Sours goes from nearly losing all to adding acres

AFP Correspondent

PAGE COUNTY, Va. (June 24, 2014) — About the time David Sours should have been putting seeds in the ground for his growing produce farm last year, he found out he might have to give up the whole operation instead.
Owned by his father, the land Sours had lived on for seven years and been farming for half of that, had fallen suddenly into foreclosure. Sours had no idea that its finances were uncertain and was blindsided by the news just as he should have been getting the growing season started in February.
Sours had already sold shares for Public House Produce’s community supported agriculture program, but he and his wife, Heather, considered giving back the money to customers and “just throwing in the towel.”
“Then we thought about how we were pretty close to getting things paid off and, the next year, making a little bit of money,” said Sours, who was beginning his third year of full-time farming.
With a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech, Sours, 38, considered going back to the landscape design business he had been doing before he began growing food.
“The reason my front yard’s tilled up is we decided we were going to continue,” said Sours, who owns the two acres around the house he built eight years ago amid the 10 acres owned by his father. “I wanted to get as much around here tilled up and usable as I could.”
Fearful that the land they had counted on would be sold any day, Sours also scrambled to find land that the farm could lease elsewhere.
The problem he faced is one shared by many young or beginning farmers — or even those who inherit operations — as farmland in the Delmarva region becomes more expensive and farms are leased on short one- and two-year terms.
Within three weeks, though, Sours had tapped deep into the connections he and his wife have formed from growing up in Page County, Va.
They found another 10-acre property to lease, though this one was not in their backyard.
On the house’s two acres, Sours planted high-value, labor-intensive crops that would be sold at farmers markets, restaurants and local schools so they would be close.
He put “a pile of money” into an irrigation system and moved much of his heavier equipment to the new plot of land they had leased seven miles away.
And then he got a call.
A group of people from his dad’s church had gotten together, formed an LLC and bought the land in question out of foreclosure.
They called Sours to let him know, assuming he’d be ready to lease it from them.
“By that time, we already had to be growing,” Sours said.
But, partially out of deference for their gesture, Sours decided to lease three additional acres around the house, where he planted more high-value crops like tomatoes. He decided to continue growing all his winter squash, corn and other crops at the newly leased land.
“So we went from six acres to 12 acres and we still have the lease,” Sours says during a visit to his farm in May, more than a year after the land scramble took place.
“And then, that same August, we bought 21 1/2 acres across the street,” he adds with a shrug, still hardly believing what transpired for his small farm last year.
When the land that he “grew up stomping on” across the street came up for sale, Sours couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy a little security for the farm and eventually “get everything back over here.”
That day, a front-end loader was moving dirt on the new piece of land across from his house, which would soon be home to high tunnels for raspberries Sours is growing as part of a research project with Virginia State University.
He’s not sure whether he’ll continue leasing or possibly buy the land that was his father’s, where now defunct greenhouses from the flower-growing business his family once ran still stands on the corner of the lot.
“I’m never going into greenhouses again,” Sours says, looking over the lot. “High tunnels? Maybe.”
But, then again, this time last year, Sours probably didn’t think he’d own or lease more than 33 acres — and have a vision for farming at all.