Simply Sustainable

5/4/2013 7:00 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent

W.Va. Farm the Epitome of Natural Living

CAPON BRIDGE, W.Va. — Nestled along the banks of the Cacapon River is the Taproot Farm.

It’s not what one would call a “regular” farm. The Reese farm is anything but.

Owned by Tim and Beth Reese, Taproot is working toward being self-sustaining in all ways.

Residing at Taproot is the epitome of natural living.

“We are on such a learning curve. This is a beautiful life. We are learning by doing and give all the credit to my mentors — there are so many,” said Beth Reese.

“Our plan is to produce or barter for 75 percent of our food. That is a goal we set for ourselves.”

The diversity of the farm takes care of nearly the entire diet.

Meat goats, sheep, meat chickens, hogs and laying chickens take care of meat products.

Reese said they might grow turkeys, but that would be the limit of meat.

“Bees take care of our honey,” she said. “We have six hives, which is enough for us and the family. We do sell some in the local community. We all try to take care of each other.

“Did you know that food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates?”

Reese said she and her husband are following in the footsteps of people like Michael Pollan who wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which lifted the veil on the industrial food system.

Reese also pointed to the influence of Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer and author who emphasizes how naturally plants and animals keep the land healthy.

Reese said in lieu of putting animals in caged areas and warehouses, where manure becomes a problem, Salatin shows how to rotate animals in the pasture.

“The beautiful thing about this is that farming can be done on a very small scale,” said Reese.

“Historically herd animals stay close together —like the buffalo.”

Reese said with portable electric fencing a natural grazing habitat could be created.

Animals are put in small paddocks and moved daily, all the while fertilizing pastures and making them healthier.

“What is neat is that every animal has a different role on the pasture. Sheep are grazers and eat low like a lawnmower mows. Goats eat the tops of the grass. Together they each get the nutrition they need. It’s the way nature intended,” said Reese.

She said it’s like a beautiful symphony and not everyone is playing a violin.

Growing other foods is equally as interesting as raising animals at Taproot.

The half-acre potager is a garden that grows a little bit of everything.

“Potager translates literally from French, means soup with vegetables,” said Reese.

In the potager, the Reeses plant flowers, herbs, vegetables, a mini orchard with apples, peaches and pears, berries, and currents and figs.

“We plant herbs for medicinal purpose as well as for cooking,” said Reese.

The whole reason for the potager garden is to create a garden that is perfect for earthworms.

“Turning or tilling the soil causes it to dry out. It takes some years but by not turning it the soil will attract earthworms,” she said.

Once the earthworms take over they do all the cultivating.

Another endeavor at Taproot was its natural cob building made from clay, cut straw, sand and water.

“The four-part mixture is mixed in different proportions depending if you want it wetter for floors or dryer for walls,” said Reese.

Stomping it together with your feet does the mixing.

“This type of building has been around for thousands of years. Seventy percent of the earth’s population lives in some form of an earthen shelter,” said Reese.

Cob is similar to the adobe bricks out West.

“We create straight boards and buy them at Home Depot. We think that’s the only way to go, but it isn’t,” said Reese.

The supplies for the cob house are from the ground. Hay is a byproduct of straw, which is basically discarded. Reese said they dug a pond on the land and there was very little waste.

“We used no Dumpster and no landfill. What wasn’t used went back into the ground,” she said.

Reese said once the cob house is made and dried it becomes fireproof, flood proof and hurricane proof.

“This is the way our ancestors built. Think of the thatched roofs in England. They are made of cob,” Reese said.

The cob house is the second house built on Taproot Farm.

The first house, which is the family’s living quarters, is referred to as the green building.

“It has solar panels that will take care of 100 percent of our electrical needs. It has a green growing roof that is insulated and traps rain water,” Reese said.

Radiant heat heats the floors, where fabricated panels of expanded polystyrene are sandwiched between two sheets of oriented strand board. The wall and roof panels are 8 and 10 inches thick.

“Geothermal heating and cooling is our home’s climate control system,” Reese said.

“We hope the farm gets greener every year.”

The 20-acre farm is but a small portion of the original 400-acre land grant secured by Thomas Edwards in 1750 and surveyed by young George Washington the same year.

The Reeses have owned Taproot, which is two miles outside of Capon Bridge in Hampshire County, W. Va., for the past seven years.

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