Growing for the Future: The Story of Leigh Hauter
Driving the windy narrow road up Bull Run Mountain, no one would dream that this would be the location of one of the longest operating organic farms in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Yet as I pulled up to Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm, I was pleasantly greeted by sprawling fields, lush with fresh vegetables.
During my sit down with Leigh Hauter, who runs Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm, I was surprised to learn that the farm grows a selection of over fifty different types of crops. While over fifty crops may seem like a daunting number of crops to keep track of, Leigh was able to point out various crops and their harvest dates with ease.
A seasoned veteran of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, Leigh Hauter has built not one, but two CSA farms from the ground up. The first was a joint project with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, with the aim of bringing fresh produce into the lower income areas of Washington, D.C. Before this initiative, farmer’s markets were absolutely unheard of in D.C.
As there are no set models or definitions for CSA farms, Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm has a slightly different goal in mind from Leigh’s previous venture. The farm’s shareholders receive all of the vegetables harvested, without a single vegetable being sold at a farmer’s market. With a delivery schedule in place, shareholders can pick up their fresh vegetables close to home.
Leigh describes Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm as a home garden but on a much larger scale, where there are fifty crops grown versus specializing in just three or four crops. This may seem to be difficult in terms of crop rotation, yet Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm has consistently maintained farming in a sustainable manner and without chemicals every year.
One of the very first CSA farms in the area, Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm has been operating for over sixteen years. Being in business for close to two decades, Leigh is able to offer sage advice to other CSA farms. As in most businesses, the most important advice is to know your market. For CSA farms, it generally is a good idea to operate in close proximity to a major city and to know if a lot of people grow their own vegetables in the area. Leigh explained to me that you must “always know where you will sell before you plant seeds.”
As for the future of organic farming and farming in general, Leigh would like to see an increase in the number of small local farmers. Leigh believes that the national government should be more concerned about a different model for food, with a better network being put into place. There is a need to create a local food system for better food security and with an emphasis on produce. With large grocery stores driving vegetable farmers out of business years ago, there simply is an understandable reluctance on the part of small local farmers to enter the produce market.
Additionally, Leigh expressed the need for local small farmers over larger companies in order to transform the two-tiered food system that is currently in place. This would mean that fresh produce would be more affordable for lower income communities, rather than solely higher income communities as it is right now.
A trailblazer for the establishment of CSA farms in Virginia, Leigh Hauter has bright ideas for the future of farming. The legacy of Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm is a testament to Leigh’s hard work and dedication to sustainable and pesticide-free farming. Hopefully, Virginia will see more farmers like Leigh crop up in the future.