~ The following was published in the Lawn and Garden supplement of Community Newspapers of Southwest Virginia in April 2009.
Known for its vibrant music and art scene, Floyd County has also been fertile ground for a flourishing of sustainable agriculture. Since the early 1990’s small market growers and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms have been putting down roots in the county, adding a new green twist to Floyd’s age old farming tradition.
Tenley Weaver and Dennis Dove have been at the forefront of Floyd’s local food movement, both as certified organic farmers of their Full Circle Farm and as owners of “Good Food for Good People (GFGP),” a retail and wholesale distribution business for seasonal produce. With as many as 30 local growers providing fresh organic and biologically grown vegetables and no/low spray fruit to area restaurants, stores, and consumers, GFGP is a labor of love that has really taken off.
“I can’t take any credit. It’s the cooperation of the growers and the support of the suppliers and consumers that has made it a success,” Weaver said from her office, a desk tucked in a back corner of the GFGP headquarters, known as Greens Garage.
The Garage (pictured above) houses an 8 x 10 cooler, a food store (which Weaver refers to as “a farm stand and more”), a greenhouse where garden seedlings and organic farm supplies are sold from, and room for recycling storage. The back of the garage, dubbed by Weaver as the “pack shack,” serves as a produce distribution packing station and a CSA share pick up site.
CSA fosters relationships between farmers and retail consumers. Consumers purchase shares at the start of the growing season and are paid back in produce at harvest time. Some CSA’s incorporate a “pick your own” harvest, but because of the size and variety of markets they serve, GFGP makes weekly drop-offs during the growing season (April – December) in Floyd, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Roanoke. “It’s probably the biggest CSA in the state,” Weaver noted.
Last year the GFGP’s Fruit Share, supplied by 10 regional farms, generated 250 shares. This year a Vegetable Share is being added, along with an Ala Carte Share, which will allow consumers at some CSA drop-off sites to order items carried at the Greens Garage store, such as farm fresh eggs and dairy, locally baked bread, honey, and hormone-free grass fed beef and pork.
As homesteaders who live off the grid, Weaver and Dove are reluctant business owners, but they are passionate about farming and they understand the contribution GFGP is making towards a sustainable local economy. Through GFGP they support local farmers to make a decent wage, lessen food miles, and provide “something tangible for our friends and neighbors to eat,” said Dove, a former Virginia Tech environmental researcher of crops and soil sciences. “We wake up and look out the window and see our work for the day. We’re happy for it. It’s the most rewarding work I can think of,” he added.
Weaver, who has a degree in literature, discovered her passion for wholesome food while working at a health food store in Delaware, where she went to school. She cites the “historical moment” – referring to the recent positive media attention given to green businesses and lifestyles – for helping to propel GFGP to success. “We were in the right place at the right time. We couldn’t have done this 20 years ago.”
As the country has seen with the recent bailouts of financial markets, conglomerates can be susceptible to collapse. Whether banks or farms, small local businesses offer a diversity that promotes security. “Food safety and security is increased by thriving small farms. If there’s a problem at one farm you have more to rely on,” Weaver explained. “When you focus your food source on a few multi-nationals you get things like the recent widespread peanut contamination or the outbreak of E. coli in spinach, a problem that affects many people in a severe way.”
Weaver says she spends about 40 hours a week working at Full Circle where she and Dove specialize in growing herbs and salad mixes (high dollar, short rotation crops) for fine dining establishments. Between farm work, Greens Garage, GFGP, and meetings with Blue Ridge Growers Collaborative (the core group that plans the GFGP growing season) their lives revolve around food. Recently they began employing a few part time workers at Full Circle Farm during the peak growing season. They have six part time employees at GFGP and one full time Greens Garage manager.
The work is hard and business is good, but no one is getting rich, at least not in a monetary way. “We work on a shoestring. We don’t do debt,” Weaver said. Explaining how their business is motivated by friendships, she cites an 83 year old orchardist, whose farm provides the bulk of their Fruit Share, as one of her greatest inspirations. “He’s one of the few people I know that is truly satisfied. He’s got his homestead scene together. He’s happy with what he’s created, loves his job, and isn’t striving for more and more.”
For the past four years Full Circe Farm and other GFGP suppliers have opened their farms to the public for a Mother’s Day Farm Tour. Because it has rained two out of the past four years and road access into the farm is difficult when it rains, the couple has decided to present a series of free gardening workshops at other venues this spring. Most recently Dove, a tomato seed breeder whose heirloom varieties are available in gardening catalogs, presented a workshop on growing heirloom tomatoes. Other recent changes that reflect signs of growth at GFGP include the hiring of a bookkeeper and the purchase of a GFGP delivery truck, releasing the couple from relying on their own vehicles for deliveries.
“It’s the Year of the home garden,” Weaver said enthusiastically. Dove added that everyone in the growers’ community has been inspired by Michelle Obama who recently broke ground on the first White House garden since the FDR presidency. He and Weaver concur with Obama’s sentiment that children should know where their food comes from, that garden grown fresh vegetables are good for us and taste best.
Encouraged that the issue of the economy of local food is finally getting public notice, Weaver said, “It’s not about us. It’s about changing the world. Our goal is to change the world one forkful at a time.” ~ Colleen Redman
Note: For information about GFGP CSA shares and Full Circle Farm Farmer’s Market schedule contact email@example.com. The last photo is of Tenley, her daughter Summer Rain, and Dennis. Tenley is holding CC Ryder, who she refers to as their P.R. agent and trucking mascot. The family has five draft horses. Summer Rain is a student and trains horses.