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Beginning Farmers Give Back to the Community that Uplifts Them

  Cappie and John Montgomery

Cappie and John Montgomery pose at their farm's entrance in Varina.

Fleur-De-Lis, LLC, isn’t so much a farm as it is an experience, offering an eclectic mix of produce and pastoral beauty nestled in the outskirts of Henrico County, Va. The vegetable and herb plots, beehives, goats and chickens reflect the many interests of owners John and Cappie Montgomery as well as their commitment to bringing fresh, locally grown foods to their community.

John and Cappie purchased their 16-acre Varina farm in 2017 and moved in soon afterward with their teenaged son and daughter. The lawyer and legal assistant, respectively, had made careful plans to gradually take over operations from the man who had worked the land before them, but the transition to farm life wasn’t all crimson clover and honeybees. That farmer was involved in a fatal hunting accident in 2018, leaving the Montgomerys with compacted soil and much to learn about life on the farm.

They then turned to friends and the community for assistance bringing their visions to life. The Dudley family, who also own and operate Meadow Acre Garden, helped their neighbors with starting seedlings in a greenhouse purchased from an estate and the Stargells of Stargell’s Apiaries oversaw their friends’ bee operation. Both families are still involved on the farm.

John and Cappie first reached out to the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for help with nutrient management and soil compaction issues on their land, implementing cover crops to address the latter resource concern. They learned about NRCS programs through the SWCD and reached out to Acting Quinton District Conservationist Sean Allen.

“We were aware of the high tunnel opportunity, so we had that in mind when we approached Sean,” said John. “As he walked the farm with us, he pointed to other possibilities to make improvements to overall soil health and resource conservation.”

The high tunnel was still under construction in mid-2019 when current District Conservationist Peggy Shaw-McBee began working with the family and helped them see the project through. Shaw-McBee says the high tunnel houses a variety of tomatoes ranging from grape to beefsteak, allowing the Montgomerys and the Dudleys to extend their growing season four to six weeks on either end of the traditional growing season.

“Peggy has always been very efficient and awesome to work with,” said John. “We come to her with one set of questions and leave with those answers plus more ideas for our farm than what we could have thought up ourselves.”

While this accelerated endeavor unfolded, Cappie approached the Henrico County Department of Recreation and Parks about her vision to start a farmers market that would provide their community with equitable access to locally grown, healthful foods. The Dorey Park Farmers Market debuted in 2018, averaging 300 to 350 visitors per weekend, opening the door for expansion with a youth program on farming and conservation.

The market started its own chapter of the Power of Produce Club (POP), where children engage with the local food system through conversations with farmers, games, demonstrations and even exposure to new fruits and vegetables. It’s this ability to impact individual lives through the market that brings the greatest pride and satisfaction to John and Cappie.

“The little things have been the most rewarding,” said Cappie,. “Children dragging their parents to the market every week for a craft or demanding vegetables with their meals, SNAP matching to families as a way to stretch their dollars and watching our farmers and neighbors build lasting relationships.”

While COVID-19 is currently blurring the Montgomerys’ clear visions for the future, temporary setbacks from the pandemic aren’t curbing their enthusiasm. Cappie and John have launched an online shop to show support for their vendors while they wait to make a safe return to Dorey Park. While they are delaying construction of a goat dairy inside an existing barn, the Montgomerys have their sights set on being fully operational to produce goat milk and cheese products by spring of 2021.

The Montgomery family is proving they have what it takes to be successful farmers — persevering through tough times and giving back to a community that has supported them along their journey. They are also applying for a second high tunnel to expand the operation and look forward to continuing close collaboration with NRCS.

To learn more about how NRCS can assist beginning farmers, visit our website or reach out to your local office.