Update on the organic farming program

Stratford Hall’s organic farming program continues to make progress. With funding from the Department of Agriculture, Natural Conservation Resources Service, we received a grant to support our transition to organic farming. The Gatehouse field, subject of a failed attempt to pursue sustainable practices in 2009, has now been successfully planted with a thriving crop of organic clover. We are grateful for a donation from Seeds of Change, which supplied the organic clover seed. This project will help address soil fertility issues, enabling us to pursue the cultivation of organic wheat and corn on this field in the near future. We will also grow a small demonstration crop of tobacco, the staple crop of colonial Virginia.

Ultimately, we hope to produce enough corn and wheat to supply the Stratford Hall gristmill with organic grain, which will be available for sale at our gift shop and online. We don’t have plans for the tobacco – unless there is a sudden surge of interest in the bitter variety of tobacco grown here in the 18th century; an unlikely event.

Other elements of our organic program are also evolving through the development of partnerships with compatible organizations and individuals. One of these partnerships is with Seeds of Change, who has graciously provided the seed needed to move the program forward. We have also developed relationships with other organic producers who can enable us to expand and diversify our organic products. In 2011, we initiated a partnership with Stoneleigh Farms, a successful producer of all natural honey. Stoneleigh will utilize our Cliff Fields as home to several bee colonies that will ultimately produce 2,000 pounds of honey annually. The Stratford Hall honey will be available through our own retail outlets and through grocery stores in Northern Virginia.
There has been a tradition of livestock production at Stratford Hall stretching back to the 18th century and continued intermittently since the acquisition of Stratford Hall by the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association in 1929. A small herd of Devons, a historic breed, has been maintained since the termination of the last active cattle program in 2003. Through a new partnership with Lakota Farms, one of America’s foremost sustainable Devon producers, Stratford will once again be home to a significant cattle operation. Devons are an historic breed and certainly would have been found at Stratford in the 18th century. This new program will be about more than just production, but provide our visitors with the opportunity to get a close-up view of these animals and the issues related to their care. Lakota is a grass fed producer, so their values are consistent with our growing organic program.
Because of the addition of these new programs, Stratford Hall’s organic program will make a significant contribution to our educational efforts, enabling our visitors to get a glimpse of the diversity of agricultural practice and a better understanding for its historical importance and sustainable options for its future.

– Paul Reber, Executive Director