Field of Dreams for Young Farmers
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Shenandoah Valley farm
When Wes Kent was a child he’d roll his metal tractor toys through the dirt and pretend he was a farmer. Not a super hero. Or a cowboy. Or a fireman.
“It was my dream,” says Wes about farming. “It’s all I ever wanted to do as a little boy.” With planning, hard work, and good luck, Wes fulfilled that childhood dream for himself and his family, wife Martha and daughter Isabelle, age 10 and Lee, age 7.
They own a beautiful 300-acre slice of the Shenandoah Valley near Weyers Cave, Virginia. Their farm is called Winding River Farm, and the Kents raise dairy and beef cows and turkeys. The Kents also lease an additional 350 acres for grain and hay production, bringing their total farm acreage to 650.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
First generation farmers
Wes grew up in the area—just a county away from where they now call home. He grew up rural. His father was a horse trainer on a cattle ranch. However Wes and Martha are first generation farmers. “We started with nothing,” says Wes.
Embarking on a career in farming without funds or land is challenging. Impossible some might say. Planning and hard work were part of the plan. Wes graduated from college then went into dairy farm management. He bought his own cows while a manager. Then he started looking for a place of his own.
Buying a farm was out of the question. But Wes found an ideal place for sale in 2000 and instead of buying, asked the owners if he could lease it. “It never hurts to ask,” says Wes. And that’s exactly what happened. He leased the 180 acre-farm, which had a dairy barn and poultry house.
Wes and Martha reinvested their earnings into their farm and were eventually able to purchase it in 2003. They admit that some good luck was also a key part of the equation of their success. The farm flourished. Milk flowed, cattle gained weight, crops grew. “Things went well for us,” says Martha.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
Growing their dream
Expanding their farm operation was going to take more cash than the Kents had. But some creative financing allowed them to buy a second farm with 120 acres in 2011. In Virginia, land placed in a conservation easement produces tax credits, which the owner can use or sell. “We sold our tax credits for 80 cents on the dollar to raise the down payment to go to the bank to purchase the second farm,” says Wes.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
The care and feeding of animals and birds sets the agenda everyday at the Winding River Farm. Wes is up with the chickens (as the saying goes). But in his case, he’s up with the turkeys. The farm raises turkeys on contract, maintaining 3 flocks of 9,200 birds each year. “We are building a new poultry house,” says Wes. “It’s currently under construction, and we will have the capacity to raise 25,000 turkeys at a time,” he says. With three turkey production cycles a year, Winding River Farm will be raising 75,000 turkeys annually in the new poultry house.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
Other early risers at the farm are the milk cows. The farm’s 110 Holstein cows are milked twice a day. The milk is sold to a dairy co-op and marketed under the Marva Maid brand. Then comes the feeding of the replacement heifers (85 head) and beef cows. Winding River Farms has a commercial cow/calf operation of 75 Angus and Angus cross beef cows. That part of the business is also expanding. Wes hopes to grow his herd to 100 head next few years.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
Enjoying country life
Winding River Farms employs Wes full time. Martha works in Harrisonburg at The Breeze, the student newspaper at James Madison University. Country living offers the Kent family a lifestyle that is rich and fruitful. Martha tends an impressive vegetable garden and puts up food for the family. Isabelle participates in 4H and rides their two horses: a Tennessee Walker named Royal and a Quarter horse named Cinnamon. Lee helps out with the turkey chicks when they are small and hangs out with the family dog, a cute little hound-mix named Maggie. They have a pet pig too, appropriately named Miss Piggy, who wandered onto the farm one day. “She showed up like a stray,” says Wes. “Once we got to know her, we liked her. She’s a tame pig. She smiles and wiggles her tail when we feed her,” says Martha.
Days are long for the family, but when the sun sets and the chores are done, the Kents can settle down into their life in the country once was only a dream.Date Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
Winding River Farms LLCDate Published: November 26, 2013Date Updated: April 2, 2014
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