Sustainable Agriculture: The Value of Targeted Partnerships

By: Iris Picat, Jeremy Orr

As graduate students in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program, we recently had the pleasure of touring Claude and Carla Chapman’s grass-fed cattle farm in Bealeton, VA.  Situated along Harper’s Run, which runs into the Marsh Run Watershed, the Chapmans had managed a successful multi-generational farm enterprise when they began to consider sustainable upgrades to their operations.

The John Marshall Soil and Conservation District of Fauquier County had been reaching out to the Chapmans for years in an attempt to build a sustainable farming operation so as to mitigate pollution downstream in the Marsh Run Watershed, which was already exceeding total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits. The Chapmans were eventually swayed by their sense of nostalgia for a time past when bobwhite quail freely roamed their property, and fish were plentiful in the nearby creek. The Chapmans decided that it was time to make a change that would have positive results on the environment, and would establish a permanent estate for their children and grandchildren. This drive, paired with a familiarity with the County’s conservation and sustainable agriculture programs, helped them make the first move.

The County’s focus on creating these important relationships, and providing monetary incentives for sustainable upgrades, allowed area farmers a means in which to not only implement best management practices on their properties, but also to get reimbursed for their efforts. The following are a couple of the major changes the Chapmans have made to their farm with the help of the Soil and Conservation District.

Riparian Buffers & Fencing

In order to safeguard all water sources from excess pollution on the farm, Claude and Carla agreed to erect new fences and plant riparian buffers throughout their property, with the buffers spanning approximately 35 feet on either side of Harpers Run. According to Larry Dunn, a John Marshall Soil representative, the 35 ft. span was ideal in terms of economic costs and its effect on preventing pollution from entering the stream. The riparian buffers and the fencing served to not only protect the water sources, but also provided habitat for wildlife.

Well Water Pressure System

As a result of the fences and riparian buffers preventing the cattle widespread access to the stream, the Chapmans decided to install a gravity water system, which supplied water to various locations throughout the pastures. This not only prevented excess pollution from entering the Marsh Run watershed, but also made it easier for their cattle to stay hydrated throughout the day and expend less energy commuting to their water source.

Moving Forward

Elated to be hearing the enchanting whistle of the bobwhite quail again, and anticipating the return of the fish, the Chapmans have become advocates for these practices, lending their farm for educational programs, which culminated in receiving the Conservation Farm Award in December 2012. Thanks to the formation of a strong partnership between the County and the Chapmans, Claude and Carla are now looking at the next possible steps they can take to make their farm even more sustainable and cost-effective.

Iris’ Takeaway: It was inspirational to see what can stem from a successful partnership, especially one with farmers, who, like other businesses, have an intrinsic instinct to focus on production. More importantly though, it was incredible to meet Claude and Carla, who not only decided that protecting the environment was important, but became allies and advocates for it.

Jeremy’s Takeaway:  I found the partnership to be very interesting. Considering that the Chapmans were well-known and respected farmers in the area, throughout the tour I wondered if their participation in the conservation programs led to other farmers seeking a partnership with the John Marshall Soil and Conservation District as well.  Yet, in the end, I was more astonished by the sustainable agriculture practices that were implemented than anything else, and I commend Claude and Carla for initiating change in their farming community.