More than a farm tour

If you are interested in knowing a lot more about your food and where it comes from, then you will want to take a trip to Poly Face Farms. Their website states that Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Yesterday, Trey Ward (Chef/Director at Chatham Hall) and I had the opportunity to tour the farm with a group of students from Chatham Hall.

When I first arrived I immediately stepped onto a stone with this message: “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth” – Thomas Jefferson.
Upon reading it I thought…how nice.

As we started the tour I knew it was going to be much more than seeing barns, pastures, chicken yards. This truly was a non-industrial farm where we could see nature take its course in many ways. I am not a writer and can’t do justice here, but I will summarize highlights of what I saw, learned and felt:

  • A regular farm – nothing fancy. But, it was clean. A clean farm? I compare it to our clean kitchens – clean dirt is productive recent dirt and cleaned up on a regular basis. Dirty dirt is build up and not good! This farm and the animals had clean dirt. Even the pigs felt like clean dirt!
  • 1200 one-week old baby chicks maturing until they join thousands more 2 – 8 week old chickens in “pastured broilers”. These birds like getting fresh air, sunshine, bugs and fresh greens. Moved daily from floorless field shelters to fresh pasture paddocks, broilers ingest copious amounts of green material, key to their nutrition.
  • The people/farmers at Poly Face seek to understand the animals and how they operate as well as provide them with the most natural environment in which to mature and develop
  • Diversity shows us nature is stable – different grasses yield different nutrients
  • There is science to the process – graze animals at the peak of the grass cycle so we have stronger/healthier cows
  • As with most things, balance is of utmost importance – rotation of grazing, number of animals put together in a herd and the amount of time a grazed field needs to rest
  • Cows release 50 lbs of manure every day. If handled properly, there is no “drain off concern”. Those 50 lbs (times 90 head of cow) can be used as a source of nutrients in other areas.
  • Maximization of space and utilization of resources – every area and aspect of the farm is “working”.
  • The animals work for the farm in their natural state – pigs are placed in “pigerators” to aerate compost cultivating future pastures.
  • Education – the whole tour is packed with information that is interesting, well presented and worth retaining.
  • Full utilization of nature’s cycles – birds and cows are “moved” daily to maximize what nature produces the best – vitamins and minerals. 
  • Science/Biology are used to assess and continually improve the environment and recognize the optimal conditions for all the animals – cows at Poly Face feed on hay for an average of 40 days during the winter. The average for “other” cows is 120 days.

Everything about the tour and the farm showed ultimate respect and care for the animals and land. It is what Thomas Jefferson said and was on the stone that I walked over when I got there – “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth”. After the tour, I felt much more than just “how nice” — I felt what that actually meant.

It was truly a pleasure to experience this with Trey – a fabulous Chef who appreciates food, sustainability, nature, and the full cycle. My only regret – that all of my friends and MG family were not with us!

Poly Face Farms offers tours regularly – plan a trip!

Written By Marta Ruggles, District Manager

May 28, 2013

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