Along Route 250 in Afton lies a farmstead that is as unique as it is beautiful. Farfields Farm is a regenerative agriculture project on 150 acres of meadows, waterways and woods. The unique nature of this farm is seen in an intentional purpose to express a philosophy devoted to ecology, celebration of place, and diverse natural beauty. Organic farm products for local distribution are grown on the farm throughout the seasons. Educational and community events have been offered prior to 2020 that share a story of life in this place.
One of those leasing a greenhouse and outdoor space at the farm is Ben Kessler, who is operating a non-profit wholesale nursery known as Little Blue Stem. The service includes recovering local genotypes of native species and providing educational services on indigenous techniques. Kessler describes the geography of western Albemarle and northern Nelson Counties as earlier Piedmont prairies which were Monacan tribe-cultured shortgrass in a prior time. Kessler says, “Something magic happens when you plant non-native fruit trees with native grasses that includes beneficial insects and root fungi.”
The Farfields Farm team includes a staff of twelve and internships for those with a similar ethic that offer an education to external and internal collectives. Rain and David Perrie, Afton residents of Shannon Farm, are both working at Farfields in different specialties along with Kelly Walsh, also of Afton. Both Kelly and Rain cultivate the herb garden which produces the apothecary for teas and medicinal tinctures. The garden also includes elderberry, blueberries and raspberries grown along with various vegetables.
Their farm work yields a pantry stocked with fermented foods including cabbage, beets, dilly beans, tomatoes, pickles, jams and jellies produced on site for consumption by staff and private community events. Donations of this bounty are made to programs at The Haven in Charlottesville for the three meals a day served to a homeless population. In addition, Elk Hill School receives a CSA style box to their residential home for youth age 12 to 18 years old.
Prior to 2020, art and cultural events, educational opportunities and cooking classes for herbalism, processing foods and log cultivation of mushrooms were sponsored at Farfields Farm by the property owner, Jorian Polis Schutz. Schutz now resides in Covesville, where he continues to work on the creation of an educational center and art fellowship with emphasis on ecology and poetry. Jorian Polis Schutz is devoted to supporting community following models identified through Jewish scholarship, biblical texts, local artists, churches and schools all representing vital social interconnections. The first edition of “Bouquet” is a 12-page periodical (“zine”) of stories, poems, recipes and colorful photos representing this vision. Schutz describes his belief in community building through education as “Propagating of ideas, native plants, medicinal teas, vegetable donations, and a program of regenerative agriculture.”
Expanding the farm apothecary program has become a current goal in response to the Coronavirus public health crisis. Lilia Fuquen discussed their project, known as an “Immunity Garden,” on “With Good Reason,” an NPR radio program. withgoodreasonradio.org/2020/ 05/18/immunity-gardens/
Fuquen says, “I focus on community engagement in local food systems, with the desire to help build community through the growing, tending, processing, and sharing of food and foodways. The stories we share around food feed our sense of community. Especially now, 8 months into the pandemic, people are realizing how much they miss the camaraderie and storytelling and storymaking that happens around shared food in a community setting.” Through Farfields Farm the plan is to launch pilot Community Gardens in Spring 2021 and works to create mobile botanicals that include herb-based tea blends and cough drops. Fuquen identifies ecological benefits to the entire Albemarle and Nelson area of planting gardens to attract pollinators in partnerships that benefit all. The Farfields Apothecary Herbal CSA is currently designed to support immunity in a seasonal care packages offered to provide organic teas, salves and herbal elixir. To subscribe visit farfieldsfarm.square.site/apothecary or call 434-326-2157. Additional information may be available by email [email protected]