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Former Physicians Assistant Focuses on Healing the Land

Botanical Bites & Provisions Farmstand
The Roberson farm stand in Spotsylvania County (courtesy photo).

Thomas H. Roberson, Jr., has a retirement plan unlike most. After successful military and civilian careers in health care, the U.S. Army veteran has opted to begin a third as a specialty crop farmer. The former physicians assistant has shifted his focus from healing to horticulture, growing a variety of specialty crops and cut flowers, hosting field days, and greeting guests at his roadside stand in Spotsylvania County.

Tom and his wife Anita, a disabled Army veteran, purchased the property in the mid-1980s and had been cutting grass there for more than 20 years. They eventually started a vegetable garden that grew to over two acres. With their background in the medical field, the Robersons’ vision for this operation was to provide healthy foods to enhance the wellness of their customers, and plants and flowers to beautify their homes.

Tom knew his naturally-grown specialty crop operation would be hard work but felt he was up for the challenge. No stranger to farming, he recalls milking the family cow by hand and taking care of chickens while growing up on a farm in Amherst County, Virginia.  His son Julian helps him pull weeds to protect the cash crops grown on the plasticulture system and runs the business side of the operation. Anita, who works in Washington, DC, helps out in the evenings and on weekends. 

Tom first heard about NRCS programs and services by attending Virginia State University (VSU) workshops. He and Anita have been following the school’s 43,560 Project* and incorporated the principles learned from the related field days into their operation.

They first contacted Fredericksburg Soil Conservationist Lexi Clark after seeing a presentation on the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) at VSU. With EQIP funding, they installed a high tunnel to extend their growing season.

They also wanted to  improve their soil health and were interested in establishing pollinator habitat on their land. In 2015, the Robersons received approval for a new EQIP contract to help incorporate cover crops into their fields to create a continous living root system for healthier soil.

Tom has installed a series of micro-irrigation lines to provide water and organic fertilizer for all his crops. He considers this one of the best improvements he has made to the farm. Prior to using the micro-irrigation tape, he watered the vegetables with a  garden hose and  eventually ran his well dry.

The Robersons are now planning to install additional conservation practices to incorporate native wildflowers in the marginal areas along the entrance of their farm to add aesthetic beauty and beneficial insect habitat.

*A research effort to demonstrate the profit potential of small acreage vegetable farm operations. The figure refers to the number of square feet in one acre with a goal of grossing one dollar/square foot.