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Pondering the Perplexity

March 15, 2012

Life paths can lead us to faraway places. In Deborah Stiles’ heart, home is the 70 acre Limestone Mountain Farm in Tucker County her father, a state Agricultural Extension agent purchased in 1947. As in many small farm families, she and her siblings chose professions that took them away from the land. As her parents aged, it became apparent to Deborah that she was unwilling for the land to be sold. So her life had to adjust to being in two places.

The farm as Dad bought it in 1947

Proudly involved in the Parsons FFA as the first female member, she went to Marshall University where she got a degree in creative writing, with a minor in history. Her pathway lead her to Maine where she earned both a Masters and a PhD, specializing, as a Fulbright scholar, in Canadian and US rural history.  As an Associate Professor of Humanities and Director of the Rural Research Centre at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, it is difficult to get back to the farm in West Virginia during the academic year.

I met her in Charleston where she served as a judge for the West Virginia Poetry Out Loud competition, a national contest in which high school students memorize and recite poetry for an audience. The winners from each US state and territory compete at the National Finals in Washington, D.C. each spring.  Deborah has been a judge at the state competition because of her own published poetry.

Deborah explained her current phase of life: with one brother currently living with their mother on the farm, she started with a herd of four Angus cows in 2007, Faith, Hope, Charity and Justice.  In time, one was processed and three were sold to another farm where they produce four heifers.  She ended up acquiring them and named them Peace, Grace, Virtue and Mercy. 

Peace has since had a male calf born the end of December and Deborah is searching for a suitable name. Any and all suggestions should be offered in the comments section of this blog and I will forward them on to her.  More calves are expected later this spring.

Distribution of processed beef is a huge problem for the small producer, Deborah shared. The additional requirements to obtain USDA approval at state slaughterhouses and processing plants result in the need to pass on higher costs. Yet using a processor with only West Virginia Department of Agriculture approval restricts distribution of the meat to interested consumers only inside the state. Deborah has tried to enhance her product by offering a share system (similar to CSA) but it was not popular, as many people do not have storage capability.  Selling at farmers markets is not currently feasible as a refrigerated truck would be necessary.

So, the future of Limestone Mountain Farm is still in flux. Deborah’s son has begun to build a career that moved him away from farm life also, so the answer may not be in the family. Meanwhile, Deborah will continue to split her life between two places she loves-Nova Scotia where her profession is nourished, and West Virginia, where her heart calls home.

Dr. Deborah Stiles
Associate Professor, Humanities
Director, Rural Research Centre
Nova Scotia Agricultural College
P.O. Box 550
Truro, NS  B2N5E3
(902) 893-6705 (tel)
(902) 893-6230 (fax)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 10:03 am

    This is a good and important story – the plight of the small farmer, although becoming a bit more well-known, is not being alleviated in the age of agribusiness and industrial farming.
    I think several things need to happen:
    1) The deregulation of food. This would require buyers to KNOW their growers/farmers if they want assurance of safe food (anyways, the regulations still haven’t given us safe food), and it would allow growers/farmers to price their product comptetitively
    2) The growth of small communities and local food systems. Farmers markets are helping. But for someone like Deborah, they’re obviously not enough – but as customers become more interested in locally-grown food, I think there will be hope for farmers like Deborah.
    3) I kinda hit this one in #1, but people need to know their farmers. Friendship can cover a multitude of economic woes…
    Thanks for liking my post, and thanks for the good work you’re doing here.

    • March 15, 2012 11:09 am

      I was telling someone today about Deborah’s story and the one I told earlier about Jared. They both are small beef cattle operators and in a way, have complimentary issues and strengths. I am not a matchmaker nor do I want to assume I understand all their issues, but more communication among the small farmers might help identify how some are succeeding in areas where others might appreciate some guidance.

      In addition, this blog is an effort by the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachian to get the word out to consumers about what local farms are producing. As more people realize that local quality and affordable food is available, the better it will help the local economy as well.

  2. Sharon C. permalink
    March 25, 2012 4:17 pm

    Interesting story, the heart always longs to come back home. About the locally grown food, on a recent trip to Ohio, I was amazed to see the availability of locally grown food there.
    I found high quality produce at a small market along the road, great smoked meats at Rogers Flea Market, home ground meals and flours, were all of great quality, and sold at local farmers markets, small shops, etc. Wake up, WV folks and get some of the regulations and restrictions removed so the small farmer and producer can survive. WV has lots of talented folks who know how to live and survive off the land I believe that WV people would prefer to buy WV products if made more accessable rather than going to “Ohio Amish Country” to buy their country products. On another recent visit to Harper’s Ferry,WV, I was amazed at the lack of availability of tourist type post cards, we even checked at the Post Office, nothing there eithr. Come on WV, lets market our goods.

    • March 25, 2012 7:33 pm

      With all the beautiful photography taken in WV it is hard to believe there are no postcards marketed! I see my role with this blog in getting the word out. If everyone here who lives in WV or knows people in WV would email the link to them, the word would spread. The more consumers who know, the better the farms will do.

    • March 26, 2012 5:35 am

      One of the main reasons for this blog was to reach out to the consumers. I know I personally am thrilled to be discovering how much wonderful West Virginia food is produced. Up to now I was frustrated to find local farm products, even at our farmers market much of the time. The more the consumers become aware that these products are nearby, the more the farmers will be getting them to the marketplace.

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