HARRISONBURG — The Rodes family’s Riverhill Farms leads by example with a diversified operation that not only includes dairy cattle, poultry and crops, but also features several innovative and environmentally friendly projects.
The farm, located off Port Republic Road about 10 miles southeast of Harrisonburg near Port Republic, recently received the Farm Family Stewardship Award from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
Glenn Rodes, 49, who accepted the award on behalf of the farm at the ceremony last week, said he was surprised his family was chosen.
“It’s nice to be honored, but there are lots of other good farmers around that deserve the award also,” he said.
Winners of the award are selected based on criteria important to Rockingham County, including preserving family farming traditions, employing conservation methods in farming, and preserving the environment. Winners demonstrate that stewardship means more to them than taking care of the farm; it means taking care of the community, too, according to the award’s nomination form.
Riverhill Farms raises 270,000 turkeys annually for Cargill, it operates a 150-cow dairy, it farms 650 acres of cropland, and it operates a custom farming business.
There are six households with a total of 21 people living on the farm. Noah Rodes, 84, still checks on turkeys daily and his wife, Ada, 82, is the farm’s bookkeeper. Their son Nelson looks after the cropping and production of feed for the dairy cows; son Glenn primarily focuses on turkeys; and son Allen manages the dairy cows for the most part.
Nelson has three adult sons working on the farm: Gary, Justin and Adam. Adam’s wife, Elaine, often helps out operating equipment. Allen has a daughter, Erica, who helps milk the cows. The youngest family member working on the farm is Brady, 14, who is still in school but helps out with the dairy.
“My dad is 84 years old and he started the dairy when he was a young man. In about 1988 or 1989 we built the turkey houses to diversify and we recently added custom harvesting as another way to diversify the farm,” said Glenn Rodes. “Later, when my brother’s boys came along, they were interested in harvesting aspects, and that added to the income of the farm.”
Clint Lyle, of Cargill Turkey Production, who nominated Riverhill Farms for the award, stated in his nomination letter that Glenn Rodes is constantly looking not only for ways to improve his efficiency, but also ways to decrease his environmental impact.
“For example, Glenn installed hot water pipes to heat the floor of his brooder — the water is heated by a bio-burner [burning recycled pallets and sawmill waste], and decreases his dependency on propane,” Lyle stated.
At the barn’s entrance, concrete was poured to create a shallow pool that, in times of disease outbreak, can be used to disinfect the tires of equipment entering and leaving. In addition, there is a covered shelter abutting the turkey barn so litter will remain under a roof and away from precipitation and runoff during receiving and clean out.
A poultry litter furnace was installed to help heat the brood barn. This furnace, which meets emission standards, can dispose of the poultry litter generated on the farm without it being spread or sold.
Also, Lyle pointed out, the farm grows canola and soybean to produce energy. After the oil is extracted, the meal is fed to the dairy cattle. Then, the oil is used to create biodiesel for use in the farm’s equipment.
“We are basically accidental environmentalists. A lot of things we do make business sense, but are also good for the environment,” said Glenn Rodes.
“When it comes to being more efficient, technology can be your friend, and sometimes it can be frustrating. But with precision farming and GPS guidance, you can get more efficiency off your equipment by not overlapping when you are driving down the field,” he added. “It takes some of the workload off of the operator and they can monitor the equipment rather than steer the equipment. All those little things add up over time. There is an upfront cost often but it is very beneficial.”
He educates members of the public on alternative energy. In fact, he is so passionate about the topic that his username for his email address is “fuelfarmer.” He also posts information on the Internet.
“I like to share what I learn from people and, in turn, I learn from them,” he said. “It’s kind of a two-way street.”
The family is active at church and is involved in the community. It hosts field trips at the farm, and takes tractors to neighbors for birthday parties.
Contact Jonathon Shacat at 574-6286 or email@example.com