By Sally Voth - email@example.com
EDINBURG -- On a hillside off of Swover Creek Road, snorts and snuffles can be heard coming from the woods.
A couple dozen of Jordan Green's pigs are sleeping away a near-triple-digit day in the shade of the trees. They have access to water and grain, but will get about 20 percent to 30 percent of their diet by foraging off the land.
"With grain being the most expensive component in hog [farming], that's pretty good motivation to get them out in the forest," Green says.
A single electrical wire keeps the hogs fenced in where he wants them. These temporary paddocks are moved frequently, allowing the hogs to have access to fresh ground, and giving the area they leave behind time to recover.
"They will only cover this ground, at the most, twice a year," Green says. "You're giving [the] forest a lot of time to recover and to rejuvenate the vegetation."
Piglets are kept in a hoop house until they're about 3 or 4 months old. They will spend about four months in the forest.
This mimics models found in nature, says Green, 28.
"You're allowing the animal to express its animalness," he says. "Pigs want to be in the dirt and rolling around and rooting up the side [of the hill] and tearing up the bushes."
Green points out the absence of any stench commonly associated with hog barns. Because the pigs are moved so frequently, the soil is given time to assimilate the nutrients from any manure.
Green's first teenage job was on a farm. He interned at Polyface Farm in Swoope nearly a decade ago. Polyface Farm's website, www.polyfacefarms.com, describes the operation as "pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley."
After getting out of the Marines last summer, Green and his wife, Laura, 23, were approached by David and Lynn St. Clair, who asked if the young couple would be interested in leasing their farmland along Swover Creek Road. The St. Clairs still run a pick-your-own berry farm on the land, Green says.
Last summer, J & L Green Farm was begun. "Green" is an apt name for the farm, since the Greens' farming philosophy is definitely environmentally friendly.
"[We're trying] to provide a local source of clean, wholesome food for people to have," he says.
Green says you won't find 10,000 chickens crammed in a 60-by-300-foot building, or cows clustered in a barn. Instead his 700 Rhode Island Red hens are enclosed in a feather net, free to walk around eating grass, and moved every three days.
He has built a few hen boxes out of wagons that are closed up at night.
"This is about the most opposite of what you see for layer production in the valley that I think you can get," Green says. "They will generate about 50 dozen eggs a day that we sell."
He says the orange color of the yolks is a result of the chlorophyll in the grass the hens eat.
Again, waste run-off is not a problem, according to Green, because the soil has time to digest the nutrients since the chickens are moved frequently, and the animals spread the waste on their own.
The only other poultry on the farm for now are ducks, although Green is considering raising broilers for meat next year. A couple hundred ducks occupy a paddock on the opposite side of the road and downhill from where the chickens are. They're being raised for their eggs.
"They taste very similar to a chicken egg," Green says. "The difference is really in baked goods."
Duck eggs hold cakes and breads together better than chicken eggs and puff them up more. There is much more yolk than white in the egg, Green says. Plus, the ducks are less maintenance than the chickens and lay a greater number of eggs.
However, the ducks won't lay in a box, so Green must go on "an Easter egg hunt" every morning.
Back on the other side of Swover Creek, about five dozen cattle graze on a wooded hillside. They're in a 11⁄2-acre paddock this day because it's not very grassy, but usually they graze on a plot of land covering up to an acre.
Not far from the ducks' enclosure are separate pastures for rams and ewes. The ewes, which grow hair, not wool, are moved everyday, and the rams every three days. Green says it takes just 20 minutes to set up a new paddock for the animals. While giving the farmers maximum control over the animals, the enclosures are also providing the sheep with fresh daily grazing.
Green points out a field that hasn't been grazed in about 45 days. Among the plants growing in it are clover, orchard grass, timothy, mustard weed, morning glory and chicory -- a "real mixture of stuff, which is why we use the term salad bar" for the animals, Green says.
All the grain Green feeds his animals is grown in the Shenandoah Valley, and none of it is genetically modified.
"We don't use any kind of steroids or hormones ever," he says.
Antibiotics are only used if an animal is sick and an antibiotic is called for. Besides the health benefits of eating animal and animal products that are hormone and antibiotic-free, other benefits for the farm's consumers include higher concentrations of Omega-3s and lower cholesterol, Green says.
The Greens work the farm themselves with an intern. They hire additional help as it's needed.
Green says he hasn't had a day off since October. Not that he's complaining.
"I wouldn't do this if I didn't enjoy it and wasn't passionate about it," he says. "You have to do what you're passionate about in life, or it's not worth it. It's something that's noble. We're trying to preserve a way of life, to protect farmland and provide viable ... food-production models to feed people in a time when we're becoming more and more centralized in our food production."
There's something wrong with how America feeds itself when an E-coli outbreak in a packing plant affects nearly half of the 50 states, Green says.
"I can pretty much tell by face all the customers that buy our beef," he says. "It's something at the end of the day we know is worth doing. You feel your purpose is right."
Mrs. Green echoes her husband's sentiments.
"It's great," she says. "[This] is definitely the cleanest food you can get. It's just so much healthier for you. I definitely see many people aren't educated enough about knowing why hormones and pesticides and [genetically modified organisms] is not good for them."
And, as if Green isn't busy enough, in bad weather and during his hours off the farm, with his wife's help, he builds rustic furniture which they also sell.
"It's kind of relaxing to me," Green says. "It's time that we get to spend with each other. We harvest all the cedar trees off the farm."
They also do sawmilling.
The Greens do on-farm sales, sell at farmers markets in Bryce, Woodstock and in Washington, and are looking into supplying restaurants.
For more information, visit their website at jlgreenfarm.blogspot.com/.