Written by Kate Miller
Virginia Free Citizen and part of their ongoing series of stories from small farms in Virginia.
Brian and Kim Criley operate their farm business Slow Grown in Virginia from the Spring Hill Farm in Caroline County, Va.
The Crileys are on a mission to preserve Virginia’s historical small family farming practices, as they produce natural herbal products (including teas), organic seasonal produce, bath and body care products, homemade baked goods, and crafts and home décor products, as well as pasture-raised pork, poultry and eggs. They do not use any herbicides, pesticides, hormones, chemical growth enhancers or genetically modified organisms. They also operate a farm store, where they offer community-supported agriculture and co-op programs. Brian, a former Marine, and Kim, a certified nutritional counselor, say they maintain their farm with the help of five of their six children.
please excuse the excessive wind noise during the first minute or so of this video interview
The Crileys say their farm is just over 50 acres. They also say they use a few acres on a nearby property for an apple orchard and farm maintenance purposes, and they farm a portion of a 120-acre plot of land as part of a partnership. Brian stated in an email that Slow Grown in Virginia’s livestock is almost always raised slower for slaughter than livestock from factory farms, and he said different breeds of livestock at Slow Grown in Virginia are raised for differing periods of time. Brian said most farmers focus on only providing a few products, but he said Slow Grown in Virginia is the closest thing you can find today to an old-fashioned, diversified family farm. “We’re kind of the ones that are crazy enough to try to do it like every farm used to do it where you had most of everything and tried to make it all a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “It’s a heck of a lot of work and you have to manage the scale.”
Despite the hard work it takes to operate their farm, the Crileys say they have been passionate about natural foods since Kim — who suffered from a chronic illness for more than 20 years — experienced a rapid recovery when she developed a natural, seasonal diet. Kim said the medications she was prescribed depleted her body of magnesium and potassium and after supplementing these nutrients, her health problems stopped. According to Kim, prescription drugs can deplete the body of vital nutrients by bypassing the natural system of the human body. Kim Criley, who has suffered from a chronic illness for more than 20 years, started to recover once she began a natural, seasonal diet.
Kim also said the harmful effects of modern medicine can be avoided by focusing on proper nutrition, but she said very few medical doctors receive any training in nutrition. “As the certified nutritional counselor, I look at Slow Grown in Virginia as your alternative healthcare,” she said. “What we offer is healthcare. What they (the medical community) offer is sick care. You’re already sick (when you receive medical treatment).”
herbal teas were their first farm product. Kim said she studied the production methods of big tea corporations and found that they deplete their teas of nutritional value by storing them and then dehydrating them with very high heat. Kim said she puts her teas in the dehydrator within 30 to 60 minutes of gathering them from the field. She said she dehydrates her teas at 95 degrees, which takes longer than the industrial tea dehydration process, but maintains the nutritional value of the tea because the enzymes do not break down during the process. Kim said produce fresh from the field has a higher nutritional value than the produce that travels to supermarkets. “From the time that you pull that vegetable from the ground, it starts depreciating in nutritional value,” she said.The Crileys said
After they began producing teas, Brian said they began to produce more products to serve a niche market interested in nutrition, especially natural and seasonal foods. According to Brian, although many organic farmers will grow produce out of season in order to meet mass-market consumer demands, it is not sustainable to use extra resources to maintain the same level or marketability year-round. “It’s not normal for someone living in Virginia, or Pennsylvania or New York to get access to oranges whenever they want,” he said. Brian said most people ate seasonally until about 50 years ago, when industrial agriculture operations began using new methods to grow produce all year round. There is a health basis in seasonal eating, Brian said. “Our bodies are actually in-tune if we let them react better to things that are in season,” he said.
Brian stated in an email that our bodies naturally crave seasonal foods when we are caring for our health. “Our body chemistry changes with the length of days, temperature ... lunar cycle and seasons,” Brian said. “And we have very different nutritional needs at different times of the year, which often neatly match with what wouldnormally be in season in our locale. But the average American has long ago drowned out the body's natural healthy desires with high sugar, heavily processed foods, in effect making our bodies like a junky whose desire for the drug overrides the body's true needs.” Brian also stated that the freshest produce available is the most nutritional produce available. According to Brian, seasonal eating is a better option than eating conventional farm-raised foods economically and environmentally, in addition to health-wise, because seasonal eating gives consumers the discipline to use the foods that are naturally available, instead of using extra resources for processed foods. Brian stated in an email that seasonal produce is usually cheaper than foods produced out of season. Brian said Slow Grown in Virginia maintains an environmental focus through sustainable, seasonal farm production, as opposed to industrial farms that deplete natural resources. “We’re charged with a mission to take care of this creation (Earth) in a way that nurtures it,” he said.
Brian said he and Kim focus on educating consumers about the importance of natural farm products and even hold workshops for that purpose. “Word of mouth is the best bang for the buck over any advertisement dollars that we can spend because it’s (the benefits of natural farm products) not the kind of thing you can sell with a sound bite or 30-second spot,” Brian said. According to Brian, their most dedicated customers are educated consumers, so he and Kim try to build strong relationships with educated consumers, instead of focusing their attention on resistant consumers. Kim said the consumer can do his or her part to promote historical small family farming practices by consciously choosing not to consume industrial agriculture products. “That’s what it really is, changing our habits to the way we used to shop,” Kim said.