YOUR HOMETOWN: Farmer By Day, Supervisor By Night

Baker: Mt. Jackson Farm Maintains ‘Old School’ Ways

Posted: April 2, 2014

Steve Baker greets an old Yorkshire boar at his family farm near Mount Jackson on Tuesday afternoon. In spite of the seven-days-a-week job that is farming, Baker, 44, has found time to serve his community as a member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Twelve-week-old pigs poke their noses out of a feed pin Tuesday at Steve Baker’s family farm. Baker says his operation is definitely “old school.” “This is the old way of raising hogs — they’re outdoors, there’s sunlight and fresh air,” he says. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Steve Baker displays spicy Italian sausage for sale and stored in his farm’s freezer. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)

MOUNT JACKSON — Shenandoah County Supervisor Steve Baker raised his first pig as a 4-H project when he was 8 years old to compete in the county fair. Now, 44 years and 104 acres later, he raises as many 1,000 pigs for sale and butcher each year.

“It’s passion,” he said. “I’ve done this my whole life. I guess I’ll continue till they plant me.”

Baker’s agricultural roots run deep. A farm on his mother’s side has been in the family since it was acquired as a land grant from Lord Fairfax in 1776. And he grew up on another 11-acre Century Farm that’s been in his father’s family for about 115 years, about six miles outside downtown Mount Jackson.

He’s since expanded the farm to 115 acres. That’s where he raises hogs today, but it’s still a fairly small pork production, he says. Some feedlots may raise thousands more hogs each year than he can, but he claims there’s nothing better than pork that comes from a small-scale, labor-intensive farm like his, where the pigs are fatter and have space to roam around.

“The thing about us is, everything is old school,” Baker said. “This is the old way of raising hogs — they’re outdoors, there’s sunlight and fresh air. We’re not what you call a ‘modern’ producer, with everything in total confinement. … You won’t see many operations like this.”

It’s already a seven-days-a-week job, but Baker is in his second term as the Mount Jackson-area Shen- andoah County supervisor on top of running the farm and selling the meat at markets. This is his seventh year on the board, and it’s hardly easy, but time has gone by quickly, he said.

“I wanted to be a voice for agriculture,” he said. “I wanted to try to give something back to the county, the county’s been good to us. I was asked to consider doing this and after a long thought process, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’”

This time of year, when the board spends months reviewing and revising its budget, is tough, Baker said.

One recent week, he had five meetings in a span of five days. But he said his experience running the farm has been useful on the board.

“I’ve got to be very, very conservative in how I operate a business,” he said. “I try to bring that to the table in my job on the Board of Supervisors, just try to make good, sound management decisions.”

Baker has three full-time employees at the farm, but he expects to have more workers soon when he gets a pork-processing facility up and running on the property.

Right now, the pigs are sent off the farm for slaughter and butcher, and the meat comes back packaged and ready for sale to restaurants and farmers markets in Harrisonburg and Northern Virginia.

Baker says he’s all about the local-food initiative. A good chunk of the pork is sold directly to consumers on weekends at farmers markets in Manassas and Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and a few restaurants in Northern Virginia.

“People want to know who’s growing their food,” Baker said. “At the farmers market, they’re talking with the people who grow the product.”

One of Baker’s newest commercial customers is Bella Luna Wood-Fired Pizza, which opened recently in downtown Harrisonburg. He sells the meat to the Local Chop & Grill House in Harrisonburg, too.

Find Baker’s farm on Facebook by searching for “Baker’s Farm Fresh Pork.” The farm can be reached at 477-3550.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com



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