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Happy Farmer, Happy Cows, Happy Contractor, Happy River

DSC_0002Eliza Evans’ family has owned farmland in southern Albemarle County, Va., for multiple generations. They currently own a 200-acre spread that is home to some 30 head of beef cattle, which for years drank water directly from a farm creek, a tributary of the nearby Hardware River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Livestock clambering up and down stream banks causes serious erosion problems, and their manure not only pollutes water for downstream users but also creates unhealthy drinking water for the animals themselves. Reducing this kind of agricultural pollution is among the key goals of Virginia’s Bay Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the health of the Bay.

Eliza Evans (above right) knows all this, and recently consulted with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District to find a better way to water the cattle and protect the farm stream. The district’s plan called for fencing off the stream banks, drilling a well, and piping water to five troughs in newly fenced pastures. She also learned about the variety of federal, state, and private cost-share programs that would help pay for such a project. In her case, she could practically break even on expenses.

Enter Cameron Thomas (above left), a 31-year-old Albemarle County neighbor. Cameron and a partner recently started a new business, Agricultural Solutions for Albemarle (ASA), purchased a new tractor, and were looking for work. Cameron is a young, principled entrepreneur who aims to combine earning a living with doing the right thing by his community and the environment.

DSC_0007And so Eliza contracted with ASA to install 7,000 feet of fencing to exclude the cattle from her farm stream and to create several new pastures to allow rotational grazing of the livestock. In fact, Cameron and Eliza had been discussing installing just such a conservation project on the property for a good while. The timing now just seemed right.

Over the past several weeks, Cameron dug hundreds of holes, sank hundreds of posts, and strung more than a mile of wire for the stream exclusion project. He completed the job last week, earning a paycheck and creating a nice showcase project for ASA’s future marketing efforts. In fact, his work on the property very quickly has led to a contract with another, much larger project on a nearby landowner’s farm.

That not only means more work for Cameron and ASA but also additional commerce for DSC_0026 local merchants. He buys all his fence posts, wire, and other materials from businesses in the community.

“That keeps the money and jobs impact local,” he says. “It’s sort of a micro-economy here in Albemarle.”

And while he believes it all makes good business sense, a big motivating factor is the conservation mission of his company, something he calls a “bio-regional concept” of working to preserve natural resources at the local level. That conservation ethic began early in his life; he grew up playing in the Hardware River and has seen the water quality in local waterways degrade over the years.

“You have to start in your own back yard,” he says. “Look inward.” The fact that he can make a difference and make a living at the same time is a pleasing marriage of values and necessity for him.

“Seems kind of right,” he said.

Back on the farm, the cattle have really taken to the new watering system.

“They absolutely love it,” Eliza says. The animals are healthier because they’re drinking clean water, and the farm can now rotate the cattle from pasture to pasture, a benefit to the cattle and the pastures, she says.

Cleaner water, healthier livestock, more efficient farms, and more jobs and local business – those are pretty powerful returns on conservation investments.

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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