Vernal Vibe Rise – January 2015 – Featured Farm

Renick, WV

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Vernal Vibe Rise is an integrated, permaculture-focused farm in Renick, WV where Quincy Gray McMichael raises a variety of critically endangered livestock breeds in an intensively managed rotational grazing system, alongside numerous edible perennials (fruits, vegetables, and some nuts). Vernal Vibe Rise (VVR) animals live on a strict diet of organic pasture, GMO-free grains, organic produce, nuts, and barley fodder. The farm, which holds the health of its animals and the people it feeds in the highest regard, is transitioning to 100% organic livestock feed (the only part of the VVR system that is not yet fully organic) in 2015 and is working toward a number of Animal Welfare Approved certifications.  The intensive rotation system used on VVR is healthier for the animals and the land when compared with more commonly-used pasturing practices. “When the animals are moved frequently, they have less exposure to parasites, which can then be more easily managed with organic and herbal remedies such as diatomaceous earth, black walnuts, garlic, cayenne or cedar,” says McMichael. VVR moved to a new location in spring 2014, one that has been managed organically for over 15 years.  McMichael, with the help of her family members, friends and occasional interns and apprentices, has been very busy building fences and paddocks, a new barn, and learning about the lives and rhythms that already exist on the acquired land.

VVR breeds and raises rare breed swine, sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, and turkeys.  The suids, or the pig family, are the most prolific animals on the farm.  McMichael raises two main breeds, Gloucestershire Old Spots (GOS), and Ossabaw Island Hogs.  “The critically endangered breeds I raise are slower to grow and sometimes more complex than more common breeds.” McMichael tells me, “I believe it is worth it because their meat is much more flavorful and they are hardier animals well suited to pasture and instinctive pig behaviors.”  Both breeds have strong personalities and rely heavily on rooting and grazing, same as their more feral ancestors did.  One unique aspect of VVR is the combination of the rare livestock breeding program and sales of meat by the cut.  Combining these two aspects of agriculture is rare not just in the Greenbrier Valley but throughout the pig industry.  Most farms that sell by the cut buy piglets each year, raise them up and then sell the meat.  Most farms that have a breeding program sell piglets and focus on breeding. “I like to do both. This way I know how the animals have been cared for throughout their lives as I have been responsible for them from start to finish.”

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Some other rare, heritage livestock breeds at VVR include Hog Island sheep, a feral breed of sheep from the coast of Virginia, and American Chinchillas, the only critically endangered breed of rabbit. There are also Cotton Patch geese, which rotate through the asparagus field, eating the weeds, and heritage Chocolate and Lavender turkeys.  “All of these animals are an integral part of the permaculture system.  The piglets are in my garden beds right now, the rabbits are eating grasses in my garden pathways, and I plan to put the pigs, sheep, and chickens in the orchard in the spring to rub up against the trees and help manage fruit parasites,”  McMichael says.  As the animals rotate through the pastures and garden beds they fertilize the land and the land then provides more nourishing feed for the animals. It is a cyclical system.

In the spring, summer and fall, VVR sells organic perennial vegetables and fruits. Asparagus, onions, herbs, apples, peaches and native greens can be found at the farm throughout the growing season.  McMichael is also working on developing some value-added products including a selection of pastries made with lard—think shortbread cookies, pork paté, and a variety of jams and jellies. There are many places in town to buy VVR products and taste the difference for yourself, including:

Monroe Farm Market: (year-round, online) monorefarmmarket.com. The Indoor Winter Farmers Market: The State Fairgrounds, Gus Douglas Building, Saturdays December-March 10-2pm. The Stardust Café, and the General Lewis Inn Restaurant serve VVR products on the menus year-round. Bell the Corner Gourmet sells bone-in rib chops, uncured belly bacon, and mild Italian sausage links (YUM).

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Join VVR’s weekly egg CSA or monthly Pickle Share, and you can have VVR products delivered to your door, or schedule a visit to buy directly from the farm. For additional information, call 304.992.2922 or email Quincy@vernalviberise.com.

If you would like to learn more about any of the critically endangered breeds listed above, please check out the livestockconservancy.org. They even have a fun “Heritage Breeds” podcast series for your learning pleasure.  You will find more information about Vernal Vibe Rise on the VVR website, vernalviberise.com, including a slew of informative links and pictures.

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