First Person Singular: Farmer Cliff Miller

First Person Singular
Cliff Miller at his Sperryville farm (KK Ottesen)
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mount Vernon Farm has been in my family since 1827, so I'm the fifth generation. I'm sure that history has a hold on me, but I think what really has a hold on me is what you're looking at: just the beauty of the farm. We would come on weekends and some summers most of my life.

The conventional wisdom of the day was to just work the hell out of the land and get everything you can out of it, fill it full of chemical fertilizer and, of course, herbicides to kill the weeds. That was the way you made money. That was the way you farmed. And if I'd have taken over the farm then, I probably would have farmed that way. Thank God I didn't.

My better half has always been an environmentalist. She beat on me a little bit, and I think I matured. I was an old airborne infantry officer, you know, macho type, worked for IBM, a go-go type of guy. But it wasn't until I came out here after my father died that I was able to sit down and say: How do I want to farm this place?

I began to read about what was happening to the water in the Chesapeake Bay and saw that I did not want to continue putting poisons, pesticides in the fields. I figured there had to be a better way. Then a good friend said to me, "This is a grass-based farm if ever I saw one." I said, "What the hell's a 'grass-based' farm?" He said, "You ought to go see this guy named Joel Salatin. I think he's got something he can show you."

Well, [Salatin] was having a seminar that weekend; I thought it sounded stupid, but I wasn't doing anything then, so I went. By the time it ended, I was real impressed -- his commitment to farming in a very ecologically sound way -- no chemicals, herbicides or anything like that on the grass, treating animals homeopathically, trying to be good stewards of the land. So he was my model early on. And the more I got into it, the better I felt.

It was, I think, meant to be. But it was not [something] I could have done earlier on; I pretty much had to go through what I went through to get here. And when my time's up, I would like to have set this farm up so that this land will be pretty much like it is now for another five generations.

Interview by KK Ottesen


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