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Susie Q Farm: A Long Track Record of Stewardship

Volunteer Tree Planting
Volunteers plant trees during a recent work day at Susie Q Farm in Broadway, VA (courtesy photo)

When it comes to restoring impaired watersheds, those involved in conservation activities must be prepared for a marathon rather than a sprint. Bob and Sue Grace have committed about 25 years of their lives to improving water quality on their farm in Broadway, Virginia.

Along the way, their work boots have covered a lot of ground to make Susie Q. Farm a model for earth-friendly agriculture. They started working with NRCS, then the Soil Conservation Service, in the mid 1980’s when they enrolled a portion of their 190+ acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

In addition to installing 15.9 acres of forested buffers in the Continuous CRP and 34.3 acres in Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Grace family has fenced livestock out of the main stem of Smith Creek, installed numerous riparian buffers, and initiated several streambank stabilization projects.

Today, son John and son-in-law and farm manager Watt Bradshaw run the farm, which focuses primarily on hay production. Watt began working with Harrisonburg District Conservationist Cory Guilliams in 2012 to complete their most recent streambank restoration project funded through the NRCS National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).

NWQI focuses resources in small watersheds to clean up impaired streams and improve aquatic habitats. Virginia has three designated three target watersheds for NWQI funding War Branch, Mountain Run, and Fifteenmile Creek. The stream on the Grace property is part of the War Branch sub watershed of Smith Creek.

Their latest conservation endeavor entailed removing trees and root systems and incorporating them into the sloped stream bank to stabilize it and prevent future erosion. This bioengineering effort will not only help improve water quality in the impaired watershed but also enhance fish habitat. To further protect the waterway, volunteers from NRCS, Shenandoah Valley SWCD, Trout Unlimited, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation planted additional trees to help establish more riparian forested buffers along the banks.

“Our partnership with the NRCS and several private conservation organizations has allowed us to complete many significant projects to accomplish our conservation and habitat improvement goals,” said Bradshaw. “These activities would not have been possible without their assistance.”

 “No one agency or organization has the resources to complete complex conservation projects such as the streambank stabilization project at Susie Q Farm,” adds Guilliams. “This is another example of how a conservation partnership between government and private organizations can get the job done.”

The Grace family are also helping to educate their neighbors about the importance of environmental stewardship. Last year, Susie Q Farm hosted Smith Creek Family Fun Day where about 200 people learned about protecting the watershed and the wildlife that call it home. In addition to youth-centered activities like a river bug scavenger hunt, the event also featured a farm tour showing stream restoration projects implemented to improve the health of Smith Creek.

“We are always open to using the farm as an educational tool for the promotion of these practices,” said Bradshaw. “We also look forward to working with the NRCS on future projects, including the reforestation of some riparian areas and the establishment of warm season grasses in bottomland riparian zones.