How do I begin to describe the astounding trust and communion with the land that I witnessed last week? Meet the McIntyre family, owners of Goshen Homestead who also work for Roffey Cattle Company. A homestead means living a life of self-sufficiency. Vegetables, fruits, cattle, chickens…all can be found on this gorgeous piece of land about 25 minutes from downtown Abingdon.
Winding my way up the driveway, I found myself speechless from the overcast views of rocky pastures that reminded me of the Irish countryside. You already never want to leave. With 6 laughing children running about the kitchen, I chatted with Stacey and Dwayne, while taking turns holding the 2 and 4 year olds. Stacey was in the middle of roasting coffee beans. Heaven may in fact be a place on earth. Just saying.
After caffeination had taken it’s full affect, we explored the land they call home. With the youngest daughter, Rachel, by my side we walked through the garden, visited cattle, made friends with chickens, and my personal favorite…suited up and got close with some bees. Stacey and Dwayne’s oldest son, Nathan, has taken a fancy to bee-keeping, and boy is he excellent. This fearless 10 year old introduced me to the art of bee-keeping, and what’s abuzz these days with honey. I’m so sorry, I had to.
Over the course of the morning, we talked about modern-day issues that have been bouncing around in all of our heads, such as the rise of allergies and why all of a sudden our bodies can’t tolerate natural foods. Perhaps because our bodies no longer know the difference between natural and processed? It’s all a fast moving train with an evolution of folks attempting to slow it down with every fibre of their being. Our society has decided that slow is bad, fast is good. But by speeding everything up, we are negatively affecting the art and beauty of our natural systems.
Barefoot and smiling, the McIntyre children run to show me the chickens and apple tree. The work here never stops, but neither does the bounty. I feel lucky to have met this beautiful family. They sell at the Abingdon Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as well as provide the kale for White Birch Juice Company. What can you purchase from these lovely folks? Coffee, pickles on a stick, kombucha scoby, honey, eggs, chicken, beef (I’m currently enjoying a divine tip roast), raw milk and raw cream.
Enjoy the interview and photographic journey!
“Dwayne: We’ve started to branch out from Roffey Cattle Company and start our own. That’s Goshen Homestead…We’re not born and bred farmers. Like a lot of people at the market, started as a passion project for us that funneled into an occupation, and the whole atmosphere. I mean, it’s unlike really anything else I’ve ever been a part of. You know, surrounded by the kind of people that we’re surrounded by. The customers, I mean, my God, you guys are awesome.
Sarah: I mean, it really becomes like a family, I feel like too.
D: What’s crazier, for instance, back a couple years ago when I first moved here and I helped ASD try to do an online cooperative for meat vendors and stuff, and uh, and there’s just no financially viable way to do this without hiking up prices or people paying more through the co-op then they could just going straight to the market and getting it straight from the farmer. And there was nothing that we could do. In order to make the system actually work, we had to somehow generate an income to actually facilitate the system. And people were signing up left and right. Let me pay more, I support you!
D: I also think that within our food movement here in Abingdon and the region, people just understand the odds we’re against to implement a food system within a system that’s just got such a strangle hold on the market. For instance, chicken. We do chicken. It’s unsustainable. There’s absolutely no way you can produce chicken for 99 cents a pound without lots of government subsidies and money. But, you know, people still want quality and will do whatever feels necessary to get it. So, it’s pretty awesome.
S: And I think more people are finding out the things that are going into our food. Yeah, it may be cheaper, but what’s going into the actual livestock and chicken that is making that cheap?
D: Now this is crazy stuff, but I learned this the hard way. When I came here, my boss gets all these cattle journals. And he’s like throwing at me, saying you need to read these. And I didn’t know much. Literally I came here completely without any farming knowledge. We had a garden back north, but no real farming knowledge. And so, I’m reading through these cattle journals and I find this full-page ad for chicken manure. And it’s advertised to cattle farmers to buy this chicken manure. My first impulse is, well that’s how we fertilize fields and stuff by buying a lot of natural fertilizer and spreading a stuff. But there was something in the article I wasn’t understanding, because it wasn’t directed as a fertilizer. It was directed as an input for keeping cattle. Literally, I came to my boss and I said, “You know, this is crazy man. This article for chicken litter makes me think that it’s for feeding cows.” He’s like, “You’re not crazy. That’s exactly what it’s for.” Cheap grain is still more expensive that just buying poop off of other mass producers of chickens who have all this chicken crap and they don’t know what to do with it, so beef producers buy it for pennies and literally mix it with molasses or some sugar..
D: …it makes the cows enjoy it. And the beef you’re eating from the grocery stores is fed chicken poop. I mean, I was in shock. I knew there were some awful practices in the industry, but I just did not realize how bad it was. And how open it is. They’re not trying to hide it. This is business as usual.
[Daughter Rachel comes in the room]
S: You want to take a picture with your monkey?
D: Monkeys holding monkeys.
Rachel: I wanna see!! It’s me!
S: It’s you! They’re such happy kids.
D: They’re free-range, organic kids.
S: So I know you’re from the Philly area. When did you all come down here?
D: 2008 I believe.
D: August. Actually we’ve got our 8-year anniversary [of moving here] coming up.
S: Well congratulations!
D: Time flies though.
S: How did you end up here?
D: Well, I was a painter up north. Our farm story begins with my wife getting pregnant. Something…I don’t know what it was. But when she became pregnant, there was something that changed about us. Like, we don’t have money. We don’t have land. We don’t have a great big inheritance. We don’t have all these things to give our children. What can we give them? And it kept singling into that we can’t raise them on the food we were raised on. The junk food. It always came back to food. Like, what we can give our children when they turn of age is the gift of food, of health. And you know, I can’t speak for my wife, but I know by the time I was 20, I’d made some of the worst life and health decisions I could have ever made.
S: Oh yeah.
D: It was completely due to a lack of diligence. It’s all just food, it doesn’t really matter. Education or whatever in the department of health. You’re young, you’ll live. You’ll recover and life will go on. I’m not sure what the attitude was…So when she became pregnant, all we were thinking was developing this baby in her womb with the utmost chance of survival and health. And it just led us into fresh food. And at that time, we were just kind of “coming into the food movement”, if you will. We had just seen Food Inc. and it was all over. The next thing you know, we’re documentary hungry and we’re consuming all this information and it led us to moving out of our town-based lifestyle into the Amish community where we could rent land, have a big garden, have animals if we wanted. And, uh, so that’s what we started doing. We rented from the Amish and just started emulating all their gardening and all their food growing and stuff. They seemed really blown away that the English people wanted to do what they were doing. Most people were trying to get away from them, and here we’re just coming in like, “Where do we sign up?!”. So, ultimately, we just started doing that. And being that my job was a painter, it gets slow during the winters and I had a van with cargo room and passenger room, and it kind of became a thing that I would taxi the Amish around and I got to know a lot of them. And then, ah, we had a big thing for raw milk. That was one of our early things. So we met an Amish guy who did an organic milk product, and we just befriended him. Well, he buys grass-fed cattle from my boss now. My boss and him were just having a conversation and my boss was saying, “Oh you know, my help is moving out and I don’t know what to do. We’re stuck.” And the Amish guy was like, “Well, we know this family up here and they’re really weird and they’re really into this stuff. I don’t know, they talk about wanting to do it all the time. Maybe they’re interested.” He gave my boss our number. He called me like 6:30 in the morning and I’m trying to act like I didn’t just wake up, and he’s like, “So I hear you want a job.” And I thought it was just for painting or something like that. You know, trying to play the part. And, ah, then he’s like, “Yeah, I’ve got a farm down in Virginia.” I’m like, no I don’t think we’re looking for a job like that. He was persistent. He said, “Let me come up to you and tell you about the job and if you’re interested then we can talk more about it, and if not I’ll just go my way.” He drove up 8 hours the very next day, and we sat out in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot for like 3 hours talking about this job. And when it was over, I was like, God that sounds exactly like what we wanna do. I mean, we had our family and our business. This like July 1st, and after that we moved down here exactly 30 days after.
S: That’s crazy. It’s crazy that you just knew.
D: We were packing up, we’re going to Virginia! The thing was, we were entertaining it. When he first came up, we thought, oh this sounds too good to be true. He said, “Why don’t you come down for the second half of the interview to the farm and check it out.” We didn’t even get through Chilhowie, we were like, “We are moving!!”. I mean this place is unbelievable. It sold us. We didn’t even get to the farm and we were sold. Like, southwest Virginia is a gem.
D: I’ll tell ya, for local food…there’s just something down here. Different. The soil is different. It actually requires education and it requires really strong diligence to get the soil to a point where it actually produces for you. We gardened up there, and literally all we did was peek out the windows…the Amish are plantin’ something…Hey buddy, whatcha planting? Oh, peas? See ya! And that’s what we did. We just followed their lead. Down here we didn’t have that. It’s taken a lot of work, and you’ve just gotta learn down here. It’s kind of interesting.
S: I know there are people that a lot of folks look up to and learn from.
D: And you know, you’ve got your Anthony Flaccavento’s and they are completely available. He wants to help. He got his degree for the aiding of, you know, helping the system grow. And we’re suckers for information. You prove that you know something I don’t, you’re gonna be my best friend…Ultimately, the main reason we’re farmers is the more we learned about the food industry, the less we could trust it. You’ve probably done this, where you read something or you learn something and go, oh this is the bad food. I’m gonna switch to this and it’ll be okay. And then just, like, a couple months later you realize that there’s just as much wrong with that. And it got to the point where I was tired of it. I was so tired of thinking I was eating good food and then finding out it wasn’t good food…So we were just like, forget it. Fine, we’re growing all of our own food. That’s the way it’s gonna be. That’s ultimately our underlying path to farmer-ship.
S: I have a question. I don’t know a lot about raw milk. What are the health benefits of that?
D: Well, think about it like this. Fresh milk, raw milk. I mean, for one, it’s fresh milk because the stuff you buy in the store is like a week old at least. And if you ever let milk just sit around for a week, it just changes. It’s not the same as it was. But they pasteurize it so they flash kill everything off of the milk. So, milk comes with its’ own enzymes and its’ own beneficial flora. You know when you drink it raw it’s actually a benefit to our guts. A benefit to our digestion and of course, you know, it’s loaded with nutrition that our body can absorb easily. When you boil it, you’re killing off all of that benefit. Then you’ve gotta re-fortify it with synthetic vitamin A and vitamin D and calcium and stuff. And it’s already loaded with it. But the problem is, is that when mass industry kind of took off in the early part of last century, there was…it’s an unsustainable model. I don’t think we were ever meant to have 1,000 cows on 200 acres, living in their own poop, and then consuming the product from that. So when the cities started really building population, the demand started going high, everyone’s like well I’ll just go get 10 more cows, squeeze ‘em into my herd…When you get 10 more cows, you get 10 more times the poop, you get 10 more times the chances of it being contaminated. And so, you know, what happens is basically the industry, the milk industry…the product that they produce without pasteurization and sterilization is completely unfit for human consumption. I mean, it’s a death sentence to walk into a big milk plant and start drinking the milk out of the tanks. We’ve been living and thriving off of milk for millenniums.
S: And somehow is wasn’t good enough the way it was.
D: And so, that’s what they sell. This idea that, oh, it’s innately going to kill you. We’ve gotten to the point now where people don’t even know what fresh milk is like.
S: It’s kind of like a scary thing.
D: That’s because of all the propaganda they sell. That our milk is gonna kill them, and their milk is safe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that raw milk is absolutely safe, because you need to know who’s producing it. My attitude is this: if the farmer is not drinking their own product or eating their own product, why do you want to eat it? If the farmer has to dress up into a bio-hazard suit to produce the food that he’s trying to sell you, is that completely healthy? There’s just something wrong with that…
[When out visting the cattle]
D: The breed that we have is Red Devon…When the industry went commercial to a real large scale, Devons were the original cow in our country. All those old pictures, cows pulling a plow on a field and stuff. Those are Red Devons. But what happened was, when the industry went large scale and everyone was all about bigger and better, these kind of fell by the wayside because, ah, they just weren’t big enough. They started genetically making these Angus, these really big cattle, and so these kind of went by the wayside. Now we’re realizing that all this pumped up grain-fed cows are not very healthy to consume.
Rachel: [As I take pictures] Can I see?!
S: Yeah, you can see it…
D: Now we’re going back to this grass-fed. So there’s this Devon herd, Red cattle. Which is really good on grass…they fatten up really nice on grass. And, um, and now there’s a high demand for these cows because you can actually get a really prime finish on these smaller animals on grass than you can on Angus and other breeds that are just commercially bred to these enormous proportions.
Rachel: Look up! Baby eating milk!”