Thoughts from the Tractor Seat
By Doug Fabbioli
The weather this season here in the Mid Atlantic region has been a bit of an anomaly. Low humidity, low rainfall, slightly lower high temperatures and cooler evenings have all added up to a very comfortable and relatively easy growing season so far. The lack of rain eases the disease pressure on our vines even though it slows the growth of the vines. Our plants are deep rooted, but are accustomed to summer rains. They have some feeder roots that will absorb water and nutrients from the top soil, but they can survive with those deep roots if the season continues like this. Any new plantings will need watering this season, but a dry spring is not the worst thing for a grape grower.
This has been a year of aging equipment and substantial repairs for me. Brakes on the forklift, the water pump on one tractor and the AC compressor on the other, welding on the one sprayer, and seals on the other, all add up to added cost and down time for critical equipment. Fortunately, between Arturo and me, we have the skills to diagnose and take on some of these repairs right here on the farm. Some of my neighbor farmers have had issues with their tractors as well so you may have seen me driving my Kubota down Route 15 a few times this spring. I know this is part of our game and every repair adds to our confidence and skill sets, but I could do without always having something in need of repair.
We have some land here that we share with other small scale farmers—‘farmettes’ if you will. This is land that is not suitable for grape growing but works well for annuals and garden plots. We started this during the pandemic and it has grown a bit since then. One of our farming teams is Marlene and Arturo, my leads here on the farm. They are growing flowers and veggies with a Latino angle and are doing well as they know their customer base. Sprouting Roots farm is here as well. They grow East Indian veggies and have developed quite a following. Legacy Farms was our first tenant for this program, and their efforts in building job skills with their neuro-diverse clients are growing in more ways than one. Having all of these folks here keeps the land in production and adds to the positive spirit here on the farm.
We had our summer camp program last week for the New Ag School. Twelve students from 7th to 12th grade came to the farm each day to learn a bit about agriculture, processing, culinary skills, hospitality, leadership, entrepreneurship, and a whole lot more. We visited a few local farms to review different scales and styles of farm operations and land stewardship. They got their hands dirty with planting, weeding, construction, vine tending, food preparation, and cleaning. We know the skills, knowledge, and work ethic these young folks gained will help them in whatever career path they eventually choose. I emphasize to them that land is the ultimate wealth to have, and knowing how to care for that land is critical. They clearly had a great time.
As I do my many jobs on the farm, I think about which of these jobs the students would gain from the most. I think the idea message I want to push home for them is that, as farmers, we need multiple skills and need to use them simultaneously. I can have the mechanic repair my tractor, but if it is in my skill set, I can save the cost of that mechanic. Besides, timing is so critical on farming projects that having equipment down can mess up more than just your timing. So always being willing to learn, pushing the limit on skills, and having a back-up plan are all great lessons that are taught through experience and commitment to being better.
The most important lessons I’ve learned and try to pass on are these: Tend to the land so it stays productive and maintained for generations to come. Take care of your equipment so you can tend to the land. Tend to the quality of your crop, whether it is wine, veggies, fruits, or other food. Tend to your guests because they are the ones that can keep you going. Sales of your crop are critical to the success of the farm. Enjoy doing what you do.
This life is not for everybody. I get so proud when I see folks farming after learning from us. We need to keep this going—for us and for others! Raise a glass of great Virginia wine to all of the farmers who put their blood, sweat, and tears into making the life we all live so tasty, nourishing, and enjoyable. Cheers!
If you are interested in learning more about The New Ag School and what we offer, check out our website at newagschool.org.
About the Author: Farmer, winemaker, entrepreneur, educator, and leader, Doug Fabbioli has been accelerating the growth and quality of Virginia’s wine industry since 1997. With his wife Colleen, Doug is the owner/operator of Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg, VA. He is the founder and director of The New Ag School, which focuses on teaching the next generation of farmers and agriculture-related leaders. No wonder they call Doug Fabbioli the Godfather of DC’s Wine Country.