Drewry Farm, a 400 acre diversified farm just outside of Wakefield, VA in Surry County, is a wonderful portal to the rich agricultural history of this area of Virginia, and but also a resource for learning about shifting trends in modern agriculture.
The Farm is owned by Michael and Amy Drewry. Though Michael runs the farm full time, he is also a lawyer and is very active in local government, having just been elected to the local board of supervisors. Amy makes films and documentaries. Her latest project explores the peanut growing industry in Western Tidewater through a partnership with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
Over a hot cup of tea, Amy spoke about her love for the area, and it’s rich historical and cultural heritage. Surry County was settled in the mid to late 1600’s by English settlers, including Michael’s relatives. Later, after the civil war the area became a dominant peanut growing region that supplied much of the northern region of the United States.* Farms are still abundant in the area, but Amy and Michael speak passionately about the need for local governments to more fully recognize the importance of agriculture in the region. In order to stave off nonagricultural development, Drewry farm recently had a conservation easement put on the farm. This means that the land will never be developed, and is preserved as green space or agricultural land.**
A small, diversified farm is challenging., There are plenty of projects to accomplish every day. Distribution channels aren’t readily available. The time and labor it takes to manage an all-natural, humane farm can be overwhelming. For decades Americans have had access to inexpensive, always available food, and expect it, and it’s usually the Producer who gets squeezed financially. Drewry Farms is currently focusing on bringing customers directly to the farm to buy food, pick berries, or purchase a meat share. Selling the farm’s products on site allows the Drewry’s to charge only slightly above what a consumer would pay in the grocery store. Lastly, it is often difficult for small farms to get financing from grow, or experiment in new ways to bring health local food to the community. Many lending organizations aren’t willing to invest in modern, small farm agriculture.
Despite the challenges, farming brings joy and connection to the land and community.
The 400-acre farm has about 200 acres in production. These acres are used to house a herd of 60 head of cattle, 100 hogs, 125 chickens, one acre of blueberries, and fields used to grow the non-GMO corn and millet used as supplemental feed for the pastured cattle. Almost all the feed for the animals is grown and processed on the farm.
The hog barn is a bright airy passive solar structure sitting at the edge of the woods. The passive solar structure of the barn allows the piglets and their mothers to stay warm and comfortable, without using a heating system. The mother hogs come to this barn to farrow, or give birth to their piglets. They stay together until the piglets are large enough to be weaned. Their new home becomes the woods behind the barn where they can act like pigs, rooting in the forest floor, munching on acorns, and even eating some soil that provides them with valuable micronutrients and minerals. They are also fed a diet of local peanut seconds, thus continuing the area’s tradition of raising peanut fed hogs. The hogs are moved regularly for their own health, and to help the forest rest and regenerate after their rooting.
The farm’s 125 egg laying chickens are housed in the “Chick Inn,” a 200 square foot structure that can be moved around the farm so the chickens can regularly have new bugs and plants in which to eat and scratch.
In the summer, Drewry Farms runs a U-pick pesticide free, blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry operation.
The goal of Drewry farm is to be a working example of a small diversified family farm, a modern farm using the tools and knowledge of those who have been farming for generations. Michael worries that the kind of farming skills he was able to learn from his father and grandfather are not being transferred to the current generation. He hopes Drewry Farms can serve as a place for people to learn some of these skills, and keep the vibrant farming culture of Surry County in the forefront of what truly makes this region so valuable.
For more information about the farm visit their website at drewryfarms.com or facebook page - Drewry.Farm.Blueberries. If you are interested in purchasing a cow or hog share email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*For more information about peanut growing read the article, Invisible Thread: The Story of Peanuts in Western Tidewater at http://virginiahumanities.org/2014/12/invisible-thread-the-story-of-peanuts-in-western-tidewater/
** For more information about conservation easements visit the Virginia Outdoors Foundation - http://www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation,org/.