I had wonderful visit with Ralph at Briarmoor Farm in Middlebrook Virginia. He’s having a fantastic time growing up on a diverse farm with resilient, loving parents!
Grady and Erin, former Polyface intern and apprentice, manage Briarmoore, another Polyface satellite farm, and Ralph is their adorable ear pinching son. I’m sure some of you have been following Erin’s Sunday Henhouse blog, which includes delicious recipes.
With the change in seasons I finally had the pleasure to sit and chat with Erin and Grady last week. I’ve been curious about their story since they arrived in spring.
Here’s what I learned!
Erin grew up on a homestead in Michigan where she became familiar milking dairy goats. She met Grady while interning at Polyface in 2009. Grady was apprenticing for a full year. Fast forward. They married in 2010 and moved to Grady’s family farm in Oklahoma. They started out with a small dairy herd. They were amazed how far people would drive to buy their raw milk.
Their first year at Briarmoor they had their hands full, but I get the sense they embraced almost every minute of the high season. It seems to me they’re doing what they love.
For Polyface they raise 3,000 broilers, 600 turkeys, 100 pigs, 1800 hens, and let’s say about 150 cattle. I might ad, without apprentices. Wow! And I thought we worked hard. But, they are young, vibrant, and have a knack for figuring out how to make a comfortable income as new farmers. I’m certain they’re off to a great start.
Grady’s father custom grazes sheep and cattle. It wasn’t until after college that he became interested in farming. It was one of Joel’s books that made him rethink farming as a career. If I’m correct his father passed the book onto him.
Ultimately what brought this caring couple to farm with Polyface is the fertility of the Shenendoah Valley. You can’t raise broilers during summer in Oklahoma. They bake in the heat. The lack of rain became an issue. As the drought increased, the price of hay for the small dairy herd grew unsustainable for them. Grady sensed things were heading in the wrong direction. Even their kitchen garden dried up. They sold their dairy herd and headed east.
Listening to their story confirmed for me the magic of timing. Grady wrote to Joel and Daniel to see if he could return and farm with them and his timing was impeccable. Briarmoor needed a new farm manager. Listening to Ralph’s folks helped me better understand how fortunate the opportunity to farm with Polyface is for beginning farmers. Erin and Grady are getting their feet wet without the added stress of creating their own market.Building a farm takes time.
Grady’s father, the custom grazer, runs cattle (600) and sheep (300) on 3600 acres, 2200 of it is his own. But with climate change those numbers are shifting.
The farm they manage allows them to butcher with an experienced team at Polyface. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how Grady gets all those birds in crates to Polyface. I know that process intimately and so do our apprentices.
Fortunately there are other Polyface satellite farmers nearby to pitch in. Michael and I are also impressed with their ability to clean 100 dozen eggs during the high season in less than 2 hours. Those are some fast hands! Ralph assured me he pitches in too. And in time, I’m sure there will be more hands to help out!
Grady has us totally hooked on the poly-line, fencing for the herd. He’s been using it for years and we’ve been told he’s like a magician when he sets up fences. I look forward to more informative conversations with this beautiful family. It’s evident they are building a wonderful prosperous life healing the land.