Just outside Fayetteville, West Virginia, there's a 42-acre farm that has just about everything -- chickens, lambs, sheep, produce and dogs. The latest addition is a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies, who will become guardian dogs for the sheep.
Christine Weirick owns and operates Deep Mountain Farm with her husband Chris Jackson and their two young daughters.
The couple has been operating Deep Mountain Farm for four years now. They live mostly off what they produce, putting them in a unique position during the pandemic, where leaving the house, even for necessities, is not encouraged.
And they are not alone – West Virginia has 23,000 farms, mostly family-owned, that survive off what they produce, according to Farm Flavor. In fact, a lot of West Virginians who are not even farmers, have started returning to practices like sewing, gardening and baking.
Activities like that are just a day in the life of Chris and Christine, although they have less help than usual because of the pandemic. Christine said they typically hire on a couple of helpers through the WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms network, or “WWOOFers,” which draws people from all across the world willing to exchange labor for food and housing and knowledge of Appalachian farming.
“A lot of people come here wanting to learn how to butcher a chicken. So I always make sure that we have a chance to learn that skill,” Christine said. “But I also do it so that I can expose people to Appalachia, and they can have a positive experience.”
So without volunteers this year, she said the farm work, which does not stop for a pandemic, is going to be much more extensive.
Deep Mountain Farm is a regenerative farming operation, meaning they work the land with an eye toward improving and enriching the soil. Practices include everything from using cover crops rather than tilling the land, not using pesticides and livestock grazing rotation.
Chris and Christine both grew up in Kanawha County, with limited knowledge on farming, so much of what they have learned has been in their adult life. In fact, Christine volunteered as a WWOOFer in the Eastern Panhandle.
“We've ended up crossing paths with really incredible people who are very enthusiastic about sharing everything they know. And that's just the only way this stuff's going to get preserved,” Christine said.
She said the rich traditions and knowledge of old farming practices, and the willingness to share it with a younger generation, is what makes farming in West Virginia unique.
One practice Christine learned was how to grow a full garden -- one that a family can live off of and then some -- and also, how to can vegetables and fruit to eat in the off-season, a common practice on early farms in Appalachia.
And this year, Christine said they are growing a garden larger than ever before.
“I had like 400 kale plants and was like, 'This is way too much.'”
Their hope is to have leftover produce to sell to those trying to social distance and stay away from grocery stores -- and to donate some to homeless shelters. Christine usually cans with her mother, her grandmother and her aunts.
“We fill the house with people and jars and pots of food boiling away, and now it's just going to be me,” she said. “I won't be able to put up as much food as we usually do. So, I feel obligated almost, to make sure that the food ends up in the hands of people who really need it.”
Christine also makes 100 percent lard soap, sometimes with a splash of raw milk from the cow. She is a firm believer in using all parts of an animal.
“I have probably like 150 pounds of fat in my freezer right now because people don't know what to do with it, which is a shame because it's really easy to render lard and then you don't need to buy any oils from the store,” she said. “It's really good for you, like full of vitamin D, it’s really good for your skin -- I could go on forever about lard.”
Another good use for lard is lots and lots of pies, Christine said.
When the the pandemic is less of a threat, she said she hopes to celebrate with a large cookout with fellow farmers and people who have been purchasing their goods, helping them keep afloat during these uncertain times.
This story is part of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Southern Coalfields Reporting Project which is supported by a grant from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.