True Grit and Merry Gathering At Shirefolk Farm
As a vegetable hustler operating a small acre permaculture site, I often find the immediate slow down at the end of the season a relief. The brutality of slinging mixed baby greens and root vegetables 3-dollars-a-pop is a thrilling, bruising grind that rolls into a steep exhale and an enormous amount of time in November.
I sleep in, I write, I hug my kids, I hunt, I clean up, I tend the food forest, and I dream about next season. I also find myself repeatedly making the short trip from the central shenandoah valley to Fluvanna county where Emilie and Logan Tweardy are transforming a 60 acre ex-hobby farm into a productive and profitable, full time broadacre site.
Emilie and Logan are simply put-my people. Sure, I’m biased-Emilie happens to be a partner and core instructor at Shenandoah Permaculture Institute.
Digging into their resume it's easy to notice first that they’ve done the hippy thing -i.e.- a stint in Taos as a massage therapist and a permaculture internship in Costa Rica. They both hold degrees in environmental resources from Colorado State University and -my favorite- have that wild eyed crazy grittiness that can only be forged in the madness of significant time spent as whitewater guides on the Arkansas River. Most importantly though, they’re Lord of the Rings nerds.
Their project and farm name is Shirefolk farm. When they first got onto the land they did the smart thing and resisted the urge to start adding elements immediately. The farm already featured two large ponds, 20 acres of hardwoods, 40 acres of pasture and a couple of barns. They knew they needed to start making an income immediately and so they started with egg production at a large scale, while keeping experimental enterprises to a homestead scale.
Added value ferments, mixed vegetables, goat milk, meat birds, cattle, and pigs. In just a few short years they’ve racked up experience in a diverse and textured quiver of farm enterprises. The pair observed and tinkered and tweaked and worked and made mistakes and it was hard. If I can communicate anything through these writings I hope that it is that farming and permaculture design is hard. Remember that great Bill Mollison aphorism “the designer becomes the recliner.” Nah man, It takes hustle and endurance to make money on the land.
Emilie and Logan are three years into their project and they are now starting to make money. Their primary products are eggs, meat birds (including ducks, chickens, and turkeys), and Lamb.
Meanwhile, the design work continues. They’ve mapped out and addressed their water needs-designed a silvopasture system that will begin installation in the coming years, and added my favorite element to the farm.
In the middle of one of the fields at Shirefolk Farm sits an abattoir where a thousand birds are butchered for market annually. A lot of blood and guts drain down hill from an abattoir. Despite a commitment to cleanliness, carrion flies become inevitable in the pasture where the bloody water washes down. Using this part of the element, they’ve connected the drainage to a berm and basin swale that carries the nutrient rich water into a planting of Paw Paws. Paw Paws also happen to be pollinated by carrion flies. By connecting these systems they’ve stacked functions and multiplied yields in a creative and innovative manner. With system caresses like this, I can’t wait to see what happens to the site as it matures.
When I visit in November it’s usually to spend a day butchering meat birds, or sitting in a tree stand with my bow in their zone 4 hardwoods to harvest a deer. I appreciate how they open their farm to friends and colleagues and allow people like me -a vegetable farmer-to experience such radical connection to the protein my family eats. But above all else, I enjoy the warmth that spills out of the family at the end of the work day or a day in the woods. There is always good food cooking, a warm fire in the stove, and an eager interest in real conversation. It’s what I imagine when I think of Tolkien’s Shire and as I leave to head back to my farm I’m left with the question “What’s in your larder?”
Daniel Firth Griffith