Organic farms take a lot of work, patience

By Aldona Bird

Throughout Preston County, a few farmers have been growing organically since before it was cool and trendy.

Among them is Susan Sauter who, in addition to growing chemical-free food, also promoted and worked to expand organic culture and its popularity in the area.

Susan has farmed in Bruceton Mills for about 20 years. For seven of those years, her farm was certified organic. She earned her certification just as the USDA took over regulation of the program.

Although the certification rules and regulations have since changed, Susan said at the time, “It was true to what I believed in.”

Susan said that organic farm life consists of more than the aspect of chemicals vs. no chemicals. She noted the difference between organic and conven-tional farming is often misunderstood. “People think it’s simply a difference in a product you use,” she said.

For Susan, it’s more. It’s a mindset, the “entire audit trail” of what she produced and a lifestyle.

She said organic farming taught her to think about things differently — for example to consider how she packaged the produce she grew and what substances may have come in contact with that packaging.

Like other local organic farmers I’ve talked to, Susan stressed feeding the soil, rather than the plants. Organic farming taught her to consider how to nurture the overall system, rather than to look for “what thing in a bottle I can go get,” she said.

With this mindset, using just one acre for growing vegetables, she raised food for 30 families who joined her community supported agriculture (CSA) as well as enough to sell at local markets. For a few years, she also raised organic beef. Susan said while she and her husband were able to make money faster raising cattle than selling cilantro and cucumbers, the upkeep and expenses weren’t how she wanted to focus her farming energy.

During her seven years of intensive farming, Susan also founded the Morgantown Farmers Market.

Her resume goes on from there. Susan was an organic certifier and founded the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, which is still expanding and acting state-wide to assist and promote local growers and markets.

Susan was also instrumental in the early stages of other statewide farming organizations. At the time, she was one of the few CSAs in the area, one of the few certified-organic farmers in the area and one of the few female farmers in the area.

Susan said while she loved the lifestyle, hard work (especially harvesting) and producing her own food, not being able to take a vacation started to wear on her.

In the eighth year, Susan said, she decided, “I’m going to take a break.” After that, she never resumed farming quite as intensively. Even so, her impact on the now expanded local organic farming scene is tangible, and Susan said she is ecstatic to watch the popularity of small farms grow and expand, and to see the success of organizations she nurtured.

Susan now supports local agriculture as a consumer, shopping at local markets and participating in a vegetable and meat CSA.

She keeps her farm going producing some hay and growing a beautiful blueberry patch, and spends her retirement active in the community and enjoying other passions, such as writing poetry. When I visited her beautiful farm, I could instantly see how such surroundings could inspire creativity and creation.

Aldona Bird is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Contact her at columns@dominionpost.com.

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