Business & Investment

International humanitarians listening to the land of Appalachia

Lauren and Christoph Harvey wanted two things after spending years moving from one country to another as part of their humanitarian work. Finding the first one was relatively easy. The second took quite a lot of work.

The couple first met in the Central African Republic 10 years ago. There, Lauren worked for the United Nations and Christoph worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross. A few years later, after the international aid circuit went down a few more times, they couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing in their lives. It’s a home, but it’s also a place where you can build a lasting connection with the land. And the community that lived there.

Lauren talks to a woman in a rural village shooting beans and remembers being struck by their connection to the environment. “We didn’t have it,” she says. “We were helping those in need, but at the same time we were jealous of them.” Christoph felt the same, even when working with people evacuated in disasters and conflicts. It was. “They still had this very clear notion of where the house was,” he says. “During that time, as humanitarian activists, we were moving from one place to another every 12 or 18 months …. I said,” Our family is from here, from this little earth. I had to take root and create to say, “I’m here.” “

That need has become difficult to ignore in each move. At many stops, whether in Côte d’Ivoire or Armenia, they set up a small garden, but left it behind when the work was done. As Christoph says, “There is a difference between planting radishes and planting fruit trees.” The former is for the season and the latter is for life.

And in 2014, the couple returned to the United States in search of farmland. Their list of essentials was relatively short. They were looking for fertile land close to their families and even closer to the mountains. They found it in Highland County, Virginia. You can drive from both Roanoke and northern Virginia and tap the Appalachian Mountains. They bought 200 acres of hardwood there. Tonorowway Farm..

But while Harvey found his home, their agricultural adventure was still in its infancy. “It was literally a rocky road to get to where we are,” says Christoph.

Inspired by Joel Salatin and his bookThe couple first tried their hands on grass-fed turkeys, but weren’t very lucky. Then they moved to sheep, with similarly disappointing results. The reality of raising animals: infrastructure, antibiotics, business partnerships, etc. was not suitable for them.

They were finally inspired in the form of “big rusty lumps of metal” that they came across while buried in half the forest. They dug it out and realized it was a maple syrup evaporative pot. The answer the couple was looking for was right next to the maple, birch, sycamore and walnut trees in their land. They wouldn’t need to give wood antibiotics or check their hooves, Christoph says. “That’s what we want to be here, and what the environment wants,” he adds.

Fast-forwarding today, Harvey, who works part-time in the humanitarian department, tapped about 1,000 walnut trees and about 600 maples. Most of it is on their own land, but some are also on neighboring lands. They believe they are the first and still the only commercial producer of black walnut syrup in the state.

Walnut trees do not produce as much sap as maple, and their filtration process is equally complex. But Harvey tried to take what the land was eager to prioritize. “That’s something this forest is exactly the same height,” says Christoph. “So we use the resources in our backyard and at the same time grow the forest closer to what it wants.”

The candied process can be lengthy, but it is also relatively easy. Sap drips from the faucet to the tree, from the small tube to the large tube, and finally to the tube that flows into the large collection tank. From there, Harvey carries the sap to a “sugar shed,” where it is boiled down in a wood evaporator. To make a gallon of syrup, you need about 70 gallons of sap.Then they bottle it, at their farm or local market, and Through their website And some specialty stores.

Last year brought a new challenge to Harvey. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, of course, restricted face-to-face sales and canceled the local maple festival for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, the long, cold winters were great for trees, and ultimately for syrups, which also delayed the farm to its production schedule. Still, Christoph and Lauren say they are operating at a profitable pace for the first time this year for the third consecutive year.

Their ultimate goal is sustainability. Because of families, including young children, farms, and the ecosystems they now call home. “It’s important,” says Christoph. “We say these forests are valuable, and walnut trees are valuable not only for the lumber yard, but for years, years and years.”

International humanitarians listening to the land of Appalachia International humanitarians listening to the land of Appalachia

Back to top button