Perennial Roots Farm
I’m excited to invite you to my conversation with Natalie McGill. Natalie is a farmer and farm educator living on the Eastern shore of Virginia. Natalie grew up in the East Coast suburbs, but decided she wanted to farm at a young age. She met her partner Stewart in college and they connected through their shared passion for agriculture, ecology and animals. They both decided to avoid chasing the capitalist derived vision of the American Dream and instead learned to live off the land and in harmony with nature. In 2010, fresh out of college, the couple wed and Natalie’s parents offered them access to family land to build their homestead.
At first they had no idea what they were doing, but they were committed to learning how to grow enough food to feed themselves. They worked odd jobs and learned about various sustainable agriculture practices through trial and error. What began as a homestead garden eventually grew into a fully operational farm. Now they run a CSA and farm store that provides meat and vegetable shares to their community. They currently grow vegetables, raise a myriad of heritage livestock breeds and host workshops for apprenticing farmers.
The Delmarva Peninsula, where they live, is an agricultural hub, but it is not known for small-scale farming. It is the home of giant chicken houses and 100+ acre conventional soy and corn growers. In 2020, the Delmarva Chicken Association reported that 570 million chickens were raised and 4.2 billion pounds of chicken were processed. Natalie’s farm is surrounded by these large-scale producers. Even the land they currently farm was once leased out to grow monoculture crops. It has been a long process of nursing their soil back to health and vitality. When they first arrived they could barely get a shovel into the soil, but now it is rich and abundantly nourishing. Every year Natalie and her partner work on re-wilding their land through re-establishing native habitat, forest, and biodiversity.
Looking back on their journey, Natalie wishes she would have had more farming experience before jumping right in. She is quick to acknowledge the privilege she was afforded by having access to land from the get-go, which has helped her in so many ways, but the learning-by-doing method was extremely difficult. Based on her own experience, she recommends that new farmers, regardless of whether they have access to land, to seek out internships and farming jobs as a way to learn the vocation.
I admire Natalie’s work as a lifelong learner and a teacher and how she is passionate about preserving and honoring ancestral farming practices, heritage breeds, and heirloom crops. This is important work, because climate uncertainty means that we need more resilient, healing and adaptable crops and farming practices. Collectively we must move towards greater crop diversity, regenerative agriculture practices and more localized food systems so no communities fall risk to supply chain food shortages. More people like Natalie are needed now more than ever, so I appreciate the role she takes in giving back and educating our future farmers.
In our conversation we speak about the effects of climate on farming, biodynamic practices, the alchemy of growing, and the plight of our current food system.
This is a story of initiative, passion, and working in harmony with the natural world. I hope you enjoy.