Sandy and Rossie Fisher
Sandy and Rossie Fisher of Brookview Farm in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, have received AFT’s 2007 Steward of the Land Award for their leadership in farmland protection and environmental stewardship.
AFT’s Steward of the Land Award is given annually in memory of AFT founder Peggy McGrath Rockefeller. The award honors an American farmer or farm family who demonstrates great leadership in conserving farmland and caring for the environment. The Fishers received an award check of $10,000 that they intend to put toward conservation causes.
The Fishers, who sell grass-fed beef and organic eggs to local chefs, groceries and at their on-farm store, combine on-farm innovation with their love and respect for the land. The farm’s composting operation, for instance, turns municipal yard waste into a profitable organic fertilizer for Brookview Farm and neighboring farmers.
A sustainable agriculture is a profitable agriculture, according to the Fishers. As an economic necessity, the family has made their farm into a destination for adults and children who are hungry for a rural experience. They are doing it in a region of increasing development for planned communities, golf courses, horse farms and mini-country estates.
The family placed all 480 acres of their farm into a conservation easement several years ago. The easement prohibits the development of their property beyond agriculture for future generations. “One of the reasons we were interested in buying our farm in the first place is because it was for sale and we didn’t want it to be developed,” says Sandy.
To help others protect their land, the Fishers helped found the Goochland Land Alliance in 2002. The non-profit alliance educates landowners about easements and provides consultations for individuals who are interested in placing easements on their farms.
Until the early 1990s, the Fishers ran a fairly typical farm with corn, soybeans, hay and cattle. But they eventually came to realize that they couldn’t remain viable at their size operation by raising basic commodities. They had already been weaning themselves from pesticide and commercial fertilizer use and by the middle of the decade were operating an organic farm. They also moved away from row crops, turning most of their land over to pasture for cattle that are grass-fed.
The Fishers love the connection their farm has with the community. Because of them, literally hundreds of school children have collected eggs on a real farm and learned how chickens improve the pasture for the cows’ benefit. Hundreds of adults have now had that experience as well.
“It would be a wasted opportunity if there wasn’t interaction with the community,” says Sandy. “And if we can make some money all the better.”
Brookview Farm at a Glance
• 1,000 acres, nearly all of it in pasture. Part of the property borders the historic James River. The Fishers’ circa 1840 house was once a plantation overseers’ residence, while the farm store and other outbuildings were slave quarters.
• 150-head cow-calf operation. All calves are raised naturally on grass. Their beef is sold in their on-farm store, to a pair of local health food stores and to a local restaurant. The beef, termed “natural” before, is now certified organic.
• A flock of more than 220 hens that live 365 days per year in more than half a dozen large, movable habitats in the pastures. The birds eat bugs and worms in the grass as well as a feed consisting of corn, flaxseed, ground-up green beans and some alfalfa.
• Six acres devoted to compost piles consisting mostly of leaves, with some cow manure and additional organic waste. Brookview Farm is paid to take tons of municipal leaf waste. Within three years those leaves are turned into compost they then sell—up to 120 dump truck loads per year.
• On Saturdays year-round, the Brookview Farm store is open to sell eggs, beef, vegetables, caps, and T-shirts in addition to other items. Farm hayride tours are conducted and visitors get to help collect eggs. The Fishers purchase certified organic wheat, which they grind on the farm and sell under their label.