consider “the ability to adapt to change and making a quality product that consumers want” to be the key elements to success in the agricultural industry.
“We feel that it is such an honor and a privilege to be dairy farmers in the 21st century. Not only do we have the opportunity to continue a legacy that has been passed down for seven generations in Scott’s famly, but we are getting to be on the forefront of technological advancement and see the potential that it has in the world of agriculture.” Laura comments. Laura continues, “The water tower that looms near part of our farm used to read ‘Room to Grow.’ Being located in Pulaski County has done just that for our family for the past several hundred years. The biggest assets to us are all those who support us within the community. From County officials to people who we see at the grocery store, so many folks acknowledge and appreciate agriculture as a vital part of our County. That recognition helps a business like ours maintain our confidence in our future here and continue to seek ways to grow.”
Pulaski County is extremely fortunate to have such committed, enthusiastic young people continue the family farm heritage while adopting the latest technological advances!
SUBMITTED BY: SHEILA D. NELSON
ON BEHALF OF PULASKI COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
THE MARKETPLACE at the historic Train Station in downtown Pulaski is celebrating its 5th season this year! Everyone was so proud that first evening five years ago when six vendors set up to sell fresh, locally grown produce!!! Prior to this opening, the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce had spent months planning, researching, networking, and meeting to develop a blueprint for a farmers’ market that would be successful in the Town of Pulaski. At that time the elements of shopping, food, beverages, and entertainment were lacking in the area, so one goal was to provide these things as well as introduce people to the benefits of locally sourced food. Recognizing that the vendors were micro-businesses which needed to be profitable, the Chamber chose Tuesday evening (an “off-night” as farmers’ markets go) to enable the participating vendors to continue with whatever larger Saturday venues in which they already participated and to make some additional funds in Pulaski. Since ensuring the profitability of the vendors was and continues to be a major priority, other things were required to entice people to come out to shop on Tuesday evenings. It was necessary to make THE MARKETPLACE a destination, “the place to be,” on Tuesday evenings. More and more people began to stop by, and the market gradually grew.
After the first year, the Chamber published a book featuring their vendors and were cited in Bon-Appetitt Villa Appalachia, helping to make the second year extremely profitable for the vendors, which had grown to over twenty participants. Year three brought some changing economic factors and by year four it became incumbent on the Chamber to rethink some of the strategies while continuing to attract the same demographics that appreciate fresh produce and locally sourced food.
In the spring of 2017, the layout was upgraded and the music was changed to a more acoustic style with a band only once a month. Musicians appearing this season include Magic Moments, Ron Ireland, Billy Steele, Pratt Brothers, Steve Smith, Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Audio Rain, and Virginia Wild. Whitebarrel Winery joined Westwind Winery to provide beverages along with continuing the craft beers from local distributor and supporter Virginia Eagle. Fresh lemonade is also available.
Town of Pulaski Mayor Nick Glenn came up with a new idea which has been very successfully incorporated into THE MARKETPLACE this season: sponsorships are being taken. In addition to advertising the sponsors and benefitting the local non-profit food banks, these sponsorships also help assure profitability to the vendors. Sponsors for this season include Downtown Exxon, MasTech Utility Service Group, Martin’s Pharmacy, Highland Ridge Health & Rehab, Pulaski YMCA, State Farm – Webb Donald, Colley Architect, and New River Resource Authority. A group is chosen by each week’s sponsor to receive the benefits of that week’s sponsorship. Those chosen this season include the Emergency Needs Task Force, Our Daily Bread, Heritage Cares, Farm 2 School, and the YMCA with the Farm to Table Dinner. The food banks obtain fresh local meats, vegetables, fruits, and breads to help feed the hungry in our community. A thank-you letter from just one of the beneficiaries stated, in part, “Thank you so much for your donation of food, of 102 pounds of fresh bread, produce, eggs and meat to the Emergency Needs Task Force of Pulaski County….Your support makes it possible for us to offer a ‘hand up’ to those in need. Your donation helped us feed many families in our community.”
Everything cooked and sold at THE MARKETPLACE this year is made from locally sourced ingredients. The sellers either used their own meats and vegetables or purchase their ingredients from other MARKETPLACE vendors. Hudson Beef, LLC – Old School Hamburgers are made with local farm raised beef and lettuce/onions from their farm. Johnny Ray’s uses pork purchased from Stump Ridge; the pork is then slow cooked at the Train Station all day and sold at THE MARKETPLACE; Southern BLTs are also available. P. J. Slaughter has cooked meat raised by the NRV Sheep and Goat Club. Local chefs P. J. Slaughter and Loren Hunter sold shredded pork tacos made from locally-sourced ingredients (meat from Stump Ridge and vegetables from Pear Tree); they sold out within one hour!!! Chef Paul Etzel from LewisGale Hospital – Pulaski and Food City also participate in the Culinary Showcase to show healthy dishes that can be prepared from the produce that is currently in season. Chef T from the Draper Mercantile was recently at THE MARKETPLACE purchasing ingredients for her culinary creations from Amy Tanner of Pear Tree Hill Farm.
The first Farm to Table Dinner with Chefs P. J. Slaughter and Loren Hunter was held at the July 18, 2017 MARKETPLACE to benefit the YMCA.
Virginia Tech Extension is often present to share recipes and/or distribute healthy samples, but always to promote healthy eating.
Young Entrepreneur Academy graduates Isabella of Forget Me Knot Designs and D.J. Roark of Greenhouse Down South have been selling at THE MARKETPLACE on some Tuesdays throughout this season.
Lizard Licks, a relatively new business in town, got started at THE MARKETPLACE.
A recent communication from another local business showed the way participation in THE MARKETPLACE has helped that business: “THE MARKETPLACE was the initial building block for the Blue Ridge Fudge Lady. I was able to use THE MARKETPLACE to build a strong local customer base as well as some outside customers who still order online! THE MARKETPLACE provided the Blue Ridge Fudge Lady one of the best stepping stones, which allowed us to grow into a local retail store! Many repeat customers coming in today were initially MARKETPLACE customers!”
Some of the other currently participating vendors include: Pulaski Grow (produce grown using aquaponics); Cobb Hill Alpaca (alpaca yarn, socks, honey, greens); Daisy’s Kitchen (baked goods); Mountain Mama’s (handmade personal care items); Kelley Family Farm (produce, jewelry, glass items); Debbie Grubb (baked goods); Stump Ridge Farms (pork products: sausage, uncured bacon, ribs, tenderloins, brats); JWC Farms (greens, tomatoes, herbs and other produce); Chestnut Ridge Berry Farm (blueberries, canned items, other produce); Pear Tree Hill Farms (our heaviest produce vendor: greens, squash, green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and much more); Laughing Duck Farms (fresh ground horseradish, produce, eggs, herbs); Dave Knight (local honey); Haunted by Waters (handmade fishing lures); Oh Tutu (craft items), and Pycone Creamery (local ice cream).
Greg East, Town of Pulaski Town Councilman, recently commented, “The Chamber has year after year exceeded the Town’s expectations for the farmers’ market. This year is no different. They have put together a market that is great for the customer, the vendor, and most importantly, for our community. THE MARKETPLACE is the place to be on Tuesday evening!”
Peggy White, Executive Director of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, has this to say about this season of THE MARKETPLACE, “One of our favorite aspects of THE MARKETPLACE is that it has become a community gathering spot for the citizens of the Town of Pulaski and surrounding areas. The Chamber of Commerce cares about THE MARKETPLACE vendors as well as the customers who visit. The Chamber makes everyone feel welcome, actively includes the community (such as honoring World War II Veterans in early June), and supports local agriculture and artisans. New this season, the Chamber has initiated a MARKETPLACE sponsorship which is a win-win-win for all. THE MARKETPLACE sponsor donates money to the Chamber for the purchase of fresh produce, meats and baked goods from the vendors. The food items are then donated to area food banks. The sponsor receives acknowledgement, the vendor makes a sale, and nutritious foods are distributed to people within the community who may not have access to fresh foods. Throughout the years, the Chamber has consistently listened to vendor and customer feedback and has worked hard to set up THE MARKETPLACE to be the best market it can be for vendors, customers, musicians, and the Town. It is a community hub, and we have made lasting relationships from our involvement with THE MARKETPLACE.”
Many other events periodically contribute to the efforts to give THE MARKETPLACE a true sense of community. Some of these include Pulaski Proud, Cass Long & her Country Line Dancers, Salute to Schools to highlight all the Pulaski County School programs, Pulaski County Library with activities for kids and to promote the summer reading program, Healthcare night featuring various healthcare vendors in the area, the list could go on and on……………..
THE MARKETPLACE continues to evolve and become a family of sorts. After a worker with one of the food vendors suddenly and unexpectedly passed away earlier this season, there was a wreath placed in his memory and a sympathy card for everyone who wished to sign. The following note was
received from the gentleman’s family: “We wish to express our deepest gratitude to all the friends and neighbors of THE MARKETPLACE. We wish to thank you all for the consolation you gave us during such a trying time…..straight from my heart. Thank you.”
Ms. White, Chamber Executive Director, continues her reflections about THE MARKETPLACE: “Our focus on THE MARKETPLACE is based on the fact that ‘food’ is the single-most unifier on the planet. All cultures and religions have celebrations and events based around food. Food brings us all together. Pulaski County needs to embrace its rich agricultural heritage and we have tried to bring attention to that heritage with THE MARKETPLACE HERITAGE FARM SERIES written by Sheila D. Nelson and featuring a Pulaski County farm each month. Agriculture is still the number one industry in Virginia: hence, big business, small business, micro business.”
About the future of THE MARKETPLACE, she says: “This is our fifth season and we are still going strong and changing to meet the demands of the local and regional economies. As we look toward the future, I see THE MARKETPLACE continuing to be the heart of the community driven by the significant role that food plays in our lives.”
Danielle Hiatt, current President of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce,shares her feelings about THE MARKETPLACE: “THE MARKETPLACE is so important to our community because it gives us an opportunity to shop, eat, and spend locally. We have access to high quality foods and produce that are not only local, but picked for us at peak quality.
“It’s so exciting to see how THE MARKETPLACE brings the New River Valley together. The variety of events provide something for everyone. THE MARKETPLACE encourages health and wellness while supporting the arts and other aspects of life in Pulaski County.
“THE MARKETPLACE is made possible because of the Town of Pulaski. The Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce appreciates the Town’s commitment to provide our area with such a distinct place to visit and enjoy.
“We invite you all to join us and check us out online at Pulaskimarketplace.com for this season’s calendar of events.”
Hope to see YOU at THE MARKETPLACE!!!!
SUBMITTED BY: SHEILA D. NELSON, ON BEHALF OF PULASKI COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Phillips Family Farms currently consists of three tracts, two of which qualify as heritage farms in Pulaski County. Paul Phillips said this about these two properties: “The Cecil’s Chapel farm was obtained in 1906 and has been farmed continually throughout the 111 years since by our family.
“The Shiloh farm, often described in old Miller family deeds as ‘near Peak Creek,’ has been confirmed to have been farmed continually by our family since at least the mid-1700’s. Having been continually farmed since Revolutionary times, this farm is now used for hay lands to support the cattle herd. Some of the more highly erodible land was planted in trees years ago as a conservation measure. This is the only remaining tract of the Miller Farm in the family. (My mother was a Miller).”
The farms have always been small operations supported by the labor of family members assisted occasionally by “trade work” arrangements with neighbors. Phillips loves being a farmer: “Clearly,I love rural life and the experience of being at full risk for my own business decisions.”
Although he recalls helping on the farm as a youngster, Paul actually had a financial stake in the farm beginning when he was a member of the Dublin FFA (Future Farmers of America). With financial help from his parents, he prepared two polled heifers for show competitions in the region. Looking back over his life, he believes that the accountability and leadership training he received through FFA and vocational agricultural classes in high school may well have been his most valued educational experience.
Paul Phillips considers himself very fortunate to have maintained two very rewarding careers. He has been consistently active in farming with his family with the exception of the time he spent obtaining degrees from Emory & Henry and Radford University. He is perhaps best known throughout the community for his “second avocation,” thirty-four years of service with Pulaski County Schools. Following his retirement he was elected to the Pulaski County School Board and served as its Chairman for twelve years.
In addition to seeing first-hand the life cycles (of plants, animals, etc.) which are such an innate part of life on the farm, Paul considers himself fortunate to have seen farming evolve from the age of horse-drawn plows and mowers. He reminisces, “I remember threshing days when the lumbering machines came to one central farm and the neighbors came from near and far with grain to be threshed and cleaned for feed for their animals, and for their families as flour. Many folks came to threshing day mostly, I suspect, for the fellowship and a delicious home-cooked meal.”
Phillips believes that today time management and controlling costs are primary concerns of the farming culture. Consideration of purchasing or leasing land, as well as whether to purchase or lease larger, more efficient machines are major concerns as farming moves to achieving economies of scale. Acceptance of farming as a business has become a major priority if one is to be successful. He continues to maintain that there is still a niche for the small family farm, although sustaining small heritage farms usually is very challenging and often comes at great financial risk for the beginning farmer. He marvels that even a small farmer could, by acquiring modern machinery, conceivably do no-till planting, fertilizing, spraying, harvesting, conditioning, raking, bailing, and feeding hay to cattle while rarely leaving a tractor cab.
Phillips describes himself as “an aging farmer with no successor interested in continuing the business. This seems to be increasingly the norm in America. The major issue, as I see it, is that the transitioning of heritage farms, with all acreage intact, to a younger generation is an issue that bedevils many of the families that now own the farms. To these owners, the heritage farm is not just a piece of dirt; it is a cherished way of life. It is land that for generations has provided for their families and challenged them to always improve the soil and increase production from that soil on behalf of present and future family.”
Phillips is currently looking into leaving the heritage farmland in a land trust. In Virginia, land put into such a trust can be protected in perpetuity by certain stipulations such as allowing the land to be sold but never subdivided, for instance. These legal instruments are extremely complicated and may include a wide variety of stipulations within certain parameters.
Phillips’ family donated land way back in the 1800s for the site of Shiloh Christian Church. His grandfather provided land for a school, now a Community Center. Continuing in the tradition of community involvement by the Miller family, his mother donated land for a parsonage.
Time has taken its toll on the Shiloh Community Center, so a 501(c)3 organization called the Shiloh Community Home Improvement Club has been established to restore the building. A new roof has been installed with the help of the Richardson Foundation and others. As soon as the outside of the building has been restored with new windows and siding, community members look forward with great excitement to the indoor restoration, including the original hard pine floors. All restoration of the building will be done in a fashion appropriate to the original time period. The time when the building is restored to the point where it is able to be used again for appropriate functions is anxiously anticipated. In order to facilitate the restoration, donations are being accepted to make the work possible. Anyone interested in helping may contact Paul Phillips, Sue Phillips, Rodney Farmer, or Artie Farmer.
Paul Phillips has deep feelings about Pulaski County. “I feel that the many generations of my rural family in Pulaski County have left me with an indelible, innate appreciation for this land. As a lifetime citizen, I remain in awe of our beloved natural terrain, our moderate climate, and the abundant opportunities still to be discovered among our historical communities. Our citizens are strong, resolute individuals capable of leaning forward to the betterment of our quality of life issues. In general, my thoughts lead me to the desire to see our community become more aware of the cultural importance of protecting our rural areas, our heritage sites and farms, our water resources, and our scenic views.”
The breath-taking panoramic views on and from land that he farms must be seen to be appreciated. Paul Phillips has deep roots on this land that he loves so dearly, and he is committed to conservation, historic preservation, and responsible citizenship.
HONAKER HOUSE FARM — DEAN PRATT
As a boy growing up in a farming family in the Draper area of Pulaski County, it was only natural that young Dean Pratt would become actively involved in his surroundings at a very early age. Like most children of that time, he probably helped with various chores, many of which were related to farming, as a natural part of growing up.
Dean recalls starting to deal with the animals on the farm in a hands-on manner by raising “bottle baby” (bottle fed) calves on the farm which was run at that time by his father. As these calves grew and were sold, he used the proceeds to acquire more calves. Doing this probably contributed greatly to the business acumen and work ethic that he displays as a successful farmer today on a much larger scale.
The next stage of his farming evolved naturally as he acquired more calves and his grandfather told him he could keep all his calves “up on the hill” near the house where he lived. So his herd continued to expand then be sold with the proceeds used to acquire more calves……on and on it went. His farming heritage, however, goes back much further than his father and grandfather.
Dean Pratt now operates a farm of 1,150 acres (a combination of owned and leased land), and is the 9th generation to farm the land that has been in his family since 1784! He and his wife, Terri, own/operate Honaker House Farm today. He did not offer to tell nor did this writer inquire during the interview how many animals he currently has on the farm. Writing this series has already been educational in many ways, including the etiquette of talking with farmers. Most non-farmers probably don’t think of this, but if a person knows how much beef cattle, for example, is bringing in the current market, then asking a farmer how many animals he has can be viewed in the same way as asking a non-farmer how much salary he is being paid! It would require doing some math, but you can see the point.
Although the land used to be correctly called a farm because crops were being grown to be sold along with the animals, it could be technically referred to as a ranch today because no crops are grown for sale. These designations between “ranch” and “farm” are mostly made in the western part of the country, with easterners basically calling them all farms. Pratt’s main operation is raising beef cattle with the only crops being grown (hay, grass, alfalfa) as feed for the cattle and not for sale.
Talking about the Honaker House Farm evolved into a fascinating history lesson which is too involved to include in this article, but which shows a great deal about the proud heritage which was built on this land. Henry Honaker’s father came to this country from Switzerland and bought the first property in Draper’s Valley. The Honakers were Dean’s great grandmother’s people. Henry Honaker built Honaker House on the land that had been purchased by his father when he came from Switzerland. The Honaker House, a stone house having been built in about 1804, is one of the oldest surviving two-story, double-pile brick structures in Pulaski County. The oversized rooms are each approximately 15’ x 17’ with soaring ceiling and include the kitchen, dining room, living room, family room (4th bedroom), three additional bedrooms and two baths.
Dean’s daughter currently owns and is living in Honaker House (which gives him the right to retain the name of Honaker House Farm) and has invested in upgrading the house. Updates include a new downstairs bathroom, laundry facilities upstairs, front porch, new gas furnace downstairs, new hot water heater, refinished hardwood floors, new paint, and new back porch shingles. The home is 3,600 square feet.
Although Pratt believes that there was probably an earlier home, perhaps a log cabin, on the land, Honaker House is now one of the special features due to its age and impressive structure. Another of the special features remaining on the farm is what they call “the smokehouse.” Although it was used at some point to smoke and store meat, it was originally built as a blockhouse for protection years before the house was built in 1804. The walls of this structure are two feet thick with holes to shoot through on the inside with narrow into slits on the outside.
The actual day-to-day operations of the farm are performed by Dean Pratt himself, a cousin which works on the farm full-time, and an 85 year-old gentleman that, in addition to at one time working at an industry outside the farm, has worked for Pratt and his ancestors for five generations.
It is no wonder that he is viewed as being “like family.” The beef cattle produced on Honaker House Farm are mainly sold locally and/or to a livestock market in Dublin or Wytheville.. At one time, Pratt engaged in a practice called “retained ownership.”
This practice, which he no longer uses, involved trucking the cattle out to the Midwest feed lots, which contracted to feed the cattle, then deliver them to the slaughterhouse at the appropriate time. The middle-man was effectively cut out in this arrangement, with Pratt being paid for the cattle based on grade and yield. He has not used this arrangement for quite a while, but it remains as a way to sell if needed.
When asked how his farm operations are different than when he first started, Pratt replied that more and bigger equipment is needed now than in the past, but that he must still remain frugal about it. It is also necessary to farm on a larger scale to make a living or even to survive as a farmer. For most of his life, Pratt worked at least two other jobs “to support my farming habit.” He finally got to the point that he only worked the farm for three or four years, then about thirteen years ago he ran for and was elected to the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
His response to the inquiry about what he considers the key element to success in the agriculture industry, Pratt, in his usual thoughtful and deliberative manner, stated, “you have to produce a quality product that people want but you have to do it economically, spending money wisely.” He cautioned against just producing the product cheaply as that mind-set causes the quality of the product to suffer.
Having his farm located in Pulaski County offers Pratt at least two major assets: first of all, he receives support from his family and the community; secondly, he believes that Pulaski County has a good climate with mild winters, which makes it easier to farm here than in some other places that have more extreme weather.
When Pratt is asked the question, “how’s farming?”, his standard reply is “plenty of work.” He concluded the interview with this thought, “I really appreciate my ancestors’ passing down the land and the heritage they did which gave me the chance to make a living while living my dream.” His dream job, just in case anyone has any remaining doubts, is farming, which is obvious to anyone that talks to him about it. He is happy and proud to carry on the farming tradition of his ancestors. He plans to leave the farm to his children and really hopes that they will keep the land and carry on the farming tradition that is such a major part in the family’s proud heritage.
Everyone loves the signs of spring: daffodils and forsythia blooming, trees budding, grass a brighter shade of green…….But those who travel on US Route 11 toward the Town of Pulaski, passing Pulaski Elementary School on the right and heading up the small incline toward LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski on the left, are blessed with another beautiful sign of the new life which represents spring: the fields are dotted with a growing number of baby lambs!
This lovely spring sight is a part of Colonial Farms, a family farm belonging to Cecil King, his wife Tina (head of the local Agency On Aging), and their daughter Laura Beth. Because he enjoyed working with animals, King started farming cattle in 1994 and added sheep in 1998. The Kings purchased the first 20 acres of their farm in 2000. Since that relatively small beginning, the Kings have expanded to currently farming a total of 500 acres, a combination of owned and rented land. In addition to the ever-expanding number of baby lambs during lambing season, there are now 400 ewes, 20 brood cows and 130 stocker cattle. In addition to the care of the animals, King and two part-time employees grow hay.
A few of the lambs are sold to 4-H and FFA members in Virginia and North Carolina for their market lamb projects to be exhibited at county and state fairs. Colonial Farms sells lambs, feeder calves and cattle ready for the Midwest feed yards. Their lambs are sold at the New Holland, Pennsylvania Livestock Market in a cooperative effort with the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club. Calves are sold locally from brood cows and stockers are sold to a feedlot in the Midwest.
King says that the biggest change he has seen in his years in the agriculture business is that farms are getting larger and using more technology. Changes that he has made on his own farm include having more stocker cattle and fewer brood cows, and changing the sheep flock from black-face sheep to white-face sheep. The white-face sheep have proven to be much more productive and are more caring mothers to their baby lambs. Farms have also become more involved in consumer education and are constantly working to become more efficient and detail-oriented.
Besides being “home,” King credits being located in Pulaski County as an asset by providing good access to their major consumer markets.
When asked to comment on something he would like for people to understand about farming in today’s world, Cecil King stated, “Farming is becoming more difficult as people without a clue as to what takes place on a farm seek to have input on how we go about our business. This is the same as in many other occupations. People who think they have so much knowledge need to walk a mile and spend a week in another person’s shoes before passing judgment. As long as our population continues to expand, and as we have less land available to produce food, there are going to be problems for society to overcome.” He believes that fewer people are going to “take the risks, and give up their weekends and holidays, to become farmers to produce a product we sell wholesale and pay the freight both ways.” Although farming is a challenging occupation, anyone who is acquainted with King can tell that he loves what he does and would feel lost without his land and animals.
A major event at Colonial Farms is an annual sheep-shearing in early May. On that day, first graders from Pulaski Elementary School walk through the field from their school to the barn area of the farm. Upon their arrival, they are treated to milk and cookies. Then they are allowed to ride a pet cow, bottle feed orphan lambs, and watch for an opportunity to pet the fainting goats which fall over upon becoming startled. Then they get to watch the sheep shearing! It is amazing how quickly each sheep is sheared and how quickly the piles of wool accumulate and are bagged for sale.
The writer of this article has attended this event several times and can attest that even adults who are not exposed to farm life on a regular basis find this day very educational and enjoyable. This is a special day that the first-graders are likely to remember fondly for a very long time, and the Kings are to be commended for hosting this annual event.
There is one thing that the community now misses seeing at Colonial Farms: Lester the Llama! Lester was probably the best-known animal in Pulaski County and perhaps the surrounding area for many years. With his white coat and regal demeanor, whether sitting on a hillside or standing in a field, Lester presided over the farm for fifteen years and carefully watched over the sheep under his care! Although Lester passed away while doing what he loved best, guarding his sheep, he is not likely to be forgotten for a long time. There are two young llamas on the farm now that are in training to help guard the sheep, but they have some big hooves to fill! RIP Lester—you were loved by many and are greatly missed!
|The Marketplace is please to be featured On Bon Appetit, Appalachia! Map of Region’s Growing Local Food Economy!
Bon Appetit, Appalachia! Includes Hundreds of Local Farms, Festivals and Food Entrepreneurs In Thirteen Appalachia States
The Marketplace, June 16, 2016. The Marketplace is part of Bon Appetit, Appalachia! a new map showcasing the wide spectrum and growing density of Appalachia’s local food economy. Produced by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Bon Appetit Appalachia! lists over 830 locally owned farms, brewers, distillers, restaurants and other food business across Appalachia.
“Appalachia’s local food economy is growing as hundreds of local food entrepreneurs are hard at work.” Said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl. “The farmers, chefs, brewers, bakers and other food entrepreneurs featured on Bon Appetit, Appalachia! are only a snapshot of what is happening in the Region. We hope that consumers, travelers, researchers and others will use Bon Appetit, Appalachia! to taste, toast, and discover Appalachia’s entrepreneurial spirit”
In addition to the over 830 food business listed on the Bon Appetit, Appalachia! website Bon Appetit, Applachia! has published an abridged printed version of the map, featuring 161 locations. Over 200,000 copies of the printed map are being distributed through thirteen State Tourism Agencies across the Region and as part of a media partnership with Edible Communities. As part of this media partnership, the printed map is available in 13 regional Edible Community magazines in and around Appalachia. Edible Communities has also produced Backroad Journeys, a monthly podcast on edibleradio.com profiling Bon Appetit, Appalachia! locations to highlight Appalachia’s growing local food economy. .
Members of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Tourism Advisory Council helped identify locations for Bon Appetit Appalachia! Map and website materials were developed by Destination by Design in Boone, North Carolina which is also launching a companion social media campaign using #bonappalachia.
About the Appalachian Regional Commission
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) (www.arc.gov) is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.
Produce vendor, Pear Tree Hill Farm, shares their story and vision of farming:
“We are two folks who want to be farmers. In fact, it has been our life-long dream to be so! We love the lifestyle, the outdoors, and the gratification we get from working hard. We are doing our best to improve our soil and to maintain our land for the benefit of our crops, our customers, our environment, and for ourselves.
We fully believe in wholesome, high quality produce and the safe, responsible production of it. It is our passion. We can’t help it – we love to eat deliciousness – and we are happy to have all join us on this farm-to-table journey!
Never in our wildest dreams did we ever expect to have our own little piece of heaven right here on Earth. Located in Pulaski County, we are just minutes away from the New River, the Little River and the beautiful Claytor Lake. Our 8+ acres features verdant pastures and a prominent ridge line with a commanding view of the valley and surrounding mountains.
What started off as a whim became reality in April of 2012 when we broke sod for establishment of a market garden. We have attended classes, seminars, and workshops to gain knowledge of best practices for small-scale, bio-intensive yet sustainable organic production of produce, fruit and bees, emphasizing quality and safety. We grow several different varieties of seasonal vegetables (including heirlooms), we have apple, peach, plum and pear trees, blueberry bushes, brambles, and we manage a top bar bee hive system.
The work we do is hard, labor-intensive, and so worthwhile. We hope that all enjoy the fruits along with us.”
Pulaski Grow is the vision of Director, Lee Spiegel. Lee wanted to create a program to teach youth the basic skills necessary to find, secure and hold a job. Pulaski Grow will utilize an aquaponics business to house the expanded youth training program. They are working to become a non-profit with the goal of sustaining the training program and the aquaponics business through sales of produce and fish to local restaurants, markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.
Aquaponics is a closed system form of agriculture that utilizes fish to supply nutrients to plants by way of nitrifying bacteria which in turn clean the water and send it back to the fish. Aquaponics was chosen as a the business believe it teaches youth a wide range of skills to prepare for the future while reflecting the agricultural legacy of Pulaski County.
Roasted Beets with Curry Sauce
Prep & cook time: Approx. 1 1/2 hrs
Preheat oven to: 375 F
You will need:
6 Beets– trimmed, washed, wrapped in foil
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 TBL. plain yogurt
2 TBL. Mayo
4 tsp. curry powder
3 TBL. fresh lemon juice
4 TBL. chopped Cilantro
10 TBL. Olive oil (add last)
Bake beets (take at least one hour) until easily pierced. Let cool or leave warm. While beets are baking, combine and whisk the rest of the ingredients except olive oil until smooth. Peel and cut beets into wedges. Add olive oil to sauce and whisk again. Pour sauce over beets. *Sauce is also good over pork, chicken or white fish!