Why We’re So Green!

There are many farms today that combine the production of food or the raising of animals with “agrotourism.”  Things like mazes, rides, petting zoos, country stores are included in the “farm” experience.  Long ago Sam and I decided that we wanted to be a production farm only.  We grow food, you pick it.  We don’t charge an entrance fee or a parking fee.  We only charge for the food.  We’ve left the farm, outside of the crop fields, in as natural a state as possible.  We have an herb garden and I use herbs which I am happy to talk about.  We have several nature tables where we put the bones, snake skins, nests, dried bats or frogs, turtle shells and anything else we find that’s interesting during the year.  We have a bluebird trail which is monitored weekly from March to the end of the nesting season.  We also have hives because of the orchards.  The beekeeper, a veteran of fifty years or more of beekeeping and bee breeding, is now in the third year of raising more vigorous queen bees.  Billy Davis believes that most of the Colony Collapse Disorder that has plagued the beekeeping industry for the past five or so years is primarily the result of hives that are transported long distances;  hives from Minnesota are shipped to California to pollinate the almond crop.  (Neither almonds nor honey bees are natives.)  Since bees pollinate about ninety percent of crops, their sudden collapse would be catastrophic on the food supply.

Sam and I are in the process of planting many more diverse kinds of trees and bushes, and my herb garden will continue to expand.  I also am taking over the growing of the asparagus and have, at present, five varieties.  (See Growing Asparagus from Seed).

We continue to work on the cultural aversion to imperfect fruit, as this attitude demands that growers spray enormous amounts of chemicals on the fruit trees.   We try to promote taste above appearance but the American consumer is very resistant and distrustful of anything with bumps or spots.  We are also trying to get back into raw cider which many people prefer (for taste and nutritional quality); many people are still fearful of “raw” juice as they are of “raw” milk.

We do not allow any driving on the farm so here everyone has to walk.  If you prefer you can sit at a picnic table under a tree and watch the grass grow.  There is not one square foot of asphalt on this farm and we’d like to keep it that way, if we can.

I suggest that if you want reliable and truthful information about our farm  that you read this website.  We will have additional information on our legal battles with the town.  Hope to see you when the blackberries are in season.  Should you want to come earlier please call us (540-338-7445) to schedule a date.

 
  • There is not a single square foot of asphalt on the farm.
  • The road the Town wants to force through our farm would be the first hard surface ever on this piece of land, drastically increasing pollution levels from the asphalt itself (which is a slurry of hydrocarbons that emit volatile gases.) Plans to cut  down canopy trees through the wooded area on the O’Toole property will adversely affect Crooked Run – which isa tributary of Goose Creek – and the wetlands the road will be crossing.
  • We let the grasses, and all those “pesky” plants we arbitrarily call “weeds” grow. Tall grasses shelter and nourish many forms of wildlife and encourage more balanced insect populations.
  • Plants like wild mustards, dandelions, and Pennsylvania smartweed control harmful nematodes, draw nutrients like calcium form the sub-soils, and dramatically reduce the destruction by Japanese beetles on crop plants and ornamentals.
  • We have planted over 2000 trees this year alone. A very short list of these trees and bushed include: Red and White Oak, Evodia, Chinese lace bark, American Linden (Basswood), Aronia (service berry), Elder Berry, River Birch, Buttonbush, Colorado Blue Spruce, White Pine, and many more.
  • These trees were specifically chosen to support bees, birds, and wildlife because of their flowering, fruit bearing, and sheltering habits. Some of these trees are offered through the Loudoun County’s Soil and Water Conservation Program.
  • According to Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., CEO of Rodale Institute and to leading agricultural universities, cover cropping, composting, and crop rotation can significantly reduce atmospheric carbon. These are practices Sam has been using for 25 years.
  • Crooked Run Orchard is the Town if Purcellville’s “forest” and open space reserve. Forty-one acres of the hundred acre century farm was placed in a permanent conservation easement by Sam Brown, eliminating 280 townhouses.
 
 
HISTORY OF THE FARM

Crooked Run Orchard is a small family farm on the outskirts of Purcellville, Virginia in Western  Loudoun County.  The land was first settled by Quakers who came down here from Pennsylvania in the 1740s and 1760s.  Lincoln, the small hamlet just to the south of Purcellville, was another Quaker community which still houses the Goose Creek Meeting House,  the Sunday-go-to-meeting house that Mr. Brown attended  from the time he was born in 1908 until shortly before his death at the age of just-under 95.

Thirty years ago when the farm was used to graze cattle and grow corn and wheat, most of the land was open; trees were allowed to grow in fence rows to separate fields, and were planted around houses for shade and wind protection.  Since 1982, when Sam Brown returned and started to plant fruits and vegetables, much of the tree canopy has returned and now there is heavy growth along the creek banks and the former wetland areas.

We grow fruits, some vegetables, herbs and sunflowers.  We also make Christmas wreaths and other holiday decorations.  We also sell natural lavender products, free-range eggs, small fruit and whatever the locals are willing to bring us, provided it is free range, unsprayed, and fresh.  (Not necessarily all three.)

People get confused about whether or not we are organic.  We are and we are not.  Everything I grow is grown on raised beds of compost.  I may add amendments, usually those that boost the microorganisms in the soil.  There was a time when crops did not respond to fertilizers because the soil was so rich and so abundant with these microorganisms (estimated at a billion per cubic inch) that  the additional fertilizers had no beneficial effect. Those times have passed by.

When I tell people that our orchards are transitional, Sam says why tell them that; we aren’t transitioning to anything.  Perhaps IPM (integrated pest management) would be a preferable term.  It is not possible to grow tree fruit acceptable to the American public organically.  Organic spray programs use three times the sprays and leave a heavy  carbon footprint. However, Sam is very conscientious.  He avoids certain sprays because they harm fish.  He uses pheromones to disrupt mating in certain insects and he has been using Surround, a clay-based spray that people often ask us about because it coats the peaches with a white color. This is to confuse the insect.  Surround is acceptable in an organic spray program, along with sulfur and lime.  Sam has used all three. Still, the American public is completely intolerant of  blemishes on fruit, or for that matter any fresh food that farmers will continue to spray heavily simply to assure that their crops sell.  It is apparent to us that only a small portion of the public will buy “ugly” fruit.  Twice we stopped spraying our orchard near the parking lot.  People passed right over these trees for those that had been sprayed.

CROOKED RUN

Crooked Run is a tiny tributary of the Goose Creek Scenic River system. It began at a spring where the IGA in Purcellville was built, now it surfaces and presently follows the inside of Main Street briefly before crossing under the road west of Pickwick near the pumping station at Main Street Village. North of the pumping station the creek flows through a large culvert below which is a bank of quartz rocks. Here the creek enters the farm. The organized content of suburbia suddenly becomes ragged greenery. The creek turns south. Along this portion of the creek is a minor floodplain and a small permanent well and area.

110_1019
In 1933, Crooked Run ran dry for the first time in local memory but then so didthe Goose Creek. Those were the Dust Bowl years, the worst drought locally ever recorded, and Loudoun County was rolling open space in every direction; Leesburg a condensed town of historic buildings, and Purcellville a diminutive Quaker community with a train station, local stores and largely self-sufficient households, dairy farms and a patchwork of uninterrupted fields, woodlands and creeks through which dirt roads weaved in a circuitous network which remains in fragments today. The well on the farm was 60 feet deep. It never went dry not even in 1933. Groundwater was clean and abundant. In the early 90’s, three wells 500 feet deep west of Crooked Run Orchard were drilled for Main Street Village. From that time on whenever a drought, however minor, hit the region, the creek ran dry. The wetlands along the creek dried up for the first time. Not until 2003 when we had double the amount of annual rainfall (72 inches) did the wetlands return in full. The farm well failed in the mid 90’s. The 60 foot well had lasted seventy years. It was replaced by a 425 foot well. The new well water stank the first year and is slowly losing its smell; we don’t drink it.

MODERN APPLE PRODUCTION

BUYING LOCAL PRODUCE is one of the most powerful ways you can:

* alleviate stresses on the environment;

* buy more nutritious, varied, fresh and flavorful food; encourage diversity and enlarge selection;

* help mitigate the effects of corporate farming, which is routinely monocultural, high input (renewable and non-renewable use of energy), GMO-type farming. This would help to reverse the caloric load on production;

* help the local economy;

* lower corporate pollution of air, water and soil.

For example, apples grown in the Northwest, aside from giving the consumer very limited selection, require such high inputs to:

* produce – irrigation (infrastructure, loss of salmon dams, pollution);

* sprays (15 to 18 times per season which causes massive rebound infestations, kills beneficials, leaves residues);

* fertilizers (destroys soil health, pollutes water table which returns to rivers, etc.);

* process – packing houses to wash, select, polish which use lots of electricity, water and paper products;

* transport – roads, trucks, gas – more pollution and destruction of environment.

The apple you eat from Washington State does not return (produce) in calories the amount of energy it took to grow it, a net loss in resources that is not sustainable. The highly selected perfect apples you see in the stores create a grotesquely unreal expectation of what “real” apples look like (see study below) and force growers to continue the heavy use of chemical sprays.

HOW WE GROW

How do we grow our food? Sam uses sprays and IPM management in the orchard. Apples demand the most spraying; pears, cherries and peaches far less. Sam has employed pheromone traps, beetle traps and other less toxic approaches to orchard production. But not spraying is not an option since American consumers would not buy the apples. Sam is conscientious and judicious but certain pest and diseases are too pervasive and destructive to ignore.

The rest of the farm is “ecoganic”. This is a term circulating in lieu of organic since no one is allowed to use the term organic if they have not been certified. (I’ll get back to organic later, as there is a lot of mischief going on there.) We use compost, raised beds, cover crops, rotation and mineral slow-release organically approved soil amendments (greensand, wood humate, black rock or pebble rock phosphate, lime, etc.). Fish and kelp sprays and surround are used on the orchards. Surround is fine clay, not-toxic spray that is supposed to suffocate insects without harming the trees or preventing photosynthesis.

No small fruit, vegetables, herbs or flowers are ever sprayed. No ammonia-based commercial fertilizers are ever used because they ruin the soil and pollute water systems, and I believe they degrade the flavor of food along, as does irrigation which increases the weight and size of the fruit but lowers the “brix” (a complex of sugars, etc., which gives fruit its taste.) Our peaches are juicy but never watery.

ORGANIC

Let me address “organic” labeling. This term is widely abused. Demand certification from your grocer and if he can’t produce it, call the headquarters of the food chain. Find out where the food was grown, and exactly what they sprayed. (Oh yes, organically grown apples are heavily sprayed.) No one in their right mind would ever spray if food could be grown to present nicely enough that Americans would buy it. Spraying is very costly: it requires certification which entails training and may be given at infrequent and inconvenient times; it requires special clothing and expensive headgear, as well as costly machinery that needs to be maintained and cannot be used for anything else; it takes time.

I doubt an ordinary customer could find the provenance of the food he or she buys. Buying local produce gives you much more access and knowledge of the actual growing methods of the producer. This gives you much more power over your food sources.

One last point, the term “organic” is a buzzword I find particularly irritating because the conversation over food production should entail, I believe, first and foremost, a discussion on energy. Organic production can be more costly in terms of energy (calories, BTUs, etc.) than a low-input non-organic system. The central issue for me is efficient safe food production in a closed system where additional inputs are minimized if not abolished. Only then will the toxic by-products of growing foods will be eliminated and food production become sustainable.

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5 responses

30 10 2010
An Apple Tart to Inspire You « Bethesda Locavore

[...] went apple picking recently (at Crooked Run Orchard, which has quite the interesting blurb about the organic apple issue, check it out) and this is [...]

13 09 2011
Mike Tara McMillan

Hi there- we would like to come visit- as a family on friday sept. 16th- a field trip – we homeschool
looking forward to it
Tara

16 09 2011
Molly

My family and I love coming to the farm every year for apples, and to see the table of “things” ITs a great tiem and this will be my 5th year coming to your farm. Even when we lived in NC, I would come up for the weekend just to visit the farm and pick your delious apples.
Thank you so much,
Molly

14 10 2011
applpy

We love coming to your farm every year, my daughters 7 and 5 will not go anywhere else! I applaud your decision to let the farm be a farm instead of turning it into an amusement park of sorts. We support you in your battles as well. Coming out to get our apples this weekend!

10 09 2012
Nate

Well said! So much misinformation out there. Thank you for enlightening us on just how complex food production is.

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