Sylvanaqua Farms | Food Grown in Natural Ecosystems
We're on a mission to feed a growing population on a warming planet
Sylvanaqua Farms | Food Grown in Natural Ecosystems
We're on a mission to feed a growing population on a warming planet
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Sat, August 31 2019 1:02 PM UTC +00:00.
- Grow a range of vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, grains in a large, diversified, restorative agricultural co-op
- 200,000 lbs of fresh, organically-grown heirloom vegetables and mushrooms.
- 20,000 bushels of organically-grown human-edible grains and tree flours: indigenous polenta, rice, cut oats, and various flours (wheat, spelt, emmer, rye, chestnut, hazelnut, buckwheat).
- 30,000 pastured broiler chickens, 200,000 dozen eggs from free-range pastured hens, 1,000 forest fed hogs, and 250 head of 100% grass-fed, grass-finished cattle.
Our Production Method:
- Raised on pasture and moved to new grass every single day. Our chickens obtain about 30% of their diets from the pasture itself which, combined with the exercise and low-stress environment that comes from being outdoors, results in meat with incredible texture and flavor
- Products: Whole chickens, chicken sausage, boneless and split breast, thighs, quarters, wings, backs, stock
- Rotationally grazed on pasture, 100% grass-fed and finished. Our cattle are moved to new sections of pasture every 1 - 5 days depending on our goals for the land and the time of year. We use heritage breeds well-suited to develop great marbling in our Virginia climate
- Products: Split halves and all retail cuts
Pastured, Free-Range Eggs
- Egg-laying hens are free-ranging, moving to new paddocks of grass every 2 - 4 days. The quality of eggs is highly dependent on the availability of forage; our frequent moves to new pasture gives our eggs dark yellow-orange yolks and buttery texture in the whites
- Products: Eggs, stewing hens
- Our pigs roam a combination of pasture and forest, similar to the famous Iberico pigs ranging the Dehesa in Spain. Their access to forage on the forest floor - including nuts dropped from trees - imparts a rich Virginia terroir into the meat that makes for excellent charcuterie and fresh pork
- Products: Whole and half hogs, primals, fresh cuts, charcuterie, rendered lard, rinds, sausages (dry and fresh)
Heirloom Vegetables and Grains
- Our veggies come from older, heritage, landrace varieties bred for flavor and local climate adaption rather than shelf life. We grow in real, chemical-free, nutrient rich soil.
- Products: Fresh vegetables, herbs, canned veggies, flours, meals, and masa
Fruits and Mushrooms
- Our orchards consist of guilds - fruit and nut trees surrounded with supporting plants - arranged along the edges of existing hardwood forests and the margins of our pastures. These contoured orchards are the foundation of our foods forests
- Products: Fresh and canned fruits, hardwood and softwood mushrooms
- Regenerative agriculture will be critical to turning global farmland into a carbon sink; itself a linchpin of mitigating the worst effects of climate change. However...
- In the United States, the regenerative agriculture community consists primarily of small, independently-owned and operated outfits that cannot leverage economies of scale or pool resources to compete effectively in the marketplace with industrial agriculture.
- A large co-op can reduce barriers to entry and improve quality of life for farmers, lower production costs, and create broader market access; allowing the products created by regenerative agriculture to feed a much larger share of the population.
- You can read the long version of this story here, on Medium
Sylvanaqua Farms has raised broiler chickens, hogs, cattle, egg laying hens, ducks, and turkeys for the last six years. We started on three acres of family property, quickly growing to lease a neighbors' property, then a private estate. Today we grow food on land secured through partnerships with parks, historic estates, non-profits, and land trusts.
Our primary operation is at Stratford Hall, a historic estate in Virginia's Northern Neck where we raise the majority of our livestock. We also have pilot projects under development with James Madison's Montpelier and Piscataway National Park by way of its steward, the Accokeek Foundation. These include indigenous seed preservation, developing alternatives to pine timber and row cropping (common uses of large landscapes today), building perennial food forests, and breeding heritage livestock.
Over time, as we've demonstrated an ability to grow food in those landscapes without altering their character or accessibility, all while improving their ecological soundness, we've found ourselves with access to more land than we could ever hope to farm ourselves.
While today we're focused on meat and egg production, we're moving toward creating landscapes that produce food for a sustainable plant-based diet, with animals used in a limited and supporting ecological role for fertility, soil building, sanitation, forest management, waste reduction, and pollination.
Our goal is to partner with other farmers, leveraging one another's resources and expertise to create a co-op that produces enough food - in both quantity and variety - to supply several farmer-owned full-time markets in the Washington, D.C. area.
What This Kickstarter Project is About
This Kickstarter is intended to jump-start our evolution from a small family farm operating on about 40 acres to an agricultural co-op restoring and producing food from thousands of acres. Specifically, your pledges will allow us to secure:
- Land: we've been offered huge amounts of land to lease at rock bottom prices, but we still need to meet that price. Your pledges will help us secure long-term leases.
- Seed and Stock: once we have the land, we need to plant seed and run livestock to start massaging critical pieces of the landscape into food-producing areas.
- Farming Equipment: electric fencing, irrigation line, storage tanks, henmobiles, broiler pens, shadecloths for cattle, and a number of other items are needed to make sure we can range livestock and grow plants properly and responsibly on a larger scale
- Food Processing Equipment: meat/fruit/veggie processing equipment (grinders, stuffers, sealers), cold and dry food storage - the co-op will do all of it's value-add and processing right on the farm.
- Shipping Materials: recyclable insulation, packaging, labeling, and dry ice for replacing our fuel- and labor-intensive door-to-door deliveries with standard shipping. This will allow us to spend more time restoring landscapes and growing food, and less time driving
- Stretch Goals: our $35K goal will do wonders, but if we get beyond that, we can really, really shoot for the moon. Under $100K we can start looking at refrigerated trucks, forestry equipment, and securing housing for staff and volunteers. Beyond $100K, we can start looking at putting together an urban co-op market that provides our food to a large population center 7 days a week.
(Above: hens begin the process of restoring an overgrown, weedy field by eating up undesirable seeds on and just below the surface of the soil. Cattle soon follow to trample weeds and give new, desirable seeds a chance to compete. Once good pasture is established, the building of topsoil - and carbon sequestration - begins in earnest)
Who We Are
We are Chris and Annie Newman, and we founded Sylvanaqua Farms in 2013 in the suburbs of Charlottesville, Virginia. The initial goal was to create a hybrid farm and homestead, but research into sustainable agriculture and our own on-the-ground experience producing food revealed a system in crisis. Everything from the rural-urban divide, national food policy, and growing hostility toward science, to inequality and a warming climate are threatening our planet's continued ability to produce food for a growing population.
The farm has become an outspoken advocate of ecological, economic, and social sustainability in food. We've garnered both criticism and praise for 1.) advocating a pragmatic approach to sustainable food systems that recognizes the complementary roles of both ancestral practice and technological innovation; 2.) frank discussions of the intersection of race and agriculture; and 3.) blunt, unsparing criticism of the "clean food" movement's often-classist values and aversion to self-reflection.
Founded by a member of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians, we place a heavy emphasis on the indigenous ethics, values, and knowledge serving as the (often unacknowledged) foundation of the modern permaculture movement, and the indigenous worldview necessary to ensure the sustainable stewardship of natural resources. Also being founded by an engineer and technologist, we accept and explore the potential of modern scientific innovation to address the gaps left by ecosystem farming in solving a sustainability problem wherein timeliness and accessibility are key factors.
Our essays and talks have been featured on NPR, the Huffington Post, Quartz, and NewCo Shift. A few of the most popular and salient ones:
- Clean Food: If You Want to Save the World, Get Over Yourself
- Farming While Black: Charlottesville Through the Looking Glass of the Local Negro
- Permaculture, All Grown Up
- Breaking the Wheel: GreenMaven, Food Hubs, and the Heartbreaking Story of Relay Foods
- It's Not Vegan: Our Journey Toward Eating and Growing the EAT-Lancet Healthy Reference Diet
- Chris is also known to wax poetic on Instagram from time to time
Our writings led the farm to being featured in the bestseller-bound "Fate of Food." Chris is also a 2020 Castanea Fellow, and has given talks at the University of Virginia, University of Maryland, The Accokeek Foundation, and the Chesapeake Food Summit.
Humankind's Fundamental Challenge
Nearly 10 billion people will inhabit the Earth by 2050, and each of them must be fed a nutritious diet under two stringent ecological constraints:
- We can't cut down anymore forests, plow under anymore prairie, or drain anymore swamps to create new farmland
- Existing farmland must become a global carbon sink, rather than a carbon emitter
Meeting that challenge will require the simultaneous adoption of every method of sustainable food production we've ever conceived - vertical urban agriculture, regenerative grazing, grains harvested from the canopies of food forests, cultured meat, plant-based meat substitutes, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
The future of food will span the urban and the rural, high-tech and ancestral practices, large vertical integrators and community-owned co-ops of varying sizes. There are thousands of different ecologies, communities, and economies with needs that must be met, and each element of this diverse system of food production - the agricultural Third Way - is tailored to meet a set of those needs.
Our piece of the puzzle is a union of farmers turning a big chunk of the Chesapeake watershed into a food-producing carbon sink. We hope you'll support our work in forging a new path for the future of agriculture, and enjoying some high quality meat and staples along the way.
(One of our farm's members spends much of their time visiting surrounding produce farms for gleaning: harvesting spoiled or unsellable produce that would otherwise be left to rot in the field and produce methane. The glean harvest is split between local chefs, our pig herd, and our own kitchen table. Reducing food waste - whether at the farm, the grocery store, or our own kitchens - is a top priority in creating a sustainable food system.)
Risks and challenges
We've worked hard to overcome the most challenging obstacles faced by small farms - access to land, inspected processing space, access to the market (via farmers markets, door to door delivery, shipping, restaurants/grocers, etc.), and acquiring technical proficiency. We enjoy more land than we can actively farm, affordable access to buildings and other hard assets, and customers requesting more product than we're able to produce.
As we scale up onto more land and into a co-op model, the greatest challenge will be finding people - employees and members - to actively manage the land we've secured access to. There will be room for all kinds; farmhands and range bosses, butchers and canners, social media managers and IT specialists.
Thus far, staffing hasn't been an issue. We offer meaningful and varied work, competitive pay, and a beautiful location here in the Northern Neck of Virginia. We also have a strong social media presence projecting a compelling mission; our inbox is always full of requests for jobs and volunteer positions. We have no doubt that as we scale up we will finally be able to offer these eager folks positions on the farm and in our kitchens to help us realize our goals.
The other obstacle is the size and incumbency of our competition. Vertical integrators and midsized to large distributors generally ignore small farms, but a large co-op producing on thousands of acres within shouting distance of a major city will get their attention. We are confident that the quality of our products, our strong connections to our customers, the general trend for vertical integrators to be divested from the actual farms that supply them (i.e. Amazon, Cisco, and even Purdue are more likely to buy products from our co-op rather than try to level our co-op), and our being well ahead of the coming regulatory requirements that farming operations adopt regenerative practices, make us well situated to thrive even in the presence of massive competitors.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter