“Any one thing that we do would not be enough to support a family, but all of the layers: the cowshares, the broiler chickens, the turkeys, the hogs, and the beef combined can support our family.”
The sign for Full Quiver Farm is written across a mailbox that stands a little crooked on a country road across from the Wilson family’s home.
From the street, the farm appears as a large backyard expanding behind the family’s home. There is a row of short fenced and covered areas for chickens and a young calf. Chickens and baby chicks scurry around the side yard, pecking at the ground and clucking. A few minutes after I arrived, Scott Wilson, owner with his wife Alison, took me on an informal tour of the pastures.
Hens, cows, turkeys, and pigs have been raised for meat on the sustainable family meat farm in Suffolk, Va since 2003. There is also a dairy cowshare program and eggs and sometimes organic veggies for sale at Full Quiver Farm on monthly pick-up days. All of the animals are pasture raised from the time they arrive at the farm with full access to the outdoors, fresh air, and sunshine. The farm is not certified organic, but it is completely natural. The animals are not given routine hormones or antibiotics.
The animals exist in a state of symbiosis: The pigs live in the forests which border the cow and poultry pastures. There, pigs eat according to what they can forage in the woods and are working to clear out the underbrush for future extension of the pastures.
The cowshare program allows people to purchase a share of a dairy cow and pick up the milk weekly. Dairy cows and hens graze on a mutually beneficial rotation. Cows graze and fertilize the pastures with their manure. When the chickens graze after the cows, they eat the parasites and bugs left over in the manure and fertilize the grass with their own manure.
“What is a pest for the cow becomes a nutritious asset to the chicken,” Scott Wilson said. “You’ll never see manure lagoons here, which are environmental liabilities on factory farms. But you will see compost piles that we spread on the pasture, so manure is actually an asset instead of a liability. We don’t need to ship it off; we want to keep as much as possible because it keeps the grass growing and allows animals to thrive on the pasture. We also use the compost for our organic gardening.”
Much of the beef sold by Full Quiver Farm comes from cows pasture raised on another local 30 acre farm.
“We’ve found that, with the family farm dynamic, it’s best to have a diversity of things as opposed to a monoculture, which is what most of today’s farming is based on,” Mr. Wilson said. “We have complimentary enterprises that work together to make the whole. Any one thing that we do would not be enough to support a family, but all of the layers: the cowshares, the broiler chickens, the turkeys, the hogs, and the beef combined can support our family.”
Pastured pork and beef is less likely than factory farmed pork to be contaminated with E-coli and raising pigs on a pasture reduces the risk that they will form antibiotic resistant bacteria. Research has shown that “pigs raised on a pasture have 300% more Vitamin E and 74% more Selenium (a vital antioxidant) than pigs raised in confinement…”
Pastured beef, chicken, and eggs are more lean and have a higher content of Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E. Raising animals outside on a pasture has a host of environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion and reduced production of greenhouse gases.
Scott Wilson took me on a tour of his family’s farm, and after he explained the natural farming principles that Full Quiver Farm is built on, we discussed the philosophy of our food choices, and the lifestyle that follows.
So you’re family is pretty self-sufficient.
One of our goals coming out [to start farming] here was to be as self sufficient as possible. We want to be able to stay away from the grocery stores. It’s the kind of mentality that requires a changed mindset, that we’re going to eat whatever is seasonally available, whatever is either grown or stored, even though we may not have as much variety, but we know that that food is healthy and fresh, it’s grown locally, and it’s going to have the best nutritive content rather than something full of preservatives that has been shipped from the West Coast. But it also means we don’t eat tomatoes in February.
That was difficult for me to get used to at first when I moved here from California. At times, the vegetables in season here are all very similar.
It does take some getting used to. But it’s a good thing and the way that God intended it. My wife and I were just talking about that conundrum, of maybe getting bored with what is currently available, because, as Americans, we [are used to] convenience. But, cooking and working in the kitchen along with your children is the type of experience that you don’t get with a microwave dinner.
That’s true. Eating whole foods and the creativity of coming up with new dishes does yield to a different family dynamic. It is interesting how much of an effect our food can have on our lifestyle.
Our daily schedule tends to hang on meals. As much as possible, we try to [prepare and eat] our meals together. We can sit together and read, talk about what has happened during the day, and really connect to each other. Everything hangs on those meals, and they become anchors for our day. It is a discipline, too. I think that food was designed to do that, if you’ll let it.
How did you come to the decision to change your career to farming, and why did you decide to go this route?
The thing about this model is, as opposed to the more common models of farming, there is a lot of information out there, a lot of books on family farms that are geared toward organic, natural methods, that really give a picture of what it can look like economically. It’s more possible than you’d imagine in today’s culture. People are concerned about their food and concerned about factory farming and those processes that are creating food that is inedible. Whole chickens at a grocery store have flavoring added because without it, they have no flavor.
There is, of course, the principle that the [factory farmed] chicken was treated horribly, so it’s both an inferior product and an inferior way for us to treat animals. Our model of farming produces meat that tastes so much better. So, even those people who don’t care as much about the treatment of the animal can tell the difference in the flavor of the meat.
So, the benefits to the animals, the people, and the environment are an important factor, but the infrastructure allows us to be economically viable also.
I see your kids helping out with some of the tasks around the farm, and they seem happy to be doing it.
By and large, my kids do much of the work around the farm, and that’s a good thing for kids to do. It’s good for them to get out in the sunshine, work hard, accomplish things, and see the results, because they help make their food. They are contributing to the yummy stuff that they get to eat.
I can imagine that it helps with homeschooling in the way of creating lessons.
Endless ways, endless lessons. They learn the knowledge and then use the knowledge immediately. And they need the knowledge because if they don’t have it, animals could die.
Your lifestyle and your farm are very holistic. My husband and I hope to have something like this in the future, but for now, we have a small garden in our backyard. It’s wonderful to see the way that you and your family work with the animals you raise.
The garden is a good thing – everything starts small and grows. There is a kind of symbiosis with this model of farming, and in an ideal world, all the systems would work together, benefiting each other.