A rainy autumn afternoon found me chatting over a maple latte with local business owners, community advocates, neighbors, and good friends: Leah Brown and Juli Price (pictured L-R).
While Leah was born and raised here in Southwestern Virginia, Juli, a military brat, had most recently made her home in Billings, Montana. The year 2019 just happened to find them each on the same relocation train that made its serendipitous final stop on a small country road in Hardy, VA.
They were each still in the process of settling into their homes when COVID hit.
The shared experience of pandemic pandemonium truly seemed to bring people closer together and that was certainly the case with these new neighbors, but the story doesn't end there. More than just a friendship was beginning…
Juli and her husband had purchased a fixer-upper farm ready to embark upon a life-long dream, and Leah just happened to have grown up with one foot in the agricultural world. In fact, her husband had even served as an Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent for several years. It was a match made in heaven.
As the animal husbandry adventure began for the Prices, Leah was there cheering her friend on and offering both her experience and a practical, willing hand every step of the way. Once Juli realized that they needed to find an income stream that would help keep the farm viable for the long haul, she began researching her options. They landed on a retail beef business where their calves are born into a long-known, gentle bloodline from a nearby family member who is also a farmer. Raised as “happy cows” out on pasture and lovingly given both care and attention, they are finished with local grain before going to process. Big Way Farm uses USDA butchers to ensure the humane handling of their stock and the safe packaging of their delicious dry-aged meat.
A new business was born!
They offer exclusive online ordering and in addition to ala carte cuts, have subscription boxes and meat bundles available.
Meanwhile, just up the road, Leah was sitting on a new idea that had been rumbling around in her mind for some time. Throughout the pandemic, many of us experienced shifts in the way we appreciate the fact that easy accessibility to necessities is not something to be taken for granted. It may have changed how we evaluate our own sustainability. It may have changed the businesses we choose to support or the things we most value.
Leah has always been an enthusiastic proponent of eating, shopping, and supporting local whenever possible. But living in a large, sprawled out county like Franklin can make it challenging for people to source local goods or find local producers if they're not “in the loop.” A lot of farmers don't have a web presence; some are so small that only their friends and neighbors know they exist. As she began to realize that so much of our area was not privy to the wealth of local treasures she had spent years discovering, she wanted to share them with others somehow.
A second new business was born!
Thanks to loads of support and the encouragement of family, friends (Juli, in particular!), and the community, Boxed by Leah now offers carefully curated crates of ingredients all grown, raised, or baked right here in Franklin County! When running through her list of producers, she could name quite a few within just a five-mile radius of her home. Doesn't get any more local than that now, does it? I love the convenience of having, essentially, a farmer's market haul completely sourced and packaged for you.
You'll find all of the seasonal produce, a delicious assortment of canned jams, jellies, and butters, fresh baked goods, even vanilla extract made with local moonshine on her website where it can be ordered ala carte, as a themed box, or (my personal favorite) as a subscription. If you choose to go the subscription box route - and who doesn't love regular surprises?! - you can choose both the budget and the frequency that works for you.
Here's the best part though: this powerhouse duo has such a circumspect view of community living, it's positively contagious! They are passionate about the importance of a community supporting its producers and small businesses through both the good times and bad. Experiencing the food and supply shortages that we have as a society over the past couple of years has shined a light on how important it is to be able to source things close to home. We need businesses like these to grow and thrive in order to keep the rich, layered landscape of our area healthy and strong!
I have a deep feeling that these two entrepreneurial friends will be right at the forefront of the continued movement to “support local” here at Smith Mountain Lake for a long time to come!