Rebecca D. Thomas

A Values-Driven, Sustainable Lifestyle Blog, seeking innovative and forward-thinking ideas in business, travel, food, fashion, and beyond!

Land that Works: Regeneration Among the Pines

Hello, cześć, Merhaba, & Bonjour! In this post, I will continue to discuss topics that I am reflecting on as a Patel College student. First, a little background on my food life. I grew up in the mountains of Northwest Virginia, where liverwurst was king! My mom used to buy enormous rolls of it, surrounded in red, plastic casing. Liverwurst sandwiches were a staple in my home, for me, my parents, my two brothers, and sister. Bread, mayo, and thick slices of wurst. I loved it! Then, there were the hot dogs and bologna - charred to a crisp blackness in mom’s cast-iron skillet. Oh, what a greasy, yummy treat! Hot dogs were split down the middle, of course! 😊 We had a large garden, with an abundance of strawberries, corn, and green beans. The soil was thick, dark, and rich, but it was full of rocks. So, every weekend, us kids would take our wheelbarrows to the garden, and pick rocks out of the soil. “Time to pick rocks”, my mom would call to us on Saturday mornings. It was a good upbringing.
Fast forward to today, living life in an urban-suburban setting. A lot has changed, since my mountaintop childhood! In mid-2017, my husband and I, both meat eaters, decided to try veganism. We didn’t like what we were seeing in the meat industry, so we jumped head-first into the vegan life. At first, it was great! It was fun to have a meat-free kitchen. I loved experimenting with recipes, alternative cheese and egg choices, and all the veggies. And, we did feel better. But then, we started to get hungry. Really hungry! And, I was having horrible sugar cravings. We just couldn’t seem to get full, and we were binging on too many sugary, though vegan, treats. Also, my blood tests came back as being extremely low in Vitamin D. We decided to welcome back a little dairy into our diets. The organic milk, cheese, and yogurt (no eggs) helped us to feel full, and our intense sugar cravings went away. Then, we added back fish. Now, we are officially pescatarians. I eat fish from drive-through restaurants, fried fish patties of which I have no idea where they came from, or what type of fish I’m eating. With tons of mayo. This is where I am. But, this is not where I want to stay…
I do have a special place in my heart for Havana. I wrote about my day trip there in my 5.14.2016 blog post. So, I find it ironic that I am back here, but for very different reasons. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve learned more about life than I’ve learned in a long time, because of two special places in Havana. So here we go!
My visit to the Havana Community Garden was so rewarding. I was greeted with a handful of freshly-picked mint and cilantro. I asked the gardener if I could just pop it into my mouth (in other words, are there pesticides on this?), and he said yes, of course! It was delicious. Plots are $30.00 per year for a 15’ by 15’ plot. This price includes water, mulch, wood chips, and tools to share. The city of Havana pays for the water services. The land was privately donated. They consistently donate vegetables to local food banks, and they keep a basket of vegetables by the road, for people to stop, and take what they need. They currently do not have an official plan in place for food waste and excess, except for donating it to the food bank. People donate money to people who can’t afford the plot fee.
In addition to a variety of veggies, and some fruit, they also have fig trees, which flourish in this area. Since I’m studying Permaculture, I like to observe how it is incorporated into the farms and gardens that I visit. In Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison, a profound piece of advice is on page 3: “A basic question that can be asked in two ways is: What can I get from this land, or person? or, What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them? Of these two approaches, the former leads to war and waste, and the latter to peace and plenty.”  At one point, a couple of gardeners started using pesticides. There had been an unspoken rule that no over-the counter pesticides would be used, because they would affect all the plots. Even though each plot is privately-owned, all gardeners share the land, tools, etc. so they must work together, to establish guidelines. Another issue is that slugs were eating the strawberries from underground. Then, one of the gardeners placed jars with beer in them, near the strawberries, and the slugs crawled into the beer, and died. The community learns tips and tricks like this from each other.  This reminds me of the very moving documentary from Charles Otway, where he realizes that we need each other, and we need to slow down, and share our gifts with each other. I’m glad I took the entire morning to visit with the gardeners. It was tempting to leave after about 45 minutes, to get on with the incredibly important things I needed to do (insert sarcasm). If I’d not slowed down and listened, I would have missed so much, including their group gardening experiences that I’ve just described. 
Havana Community Gardens!

My visit to Longview Farms, also in Havana, was equally rewarding. Tony and Betsey Brown purchased 800 acres from the St. Joe Company, and are using 100 acres as pasture to raise chickens, cows, and pigs. Longview is licensed to process 20,000 chickens per year, much less than large-scale farms, which can process over one million birds per year. They currently process around 2,500 per year. They are so excited about the new laying house, a 40-foot trailer or “Chicken Tractor”, that is moved once a week.  Chickens are free to roam about the pasture, as a ramp connects the raised tractor, to the ground. The new nesting boxes are built so the eggs roll away from where the hens lay, into a protected area where the hens can't crack the eggs, or continue to sit on them. Once they enter the protected area, they need very minimal cleaning, if any. The chickens are protected by two majestic Great Pyrenees. One regret: I didn’t take pics of them, or the tractor  The 10x12 boxes that house the meat birds (Freedom Rangers) are modeled on Joel Salatin’s design, so most people refer to them as Salatin boxes. They house 50 chickens, and the boxes are moved every day, for the eight weeks the chickens are out to pasture. The Brown’s make their compost out of fish guts (yes!) and wood chips. They retrieve up to 20 barrels of fish waste each week from Southern Seafood, combine it with the wood chips, and cover the pastures with it. Mushroom compost is also used to cover the pastures, and as a top dressing on the vegetable beds. Soil quality is monitored and tested for safe nitrogen levels, and the soil quality has greatly improved, since the Brown’s purchased the land from St. Joe.

The Brown’s do not irrigate, but they are considering using the K-Line system, out of New Zealand. They practice Silvopasture, and they use grid-tied solar panels.

Perhaps if I would have given veganism more time, it would have clicked in for me. I began the journey with good intentions. Eating more veggies is important, but because of our busy lifestyles, the demand for vegan convenience foods is high, and it can be difficult to monitor ingredients. I’m starting to see that, what is most important to me is traceability. Who made my food? How did they make it? Can I trust them? Longview farms is a great example of people using natural animal ability and talents to heal the land.
Going forward, I’ve not yet made any concrete decisions about how I plan to approach food. But I am circling back around to a place where I want to be…And stay. 😊
The garden by the highway,

Mint and cilantro!

All the lettuces!

The carrots are a little hard to see,

Onions and broccoli!

Garden among the pines,

Mushroom compost,

Cute plot!

Bamboo intermingling with the native pine trees, near the garden edge. Someone planted this invasive species, and now, it is taking over. But bamboo is awesome, so is that a bad thing for this area, and why?

Garden Bounty!

Longview! These are Slash Pine Trees, I think!

Tony and Betsey Brown, owners of Longview Farms, gave me an extensive and informative tour.

Regenerative Agriculture, In Progress,

Salatin boxes house 50 chickens, and are moved daily for the eight weeks the chickens are on pasture.  

Getting to know my farm, and the animals, is a truly priceless experience,

The Browns were using this Springboard Biodiesel machine to power their minivans. But now, they would like to sell it. It is too burdensome and costly for their needs. Any takers?

The Browns use an Adam Retort to make Biochar from wood chips and charcoal. Biochar, when added to soil, helps to hold water and nutrients, and supports soil fertility.

Powerful hooves, stirring up, and adding to, nutrients in the soil, and the chickens do the same, following the cows, in pasture.

Farmer’s Market Haul! Chickens will be available in April,

Breakfast! This post is pretty long, so thank you for sticking it out to the end! A couple of references below,

McKenna, M. (2017). Big Chicken. Washington DC: National Geographic.
Mollison, B. (1988). Permaculture: A Designers' Manual. Tasmania: Tagari.


  1. I dream for a world that cares so much for all this things like you do! congrats girl!
    Please visit my Blog!
    Alessa Bernal

    1. Hi Alessa, thank you for your kind words! I look forward to visiting your blog!!

  2. Hi Bec,
    Thank your to visit my blog. I loved your pics.
    Kisses from Brazil.

  3. Oh gosh, I had the same struggles with going vegan. I have friends who have been vegan for 5 years now, however, and it seems as though they are always hungry as well. But Havana Community Gardens sounds like an incredible place - thank you for sharing!

    1. Oh, wow, it’s so interesting to hear about the personal experiences with changing our diets. It is kind of a crazy journey! I have to be careful about eating too many carbs, very much a balancing act,

  4. Lovely way to care nature. Nice photos dear.

    1. Hi Pilar, thank you so much!! I really enjoy your blog!

  5. Such an interesting read Rebecca! Your passion for food and farming is amazing to see. :D By the way, your description of Liverwurst sandwiches surely made me hungry lol. Keep exploring!

    1. Thank you, and thank you so much for stopping by!! Yeah, I was all over that liverwurst when I was a kid! Now, not so much! But it always brings back good memories! :)