Pondering the Perplexity
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.
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)