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Farming Makes a Welcome Return to Morven Park

After more than half a century of lying fallow, former crop lands on Morven Park property soon will be planted for harvest by local farmers.

As one of the first manifestations of Morven Park’s new strategic and master site plans, both of which took shape since the arrival of Executive Director Frank Milligan in January 2010, several of the Park’s 1,000 acres of open space will be returned to farmland. The non-profit organization’s intent has been to offer acreage to aspiring farmers so they can hone their techniques and test the market for their products before making the risky (and expensive) commitment of purchasing their own property.

This type of land-use arrangement, best known as “incubator farming,” is an important part of Morven Park’s strategic plan, explained Executive Director Frank Milligan, reflecting the Park’s mission of preserving the ideals of its last owner, Virginia’s 55th governor, Westmoreland Davis. “After a successful career as a New York City attorney, Davis became a farmer and was committed to helping other Virginia farmers learn and adopt techniques that would make their businesses safer, more productive and, at the same time, more profitable.”

Trent Tebbe of Herndon and Bruce Forbes of Leesburg, who each have built successful careers in information technology, approached Morven Park about using approximately 14 acres of Gov. Davis’s former farmland to grow rye, wheat and oats utilizing organic techniques. They hope to plant nutrient-rich cover crops this summer that will be plowed under to nourish the soil, using the same type of farming methods practiced by Gov. Davis.
“This fall, we’ll plant the cash crops, and hope to be harvesting this time next year,” said Tebbe.

He and Forbes will lease the acreage from Morven Park for a nominal fee and in return will assist in some of the organization’s educational programming related to farming and healthy foods.

“Incubator farms have become a popular way of giving aspiring farmers a viable option, especially in areas like ours where land prices are high,” said Milligan. “Farming as a career is always risky, but Morven Park’s mission, in part, is to help reduce that risk by providing opportunities to maintain this area’s agricultural heritage.”

Tebbe and Forbes selected small grains as a their crop of choice in hopes of filling a demand from bakeries, breweries and distilleries looking for local product, as well as to provide their product to consumers for home use.

“We believe that Morven Park’s focus on civic responsibility, education, and preservation of the agricultural aspects of our local history are a good fit with our personal and business goals,” said Tebbe. “The farming practices we intend to use will focus on sustainability, starting with the soil life.”

The area to be farmed, called “Southern Planter Farm” (referencing Gov. Davis’s role as publisher of Southern Planter Magazine and the name he chose for the road that connects Old Waterford Road to his former home) is located just to the west of what is now the exit road from the historic side of the property. The area was last farmed in the 1950s by a man who rented the acreage from Mrs. Davis following the death of her husband in 1942.

“We’re excited for the day to come when visitors will again see fields of grain growing at Morven Park and can learn from the agricultural experiences taking place here,” said Milligan.