Field Trip: Smith Meadows Meats at Smithfield Farm

Staci Strauss

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Craig and I took a field trip to Smith Meadows at Smithfield Farm last weekend.

What a beautiful spot!

We rolled into Berryville, Virginia located in the Northern Shenandoah Valley in the late afternoon, unloaded our gear, and set up for the interview with Forrest Pritchard, the current steward of this verdant land.

The colors were extraordinary–the vibrant green pastures feeding happy healthy cows, sheep, pigs and chickens proved to us that spring is indeed here, that finally winter’s dormancy has ended. For now!

Forrest was busy filling and stacking a bevy of red and blue coolers with a wide variety of steaks, sausages, chops and roasts fresh from the butcher, preparing for the five farmer’s markets he sells in each Saturday.

Nancy, his wife and partner of twenty years was organizing the homemade pastas and sauces that she hand-makes each week to add to the bounty that is presented to  the loyal, eager customers who line up to buy groceries.

Eggs, ground beef, lamb chops, garlicky pesto, spring wheat fettucini–one could make a fine complete feast just visiting their stand.

Craig set the interview shot near the historic Manor House, now a B&B run by Forrest’s sister Betsy and his mother Ruth.

This beautifully restored home has welcomed eight generations of friends and family on Ruth’s side, today it serves as a welcome respite for the nearby Washington D.C. city dwellers.

After helping Craig organize the scene in front of a backdrop of green fields and the pristine fences that separate man from beast, I made a quick visit to the nearby farm store to see what I could rustle up for our dinner later that evening.

We were staying in the summer cottage adjacent to the big house, and it had a kitchen–and I love to cook!

I admit it, even in the throes of creative expression, my mind is generally focused on my next meal.

The farm store, a stone’s throw from the Manor House, is chocked full of a wide variety of cuts of grassfed beef, pork, lamb and chicken. And the pasta! I scored some spring wheat fettucini and a pint of pesto, along with some summer sausages.

I admit it, even in the throes of creative expression, my mind is generally focused on my next meal.

Forrest arrived and we sat down and chatted in front of the cameras as the afternoon sun gave way to that most beautiful time of day–we call it the magic hour.

As he described his journey, from reclaiming the pastures from what was, in recent times, a haymaking operation to the restoration of the fields to accommodate the grazing herds, his love of the land, his dedication to the health and well being of the grass as well as the animals, was almost overwhelming.

Through many trials and more errors (read his book to discover the ups and downs of his early attempts at farming–it’s hysterical as well as heartwarming), Forrest was able to make it work. He literally saved the family farm by restoring traditional animal husbandry practices coupled with a modern approach to filling the stalls at the farmers’ markets.

Add in his intuitive grasp of marketing–he does not shy away from the internet and all that social media has to offer, and you have, well, a sustainable, traditional yet modern, working farm.

Forrest is quick to say that this model is sustainable to the earth and in keeping his family on the land–it is no scalable, get-rich-quick scheme.

It works because it is small batch, moreover it works due to the hard work and dedication of the entire clan. He is the first one to tell you that if it weren’t for the loyal customers that greet him each week at market, the whole operation would fail.

As we wrapped up our talk–Forrest really needed to get back to organizing the coolers, as his alarm was set for 4:15 a.m. to make the five Saturday market drop offs, I realized that we as consumers really do play a huge role in whether or not these farms stay or go.

We vote with our forks and pocketbooks three times a day. If we don’t make the critical shift from buying ‘big ag, big box product’ to local, sustainably-raised real food, these guys won’t make it.

So there. You can make a difference.

Find your local ‘Forrest Pritchard’. You’ll help save the world.

Do you shop your local farmer’s market? Who feeds you?

Photo credit: Craig McCord