PURCELLVILLE, Va. — The Chesapeake Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, known as CRAFT, held its annual Summer Solstice Conference on June 24 at Mountain View Farm. The day-long conference featured sessions presented by area farmers on a variety of subjects, ranging from hands-on demonstrations in soap making and fermentation, to how-to presentations on infrastructure and acquiring land, to group discussions on agricultural activism and farming in a changing climate.
In the session “Collecting Stories from our Farming Community,” three intertwined farm families served as a panel to share their farming beginnings and the changes that have happened over the years.
Hui and Hana Newcomb of Potomac Vegetable Farms, Charles and Sue Moutoux of Moutoux Orchards, and Chip and Susan Planck of Wheatland Vegetable Farm all contributed to the panel. The three families all began separate operations around the same time and eventually decided to go in together on a 400-acre piece of land in Wheatland. At the time, the Moutouxs and the Newcombs were farming in the Vienna area before it was developed. The Plancks had never farmed before but left their jobs because they wanted their kids to grow up on a farm. They learned to farm from Hui Newcomb and her late husband Tony. Though inexperienced, the farmers were determined to succeed.
“We were just our own little project and we weren’t going to quit, we were too proud,” said Chip Planck. What started as just a “little project,” unintentionally grew into a multi-generation multi-family legacy of farmers throughout northern Virginia.
At the time they began their farms, organic produce was not in demand. Potomac Vegetable Farms grew a lot of sweet corn using pesticides up until Tony Newcomb died of Lymphoma. It was around that time that Hui learned that a pesticide they were using was linked to Lymphoma, and they cut it from their practices.
“We were closet organic for many, many years,” said Hui Newcomb, since there was no market pressure for it. It was in 1980 when farmers markets started popping up, with the Arlington market being the first the farmers attended.
“Our first farmers markets we brought bales of hay and used that as our table. Nobody knew what they were doing,” said Hui Newcomb’s daughter Hana, who now co-manages the farm. But it did not take long for markets to popularize, which caused the farmers to extend their season beyond the first frost date.
In terms of advice to new or aspiring farmers, Hana Newcomb and Chip Planck said to just keep going.
“When you plant something in the spring, you have to keep doing something about it until the fall and then you have to get ready for the spring and there’s no time for chaos,” said Hana Newcomb.
“You do what you established yourself to do and it’s much clearer than any other walk in life,” added Chip Planck.
Susan Planck had more concrete advice to add. She said to do big experiments, such as testing different growing practices on the same crop side by side.
“Don’t believe one story,” she said.
The Plancks and Moutouxs are now retired. As all six farmers look back on their farming careers, they all agree on one thing: “All that matters in life is the people that you do things with.”
For more information on Chesapeake CRAFT, visit chesapeake-craft.com/.