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Northern Neck Down on the Farm Tour, A Chance to Get Close to Nature
By Ron Jones & Janet A. Fast
 
     As the temperatures rise, most of us want to get out and enjoy the great out of doors. A recent whirlwind trip to several area sites that will be on the Northern Neck Farm Tour May 26 revealed what awaits those who go exploring.

     New to most of us is the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. While we visited only the Wilna Unit, the largest in a series of sites along the river from Tappahannock northwest that comprises 987 acres, there are approximately 4,000 acres in all in eight units.
vOperated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these units not only provide a place for wildlife to live undisturbed by humanity, but there will be a number of scientific studies conducted to allow for a better understanding of ways to improve conditions for the wildlife native to our area.

     A Great Blue Heron rookery, nesting and foraging ranges for wild turkeys, nesting and hunting areas for Red Shouldered and Red Tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, many species of owls and songbirds, Virginia White-tailed Deer, woodchuck, skunk, opossum, rabbit, and squirrel species and much more. Two hundred acres of grasslands will be planted soon for an extended study related to songbirds. Two thousand hardwood trees have been planted to replace forest land that was cut away years ago to provide farming land.

     Anyone who loves wildlife will find this site inspiring and fulfilling. Joe McCauley is the Refuge Manager. This unit is located west of Warsaw off State off Route 624, onto Sandy Lane and then right on Wilna Road.
Next door to the refuge is Northern Neck Hydroponics. Owner/operator Frank Graziano led us through the basics of his business, showing methods of planting, nurture and harvesting of the crops. They include tomatoes that are grown during the summer season with pollination provided by hives of bumblebees. Other crops include basil, English cucumbers, and lettuce grown in the spring. The tomato plants are transplanted into three-gallon plastic containers filled with perlite after they have been germinated in rock wool blocks. Then they are watered and fed through a system of hoses that feed a brew of fertilizer mixed on site using primarily calcium nitrate, Epson salts, and potassium nitrate.

     The crops are marketed locally to food stores in the area extending from Tappahannock to Gloucester and Williamsburg.

     Annually 50,000 pounds of tomatoes are harvested or about 2,000 pounds per week. There are currently two working hot houses that are heated with propane in cold weather and cooled with large fans in hot weather. The houses are composed of metal frames covered with heavy gauge plastic that Graziano now leases. A third house is in preparation. 

     Sample some of the hydroponically grown produce as it begins to appear in a market near you. 
The third farm we visited was a truly working farm in the classic sense. This is the Centerview Farm, a beef cattle farm. Producing the feed grains on about 1200 acres, some of which are leased, Ronnie and Gene Forrester along with their wives, who teach school, and their mother, have their operation down to a science. The crops are corn which is ground into silage which is the major source of feed as needed in seasons when the rye grass meadows are not able to support the 100 head of brood of mostly Angus cows, and hay.
The cash-producing product is the feeder calf operation. The calves are allowed to nurse for several weeks and then are fed a grain mix prepared on site. They are sold through the Fredericksburg Livestock Center, a state graded market, on the first Wednesday in October annually. These calves are born between September and December. 

     Two handsome bulls roam among the herd between December 1 and April 1 for breeding purposes but are segregated the remainder of the year. They are all state approved animals that bear a Virginia brand.
Centerview Farm is truly a feast for the eyes with lush green fields bordering either sides of State Route 600 near Lebanon Church at Alphonso. 

     Lowell and Peggy Starr’s farm Holyoke, circa 1841, is also in Lancaster County. “I love pulling up to this house,” Peggy mused about the long driveway, the end of which stands the lovely old house, surrounded by Locust and Sycamore trees. “It had six fireplaces, and today we use five of them.” Peggy was born in D.C. and never lived on a farm before moving to Holyoke. Lowell grew up in Kansas, on a wheat and cattle farm. After spending years behind a desk, Lowell yearned to get back on the farm and outside.

     They double crop barley or wheat. Lowell planted corn with a wheat cover crop. The wheat uses no nitrogen, Peggy explains, so they plant in this manner as a conservation effort. 

     The Starrs bought the farm in August 1987, and moved in full time in 1991. The house was originally built by Robert Toler Dunaway. After his first wife died, he married Mary Dolly Dunaway, who helped build the house. Their oldest daughter inherited the property, and late in life married James E. Forester. They had no children. There is a small family cemetery which Peggy beautifies with flower plantings. 

© 2001 Rev Ronald R. Jones and Janet Abbott Fast. All rights reserved.


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