A dirty job for a clean Earth

By Ryan Cornell

MOUNT JACKSON — In April, Harry and Sue Polk received the Virginia’s Shenandoah Basin Clean Water Farm Award for their dairy farm’s environmental practices. At first, Mrs. Polk had a hard time believing it.

“I thought they were kidding,” Mrs. Polk said. “The boys came by and said we won an award. I thought they were picking on me.”

They weren’t. The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District named the Polks recipients of the local Clean Water Farm Award and then nominated them for the state award.

The Polk farm was one of 10 in the state to earn the distinction. Encompassing 629 acres in Mount Jackson and supporting 375 heads of cattle, the land can be a lot of hard work to maintain, but the family’s dedication to soil and water conservation runs deep.

“I’ve always said, you want this Earth to be here for a long time,” Mrs. Polk said, “you can’t just think of yourself, you gotta think of future generations.”

It all started in 2001 with a manure pit. Round, deep and concrete, it looks like the deep end of a swimming pool, but with cow manure instead of chlorinated water. The pit prevents manure from leaking into the soil, and in turn, the water supply.

From then, it was on to fencing ponds and building cement feeding pads, a poultry litter shed and a bird composting facility — everything was meant to keep the environment clean and preserve the land for her kids, 28-year-old Jared and 30-year-old Sarah.

Sarah Polk has a name for each one of her 375 cows. For a time, she went through a men’s cologne kick, appointing names such as Brut and Chaps. Another year, she blazed through types of corn, giving names like Dekalb. Now, she says, “I’m reading down the top baby names of 2013 list.”

Polks children are the fourth generation in their family to run the farm.

“I think it’s a good way of life,” Mrs. Polk said. “It’s a shame it’s getting few and far between.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com