When we pulled up to New Earth Farm David’s uncle, David (confusing, I know), almost drove right past it. There was a sign, but it was small. There was a building too, but it was definitely not habitable. There were also weeds, everywhere. To the right driving in there was a newer building claiming to be the “Learning Garden.” Finally, as we rounded the dilapidated old farm house, we found the farm store – a clearly newer and well labeled building; a dozen people were meandering in and around it. We got out of the car but it was several minutes before we figured out what was going on, a bit too long before anyone acknowledged our presence. Eventually Uncle David asked someone if the owner was around and that someone ended up being the owner – “Farmer John.”
John told us his entire history: from farming as a boy, to becoming a carpenter, to learning from sustainable farm experts, to building gardens for restaurants, to large scale composting, and finally to creating New Earth Farm in 1995. The farm is a working, sustainable, and educational operation in southern Virginia Beach, VA in a fertile farming area known as “The Pungo Ridge.” The farm employs organic practices and is in the process of becoming certified organic. We chatted a lot with John about environmental issues of today and the role that farming as to play in solving them – it was clear that he is a bursting source of very valuable knowledge.
New Earth Farm products can be found at Fruitive, Whole Foods Market, Virginia Garden Organic Grocery, The Heritage Market, Old Beach Farmers Market, West Side Produce and Provisions, Five Points Farmers Market, on the farm, and through a 100 family CSA program. According to our conversation with John, this extensive market is filled with 21 acres of land and four workers – an impressive accomplishment. The farm also won the 2012 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s local and regional Clean Water Farm Award for their “safe and sustainable practices and biological treatment of the land” as well as the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools “Partner in Education” award in 2014.
During our whole talk we got to pet Buddy – a week old lamb who lost his mother to child birth. Since John’s the one who feeds him he views John as his parent. During our visit he followed the farmer everywhere.
When we visited, the farm had two permanent buildings: the farm store and the learning center. It also housed several greenhouses, a flock of chickens, a flock of ducks, and a herd of sheep with many tiny newborn lambs. From the beginning the aesthetics of the farm bothered me, even though I recognized the weeds problem as a reality of early spring. I have to admit though, their public presentation doesn’t seem to be holding them back from success – and with only four workers… I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of time to look pretty.