Five Generations At Dunbeath Farm
By Annie Young
Nestled into the Shenandoah Valley are historic farms filled with stories that span generations. One of these farms is Dunbeath in Clarke County. Dunbeath Farm has been family owned and operated for five generations, and that family has a strong connection with the land that is their little slice of heaven. A handmade sign proudly adorns the fence that lines the foreground of a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
William Staples—Bill to family and friends—sits on the porch on a brisk, sunny day overlooking the fields and his beloved cows. These aren’t any typical cows, especially to Staples. They are a breed that he has worked with for over 30 years. When asked why he chose Black Limousins as his breed of choice to work with, Staples smiles, “They’re nice and I’m nice. It’s the breed that fit me.” He describes different breeds with different characteristics, and likens it to the way some people like cats and some people like dogs. Limousins are a popular breed of cattle all over the world, from Portugal to Canada. Originating in France as the Red Limousin, they have more recently been bred with the Black Angus to make the Black Limousin or Lim-Flex.
The land has been farmed for much longer than the Staples’ time there. The 1850s farmhouse has brick made from clay dug and fired on the farm. Talk about locally sourced! His Grandfather farmed the land in the early 1900s with a diversity of livestock and crops. The kind of farms that have a few dairy cows, pigs, sheep, and crops were typical in the early decades of the century. Neighbors would work together for harvesting and sharing farming tools. In the last half of the century, it became evident that specialization was how farms were evolving, and so would Dunbeath.
Staples began to look for a way to improve his herd. He knew that working with other farmers would give him a better education than could be found through books alone. “Hands on learning is twice the learning you’ll ever get out of a book. They say you can’t farm by the book, it doesn’t tell you where the rocks are,” says Staples.
Staples became active in the Clarke County Young Farmers Association and took his first breeding class in 1969 as a way to connect with other farmers. It is there that he discovered a passion for genetics, and has since spent a much of his life educating himself on the science. In his lifetime, he estimates that he has bred 27 breeds and approximately 17,000 cows.
When asked about the next evolution in farming, Staples expressed concerns about the protection of our community’s farmland. A few years ago he took steps to protect the land that is Dunbeath Farm, when he went through the process conserving his farmland through a Virginia Outdoor Foundation conservation easement. In this way, the land will be protected from development and will maintain the sloping hills and open fields where his cattle graze today.
Still, Staples is concerned about the future of many of these conserved family farms. He knows that many farms have aging farmers that hold these easements. The fields and fences need to be maintained. He wonders, “What’s next for these farms? How will they evolve?”
While much is still to be decided, the Staples family looks toward ways of caring for the land and continuing the family’s love for it. Bill and his wife Rosemarie have one son and one daughter. Their daughter Jennifer teaches in Loudoun schools now, and is “back home” at Dunbeath often.
Their son and daughter-in-law, Jeremy and Angelika, are renting a house on the farm and run a photography and design business, One Little Spring, named for the farm’s natural spring where Jeremy proposed. They use the scenic land as a natural backdrop for their images. Jeremy & Angie have recently started the next generation that will, hopefully, care for Dunbeath in the years to come, with their sweet daughter Lia and baby boy Benjamin. Jeremy says he knows that PopPop can’t wait for the warm weather so he can introduce Benjamin to the barn.
Dunbeath Farm and the Staples family are woven together through generations. The farm holds a history that is tangible and unique. Each passing year holds a story. Like the time a skunk got in the henhouse, or the many times little Billy was chased around by the rooster. There are memories of baby chicks running loose in the house, hay bale throwing contests, and bottle feeding a litter of pigs born in a blizzard.
Dunbeath Farm binds together family, farm, history. They hope this bond will ultimately be its tie to the future.