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A Virginia farmer turns his attention to organic foods and farmers’ markets to reinvent his family farm.
Forrest Pritchard knows more than a thing or two about farming. In fact, he is something of a legend in the field.
Nearly two decades ago, a strong sense of place, an entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to adopt organic farming methods converged to set in motion a mission to save his family’s seventh-generation Shenandoah Valley farm. In Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm, Pritchard details how he not only salvaged Smith Meadows from insolvency, but turned it into a pioneer example of a grass-fed farm. Growing up, Pritchard watched farms being demolished all around him in favor of housing developments. He began thinking about his own family’s farm and whether it would have the same fate.
“Farm kids are dreamers,” he says. But by the time he was 21, he had gone from being a dreamer to a doer. He thought, “I can’t save family farms everywhere, but I can save my family’s farm.”
With an uncompromising commitment to land stewardship, he stepped up to the challenge.
“I reinvented my grandfather’s 20th-century farm and turned it into a farmers’ market business for the 21st century,” explains Pritchard.
By doing so, he put forward the notion that sustainability is not just about the farm and the land—“the economics need to be sound and repeatable.” Looking to the marketplace as the means to a profitable end, Pritchard went to work on mastering his product. He cut out the middleman and found ways to be self-sufficient. Unlike conventional farming practices that rely heavily on fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and the umpteen “solutions” being offered by industry salespeople, Pritchard adopted farming techniques from a time when things were simpler, purer.
“We often look for others to provide services and short cuts that we once had to supply for ourselves,” he notes. “Organic farming is an intersection of patience and human management and these are solutions that can’t be purchased.”
Today, Pritchard raises grass-fed livestock on his pasture farm. By selling firewood and straw, raising free-range chickens and hogs and acquiring a flock of Barbados Blackbelly sheep among other forward-thinking ventures, he has turned Smith Meadows into a leading member of the sustainable, organic farm-to-market community.
As a result, he has become a fixture at leading D.C. farmers’ markets for over 15 years; his wares are highly prized.
“We offer people an alternative to conventional options … organic food and farmers’ markets have reached an all-time high in popularity.”
On Pritchard’s agrarian horizon is a second book, The Face of Our Food, which will feature 18 sustainable farms across the country growing different crops. Slated for release in June 2015 by the Lyons Press, it will be photo heavy and will include 100 of the farmers’ favorite recipes. In telling this story, he will, undoubtedly, evoke the essence of organic living.
“There is an air of seasonality and sustainability that just resonates in small farming towns,” he says. It is this sentiment that will likely charm his readers once again.