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Part 2

Natural Selection


He spreads it at a rate of 8 tons per acre on his pasture, and when Wanda Kornhaus arrived as head gardener the same year Hicks came aboard, he started spreading 25 tons of compost per acre on 8 acres of organic gardens. Kornhaus also submitted to the uncanny lure of Brookview. "I had just finished a 10-year appointment as an organic estate gardener," says Kornhaus, who lives near the farm. "And one day I pictured myself here on the farm. 'Now this is crazy,' I told myself. 'I don't want to be a cattle farmer.'" Shortly thereafter she received a call from Fisher offering her a job. Today, she supervises 10 or more part-time employees in her gardens of flourishing heirloom tomatoes, white Rosa Bianco eggplants with purple stripes, habanero peppers, red, yellow, and purple bell, Cajun Delight okra, cherry sungold orange tomatoes, all interspersed with basil and marigolds and zinnias used as companion plants. Kornhaus is particularly delighted when Rossie lets loose her flock of matronly hens on the potato beetles in her front garden. There's even a flower garden chock-full of zinnias, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans and gomphrena that kids or adults can pick for three bucks a bunch.

"Oooh, so much flowers," coos one of nine toddlers gripping small egg baskets on their way to the "chicken tractors" in the pasture. Mothers Lisa Towell, Mary Harris and Sarah Ann Reed assure their youngsters they will pick some flowers on the way back. But for now, we have eggs to attend to.

Last year, Fisher incorporated pastured poultry into the evolving portrait of his farm, an operation that is just catching hold throughout the country. Basing his model on Joel Salatin's innovative approach to farming in the Shenandoah Valley, Fisher mimics Mother Nature by creating a cyclical operation based on diversity and movement. He grazes his cattle over a pasture, then brings in 10-by-12-foot movable chicken pens to follow the cows. Each day the chickens are moved to fresh pasture, picking up valuable nutrients by nipping off young vegetation, catching grasshoppers, and picking through cow pies for seeds and bugs. Salatin figures this "pastured" approach to chickens saves him 30 percent in chicken feed, while incorporating essential nutrients normally unavailable to the birds.

Fisher adds another component; flaxseed. Recent studies have found that flaxseed is one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by helping prevent blood clots and the clogging of arteries, and to be important in the development of brain, eye, and nervous systems in children. Farmers throughout the country are just beginning to create a niche market for the "omega-3 egg" produced by chickens with flaxseed incorporated into their diet.

Fisher has 200 laying hens producing 14 dozen omega-3 organic eggs per day. Now that may be something to crow about. At least, the customers keep coming back for more.

"We've been coming to the farm about every month since my children were 1-1/2 years old," says Molly Harris of her towheaded twin girls Virginia and Tucker, now 2-1/2. Even 4-year-old Reed Harris gets into the action of sticking his arm into a nest box and proudly producing an egg. "We make French toast with them -- it's their favorite thing. I think it's just a wonderful way for children to find out where things come from."

"My family loves the eggs," says Nonie Baruch. "I know they're healthy, and I'm thrilled to be eating eggs I know to be good."

Who knows what the next leap of faith at Brookview Farm will be? Right now, business is booming, and its mailing list of customers has blossomed from 150 to 600 in just two years. Hicks is cultivating a catering business for local residents, and the Brookview staff is constantly coming up with new ideas to bring people out to the farm -- from inviting kids out to pick apples and watch apple cider being made in their 100-year-old apple cider press during the fall to farm internships to watching flour being made from organic wheat in their two mills on the farm. "It's like a big family out here," says Allie Mentzer, who helps out at the farm on Saturdays. "We make hamburgers, sit down and just have fun. People do their weekly shopping with us and then just hang out."

"The retail organic market works for us," says Fisher, who completed the six-month process of achieving state certification as an organic farm last year. "We're close to Richmond, we've got a good compost source, and we've got excellent people working for us. I think the past two years has shown me how much more fun it is to have more people involved in the farm work. And by having control over our retail price, we've sort of taken our farm back from the mercy of the wholesale marketplace. This is not to say this kind of business is good for everyone. There is plenty of room for conventional agriculture, though the fewer pesticides we have to use on the land the better. The important thing is to find a way to keep the land healthy and to save it from development."

And to save room for cows.

Want To Know More?

Check out the Virginia Harvest Celebration at the 17th Street Farmers' Market in Historic Shockoe Bottom Sunday, Sept. 17. There you'll meet local sustainable farmers paired with area chefs creating gourmet treats for sale along with fresh local products. The event is produced by Virginia BuyGreen, whose mission it is to preserve Virginia's farmlands by supporting and promoting sustainable agriculture. For more information about the event, contact Eugenia Anderson-Ellis at 643-3915.

Meet area growers with their local produce at the Grower's Market in Shockoe Bottom Thursdays 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m and all day Saturday. Much of their fruits, vegetables, herbs, eggs, meats and cheeses are organically grown. Also, Ashland Farmer's Market is open every Saturday 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on Duncan Street behind Town Hall in Ashland.

Area farms producing organic products for the retail market include:

Brookview Farm
Alexander (Sandy) Fisher
Pam Hicks, Farm Manager and Head Chef
P.O. Box 126
Manakin-Sabot, Va. 23103
certified organic
fresh produce, grass-fed beef, fruits, prepared foods, catering services and organic flour.

Red Rake Farm
Linda Wickenheiser & Peter Perkins
1933 King William Road
Hanover, Va. 23069
certified organic
Red Rake Farm members join for a seasonal fee, then pick fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for a discounted price. You can also enjoy the fishing pond and walking trail and picnic grove. The farm is also open to public for retail sales Friday through Monday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunfield Farm
Cindy Connor
12398 Ashcake Road

Ashland, Va. 23005
Cindy Connor has a _-acre organic vegetable garden and raises pastured poultry eggs for the Iron Horse Restaurant and Ashland Coffee and Tea. She also sells at the Ashland Farmers' Market, and sells her eggs directly to customers who pick up her eggs on Mondays and Thursdays. Cindy teaches a four-season food production course at J. Sargeant Reynolds beginning Aug. 23, complete with field trips and information for the backyard and budding commercial organic gardener.

For more information about Virginia's sustainable farming community, contact the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. Call Shana Kresmer-Harris at Demeter's Circle Farm in Louisa at (540) 832-3546 or Jeanne Nye at (540) 633-6363, fax (540) 633-6363, email

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