NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — – Dressed in blue jeans and short-sleeve cotton shirts, wet grass clippings caked on their shoes, Whitney and Fred Farris look comfortable and relaxed as they stroll their family farm, a 300-acre elongated point of lush land on the Nansemond River in southeastern Virginia.
The farm is where the couple spends weekends and many vacation days, tending more than a dozen beds they’ve created on two acres.
Collectively, their plantings are called Long Point Gardens.
Organic gardeners for decades, they prefer the aromas of aged compost and ripening heirloom vegetables and fruits to the smells of gas fumes from traffic along city streets. They dig many beds by hand, and Fred fashions trellises, pergolas and fences from fallen branches and sticks. Tools are kept in a vintage corn crib, now officially their gardening shed.
“We have been organically gardening together even before our marriage on a North Carolina organic farm in 1980,” says Fred, deputy director of the educational Virginia Living Museum (www.thevlm.org) in Newport News since 1999. “The physical gardening work is not really work but fulfilling exercise that has made us both healthier. Being outdoors and tending the garden is invigorating and fun,” he says.
After restoring the farmhouse on the Suffolk property from 1980 to 1983, they moved to the city to raise a family.
“We wanted to be near neighbors and for our kids to walk to school,” adds Whitney, a preschool teacher.
Although the couple gardens at the farm, their crops begin at their city home.
Seeds are started on heat mats under grow lights, and then the seedlings are transferred to a small backyard greenhouse before transplanted into Suffolk soil.
The list of vegetables, fruits and flowers they grow for personal use and for gift-giving reads like a gardening catalog – four kinds of pumpkins, six kinds of gourds, three kinds of muskmelons and two kinds of watermelons. Zebra, Dancer and Black Beauty are their favorite eggplants; Romano, fava and regular snaps are their preferred beans. Spring and fall gardens include cabbages, kales, mustards, broccoli, kohlrabi, collards, peas and cilantro.
Tomatoes varieties they can whole and also make into pesto and salsa include Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra (winner of the 2011 Monticello tomato-testing contest, says Fred), German Riesentraube, Italian San Marzano, Sun Gold, plus Tomatillos.
Flower crops that benefit pollinators include zinnia, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, yarrow, lemon basil, sweet pea, bachelor buttons, butterfly bush, agastache, mountain mint, statice, strawflowers, larkspur, ageratum, amaranthus, cleome, sunflowers, hyacinth beans (seeds from Monticello), Ammi white dill, celosia, Sweet William and phlox.
“We provided all the cut flowers for our daughter’s wedding on the property in 2008,” says Fred.
“We provide about yearly about half our family’s food needs through this garden and share additional produce and flowers with family and friends.”