Seven-plus Generations and Going Strong
by Debra Cornwell photos
by Eric Fargo
Local, modern American farmers deploy many talents and tactics, including creativity, diversity, and ingenuity, in developing and maintaining their business. Years ago, farmers, or members of their family, might have a side business, like hauling or handy work, to ensure year-round income. Today, that is no different, but the savvy farmer has kicked it up a notch. At Smithfield Farm, near Berryville, Va., the Smith descendants are perfecting that diversification with great success—a bed & breakfast, a farm with retail meat sales, a kitchen with prepared foods and an art studio.
First cousins, 11-year-old Benson Weidemer and 9-year-old Linus Pritchard, are the rising eighth generation to one day own and operate Smithfield Farm. Benson’s mother, Betsy Pritchard, says, “We tell them, go and live your life, travel the world, but know that this is here for you, and the farm will be your responsibility one day.”
The farm is nearing its 200th anniversary in the same family. Ruth Smith Pritchard took the reigns of Smithfield Farm in 1988. She and her three siblings inherited 1,500 acres in mostly Clarke County, Va., but some in Jefferson County, W.Va., along Wickcliffe Road. Two of her siblings still own their share and Ruth, along with her son Forrest and daughter Betsy, owns about 400 acres.
Edward Smith purchased the farm in 1816, began building the barn in 1820, and started the large, Federal style home of Flemish bonded brick in 1822. Edward and his brother John had inherited the princely sum of $5,000 from a great aunt in England. He went on to build the fieldstone fortress of a house, Hackwood, near Winchester, which is visible along the east side of Interstate 81, just north of the Route 7 exit. The manor house is largely in original condition. “Our ancestors were not fancy; they were farmers, so they never had money for upgrades and renovations,” Betsy shares. “My parents took ten years to restore the house from the ground up.”
Of working with family, Ruth reflects, “It is a dream come true to have our children want to come home and take up farming. I hoped they would want to continue what my late husband and I started, but didn’t want to pressure them or make them feel guilty if they needed to go elsewhere. It is a beautiful thing that Forrest and Betsy have returned to our idea of going back to the way my dad started out in the 1930s—i.e. organic—although it wasn’t called that. They’ve taken it so much farther than we ever dreamed. I love living and working with the kids and grandsons, and feel extremely fortunate that they want to be here on the land, continuing what their ancestors started almost 200 years ago.” The Bed &Breakfast Part of the de-stress process is the release from conversation.
In addition to being an outstanding hostess and innkeeper, Ruth is known for her ability to listen. Betsy says being an innkeeper is not always about offering food and a place to sleep—offering an ear is important, too. “Sometimes it takes guests three days for guests to relax. We want guests to relax, and notice what they can and cannot hear,” she says. “It’s a real treat to hear the spring peepers. We can see the stars. Guests can hang out in the hammock, read in the library, gather in the parlor or porch for conversation, stroll the orchard, and walk the farm.”
The breakfast at Smithfield Farm is awesome. Usually four courses served by candlelight, the meal includes a plated entree, fruit, bread and dessert. The plated entree could be Eggs Smithfield, omelets or French toast with sausage, bacon or ham. A typical bread selection includes muffins or quick breads. Dessert might be a dessert crepe or apple crisp. The leisurely, elegant, gourmet breakfast is sourced from the farm and other locals. Of course, dietary restrictions are taken into account with notice. Accommodations are large and grand without being too fussy—just right.
There are three rooms en suite on the upper level of the house, as well as the English Garden Suite at ground level. Private and spacious with a kitchen, the suite is a wonderful retreat. The Summer Cottage Kitchen Suite is located in one of the freestanding dependencies adjacent to the house. The two-story building is popular with honeymooners. The bed and breakfast is really the introduction and window dressing on so much more that happens at Smithfield Farm.
Smith Meadows A graduate of William & Mary who studied geology and English, Forrest is an authority on best practices of organic farming. He notes, “Our farm has no bad odors. Our animals are genuinely free range. They eat clean, fresh pasture. There are no medicines, hormones, or chemicals.”
Smithfield Farm offers grass-fed, grass-finished beef, pork, lamb, chicken and veal at the farm—in the building that also houses the kitchen. Additionally, the offerings are available at seven farmer’s markets in and around Washington. Midas Touch, a healthy foods store in Berryville, carries Smith Meadows meats, as well. Four outstanding restaurants serve Smith Meadows meat—Copperwood Tavern, Republic, Cafe Milano in D.C., and Bastille in Alexandria. Smithfield Farm is a great example of true economic, environmental and nutritional sustainability.
“Sustainability, in a multi-use sense of the word, must be our focus,” states Forrest. “It is critical that we remain able to pay our bills, improve our land for future generations, and try to produce the highest quality, cleanest, safest, most nutritious food on the planet.” Forrest says he can taste the rank odor of confinement from concrete feedlots and cages in conventional food, even eggs. “It is the first thing our customers tell us when they try our free-range eggs—that they never knew how gross other eggs actually tasted. It was very, very easy for me to take our farm in this direction.
“This is food with a linear identity, raised by a real farmer, paying his workers a sustainable wage, sold straight to the customer. It doesn’t get trucked halfway across the country, or sit in warehouses for weeks. The food is fresh and clean.”
To the first-time purchaser, Betsy recommends spending ten dollars on fajita meat or ground beef, rather than investing seventy dollars on steaks. “Try it first. If you like the taste of real beef, come back and see me.” She notes that the veal are beef calves, on mothers milk and grass fed, and never caged.
Smith Meadows Kitchen As with everything at Smithfield Farm, the kitchen happened “organically.” It evolved out of the need to do something with excess egg production, according to Betsy.
Smith Meadows Kitchen emerged as a complement to Smith Meadows. Nancy Polo, mother of Linus and former wife of Forrest, delves into her Italian heritage of good food and years of experimentation, to offer pastas, sauces and prepared foods.
Noodle varieties include Winter Wheat and Oat, Oat and Whole Spelt, Whole Wheat and Oat, basil garlic and nutmeg squash. Stuffed pastas are offered, as well, including bacon sage ravioli and sweet potato ravioli. Bolognese meat sauce, Neapolitan Marinara, and spinach pesto are also available. Prepared foods include sausage empanadas, salsa beef empanadas, spinach empanadas, chicken potpie, and the newly offered beef and pork rillettes.
LaCapretta Art Studio In addition to being an artist in the kitchen, Nancy pursues her other interest—art. The small pigsty/horse stable now houses La Capretta Gallery, Garden, and Studio. With its stone walls, floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows, and a Palladian entrance, the family-restored building showcases a gallery for Nancy’s paintings, a teaching garden, and her studio.
Nancy is a former art teacher who apprenticed at the Goat House Gallery in Pittsboro, NC. La Capretta means “little goat.” Nancy intended La Capretta to be a space where she could encourage apprentices to pursue their dream, as she had been encouraged at Goat House Gallery. She is proud of her art apprentice Lynsi Pasutti, who has gone on to open a pottery studio in Stuart, IA (visit lynsi-pasutti.com).
Forrest sums it up best, “Mother Nature has all the answers to what we need—she always has. If we can continue to learn from her, we’ll be growing the best food possible. What can be better than the best? I don’t have the pride or arrogance to suggest that I can make anything better than the universe has already perfected.”
See smithfieldfarm.com for links to the various offerings at Smithfield. And make sure to visit the farm in 2016 for their 200th anniversary farm day celebration.