Emmett Snead III knew from the time he was 11 years old that he wanted to be a farmer. He grew up helping his father, Emmett Snead Jr., on Braehead Farm, which is still run by Emmett's brother, George, as a working farm that you can visit in Fredericksburg. Emmett Snead spent his younger years going door-to-door on a bicycle selling produce in Fredericksburg.
In 1980, Snead bought the land now known as Snead's Asparagus Farm. In the early years of the farm, Snead regularly drove to 60 supermarkets and about a dozen different farmers markets to sell his produce, in addition to selling at the roadside stand here at the farm.
But as business picked up, and as the Snead's Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program caught on, Snead found he could sell 100 percent of his produce without having to truck it anywhere.
Emmett and Ellen Snead see themselves as a small part of the long-term story of the land that is Snead's Farm. The Sneads have placed 290 acres of the farm under conservation easement with Ft. A.P. Hill, with the help of the Conservation Fund and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. That means that the land will be permanently protected from development, and should be able to continue on as a working farm long after the Sneads have left.
That long-range view has led the Sneads to tailor their farming practices to benefit the long-term health of the environment, the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay. Snead's Farm is not a certified organic farm, and it's nothing like the giant factory farms that grow many of the fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets today. Snead describes his approach as a careful mix of farming practices that minimize use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and maximize the long-term health of the soil and the people who work on and consume the products of Snead's Farm.
Some of the practices Snead uses in his "conservation farming" are:
- Sod buffers between fields. These buffers, as opposed to bare earth, absorb runoff and act as soft pathways for farm equipment.
- No-till planting that inserts seeds directly into the soil. Not tilling preserves topsoil and reduces the amount of sediment going into creeks and the river.
- No nitrogen fertilizer goes on corn until it is knee-high. This cuts the amount needed through harvest by a quarter. Nitrogen is a nutrient that contributes to "dead zones" in the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months.
- Cover crops are planted on fields soon after harvest, protecting and enriching the soil, and providing food and habitat for local wildlife.
- Tall tunnels not only lengthen the growing season for tomatoes; they also prevent runoff into area streams and rivers.
- By regularly rotating crops among the fields at Snead's Farm, the long-term health of the soil is enhanced and less fertilizer is needed.
- Take a look behind the horse barn here at Snead's Farm, and you'll see us making one of our most valuable resources compost, used to feed our soil and crops in a way that is healthy for people, workers and the environment.