This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.
In 1980 he was floating down the river and noticed an abandoned stone house on a bluff on the east side of the river. Research, perseverance, and being at the right place at the right time gave John the opportunity to buy the 1769 German "Flurkuchenhaus" (AKA hall-kitchen house) just one year later.
Eventually he acquired the surrounding farm and placed both the historic house and land in an open space easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. These cultural and natural resources are now protected forever from development.
"I bought a subdivision and turned it into a farm," Gibson laughs. "It can be done . . . turning it around. When we bought the farm it was divided into 243 lots, and cattle roamed all over the place. The tenant farmer's cows would wander up- and downriver and cross the river onto other people's property—it was a real nightmare."
Fort Stover Farm has a mile and a half of river frontage. One of Gibson's first conservation efforts was erecting a fence to keep the cows out of the river.
"As soon as we put a fence up along the river, the 1985 flood took it out. I decided then to get the cows out of the flood plain all together and just use it for hay," he says.
Gibson converted 50 acres of pasture to permanent hay and no longer worries about a flood taking out one of his fences. To water the cows he installed two alternative watering stations. This was all done without state or federal cost-share assistance.
"Being on the river, I saw firsthand the damage cattle do to stream banks," Gibson said, adding, "It's a negative aspect to my customer's adventure on the river."
Today, Fort Stover Farm produces not only healthier cows but also cleaner water and a more pleasant float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.
A week from today our Bay cleanup leaders will be meeting in Washington. Send them a message before they meet urging they fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and to providing farmers with the necessary assistance they need to make their farms and our waters healthier.