They drifted out of the farmhouse, the newlyweds, Forrest Pritchard in a straw hat, sweat dripping from his forehead, Nancy Pritchard in flowered shorts, streaks of clay on her bare legs.

The work was coming along, they said. He has the chemical-free cows and the free-range chickens to raise. She has her pottery.

This is their new life--turning Smithfield Farm near Berryville, Va., into a sustainable operation, and they are aglow. They had their wedding ceremony at the farm on June 26. Their chemical-free beef and eggs have been greeted with enthusiasm by shoppers at farmers markets in Middleburg, Cascades and Berryville.

"We have a lot of optimism," said Forrest, 25, stretching his arm out to indicate the 350 acres that the couple manages, along with his sister, Betsy Pritchard, 30, who lives in Leesburg. His parents, who live in Charles Town, W. Va., own the farm.

"We have a lot of stuff to do," said Nancy, 26, pouring herself a glass of lemonade and taking a seat in one of the wicker chairs on the porch. "Anything from sanding to putting in cement."

"There's putting up fences, putting up hay," her husband added.

They are part of a new generation of farmers: young people with college degrees who turn away from the corporate route to return to their ancestors' agrarian past. Forrest Pritchard calls himself a "seventh-generation farmer." His mother's side established Smithfield Farm in 1816, built the main house in 1824 and raised cattle.

In 183 years, the family abandoned the farming life only once--during a "hippie spell" on the part of Forrest's parents, who moved to Seattle during the '60s but returned a few years later to the house in Charles Town, where they still live. The land their son now lives on has been farmed continuously, though, with the pasture land and apple orchard always leased to other farmers.

Nancy Pritchard, nee Pollo, is the daughter of Italian immigrants. She grew up in Alexandria but returned to the family farm in Italy every other summer to pick tobacco and sugar beets.

"I loved it," she said. "It was so different from Alexandria."

The young couple felt the pull of the land long before they settled here. It was on their minds in school. Forrest Pritchard has bachelor's degrees in English and geology from the College of William and Mary. When he's not making hay, he's burrowing into a book by Don DeLillo or Alice Munro.

Nancy Pritchard has a bachelor's in art history from William and Mary and a master's in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She speaks three languages fluently--Italian, French and English. (He "gets by" in French.)

The two met as undergraduates at the French House, a language-immersion living arrangement, where he lived and she had been invited. She was 19, he was 20. About six months later, when it became clear that they were in it together for the long haul, he told her, "I have a big decision to make."

"We were at school, over at Lake Crimdell, and he told me, " 'I have to decide whether I want to be a farmer or get a job in the real world,' " Nancy said.

She nudged him toward the bucolic life. During their courtship, they spent vacations and school breaks making improvements around the farm. They built a gazebo in the back yard of the main house and, with Betsy Pritchard's help and vision, decided to turn the two guest houses into a bed and breakfast.

Nancy's decision to get a master's degree before they got married was "a speed bump," she said, but she wanted to pursue a teaching career. She now teaches art at Osbourn Park High School in Prince William County.

The couple said they tolerated delays because they knew they would end up on the gently sloping ancestral land, which is interwoven with five or six springs. Already they talk like an old farm couple.

"We knew we had a rich resource," Forrest said.

"We can pasture the cows without worrying about the drought," said Nancy, referring to the springs.

To make ends meet while they establish the operation, Nancy teaches and dreams of becoming an artist. She keeps a pottery wheel in the farmhouse basement--where the couple has modernized and created air-conditioned living quarters--and hopes to start a pottery shop called La Capretta, Italian for "little goat."

The shop would be at the farm, she said, and they would sell their beef, eggs and--in the future--pork and goat meat.

Forrest keeps busy learning his chosen trade, an undertaking that has been eased by the tutelage of Robert Albright, a farmhand who has worked the property for years, Forrest said.

"He taught me everything," Forrest said. "I think to be a successful farmer in the Shenandoah Valley, you have to have someone who can show you the ins and outs of making hay."

Walking across the pastures the other day, the couple approached a passel of grazing cows that had gathered around a spring in the blazing heat. Several bovine faces turned in the direction of the visitors. The Pritchards have 140 head of cattle, mostly Angus Hereford cows, as well as a handful of heifers and a bull for breeding.

None of the animals receives antibiotics or hormones.

"They're definitely spoiled," Forrest said, pointing to the array of grasses and legumes at his feet--alfalfa, clover, bluegrass.

The Pritchards walked across a field to the "egg-mobile"--an old silage cart that he turned into a portable laying station for his 84 hens. The hens visit the station in the late afternoon or around dusk, when they are ready to lay their daily eggs.

At the Pritchards' approach, a dozen of the fowl--pecking at the ground under a shade tree--ran in the direction of the station. Inside, a brownish-red hen stepped off a nest revealing a newly deposited brown egg. The hen stretched her legs, then walked out the door and down a wood plank--the exit ramp.

The Pritchards headed back to the house. They said they have no regrets about what they might be missing, because everything they want is here.

"Even a lot of my friends, they think it's neat what we're doing out here," Forrest said.

CAPTION: Nancy and Forrest Pritchard smile broadly after wedding at Smithfield Farm near Berryville. The farm is their chosen life's work.

CAPTION: Smithfield Farm was established in 1816 by Forrest Pritchard's maternal ancestors.

CAPTION: Smithfield Farm's main house dates to 1824. There are also two guest houses, which the Pritchards turned into a bed and breakfast.

CAPTION: Guests at the Pritchards' wedding June 26 wait for the bride to come downstairs.

CAPTION: Nancy, nee Pollo, gets a fond send-off from her stepfather, Luigi Contin, before the ceremony.

CAPTION: Against the backdrop of their 350-acre farm, Nancy and Forrest Pritchard had an elegant wedding, a far cry from the farm chores they are happily taking on to sustain a Pritchard family tradition.

CAPTION: Nancy and Forrest Pritchard, who met as students at the College of William and Mary, share a culminating kiss.

CAPTION: Escorted by her stepfather, Nancy walks outside to the back yard for the ceremony.