Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now
When the Bainum Family Foundation received a 263-acre farm in Middleburg, Virginia, from the estate of our founder, Stewart Bainum, in 2015, it opened new doors for us. Given our mission of helping children and families in the District of Columbia’s most underserved neighborhoods, we now had a direct way to tackle food insecurity as part of our wrap-around support initiatives.
However, doing so would require reviving the property, which for years had been used for cattle and horse grazing, as viable land for agricultural production. This task called for a unique skillset, and we were fortunate to find the perfect two-person team for the job ― husband and wife, Kasey Clark and Tonya Taylor. They serve, respectively, as Operations Manager and Production Manager for the Bainum Foundation Farm.
Tonya and Kasey live on the farm and roll up their sleeves daily to set the Farm’s sustainable strategy in motion. Tonya leads production, which includes managing soil health and growing fruits and vegetables using sustainable agriculture methods; operating the greenhouse; planting and harvesting crops (by hand) and coordinating distribution with our nonprofit partners. Kasey manages the Farm’s infrastructure, equipment and open space. He is also an experienced beekeeper and has introduced eight bee colonies to the Farm to support our sustainable agriculture approach and serve as an onsite learning opportunity for visitors.
Tonya and Kasey have accumulated unique experiences that led to their agricultural expertise. The duo met in Malawi, Africa, while they were both serving in the Peace Corps. Tonya, a then 24-year-old community health worker who supported orphans and HIV patients, and Kasey, a 30-year-old forestry extension agent who helped with elephant relocation for the country’s national parks, lived without electricity or running water, but found great purpose in their work. As their relationship developed, so did their mutual commitment to public health, sustainable agriculture, food access and helping communities in need.
After their time in the Peace Corps, Tonya and Kasey moved to Mississippi, where Tonya worked in health care and Kasey taught sixth-grade math and science. But they were drawn to agriculture. After a couple years, they moved to Connecticut, where they worked as apprentice farmers and lived in an onsite toolshed, their first home together. The two then transitioned to a boys’ boarding school, where they established and operated a 160-acre sustainable farm and food program that engaged both the students and local community. They grew a diverse variety of organic vegetables, flowers and humanely raised oxen, goats, pigs, chickens and bees.
“Our experience at the school was rewarding, but we knew our work could make a greater impact for a community in need,” said Tonya. “We built the school’s farm and food program, and with this experience under our belt, we were ready to help address the large gaps and issues in the food system overall.”
And so were we. Tonya and Kasey joined the Bainum Foundation Farm team in the winter of 2016, and since their arrival, we have:
- Built a large greenhouse (adjacent to our four-acre growing field), which allows us to extend the growing season and cultivate hothouse varieties of vegetables
- Started to grow more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs — including organic Toscano (“dinosaur”) kale, heirloom Chioggia beets and sweet Divergent cantaloupe
- Established eight bee colonies and planted a variety of wildflowers alongside the crops to strengthen the local pollinator population and support production of pollinated crops
- Planting cover crops to begin regenerating the soil of a 10-acre field, which will expand future production on the Farm
- Served as a training site for the Veteran Farmer Training program of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Agriculture
This season, we’ve already had multiple harvests at the Farm — including a variety of greens and lettuces, snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes, beets and zucchini. Working with our nonprofit service partners, Arcadia and Community Foodworks, our vegetables have reached families in Wards 7 and 8 and children in early learning centers across the District. Given how bountiful our production has been this year, we also have been able to support hunger alleviation efforts in the Farm’s surrounding community through donations to Loudoun Hunger Relief.
“We feel really lucky,” said Kasey. “It’s exciting to work for a foundation that is taking a systematic approach to tackling food insecurity…the Foundation is literally putting its money where people’s mouths are. We’re growing for a cause we believe in, and we couldn’t ask for anything more rewarding than that.”
Learn more about our farmers by reading this recent article from Loudoun Now (“Sowing the Seeds of Community at Bainum Farm”).
Keep up with Tonya, Kasey, the Farm and the Foundation by following us on social media.
Top photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now