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Walking Straight: Ten Generations of Farming in Cheapeake

Melvin and Mario Albritton

Mario (left) and Melvin Albritton (courtesy photo).

Melvin Albritton and his son, Mario, come from a long line of African-American farmers who have worked the land in Chesapeake, Virginia, for more than 10 generations. Melvin, a Vietnam veteran, acquired his first 25 acres and a 450 International tractor in 1968. Today, Albritton Sutton Albritton (ASA) Farms has expanded to more than 500 acres planted in corn, soybeans, wheat, and specialty crops.

Like many long-time producers, the Albrittons want to be good stewards of the land and protect their soil and water resources. The duo transitioned to no-till farming about five years ago and worked with NRCS to install cover crops and enhanced conservation practices that protect wildlife habitat, reduce erosion, and improve soil health and water quality. These changes have produced dramatic results, helping them double yields and reduce fertilizer applications. Learn more about why voluntary conservation works for these farmers.

Mario serves as chairman of the Virginia Dare Soil & Water Conservation District, and is the first African American to serve on the board. The 2014 Clean Water Farm Award recipients actively share their conservation story through numerous outreach activities, including an interactive display that Mario takes on the road to educate Virginia and North Carolina youth about the importance of agriculture. The Albrittons received the Virginia NRCS Civil Rights Advisory Committee Farmers of the Year award in 2015 for their outstanding stewardship and outreach. View their full tribute video.

A Long Track Record of Stewardship at Susie Q Farm

Davis Tree Planting

Harrisonburg Soil Conservationist Philip Davis pitches in during a volunteer tree planting at Susie Q Farm (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. Learn more.

Rockingham County Farmer Returns to His Roots

Holsinger Family

The Holsinger family out on the "home place" (courtesy photo).

After years of soaring above the earth as an Air National Guard pilot, James “Buck” Holsinger decided to plant more than his feet on the ground by moving back to the farm that had been in his family for over two centuries. He acquired the property in the midst of back-to-back tours in Afghanistan (2009 and 2010), and felt drawn back to his agricultural roots following the birth of his third child.

When they relocated from West Virginia to Rockingham County, Buck and his wife, Amanda, had yet to develop a vision for the historic property that included the original house Buck’s great, great grandfather had built. After much research and deliberation, they decided to rebuild the family farm by establishing a sustainable livestock operation focused on serving the local community. Learn more.

Former Physicians Assistant Focuses on Healing the Land

Thomas Roberson harvesting

Thomas Roberson, Jr., harvesting to heal (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-1980’s 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. Read more.