Heritage Farm Series #3 - Phillips Family Farm

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.IMG_0647

“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   IMG_0696land 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 IMG_9698there 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. IMG_0663

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. IMG_0689

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