A Historic and Innovative Northern Virginia Farm – Morven Park

Hidden on the west edge of Leesburg, Va is a beautiful historic 1000 acre farm that was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Westmoreland Davis, Governor of Virginia from 1918 to 1922. Westmoreland Davis purchased Morvan Park in 1903 and put his energies into making it an agricultural show place.  He discovered that most of the farmers around him were using inefficient farming methods that were not as profitable as they should be. He studied and researched everything that he could find about farming. Morven Park became a testing station for new methods of raising crops and selective breeding of livestock. He started with dairy cows. He also bred heavy draft horses and lighter riding horses. In 1912 Davis purchased the Southern Planter magazine where he published his ideas and the results of his experiments.

In the early 1930s, he began raising turkeys on pasture in moveable range shelters, eventually having as many as 20,000 turkeys on pasture! Within ten years, Morven Park had become the largest supplier of turkeys in the United States. An example of his experimentation, Davis heard that Doberman Pinscher dogs were good for guarding turkeys on pasture from predators. He became a breeder of Doberman dogs. All went well until the dogs began doing what dogs like to do with birds – kill them. He realized that people were the best guards for the turkeys and got rid of the dogs.

The Governor’s House at Morven Park. The restoration of the house was completed in 2010.

Tours of the mansion are only $5 for adults. The inside is beautifully restored and furnished with the original elaborate furnishings of the Davis’. Touring the grounds and gardens is free.

Some of the farm buildings.

The property is beautifully landscaped. This is part of the boxwood gardens.

Another part of the garden.

To find out more about Morven Park and how to get there go to http://www.morvenpark.org/

Sawdust Toilet – A Homesteading Solution

Here is an idea to put in the back of your head in case you ever need it. When we first considered being curators for the Maryland State Park system and restoring this house, one problem was that the house only had one bathroom and there are eight people in our family! I looked on the internet about composting toilets and they run $2,000+, are ugly, and take up a significant amount of space. In addition, I did not like the idea of composting that stuff inside my house. Then I came across the sawdust toilet concept. It is cheap, odor free, and the composting is done outside. We have used it for the past six years and are pleased with it.

We use it similar to the old fashioned chamber pot concept and just use it for #1. The difference is that the carbon in the sawdust keeps down the odor. After each use, or in the morning, we add a fresh layer of sawdust to cover everything up. If there is some smell, we just add more sawdust. We have a sawdust toilet for the boys, one for the girls, and one in the master bedroom. When the buckets are full, we dump them on a compost pile.

Can you find the “bathroom”?

Here it is! I built a box to hide the buckets and toilet seat.

Daniel’s Blacksmith Shop – “The Village Smithy”

Last school year, one of Daniel’s school projects was to design and build a blacksmith shop on a trailer. He first made a detailed scaled drawing and then built the building on an old International pickup bed trailer. Myron helped some with the framing, but Daniel did most of the work himself and paid for all the materials. This summer he got it completed.

The blacksmith shop. The wood sign over the door reads: “The Village Smithy”

Inside the blacksmith shop, work benches line the sides with storage space for tools on a shelf underneath. The forge sits in a bump out over the trailer tongue area. The forge was custom made from an old cast iron sink. The collector for the chimney was made from an old propane tank. The shop is wired for electricity and the lights are on a dimmer switch. There are times blacksmiths do not want too much light so that they can correctly judge the color of the red hot metal. The project required creativity and thinking through how to make everything work. It was an great learning experience for him.

A Living Laboratory – Jehovah-Jireh Farm

Our new slogan:
“More than a farm — a living laboratory researching the secrets of food, health and life.”

This new slogan better describes who we are. Our farm took on a new focus after we moved to this farm a little over five years ago. This farm became more than just a pasture based farm. It became a living laboratory where God has showed us many things about food, health and life. Many times it is like trying to drink out of a fire hydrant as we try to process what we are learning, researching, and observing here on the farm. We have only shared in the farm newsletters a small part of what we have been discovering. We have many more exciting things to share with you.

It all began with finding the research of Carey Reams in agriculture and also human health. That has led us to other research. Each puzzle piece that fits together makes a bigger picture. It is not that we spend a significant amount of our time in research like a traditional lab, but things keep dropping into our lap from unexpected sources. Problems on the farm become learning experiences as we look for answers.

The article in this newsletter, “Weeds in the Garden”, is an illustration of research we are doing and answers that we are finding that run counter to conventional “wisdom”.

Please do not get the impression that we know it all and have all the answers. We have many failures as the announcement below illustrates. We feel like we are only peeking through the keyhole and are not yet seeing the full picture. We are here to serve you and to provide you with top quality food, and to help you to be successful in growing your own high quality, health giving fruits and vegetables. We appreciate the many things that you have shared with us and taught us.

From the “Evil” Scientist Lab: Killer Corn

Another reason to eat organic food.

The seed treatment on corn seeds is much more deadly than what we realized.

I was shocked the other week when we received an email exposing how the pesticide and fungicide usage on most of our country’s corn crop is killing honey bees. In the early part of May of this year, beekeepers reported staggering losses of honey bees in Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio, after their hives foraged near pesticide-treated corn fields. The seed corn is treated with pesticides and fungicides. The neonicotinoid pesticides are very deadly to honey bees. Just one gram can kill 11 million to 22 million honey bees. When combined with fungicides, they are 10 times more deadly than when used alone! The coated corn seeds are sticky, so talc is added to the seeds to make them flow better in the corn planter. However, the powdery talc is readily carried by the wind to plants and areas beside the corn fields where bees are foraging. The talc is contaminated with these neonicotinoids and fungicides and the dead bees test positive for these chemicals. The source for this information is a new report released by Purdue University this year –

We are used to change in technology and society. But what we are not used to is rapid change behind our backs in our food. Everything appears to be the same as before, but it is not. In the last 15 years there have been significant changes in the way corn and other crops are grown that we are unaware of. Genetically modified plants are only one part of the problem.

From the Huffington Post – “Bee Kills in the Corn Belt: What’s GE Got to Do With It?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-pilatic/bee-kills-in-the-corn-bel_b_1520757.html

“Over the last 15 years, U.S. corn cultivation has gone from a crop requiring little-to-no insecticides and negligible amounts of fungicides, to a crop where the average acre is grown from seeds treated or genetically engineered to express three different insecticides (as well as a fungicide or two) before being sprayed prophylactically with RoundUp (an herbicide) and a new class of fungicides that farmers didn’t know they “needed” before the mid-2000s.
A series of marketing ploys by the pesticide industry undergird this story. It’s about time to start telling it, if for no other reason than to give lie to the oft-repeated notion that there is no alternative to farming corn in a way that poisons pollinators. We were once — not so long ago — on a very different path.

How corn farming went off the rails

“In the early 1990s, we were really good at growing corn using bio-intensive integrated pest management (bio-IPM). In practice, that meant crop rotations, supporting natural predators, using biocontrol agents like ladybugs and as a last resort, using chemical controls only after pests had been scouted for and found. During this time of peak bio-IPM adoption, today’s common practice of blanketing corn acreage with “insurance” applications of various pesticides without having established the need to do so would have been unthinkable. It’s expensive to use inputs you don’t need, and was once the mark of bad farming.

“Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, GE corn and neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) seed treatments both entered the market — the two go hand-in-hand, partly by design and partly by accident…

“Then, as if on cue, Monsanto introduced three different strains of patented, GE corn between 1997 and 2003 (RoundUp Ready, and two Bt-expressing variants aimed at controlling the European Corn Borer and corn root worm). Clothianidin entered the U.S. market under conditional registration in 2003, and in 2004 corn seed companies began marketing seeds treated with a 5X level of neonicotinoids (1.25 mg/seed vs. .25). [Each seed has enough to kill 9,000 – 18,000 bees. – Myron]

“… and in the space of a decade, U.S. corn acreage undergoes a ten-fold increase in average insecticide use. By 2007, the average acre of corn has more than three systemic insecticides — both Bt traits and a neonicotinoid. Compare this to the early 1990s, when only an estimated 30-35 percent of all corn acreage were treated with insecticides at all.”

“When I spoke with one Iowa corn farmer in January and told him about the upcoming release of a Purdue study confirming corn as a major pesticide exposure route for bees, his face dropped with worn exasperation. He looked down for a moment, sighed and said, ‘You know, I held out for years on buying them GE seeds, but now I can’t get conventional seeds anymore. They just don’t carry ’em.'”

It used to be that pesticide sprays were sprayed on the surface of plants, fruits and vegetables to kill bugs. But in more recent years, systemic insecticides have been developed and are being widely used. Systemic insecticides and fungicides work by going into the plant and traveling through the entire plant and fruit or vegetable. Any bug that eats the plant is killed. It also keeps insects from eating the fruit or vegetable. There is no way to wash off a systemic insecticide or fungicide from a fruit or vegetable the way it was possible in the past. The insecticide and fungicide has become part of the food.

We found out about the killer corn one day after we had planted some sweet corn we purchased from Southern States. We had planted three different varieties of organic sweet corn seed that we purchased from Fedco.com. The Honey Select variety had basically 0% germination. Being ignorant of what was on the seed coating of sweet corn,  we purchased a pound of the Incredible variety sweet corn and planted eight, 80 foot rows of Incredible sweet corn where the Honey Select had been planted. I thought that the pink seed coating was just something bad tasting to keep the birds from eating it.  I could not read on the package what the seed treatment on the sweet corn seed was, so I went to Southern States to find out. I was concerned that we might have planted something that would kill our bees. It had five different fungicides! – Apron, Captan, Dividend, Thiram, and Vitavax! Apron is a systemic fungicide. I felt disgusted and betrayed. We waited until the corn started coming up and we dug it all up. The picture above shows the pink fungicide loaded seed still there, putting its chemicals into the plant.

One of the things that farmers across the US are complaining about is that they cannot buy bee friendly corn seed. Almost everything is genetically modified and treated with pesticides and fungicides. About the only way to get untreated seeds is to buy organic seeds or for a farmer to save his own seeds.

What this means is that the “All Natural” label on chicken, eggs, and other foods with corn ingredients is probably a bogus or misleading claim on most products. Non-GMO corn is not safe if the seeds have been treated with systemic fungicides and neonicotinoid pesticides.

I wish farmers knew how to grow high brix, nutrient dense corn. They could eliminate the chemicals, lower their production costs and provide a far superior food for their fellow human beings. It can be done. Last year we produced high brix sweet corn that had very few bugs. Instead, legal bio-terrorism on the farm is killing our honey bees, poisoning our food, and giving us poor quality food that is making us sick. Sick Care (Health Care) in America is the #1 industry. We are what we eat. Health begins in the soil and in the seed.

We need to help each other in these changing times and keep each other informed so that things do not unknowingly get changed behind our backs. Ignorance is not bliss when it affects our health or the health of our family and friends. Most people are ignorant about their food. I am amazed at how little most people know. They assume that all food is basically the same and that cheapest is best. The other day, I was getting gas in Pennsylvania, and the man at the pump next to me wondered what I was hauling on my trailer. I told him it was organic protein concentrate for our chicken feed. He asked, “What is organic?” in a way that showed he was clueless to what organic really is and as if organic was just something unimportant and more expensive. I was surprised that a 60-year-old man was so clueless about his food. Times have changed and he is still assuming that they are the same.

Other articles about corn and honey bees:

Federal Government Seized South Mountain Creamery’s Bank Account

South Mountain Creamery is a farm here in Frederick County that sells pasteurized milk products and other produce at farmers markets. It recently had $70,000 dollars seized in its bank account because they made regular cash deposits from their farmer’s market sales last year that were just under $10,000. The Federal government is suing to keep $63,000, even though no charges were made.

Taylor’s Produce Stand on the Eastern Shore had a similar thing happen to them last year. They had $90,000 seized. In December, they received half of the seized money back. There were no criminal charges made. They will not see the rest of their money!

For articles on South Mountain Creamery:

In Honor of My Mother, Dorothy May Eby Horst

By Myron Horst

My parents, Otho and Dorothy Horst celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011


My mother passed from this life to be with Jesus on Thursday, March 29, 2012. She died of lung cancer which might have been caused by the elevated levels of radon in her home. She never smoked or lived or worked in an environment that would have caused lung cancer.

My mother was born April 28, 1928 near Clear Spring, Maryland, during an unusually late major snow storm that brought down power lines and made it difficult for the doctor to get to the house. Usually in central Maryland there is a cold snap during the time that the dogwood trees are blooming, called Dogwood Winter. It was during Dogwood Winter that she was born. I find it interesting that for the rest of her life she had a special love for seeing the dogwood trees bloom each spring. She even named our house at Gaithersburg, Dogwood Cottage, where we had 20 dogwood trees on a 1/3 acre lot. She was born to Samuel and Emma Showalter Eby. Her father was a farmer and pastor.

My mother had a curious mind that loved to learn and to observe what was going on around her which she instilled in me. She never wanted to miss anything. She went to college, which was very unusual for the Mennonite community that she grew up in, and became a teacher and taught in several Christian schools before marrying my father.

She had a heart for serving others which was evident throughout her life. She touched the lives of many people in her 83 years. My parents took me, when I was three months old, to the country of Belize in Central America where we lived for five years. There in Belize City, they helped start two churches. My mother taught me that a person’s color is only skin deep, and to treat each person the same regardless of their skin color. My sister and I were the only white children in the Sunday school there.

After we moved back to Maryland, my father was pastor at a small church in Gaithersburg for about 30 years. My mother was an excellent support for him in his role as pastor. Women would often call her and talk with her, receiving her counsel, love and support. She taught in the Christian school at our church and was principal for a number of years.

Before they were old enough to retire, my parents decided that they would like to give several more years of their life in voluntary service before they were too old to do so. They went to Florida for six months and helped rebuild after Hurricane Andrew, and then went to Arkansas for a year and a half where my father was chaplain at a nursing home and they served as house parents for the voluntary service unit.

When they retired in 2000, they moved to a beautiful location in the Shenandoah Valley near Broadway, Virginia which they called Grande View. Not content to sit around and “rot away”, my parents soon became involved in the community there. My father became interim pastor at a mountain church in West Virginia and also served as assistant overseer of five area churches. My mother was a loving and faithful supporter as they worked with the people in the churches.

After Cathy and I had children, I realized more how much my mother gave of herself when I was a baby, a toddler, and in my growing up years. I owe a lot to her and am grateful for all that she has done for me and for the multitude of things that she taught me. She was a sweet and loving grandmother and never undermined Cathy and my parenting of our children. We will miss her a lot, and look forward to seeing her again in Heaven.