The cattle on Hollin Farms chewed on leftover pumpkins Matt Davenport grew in nearby Sky Meadows State Park. A few hundred yards away, the 33-year-old farmer inspected his orchard of 800 peach trees.
A barn was stacked with hay, cut from the same grass sold as feed to nearby horse farms. Machinery that Davenport rents out for brush-clearing shone in the November sun.
The Delaplane farm's Web site lists other ventures: natural beef, free of hormones and antibiotics; pick-your-own fruit and pumpkin patches; agricultural and landscaping services.
Welcome to the modern family farm, a long way from the days of devoting long acres to a single crop or animal. Today, Davenport said, diversification, rather than specialization, is the path to success.
"The economics is challenging. Time management is key. You really have to be doing something you can sell," said Davenport, who took over Hollin Farms in 1998.
The success that Davenport and his wife, Shannon, have had turning what had been a part-time enterprise for his grandfather and father into a full-time vocation has earned admiration not only in Fauquier County but statewide. The Davenports are this year's winners of the Virginia Farm Bureau's Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award. They will receive the award Tuesday at the bureau's annual convention in Norfolk.
"It is quite an honor. We are very proud," Matt Davenport said.
His two degrees in engineering and Shannon Davenport's degree in Italian literature make farming seem an unlikely career choice. But Matt Davenport grew up showing his grandfather's cattle at county fairs (Robert C. Davenport, a Northern Virginia builder, started the farm in the 1950s), and he loved tinkering with the farm equipment.
After two years with the Peace Corps in Kenya and then graduating from Cornell University with a master's degree, Davenport contemplated working for a corporation. Many of his Ivy League classmates were making good money in agribusiness. But his desire to be his own boss and a passion for the land he grew up on led him back to Hollin Farms.
"I had the rare opportunity to farm around here," he said, mentioning that land costs and taxes have forced too many farmers to sell to developers. "I was always thinking of returning to the farm."
"This is the life I always wanted," Shannon Davenport said.
The Davenports soon found, however, that they were a minority in a county quickly growing more suburban.
Matt Davenport said he could count on two hands the number of people in their early thirties who are full-time farmers in Fauquier. Shannon Davenport, 31, retorted that she could do it on one hand.
"You are isolated in terms of your colleagues," Matt Davenport said. "You don't have a lot of people in your situation. Most people around here who farm make their living at another job."
"It is a battle to get younger people into farming," said Judy McConnell, who serves with the Davenports on the board of the Fauquier County Farm Bureau. "Matt is our shining star. He is setting up a good track record, showing other farmers it can be done."
Part of how the Davenports get it done is by relying on each other.
"It is a real family operation," Shannon Davenport said. "All of us have our roles."
Matt Davenport's mother, Mimi, keeps the books and manages the Web site, which is becoming a bigger part of the operation's marketing each day. His father, Tom, a filmmaker who helped his father raise cattle on the land for years, now assists his son.
And Shannon Davenport "plays a big role in understanding and developing the markets," said Doug Stoughton, director of the Virginia Farm Bureau's women and young farmers division. "I think they complement each other well."
Stoughton spent many hours on the farm during judging for the award, and he came away mightily impressed.
"It is a tremendous team effort. They support each other, analyze their resources and look at the farm as a business," he said. "Matt, with his master's degree, could have gone into a lot of businesses. He has a passion for the land. Through innovative processes, he has energized the farm and reshaped it."
Two years ago, Davenport started a pick-your-own pumpkin patch at Sky Meadows. This year he sold more than 2,500 pumpkins.
When consumers began demanding "natural beef" -- beef from cows raised without hormones or antibiotics -- he transformed the farm's long-standing Angus cattle business. Now Hollin Farms markets the beef online.
And the Davenports are cultivating a relationship with the region's ever-growing number of Hispanics, advertising in Spanish-language newspapers during the fruit-picking season.
"We found that Bolivians, especially, loved coming out and picking their own fruit," Davenport said. "A lot of opportunities are in niche marketing, even super-specializing. The Internet has had a huge impact. It would be impossible to do all this without it."
Patty Leonard helps run a family dairy farm in Midland, on the other end of Fauquier County. The farm has branched out, offering tours, hay rides, corn mazes and pumpkins. She said the Davenports are going about farming the right way.
"When you have diversity, it cushions the blow. If you have a drought or a downturn in one area, the other can pick you up," she said.
"Matt's winning the award most definitely helps other farmers in the area. It lets others think about new ideas and the success of someone who is thinking outside the box. It brings more attention to all of us," Leonard said.
The achievement award, which was called the Young Farmer of the Year Award until 2004, carries $3,500 in cash prizes and all-expenses-paid trips to American Farm Bureau conventions next year in Nashville and Des Moines.
Meanwhile, as winter approaches, the Davenports are considering ways to diversify further. Maybe apple trees and strawberry patches, Matt Davenport said.