We took a trip to Dayspring Farm in Shacklefords, VA last month (August 2021) to visit Charlie and Miriam Maloney.
At Dayspring Farm, a bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers greets each growing season. Savory squashes, leafy greens, heirloom tomatoes and juicy strawberries are grown in healthy soil using practices of natural fertilization and environmentally safe pest control.
They are committed to sustainable agriculture, which treats the farm, the growers and the wider environment as a whole living system. Their aim is to keep the farm in harmony with nature, out of reverence for the land.
Interview with Charlie Maloney
How did y'all get into farming? What was the inspiration?
I grew up on a small diversified farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so farming is in my heritage. I went off to college at Duke University for undergraduate and graduate work with no intention to get back into farming, following instead the route of ministry and psychotherapy. Miriam grew up in a minister's family, but her father was an avid gardener and she had many relatives who were farmers. When we were both in graduate school and married in the early 70's we found ourselves enjoying gardening and that continued when we started our family and moved to Hampton Virginia where I began my work in psychotherapy. We started dreaming about moving back to a rural area where we could continue our professional work and homestead. In 1987 we found this farm in King and Queen County with 18 acres on good land, so we made the big step to move here. The location was good because it allowed us to continue our work in Williamsburg while we established the farm. We did not buy the farm with the intent of farming commercially, but within a few years we were growing an excess amount of produce and started offering it to our friends and co-workers. We learned at a small-farming conference sponsored by the Virginia Association of Biological Farming about a new type of marketing called "Community Supported Agriculture," or CSA, and we decided to give that a try in 1991. We started with about 20 members, some of whom are still with us after 30 years! This type of marketing appealed to us as a good way to connect individuals with the source of their food and strengthen agricultural communities. It also made small-scale farming more economically viable. We've enjoyed success with the CSA model and now have over 200 members. We are pleased to be one of the oldest CSA farms in Virginia. I was able to leave my psychotherapy practice in 2000 and start farming full time, and Miriam left her off farm work in counseling a few years later. The farm business gradually expanded to the place where it supported our family economically.
How did Dayspring Farm get started?
We raised our four children here at Dayspring Farm and they have been and continue to be an integral part of our work. Most live nearby and continue to help us in various ways with the farm. Our oldest daughter lives in Miami Florida where she works as a dancer and choreographer, and she often weaves agrarian and ecological themes into her work. This has always been a family-centered farm where our way of life is as important as the produce we grow. The interest Miriam and I have in the integration of education, art, theology and ecology has guided our work. We farm in accordance with sustainable practices because we believe that caring with affection for the land offers the best resources for the health of our bodies, minds, spiritual life and communities.
What makes Dayspring Farm unique?
As the work expanded we added more employees and now have a mix of year-round and seasonal workers. It gives us much pleasure to provide good jobs to others in the community, and we keep looking at ways to keep the work pleasant and interesting.
What products can customers expect to see at Ellwood’s?
In addition to the CSA we have expanded our market to include restaurants and food stores that focus on marketing local produce. We welcomed the opportunity given us several years ago to sell our produce to Ellwood Thompsons in Richmond. They purchase a wide variety of crops from us, particularly salad and cooking greens, tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. Ellwoods is often interested in the more unusual varieties to offer more choices to their customers. Last year we sold lots of "Murasaki" purple-skinned sweet potatoes to them, and hope to expand those sales this fall. We also do an interesting mix of Asian Greens that is popular with Ellwoods customers.
What’s in store for the future of Dayspring Farm?
Miriam and I are now both in our 70's, and while we plan to remain here on the farm and continue the business we are looking at gradually transitioning the work to others. We've already started that process. A key to that is providing year-round employment to some which means we will keep developing our winter crop production in our high tunnels. We expect to deepen our practice of building soil health by refining our use of cover crops. Weed management is one of our greatest challenges, and we expect to expand and diversify our practices in this area. While we have developed many skills and deepened our knowledge of sound agricultural practices, there is always much more to learn. So our farm will continue to have an educational focus both for ourselves and the community in which we live. We hope to always be a good example of small-scale market farming,