Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Visit with Local Author and Farmer, Forrest Pritchard

On a recent summer evening, local farmer, Forrest Pritchard, stopped by the Warrenton Library on his way home from a day at the farmers’ market. As the author of Gaining Ground: a story of farmers’ markets, local food, and saving the family farm, Forrest spoke to an audience who shared his interest in healthy food and local farms. Questions were asked about the practical aspects of farming, and the challenges of competing with corporate farms.     

Though Forrest is a 7th generation farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, he never set out to be a farmer. Twenty years ago he returned home from college, a recent graduate of William and Mary with degrees in both Geology and English Literature.  He spent his first summer back at Smith Meadows Farm looking at his home, surroundings and heritage in a very different way.  Forrest reflects that “As older farmers retired, no one stepped in to replace them, and by the mid-1990’s, Shenandoah Valley farms began disappearing en masse.  Even as a teenager, I could see the consequences.  Driving into town on an errand, I witnessed fleets of earth-moving equipment carving the green hills into graded plateaus; hundred-year-old farms were bulldozed down to bedrock in a day or two.  The family farms of my childhood were becoming an endangered species.  I struggled with this emerging reality.  How could centuries of tradition change so radically over the course of a generation? This was still the same productive land, the same rich soil that had provided sustenance and income for two centuries.  Farming simply couldn't become obsolete overnight”.

The seed was planted, the fire lit.  Forrest began to believe that it might be possible to save the family farm, and make a living while doing it.  Inspired by his grandfather before him, he wanted to believe that with hard work he could create a sustainable farm.  He received little encouragement from anyone, including experienced farmers. Even his own parents, who through the years had farmed while commuting to the city for jobs, doubted that he could keep the farm going at home.   

In Forrest’s first year, he achieved a large crop of corn and soy beans but a profit of only $18.16.  A venture in selling firewood from the farm’s fallen trees proved no more profitable.  Noting that most of our food travels an average of 1500 miles to those who consume it, Forrest ultimately decided that he wanted to make his family’s farm more eco-friendly by providing food for a local population, and concentrate on raising free-range livestock and laying hens rather than mass-production field crops.  He also decided to market through local farmers’ markets. Forrest admits that “grocery stores still dominated food sales, but farmers’ markets thrive because of authentic human connections."

Joel Salatin of Virginia’s famous Polyface Farm, and inspiration to Forrest and his family, states that “farming determines the landscape our grandchildren will inherit. Farming determines the quality of our food, the humane handling of our animals.  Every time we eat, we participate in farming.  Unlike other vocations that are arguably more or less necessary, farming is basic to human existence." 

Forrest’s memoir traces the journey of a “dreamer to doer.”  Told with great respect for farmers and the farming traditions, Forrest looks forward with optimism and hope to the family farm of the future and he is now becoming a mentor to others who share his vision.

Gaining Ground was the Marshall Evening Book Club’s June selection. 

It was named a Top Ten Book by “Publisher’s Weekly,"  “Washingtonian” and NPR’s “The Splendid Table.

Other titles that might be of interest are: 
Debbie @ the John Marshall Library 

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