We talk urban sprawl’s impacts on the family farm with Patty Leonard this week. Get the audio, see photos, show notes, etc on this episode at Agrotainment Ends Up the Happy Ending to Challenges with Urban Sprawl & Rising Land Prices
farm, corn maze, people, dairy, cows, milk, years, kids, maple tree, tours, corn, sell, acres, husband, moved, big, grandparents, renting, herds, little bit
Patty Leonard of Maple Tree Farm VA, Grounded by the Farm
Transcript via AI
Grounded by the Farm 00:03
Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice person, your host on grounded by the farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. And our most recent episode, we talked about agritourism and really dug into the farm stays. There are so many ways to learn about farming and our foods that I wanted to go ahead and get this episode. Next. Were with a family that have dairy farmed and stuff for generations. Let’s go ahead and dive right in. We’re in this considered the
Patty Leonard 00:44
hills of Virginia called the Piedmont the Piedmont.
Grounded by the Farm 00:47
Okay, thank you very much. We are not far from DC. I was very shocked as many times as I’ve been to DC and I knew farms weren’t very far. I had never driven out to one in Virginia from I went out past the Dulles Airport, probably an hour, an hour and a half. I was in gorgeous farmland. And we are talking to Patti Leonard, she and her family have been in this area of Virginia for a very long time. And I’m going to make her explain it because the topic we’re discussing today is really talking about farms and urbanization, and sort of how those things sometimes work really well together. And sometimes there’s a bit of a conflict. So Patty, where did your family get started farming in Virginia,
Patty Leonard 01:32
my family on my side, actually, my grandparents had a dairy farm on route 50 and Chantilly. And in 1960 61, when Dulles Airport was coming about and being built, they said it was time to move to the country. So they knew that it was going to be grown up and that with all the construction everything. So they started looking and so they came to Warrington. Now Warrington is only 45 miles from the White House as the
Grounded by the Farm 02:02
crow flies. And traffic makes it take a lot longer. I
Patty Leonard 02:06
was gonna say when you said you were an hour and a half. It’s not by miles. It’s by truck.
Grounded by the Farm 02:13
Exactly. I did learn that really fast. The mileage versus the time is different than it is inside the middle of the country where I live your family. Where is it? I know you’ve had a dairy farm where your parents doing dairy in the Dallas area.
Patty Leonard 02:28
Yes, my grandparents had a dairy farm and route on route 50. And at that time, they did make the decision to sell out. But their roots was in dairy. So they moved to Warrington and my grandfather with his connections, continued to haul cattle and was a small cattle dealer would help make some connections, as well as this farm had about 220 acres. So they switched over to a small beef herd. But they still had maybe three to six dairy cows that they melt either milked for the house or raised small veal calves off of Yeah, so the dairy connection was always there as my when my brother. And so we moved to Warrington and there was four generations. I wish I could show a picture. But there was four generations in that house. My great grandfather, my grandparents on my mother’s side, my mother and father and my brother and I now with the dairy influence, my mom had been a product of the four H program and the Holstein program, she wanted us to be involved in four h. So to do that what we did is we would go and buy heifers, calves heifer calves, raise them until they were two years of age ready to produce, sell them either in consignment sales or privately to dairy men, take the money reinvest it. While we were doing that and raising the heifers. We’d also go to about 10 shows. So we got to meet everybody up and down the east coast from the Maryland State Fair to the North Carolina State Fair.
Grounded by the Farm 04:10
Now I had somebody asked me again this past week about livestock shows, okay, and what is it that you’re showing and doing?
Patty Leonard 04:20
livestock shows were originally meant for a learning activity for the farmer so that they could compare the animals that they had with other animals. And this was a learning opportunity. And so now it’s it’s now it’s a beauty pageant for cows, but really because they’re judging the leg conformation, the bat conformation and they’re judging them on their physical appearance, but it’s also a way for the farmers to get off the farm and make a connection. And
Grounded by the Farm 04:52
I think one of the things is it helps them find other people that are interested in the same breeds and things like that. So you may do Some nice breeding activity between your herds or things along that line. Right.
Patty Leonard 05:05
Exactly, exactly. And there’s actually I wish I could think of the name. There’s a book that some, one of the folks wrote about showing in the 1950s, where they would put cattle on the rail cars and travel them to Chicago and to New York. And these were the big carnation herds and the big herds. But what they were doing is they were trying to sell their bulls. Oh, so. So they would have these females. And they would show the females and say these were products of the bulls. And so that’s how they were marketing their females and males. That’s the way you did it.
Grounded by the Farm 05:49
I’m sorry, I got us totally off track. But knowing that, I remember when I learned about livestock shows and things seemed like a great chance to put that information in here. Because I do think it’s a very strange pastime. If you’ve never been around livestock, like why would you show them
Patty Leonard 06:07
Yeah, to get your cow and give her a haircut and a pedicure, and to hairspray and hairspray and glue and get her looking is pretty and you train her to stand a particular way. Like I said, it’s the Miss USA all over again.
Grounded by the Farm 06:24
The scholarships are incredible. So and also in the background, you may be hearing farm noises between some wild sounding birds right now to four wheeler now and then we’re doing this outside and you’re gonna see pictures on the website. So you’ll you’ll notice how beautiful their farm is. So you’ve kind of moved your farm when your grandparents moved the farm. And now we were talking this in the location you used to farm. So how many farms did you have in this area? And and how have you decided where to be and what to do?
Patty Leonard 07:00
As I said, I grew up showing dairy heifers and I got involved in dairy. Well, it just so happened there was a guy nine miles down the road. I met at a show. And so when I married my husband, he got me in 10 cows. So we moved to his farm where they were already milking with his father and his brother. Eventually, we reached about milking about 325. And we farmed about 2500 acres. Yeah. So we were dairy farmers for I’ve been married. We’ve been married 39 years and dairy fell right in line dairy farmers. And 21 years ago, we started the Ag retainment. And that was with our school tours and having people out to the farm, the whole corn maze and everything. Well, three years ago, we finally just kept looking at the finances and said the dairy part is just not working out. Yeah. And the 2500 Acres is part owned acres and part rental or leased acres. So we were doing the whole corn and soybeans. And when we looked at some of the years and the yields and you know some years we had nine out of 10 years, we were milking cows on drought corn. And we said we’ve reached the age where we’ve got to make a change.
Grounded by the Farm 08:26
Yeah. So So it’s interesting because Warrington is is so close to the DC metro and if you’re renting land, I assume land prices. were shifting.
Patty Leonard 08:38
Yes, land of prices was shifting. And though we were renting from second and third generation, people, absentee owners that lived in the city, they bought land a speculation. And so they had taken their earnings from we rented from a doctor we rented from a developer. So we were renting from people that were absentee owners didn’t even come out and see their farm. Yeah, a year. And they had just bought land this far out in our county. A speculation, right?
Grounded by the Farm 09:15
They knew ultimately the income would get here, right? Yes. Yeah. And so at a certain point that starts getting really complicated at how to pencil it out. So it may pencil differently if you owned all the land. Versus and you were using some of the corn in some of your feed? Correct, I assume. Right.
Patty Leonard 09:33
Right. We were and we had tried to diversify so that we had the milk herd, we had our row crops, and then we had diversified into the Ag retainment. Yeah, so we had tried to diversify to spread our risk. Right.
Grounded by the Farm 09:49
And Agra attainment, so 21 years ago, that’s quite a while back, right. So how many other farms like that were there around here that were doing that kind of Have thing there was
Patty Leonard 10:01
one other corn farmer that started that did a corn maze. And he did it as a he did as a as a charitable Oh function. Yeah. What had happened was is when my oldest daughter went to preschool, and the preschool was right across the field from the farm, the teacher said, we want to come out for a field trip. We want to come out one day. So we said, Okay, so before I knew it, when I had three kids in elementary school, they would go to school, oh, your we want to come out to the
Grounded by the Farm 10:38
teachers they had last year want to come back again.
Patty Leonard 10:41
And I got to the point where I was doing 500 kids, and they were sitting in my backyard and the cats, you know, you always want to feed snacks. And everybody’s got to go to the bathrooms. I got to have my kitchen and bathroom clean for everybody. And it was like, Oh my gosh, you know, people want to do this. And then so we started hearing about corn mazes. So Honest, honest story. We went to a corn maze within an hour of us. And we got lost. My husband says you got to be kidding me. No joke. We went on. And then we came home. And the very next morning, we actually had a little calf get loose in our cornfield that eventually became our corn maze. Oh, buddy. So two days in a row. We’re running through a cornfield,
Grounded by the Farm 11:37
looking for loss, little things or being lost.
Patty Leonard 11:39
Yes. And so we said okay, and we started looking into it. Yeah. So we opened September, one of 2001.
Grounded by the Farm 11:53
Okay, and you open with a maze on the front, a corn maze.
Patty Leonard 11:56
We had a corn maze, a hay wagon and a little tent and some round bales. And my daughters were selling cookies, because grandma was making cookies so that we’d have lemonade and cookies to sell. I had two people show up my very first day, that’s all. But of course 911 happened. Oh, yeah. Nobody was thinking about a corn maze. Yeah. And at that time, there was no Facebook. We were doing advertisement on paper. So I was advertising in the Washington Post. I was advertising in the local newspaper. But of course, everybody’s attention was diverted. Yeah, I can’t blame them. We made it through the first year. We did have a few people that came out a few locals that came out. And so we got ready for the next year who said okay, we’ll try this again. So the next year, we bought this year because we hadn’t gotten into the pumpkin business. We bought 5000 pumpkins, I’m all ready to go. I’ve got school tours. I’ve called and got school tours ready to go. And the DC sniper starts. And that shut down all of Northern Virginia. And we had incidents within 30 miles of us on each on each the north and the south. And nobody was coming out. Yeah. So what we did is one of my girls had a little Jersey calf born we got the jersey calf. We loaded it up. We loaded the pumpkins and we visited schools and delivered pumpkins and did a PowerPoint and showed them the farm and took the calf into the school because they couldn’t come outside and did our dog. Shane hunt there, right? We took them. Then the third year we’re getting ready to open in September, and hurricane comes through and Isabelle comes through and flattens the coordinates. I actually had a radio station that sponsored us that year Hi have a scarecrow with a great big glass of milk and got milk. And one day it’s beautiful. And the next day the extension agent is flying over the county to do crop assist damages. And he sends me this picture of my corn maze. Completely flat.
Grounded by the Farm 14:18
Patty Leonard 14:19
Hey, but we’re farmers. We keep doing it. So we do it again.
Grounded by the Farm 14:23
You haven’t hit like 10 years in a row where it’s been bad. So
Patty Leonard 14:28
So yeah, so we started 21 years ago and the event and we grew from two people coming to weekends being full to every day, the month of October having school tours and being busy with schools coming to off Alexandria Stafford with anywhere from a 30 to 40 mile range they would come we did local county Headstart and they would bring in 400 Little kids in town charter buses. Wow. So then to expand, we started doing a haunted hay ride. Then in the springtime, we decided you can come to the farm in the spring, and we started shearing sheep and doing seed planning activities. So now we have a spring tour program. And then just three years ago, we said, okay, let’s have a mount for Christmas. So we take our haunted trail, we take all the creepy stuff out, put up beautiful Christmas lights, and we turn ourselves into a Hallmark movie.
Grounded by the Farm 15:34
I love it. I love it. It’s a strange sequence of events to get you here, right? So, so from an airport being built in and knowing cattle are not going to mix really well with the planes all the time to move you out a little bit further, then you start going. Okay, wait a minute, how else can we make more money on the same amount of property? Because that’s really actually what you were doing when you were trying to diversify. So what led you in this latest generation now you’ve got? And then you’re so much bigger in Agra tainment stuff? How many families? Is it supporting for you guys? It’s still a family operation.
Patty Leonard 16:17
It’s still a family operation. So right now it’s supporting two and a half households. Okay, two and a half households. We still have, you know, 100 beef cattle, we still do some hay and some crops. We like I said, we’ve we sold our dairy herd a couple years, three years ago. And so yeah, we’re, we’re focused, and it’s, it’s different. With the Ag retainment, you’re still maintaining the land. But we get to set our prices, we get to set our hours. And we have more a little bit more control of our investment. Yeah. In what we’re doing. So that is different. And again, to make the other point is, both my husband and I are 60 years old. And a little he’s a 62. But I mean, so we also said for us to grow our advertisement, we needed to make this switch. Now, while we still had a few more years to grow, as opposed to waiting another five to 10 years of milking cows and doing the advertisement. And that is the interesting thing, especially this year. This is the first year that we’ve had school tours that we didn’t finish up school tours at noon, and then head to the field to chop corn. So my daughter would pack I would drive the truck back and forth haul and silage and my husband is chopping. We would give two school tours in the morning and then chop corn and fill silo from dawn. Yeah, so this is really strange for us relaxed
Grounded by the Farm 17:56
face. I it is I didn’t come out this morning. Because you had what? 130? Yeah. Or more? Yeah. 120 kids, 130 parents or something incredible, because everybody wants to come out. Right. Right. I think it’s just amazing to me how many people in an area like this? haven’t had a chance to go out on farms otherwise? So what’s the what’s the high point for you? Here? What what do people like get really excited? Do you need to talk to these folks? No. We can. Yeah, we can stop. Okay. I’m sorry. Well. Since we were totally caught off guard, by a potential customer walking up and had to take a break. I thought this was a good chance to remind you guys that if you have teachers, you have kids at home, that you’re going to be doing projects with all those kinds of things. Don’t forget, we have materials for grounded by the farm education on TPT. And Etsy. You can find out more about it on our website, grounded by the farm.
Patty Leonard 19:06
Come off the trail and come in because they’re curious. This is a first year. Oh, they’re curious of all the things that are going on. Oh,
Grounded by the Farm 19:14
come back and pay money. Yeah. I love it. We have customers that kind of come through in the middle of our interview that shows things are going well. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. But we were just saying that, you know, you’re you’ve looked to grow this for a few more years while you’re still loving the farm life and and doing this successfully. Right. You and your husband? Is there a plan for later?
Patty Leonard 19:42
This is what we think we want to do until we’re too old and feeble not to. But we also we you know, we know we need to build it we need to get it to a certain level. I will have to say that the last two years and COVID has taught us so much about our business. Yeah. In that, first of all, yes, people definitely want to come out the end. They have discovered outdoor venues,
Grounded by the Farm 20:11
they love outdoor venues love out shooting anything outdoors. Why walking, hiking,
Patty Leonard 20:17
but yes, so definitely there, there’s a market for outdoor activities. And they do want the connection to the farm. For example, we do a puppet show with a cow. And Lily, the cow doesn’t want to be a cow, she wants to be a chicken. So we compare and contrast the chicken in the cow. And just giving the cow facts and the chicken facts people are, their eyes are gone. I didn’t know that. That’s interesting. And it reaches all ages we have, we have the adults that are learning and we have the kids that are learning. The other thing is the next station is butter making. You know,
Grounded by the Farm 21:01
making butter is so cool. If you’ve never done it exact, I need to put directions for that on the website with this because that is a cool thing that
Patty Leonard 21:10
is and with so many people being foodies. You introduce them to making their own butter as they
Grounded by the Farm 21:15
want to put some salt with it or not.
Patty Leonard 21:17
Right. Do you add a little bit of honey? If you’re having Italian night, garlic, and all the steak butters that are out there? Oh man. Yeah, they’re so good. So, but just introducing them to that concept of how simple it is, and that you can do it at home. It always tickles me. This tastes just like butter.
Grounded by the Farm 21:38
But you’ve made butter so.
Patty Leonard 21:42
So but just sharing those things? Yeah, when we had the dairy herd, when they would see the cows. I don’t know how many people that would get off our tour and say, Where can I buy your milk? Yeah, because they heard the stories of how we would stay up in the middle of the night with the cows or, you know, what do you do about this? And what do you do about this? And we would be completely transparent with them and have honest conversation with them about everything. And then they come away and they go, Where can I get your milk and I said, you can get my milk at the grocery store along with all my other fellow dairy farmers because we’re all doing the same thing. Yeah, it’s all cut out. I think I’m cool. Milk
Grounded by the Farm 22:26
is one of those local foods that nobody understands necessarily. It’s local in St. Louis, you know, we have a couple of Big Co Op dairies right? So people may have heard of Cabot or Linda lakes, but in every region of the country, every state, there’s co ops that are doing the milk in your local grocery stores. Exactly. And they’re all people like you. And so and you have still you’ve got a couple of Jersey calves. Yes. Yeah. So you’ve got a couple of calves, you’ve got a few goats.
Patty Leonard 22:58
We got a couple goats sheep. Because in the springtime, we again, we said hey, people will come out in the spring. So we share the sheep so that people get to see the sheep get a haircut. And then we do a seed planning activity. And then like I said, we do our chicken thing. But we did the goats, the chickens, the sheep, and we donkeys, we gotten a pair of donkeys, and it just so happens that the female was carrying so we have mac and cheese and the baby is named noodle.
Grounded by the Farm 23:33
And you have totally Instagrammable moments. You’ve got some antique tractors that have been beautifully, beautifully painted, and
Patty Leonard 23:42
those are on loan from my brother. That’s truly his family. I mean, my brother loans, his loans as tractors, my my mom’s still gives me stories. The grandmas don’t bake cookies anymore, but it was all built with family. You know, it’s my husband, it’s my son in law. My son in law’s cleaning the trail. My daughter that works as a reading specialist. She comes in and helps on the weekend. Yeah, my daughter that’s in North Carolina. I called her up yesterday and said I need to I need a customer service response to this question. You know what, give me some help or and she has moved a country girl has moved to the city. So she goes Oh, Mom, you need to do this. You need to do this. We’re looking at this. We’re looking at this. And so we
Grounded by the Farm 24:32
get the My friends are amazed by this. Yes, yes.
Patty Leonard 24:35
They want to know more about this. So it’s still it’s all family. But we are lucky that we have wonderful employees that are former four h leaders, former preschool teachers that enjoy coming out being on the farm doing the outdoor activities, and and we’ve just had wonderful support We just interviewed we start a lot of kids with their very first job here. And we’ve got some kids that have been with us for 10 years. I got a kid that just sent me a message. I’m home on winter on fall break. Can I come do haunted hollow tonight? I said yes. Come. So the kids come back when they’re in town, yes to jump in and scare people or whatever. But we’ve got kids that we started out. Yeah. And they went on other kids. We’re not we had two yesterday that were state FFA officers, but they had come through i cows and corn and we think we had just a little bit of influence and help them get started.
Grounded by the Farm 25:44
Well, that was cows and corn was the last farm when you moved over here. You You took the name of this location right
Patty Leonard 25:51
maple tree. Yeah, now. Well, and I’ll tell you a little story about that. There is a creek or run behind us called Turkey Run farm. My grandparents always called it Turkey Run farm. And but coming in the driveway when I was a kid maple trees lined each side. For a while my brother operated the farm when my grandparents had given it up and to get a different name to do business under he named it maple tree. So I still call it Turkey Run. But when I was talking to the girls, I said okay, what are we going to name this? And my girl said, Mom, do you really? If if we ended up having a wedding here? Do you really think they want to say we’re getting married at Turkey Run farm or maple tree farm? Yeah, it’s all in marketing.
Grounded by the Farm 26:46
I love it. I love it. It’s, it’s, it’s really beautiful. So I I shot a little bit of video and stuff. So we’ll put that up on the website too. And make sure we connect over to your website. So you guys have a little bit there. Y’all also have some, some games and stuff I think that people can do with their kids and learn a little bit you’ve got to some of that information. It’s not the same as being here and being able to bring your kids out. But there are farms like this in lots of places. I know. Annie link and her husband have won near Grand Rapids, DD dardennes. Just down in Smithville area of Virginia and stuff. There’s so many of these kinds of farms, I think very few people have had an opportunity to really get into much of the story because you’re usually busy with kids and busy with whatever the entertainment part is. So I appreciate your kind of peeling it back a little bit and having this conversation so our listeners can can learn a little bit more about it. I want to make sure they know where to find you and I’m thinking your your website. It’s
Patty Leonard 27:49
the website is maple tree farm va.com. And that is for the major advertisement if you want to get this creepy part it’s haunted hollow VA. We were talking about people coming out Yeah. And enjoying. We are we are always so thrilled. But you will see them walk in and and they’re looking all around. And there’s this little bit of anxiousness about them. And by the time they’re leaving, their shoulders are dropped, they’ve relaxed. I you see them, they’ll just sit down and watch up. They the kids, they can see the kids all wherever they run, we’ve got hay bales for them to jump on tubes for them to go through. Very simple stuff. We do have a move outs, very simple stuff. But you can see them come in anxious, but you can see them leaving relaxed, and they will spend hours. Oh yeah, I hear just letting the kids run.
Grounded by the Farm 28:54
Yeah, well, it’s it’s nicely put together in that you have a lot of fencing in different places. So it’s, it’s, you know, you’ve got acres and acres, but they’re in different fenced sections, but it doesn’t look closed in so you’ve got enough running room and then enough structure to it that parents don’t have to wonder where their kids have gotten off to too badly. Yeah. All right. Well, thanks so much. I’m so excited. I was able to come out and what a gorgeous day people are going to look at these pictures and say of course this is the place to be on a Friday afternoon.
Patty Leonard 29:31
Wonderful. Thanks so much for visiting. It’s good. Good to see you in person.
Grounded by the Farm 29:36
Thank you. I hope you enjoyed that interview. And as always, we would love for you to take time. If you enjoyed it. Leave a rating and review on iTunes, Spotify, whatever service it is that you use, so that more podcast listeners will see this show up as an app as related to the podcast they enjoy. It seems odd, but it really can help a show out. Please go by and check grounded by the farm calm. You’ll see not only some photos and videos to go with the story, but you’ll get our entire catalogue. There’s a lot of videos and things and there’s one page there. You can find it up at the top of the navigation bar on your favorite foods. Thanks and we’ll be back here again in two weeks with grounded by the farm