Deauville Farm, Basye, VA
Featured Site Created By GailRose
Gail Rose has been working the land known as Deauville Farm for about 16 years, and calls her stewardship “an ongoing process.” By employing organic practices on the farm, Gail aims to build a healthier soil environment for microbes as well as avian visitors (like recent visitor, “Richard” the Turkey Vulture who enjoys rotting pumpkins). Her rewards include not only healthy eggs and vegetables, but also healthy flocks of Blue Jays and American Goldfinches. But earning a living on a small organic farm in rural Virginia is not easy, and Gail has faced both personal and professional challenges along the way.
Gail’s struggle to make her organic farm sustainable attracted the attention of filmaker Kathryn Pasternak, who is producing a documentary feature film about the farm. According to Pasternak, her film “Doeville will follow farmer Gail Rose through five difficult seasons, from late summer one year through to fall the next year. No one can predict how Gail’s story will end…but the journey is sure to be one full of spirit, determination, courage, passionate devotion, heartache and hard work.” Doeville will be completed as a feature documentary in December 2013. Watch the website www.doevillethemovie.com for more details of when and where you can see the finished film. Read on to discover more about Gail’s journey from her own point-of-view.
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
The only soil amendments I use on my farm are organic–no synthetics. Up until recently, I had two primary sources of organic manure: deer and chicken. The herd of about 120 fallow deer we raised is no longer here, but the land the deer occupied for nearly 30 years has the benefit of their manure. I also compost chicken manure and apply it to my garden beds. The reason is to build a healthy soil structure that supports a myriad of life-forms, from microbes on up through the food chain.
I only use organic pest controls in my gardens, and only as a last resort, thereby attempting to provide the least toxic environment possible for the birds and other wildlife, including helpful insects.
I let certain areas go to weed deliberately for birds and other wildlife. I plant seed plants for the birds, such as amaranth and sunflowers, and I provide water sources for birds. Starting in May, I provide nectar in eleven feeders for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
I keep about 10 rain barrels to conserve water and nurture tadpoles in each of them. The tadpoles control mosquito larvae in the barrels, and the mature frogs continue to be great pest control in the gardens and sometimes also feed the birds. This winter, I moved the full barrels into my greenhouse because they absorb heat through the day and then keep it more temperate at night. The water inside them will be used on my greenhouse plants in spring.
What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")
I see a lot more birds–an extraordinary variety of them–and a wealth of wildlife in general. And because I’m open to the public, everyone who visits the farm gets to not only enjoy my produce but also see the birds and “good” insects in the garden and learn about eco-friendly food production.
For example, I was working in my garden one evening, mid to late summer, when I realized I was surrounded by dragonflies. I stopped to watch them–thousands of them were flitting all over the deer pasture. I became mesmerized, never having seen so many. I looked up in the trees beyond the pasture and saw what looked like black flocks of starlings, pouring out of the hillside beyond the pasture. The first thing I thought was, “It’s almost dark, what are those birds doing?” Then I realized they were actually bats, feasting on the dragonflies, diving and swooping in the growing darkness. It was so extraordinary! I like the idea that those bats are roosting on the forested hillside just beyond my property, which is testament to the healthy habitat my neighbors and I have nurtured.
Another day while working in the gardens, something caught my eye over near an old metal feed storage unit. It flew up onto a wire above my head; it was a baby Barn Swallow! It was tiny. Then two more flew out and two more after that, lined up on the wire above my head. What I witnessed was their fledgling flight. I watched as the parents fed them on the wire. It went on for a couple of hours–I couldn’t get any work done because the parents were so diligent feeding them. I watched as one of the babies finally flew to a roof top nearby. The mother went to it and fed it, as though to encourage the others to be brave enough to fly again. It went on all afternoon. Then one flew off over the field and boom…they were all gone. For the next several days, they stayed close by, feeding on the bugs. I felt like they were “my” family. I don’t have a mosquito problem on the farm thanks to all these hardworking creatures: tadpoles, bats, and birds.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
Unfortunately, as a farmer, not all the wildlife my property attracts are welcome. Sometimes I have to make difficult decisions to remove problem animals like rabbits from the gardens, and rats from my hen houses. I have two dogs–they are Australian shepherds–which are great ratters. Between my dogs and my rooster, the hens in my chicken yards are well-protected from raccoons, skunks and rats.
Another challenge is that it seems that my forest is in decline; I am seeing a lot more Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers. I think my oak trees are dying. Bugs have moved in, and now the birds are attacking the trees for bugs. It’s great to see the woodpeckers suddenly all around, but it’s also sad that I’m losing the trees. I think it is due to the long-term drought conditions we’ve suffered in the Shenandoah.
But the most difficult decision I’ve faced? That was giving up the fallow deer that I used to raise; they were too much financial pressure and too much pressure on the land. I don’t have enough property to have successfully grazed the herd. With corn prices skyrocketing over the past few years, all the income I earned from eggs and vegetables went to supplementing the deer’s diet. That was not sustainable. [Fortunately, a farmer from Wisconsin adopted the deer.] Now my farm can continue on the road to sustainability as a pick-your-own organic (not yet certified) vegetable and fruit farm, supplemented with eggs from my heritage breed chickens and…one very funny “Bourbon Red” turkey hen.