Music Cuts Spur Dialogue, Disagreement

Education In Focus

by Amy Stone & David Lillard

The first in a series of reports on dialogues and issues pertaining to Clarke County Public Schools. In this dispatch, The Observer is merely laying out the issue and the dialogue it spurred among a group of parents and school administrators.


The homepage of the Clarke County Public School website has a photograph of marching band musicians poised to play. This seems to create an image of a school district committed to music and the arts. But to a group of Clarke County parents and music boosters, the image flies in the face of reality: On April 29 the School Board voted to eliminate the full-time band director position and jazz band class at Johnson Williams Middle School.

The day after the decision, a group of parents formed Save Clarke Music, in an effort to restore the cuts and, in general, support music education in Clarke County Public Schools. Since then, their petition has generated some 800 signatures, and a Facebook page has also generated considerable support.

School superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy says he and the administrative staff are sympathetic to middle-school students who want to study jazz, but that their hands are tied. Enrollment for the jazz band class, they say, has dropped below the number that justifies its offering. Cutting the class, by extension, reduces the justification for a position dedicated to the middle school band program.

No one disputes the enrollment figures; in fact, no one suggests the figures reflect a lack of student interest. The drop is due, in large part, to two issues: flat student population numbers countywide, and the increasing demands of the Virginia Standards of Learning, which dictate the subjects each student must master as core competencies.

As the State Department of Education has loaded up on required courses, students have fewer opportunities to take elective classes. “If you’re forced to take a class on balancing your checkbook,” said one parent, “you won’t have room in your schedule for electives.”

On May 28, after some research and several meetings together, the parents of SCM met with administration and staff to share some ideas they had come up with. They hoped the ideas might address the issues the schools are facing, offering some potential solutions that could meet the schools’ needs while restoring the cuts. One suggestion was to save the band position by developing a math pilot program, modeled on successful programs elsewhere, in which music instruction is used to offer a leg up in remedial math education.

The parents also suggested that the foreign language requirement in the middle school be dropped, and the classes be made elective, thereby opening up time on student schedules to allow for more elective opportunities. (The administration has issued a clarification that foreign language studies are, indeed, elective, but the ruling came too late to impact class offerings for autumn 2013, as students have already enrolled in their classes.)

SCM presented these ideas, along with others, to Murphy and the other attendees at the May 28 meeting. After a very productive and positive 2-hour meeting, both sides left with staff agreeing to review and consider the options suggested by SCM.

A complete outline of the ideas presented during that meeting can be found at the following link:

A week and a half after the meeting, Dr. Murphy’s response came in a letter, dated June 5. He concluded his letter by stating, “After a thorough review of our educational program and the needs of our students and school division, we arrive at the same conclusion that we did on April 29, 2013. Enrollment for the 2013–2014 school year does not warrant the addition of a 1.0 FTE music educator. We will continue to offer maximum support to impacted employees to assist them in their future success.”

“We look forward,” he continued, “to additional dialog regarding the importance of a comprehensive K-12 educational program and our ability to not only provide, but expand, those same high quality program offerings in the Clarke County Public Schools.”

The complete letter can be seen at

Accounts from parents and supporters of Save Clarke Music reflect disappointment by the response from the superintendent. They say the letter did not address or validate any of their suggestions. But they vow to continue the battle, because as they see it, it is “just the beginning of a process of the erosion of the band and music program along with other electives that the community holds dear,” as one parent put it. They say that the bigger picture and the ultimate battle will lead to the state level.

In the end, though, at least for the 2013–14 school year, county schools also will be reduced to one band director serving the entire county system.

For information or to read the petition, visit or

Blue House, Good Music and Great Cause

Joe Boyd: Doin’ Good Through Good Music

By Dominic Valentine

Clarke County blues lovers know the Blues House Festival in Winchester, where headliners who often appear at the Barns of Rose Hill play for a good cause. But they might not know Joe Boyd, the guy who brings it all together.

Joe Boyd is a regular guy who does uncommon things for those in need. As chairman of the Winchester Blues House Festival, this steel worker by day becomes the Shenandoah Valley’s king of rock promotion after hours.

Summer is festival season, the time of year that Boyd’s schedule becomes jam-packed with all the details of bringing a professional music festival to fruition: Managing the security, ticket sales, vendors, setups, and stage management, along with praying for good weather and, of course, choosing the entertainment lineup. For Boyd, all this hard work is a labor of love because it combines two of his favorite pastimes: good music and charitable causes.

From its inception Blues House has been about giving back to the community. Over the last fourteen years, many charitable organizations have been the beneficiaries of proceeds raised from Blues House ticket sales. For the last six years, the proceeds have gone to the Frederick County branch of Habitat for Humanity, whose mission is putting the dream of home ownership within the reach of the working poor. “It is the ultimate cliché, but it’s the truth,” says Boyd. “I really do get more out of it than I give. There is a lot that goes into pulling off a festival like Blues Fest, and we have a lot of caring folks that help us out.”

Boyd’s tenure with Blues House started in the festival’s second year where Boyd volunteered as a stage hand. In addition to Boyd’s day job, he was then working part-time as a local bartender. His love of live music and, specifically, the Nighthawks led him to Blues House. “I wanted to see them play and I didn’t want to pay,” jokes Boyd. “I didn’t know anything about music. I only knew what was good and what wasn’t. And all these years later that’s still all I know about music.”

After helping out that first year, Boyd was hooked. “It was a great event, a way to give back to the community and have a good time doing it.”

For the last three years Boyd has served as the chairman of Blues House and also doubles as the stage manager too. “Of all the jobs I do, choosing the lineup is by far the hardest part,” says Boyd. “There are so many talented players locally, regionally and nationally. And with the advent of Facebook we get so many submissions it is hard to say no to everyone.”

Boyd is confident that Blues House attendees will be excited about this year’s lineup. The festival will opens at 11am with the National anthem sung by 12 year old Charlee Allman, who has sung the Anthem at the Verizon Center for both Capitals and Wizards games, followed by local favorites Terry Oates and the Mudcats.

New to the Blues House stage this year will be Skinny Velvet, featuring keyboardist Neil Bartley. Skinny Velvet has won numerous awards for their blues rock and carry the moniker Carolina’s Most Dangerous Band. Pensylvania Blues Hall of Famer Skyla Burrel will take the stage third, and be followed by ”Boom, Boom Out Go The Lights” hit maker Pat Travers. Pat is known as a guitar virtuoso with a resume that spans over 30 years.

The Ori Naftaly Band, voted best Israeli Blues Act of 2013, will take the stage last, proving that the blues knows no bounds and enjoys international appeal. Saxaphonist Ron Holliday is also retuning for an encore performance. Last year Halloway, a blues legend in his own right, joined several other artists onstage, adding his historic tone and improvisational licks. Ron is currently a member of The Warren Haynes Band. He has been a member of Susan Tedeschi’s Band, The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, Gil Scott-Heron’s Band and Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band and is featured on many popular recordings.

Like all event coordinators, Boyd hopes to keep growing Blues House, not only because he enjoys what he does, but because the money raised from sponsors and through ticket sales goes directly to Habitat for Humanity locally. “The dollars we have raised over the years for our community lets people know there are people who care about those a little down on their luck, and we are all stronger and better for it.”

The 2013 Winchester Blues House Festival takes place Saturday, July 13 from 11am to 7pm at the Winchester Eagles Club Aerie 824 Outdoor Pavilion, 700 Baker Lane (off of Berryville Avenue, Va. Route 7) in Winchester.

For information on Winchester Blues House Festival visit the Winchester Blues House Festival facebook page or the Habitat for Humanity website at www.


Local Wood

Turning Salvage Timber Into Quality Lumber

By David Lillard

It all started when building contractor Charlie Beach couldn’t find someone to take trees removed from a site where he was building a house for a customer. He couldn’t stand the thought that a natural resource like good timber might be scrapped for want of a buyer. That, says Beach’s partner Scott Carpenter, was the genesis of Local Wood. The Berryville company converts locally harvested trees and wood from old structures slated to be torn down into lumber for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, moldings, and other wood products.

Their response to the quandary of good wood illustrates the challenges to the ideals of sustainability. It takes a marketplace and a supply chain to repurpose and reuse anything. It’s part of the reason many paper-recycling programs fall flat: You can “make paper from paper,” as long as there is a nearby company to do it. Otherwise, it makes no economic sense.

Salvaging wood requires its own chain, one involving harvesting, transporting, drying and milling—as well as selling rough and finished lumber. If harvested trees will be used onsite, it might require an operator of a mobile sawmill.

So launching Local Wood in 2009 meant investing in all links of the chain, said Carpenter.

Now in its fifth year, Local Wood has a dedicated group of contractors and cabinetmakers who rely on them for custom milling on short runs. Craftsmen turning bowls or joining tabletops also come to Local Wood.

Homeowners, too, are a growing segment of Local Wood’s sales, now accounting for about 50 percent of the business, said Carpenter.

“When we first started,” said Carpenter, “we wanted to take trees from a property and turn them into finished wood for use on the same site.” That model works out sometimes, but the greater demand is from other local businesses who want high-quality, custom milled lumber from local sources.

“A cabinet maker might come in looking for a hundred feet of cherry—of a certain quality—for a certain project,” said Carpenter. “Larger mills just aren’t set up to accommodate that.”

The same is true for building contractors working on one home at a time. Custom projects involve working with homeowners to find exactly the right floors, doors, and moldings for their home.

“We don’t compete with larger mills that turn out 2-and-a-quarter-inch floor boards,” said Carpenter. “Our customers want something unique and distinctive.”

Local Wood is also a place where a homeowner can walk in the door looking for anything from a new kitchen countertop to a couple of boards to fix a floor, or to have a door made.

Increasingly, said Carpenter, customers from Northern Virginia come to them for handmade furniture with a “live edge,” or finished pieces that retain the natural curves of the timber. He shows off a recently completed coffee table, recounting, “The customer picked out the slab and expressed a vision for the finished product. This makes the customer a big part of the design.”

Homeowners might be surprised at how competitively priced a custom bench or table compares to a factory-built piece. A live-edge cherry bench in the Local Wood showroom retails for about $300. It’s more than a mass-produced piece with factory edges, but considering this piece will likely be handed down to grandchildren rather than be put out to the curb in a decade, the price compares favorably. The same holds true for a trestle table there—it’s a few hundred dollars more than a table bought in a big home store, but comes custom made from local wood with a finish chosen by the customer.

It takes about six months, said Carpenter, from harvest to finished lumber. A lot of that time is spent air-drying then curing in the kiln onsite. Then the lumber moves into the showroom. That’s really too fancy a name for a warehouse of slabs standing upright, reaching up to 20 feet tall. But for anyone with a fascination with wood grain, colors, and strength, the showroom is like a Lego warehouse to a six-year-old. It’s cool.

Beach and Carpenter are still active contractors. Beach runs the building firm of Carpenter-Beach, while Carpenter works full-time on the wood businesses. In late April, they will move the milling operation—the shop—to a new location in Berryville. The retail operation will remain on Route 7 west of town.

The move will allow more showroom space for tables and other products they make onsite. “I’d like to see the live-edge side of the business grow,” said Carpenter. “Live edge is always one of a kind.”

Carpenter also is developing wrought iron as part of Local Wood’s offerings, for table bases and fireplace tools. The addition makes it possible for a customer to choose a locally harvested fireplace mantel, and pair it with tools that are created with that mantel in mind.

When asked whether he still thinks of himself as a builder, or if he has been transformed into the “local wood guy,” Carpenter pauses a moment, as though it’s the first time he’s stopped to ponder it. Then, with determination, he says, “I’m a wood guy!”

There was a time when most things made from wood were crafted from nearby sources. It just made sense. Carpenter and Beach could have a hand in bringing back that sensibility—with a modern twist. One less about necessity, and more about choice. Less about expediency, and more about sustainability.

Local Wood is at Kimble Road and Route 7, west of Berryville; open Monday through Friday 8am–4:30pm, and Saturdays 9:3am–1pm. For information, call 540-955-9522 or visit

The Joy of Raising Chickens

by Jeff Feldman

The first egg of the season came as a surprise. In sync with the shorter days of winter, our chickens tend to “lay off” for a while. I wasn’t expecting (eggspecting?) any eggs until late January or so. Yet there, on the 15th of December, tucked into the straw of the nesting box, was a small blue-shelled egg. I was reminded once again of the joy of raising chickens.

We’ve kept a small flock of chickens for several years now. We have Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Speckled Sussex, and Americuana, among a few other breeds. The Buffies are the color of a new penny. The Australorps are black iridescence. The Specs, my favorites for their personable nature, are, as you might guess, speckled. Americuanas, the layers of the blue-shelled eggs, come in various colorations, and with their hooded heads, are reminiscent of hawks.

Chickens are a model of sustainability. They exist largely on kitchen scraps and foraged insects and seeds, and, in turn, supply healthy food in the form of eggs and meat. They produce soil-enriching manure to support the growth of additional healthy food from your garden. Turn them loose in that garden and they will happily control damaging insects like squash bugs and cabbage worms (though be forewarned that they have been known to peck a hole in a ripe tomato here and there). When confined to a specific area for a period of time, chickens become living garden tillers, churning up the soil, and eating weed seeds—all the while depositing fertilizer in preparation for planting.

Our flock began as a box of wide-eyed, chirping peeps arriving through the mail. Starting with chicks is a fun, though moderately labor-intensive, way to get started in chicken rearing. From chick to egg layer may take up to six months depending on breed and environmental conditions. If you’re looking for a jumpstart to the process, buy pullets—think teenage chickens—which require less initial care and are closer to laying age. Once production begins, chickens lay for several years, with an average daily harvest of two eggs for every three members your flock.

The quality of eggs from homestead birds far exceeds that of the store-bought variety. Whereas eggs on the grocery store shelves may be weeks old, eggs from your own flock can go from nest to table in mere minutes. There’s no comparison when it comes to taste. You know from the moment you crack these eggs that they offer superior nutritional value—the egg yolks are luminous. (See sidebar for a nutritional analysis.)

Basic requirements for keeping chickens include a shelter of some sort, a safe pasture area in which to forage, a supply of clean water, and some grain to supplement their diet. In our case, we have three fenced pasture areas leading off from a central chicken coop. We simply rotate the chickens from one pasture to the next every few weeks to ensure fresh forage. Though we have fox and raccoons in the neighborhood, these wild predators have not been a problem thanks to our two large dogs patrolling the property. One of our dogs, however, hasn’t grasped that he is a protector and not himself a chicken predator—thus the fenced pastures. We’d prefer to let our chickens free-range, but our rotational grazing system works well enough.

For “townies” considering raising chickens on smaller lots, a chicken tractor is the perfect solution. Chicken tractors are small, moveable coops with attached, enclosed pasture areas that simply get wheeled around the yard. You’ll find a fun gallery of chicken tractors at

Keeping chickens offers a certain attunement to the natural flow of things. Our old rooster assured that we were always well aware of the sunrise each morning. The chickens put themselves to bed at dusk, now getting noticeably later as spring comes on. The make-up of the scraps we feed them shifts with the turning seasons: grains, winter into spring; greens, spring into summer; and the full garden’s bounty, summer through autumn. There’s something about the daily ritual of gathering eggs that keeps us connected to nature’s rhythm. And a freshly laid egg, still warm in your hand, is one of life’s simple joys.

Jeff Feldman is a speaker, writer, and consultant on green living and green building. Reach Jeff at

Homegrown Eggs Are More Nutritious

The 2007 Mother Earth News egg-testing project concluded that eggs from pastured chickens, compared to official USDA nutrient data for commercial eggs, may contain:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • twice the omega-3 fatty acids
  • three times more vitamin E
  • seven times more beta carotene
  • four to six times more vitamin D

Barns of Rose Hill Follows The Green Path

By Jennifer Lee

Kermit the Frog sang that it wasn’t easy being green, and though he was referring to his complexion, the same could be said for “living green” in an age of immediacy, convenience, and lots of disposable stuff. Not so, says Cheryl Ann Ash, executive director of Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville since November 2012. There are many ways — large and small, expensive and cheap, hard and easy — to be green, and she’s putting those ways to work at the Barns, where the buildings themselves are examples of recycling and re-using at its finest.

“This is an all-inclusive initiative. If it’s attainable, why not do all of it?” proclaimed Ash, with an optimism and determination that leaves little room for doubt.

The transformation of two falling-down, abandoned dairy barns to a beautiful, vibrant arts and community center was led by a small group of dedicated individuals beginning in 2004 and completed in 2011, with concerted effort all along the way to be resourceful, energy-efficient, and sustainable.

“The concrete floor on the first level provides a great thermal mass,” explained Ash. The floor can be used to trap solar heat in winter and maintain a cool surface in summer. A rain garden—a clean, efficient (and attractive) way to manage stormwater runoff—was installed at the entrance of the Barns by Earthworks Landscaping Company. The Barns has always practiced recycling and the use of recycled products.

Now, under the leadership of Ash, the initiative is moving closer to the “all-inclusive.” She and her husband Brian became actively involved in environmental stewardship through their E-Cycle Construction and Consulting business, which was founded several years ago after Brian saw all the waste created on construction sites. “With the birth of our grandchildren, we were even more inspired to be good stewards of the planet for them and all the other little green sprouts,” Ash said, smiling brightly.

The first step in creating a greener work or living space is to conduct an audit: a thorough walkthrough of the space to evaluate what can be done to conserve energy, save water, limit waste, and reduce carbon emissions and other detrimental impacts on the environment. Perhaps the most glaring thing Ash saw in her walkthrough of the Barns was the use of halogen and incandescent lights throughout the gallery spaces and performance hall. Not only do they use more energy and expel significantly more heat, they were costing the organization $300 to $400 a month in bulbs.

With the help of photographer Timothy Cuffe, whose photographs of Clarke County landscapes are currently on display at the Barns, Ash secured a donation from Sylvania for 18 LED lights to replace all the halogens in the second-floor gallery space. At $25 a bulb, this was a significant donation, but the larger benefit is in the life expectancy of the LED bulb: 12 years with 10–12 hour-per-day usage versus about 90 days for a halogen bulb. Ash is quick to point out that the technology of LEDs has aesthetically evolved in just the last year. Instead of the cold, blue light often associated with them, they now emit a much warmer light, nearly indistinguishable from an incandescent. The Barns would like to replace their remaining 35 halogen bulbs with LEDs, a big $980 bite to chew at the outset, but one that is easily digestible over the long-term

“As a community-based facility, we really need to be on the leading edge of environmental responsibility,” Ash said. She hopes to establish a partnership with Seventh Generation, a company that produces eco-friendly cleaning products, to eliminate the use of harsh chemicals. She also plans to enhance existing recycling practices so that most everything consumed at the Barns can be recycled or reused.

The Barns staff is “constantly looking for ways to be organic,” she said, from the products they use to the desire for a small demonstration garden and clothesline at the Smithy House, which serves as the office of the Barns and lodging for regional acts who perform at the Barns. Not only do these practices help mitigate detrimental effects to the environment, they save energy and ultimately reduce operational costs. Such efforts might just strengthen a community, too.

“It was like one giant green hug,” Ash remembered, referring to last year’s Valley Earthfest, held inside and around the Barns, with seven musical acts, 75 vendors, six workshops, and other activities designed to celebrate the earth and ways to be better stewards of it. She would like to see the Barns carry this spirit throughout the year, and “help us become a beacon in the community so that other businesses might follow suit.”

Cheryl Ash and the Barns of Rose Hill are putting in practice what Kermit came to discover: being green can be a beautiful thing!

For information, updates, or to help the Barns of Rose Hill fulfill its green initiatives, visit the website at, Barns of Rose Hill Facebook page, e-mail, or call 540-955-2004.

Jennifer Lee is a longtime Clarke County resident who likes to write, take pictures, and do stuff to promote good works.

Resources for Green Businesses

Small Business Administration, Green Business Guide:

Faraway Places at the Fire House

Faraway Places at Fire House Gallery

Sometimes it’s a bucketful of seashells gathered by a child. Or the photograph of extended family at a picnic that time when everyone took vacation together lakeside. Or the menu from a café. The photographs, the postcards bought but never sent, or that commemorative cocktail glass from a mountain lodge. These are the keepsakes of travels.

For many artists, travel sparks creation. The Fire House Gallery in Berryville will host a show of extraordinary travel-inspired art by local artists, April 26 through May 18, that brings the world back home. Faraway Places is a celebration of how artists transform travel into works of art.

Says gallery director Kate Petranech, in many cases the painting, watercolor, or ceramic will have been inspired by actual travel to places. Others will be the result of “virtual” travel, with the artist either using something—a weaving pattern from Ireland, for instance—or his or her own imagination to capture a place, a moment, or a mood from some far off land.

One such painting featured in Faraway Places is a new watercolor by Julie Read, The Jewish Quarter, inspired by a recent trip to Rome that coincided with the Catholic conclave in which cardinals assembled to chose a new Pope. “My daughter, Heather, wanted to go to Rome, so off we went with two other friends,” said Read. “We were walking through the Jewish Quarter with a group of new friends en route to a famous local restaurant for lunch. The people in the painting were our lunch partners.”

The show circles the globe, dropping exhibit-goers down into little and well-known spots in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America as well as places closer to home.  Visitors will watch storms gather over the tulip fields in Holland.  Tour Rome’s Jewish Quarter the week the new Pope was chosen.  Experience the grandeur of the Baobob tree in Botswana and the transcendent  stillness of the ocean in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Featured artists include: Anita Baarns, Christy Dunkle, Constance Fisher, Diane Artz Furlong, Bonnie Jacobs, Chet Lewandowski, Chantal Gabard, Marilyn Lister, Patricia Perry, Julie Read, Jo Russell, Josie Tilton and Carl Tribble.

According to Petranech, the idea for the show came from photographer and Fire House Gallery artist, Bonnie Jacobs. After she returned from a trip to Panama last year awed and inspired by the artworks she saw, Petranech challenged her to see where that inspiration might lead, sensing that travel-inspired art would make a great idea around which to build a show.

The Fire House Gallery, a program of Berryville Main Street, is at 23 East Main Street in Berryville. Gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, 11am–3pm; and Fridays 11am–5pm.

Reggae Party at Factory B

Speaking of travel: There is still time to get tickets for the Reggae Party at Factory B Studio, a fundraiser for the Fire House Gallery and Berryville Main Street, May 3, from 6pm till 9pm.

Take a virtual flight to Jamaica to “jahm” to the sounds of reggae music at Factory B Studio upstairs of the Fire House Gallery. Plan to dress for an evening under Caribbean moonlight, show off your wildest cabana wear, get decked out in your favorite sundress in celebration of the sun. Do your hair in dreadlocks, your feet in flip flops, and come upstairs to Factory B.

Sponsored by Factory B Photography Studio and The Observer, proceeds from the event will benefit the important work of Berryville Main Street and Fire House Gallery.

Ticket price includes complimentary refreshments, including jerk chicken, and other tasty treats.

Tickets and details are available at Let everyone know you’re coming at

Reggae Party @ factoryBstudio

Lively Up Yourself!

Get your groove on (and your island wear) and enjoy great dance tunes, Carribean-style food and libations, and jam with your friends! Hosted by The Observer and factoryBstudio. All proceeds benefit Berryville Main Street & the Fire House Gallery. May 3, 6-9pm. At factory B, 23 East Main Street, Studio 201, above the Fire House Gallery. FREE ADMISSION to Last Ham Standing at the Barns of Rose Hill following the party for every ticket holder!

Preserving Farmland For Clarke’s Future

Conservation Easement Authority Begins Next Ten Years

Quick quiz. What’s a conservation easement?

A)       A technique for maintaining the state or feeling of comfort or peace, as in the archaic “time brings easement.”

B)      A voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future.

C)       A device for easily keeping (or conserving) things, as with a photo album.


No points, if you guessed C. Partial credit for guessing A, as people who grant conservation easements often find great peace of mind. A gold star for knowing that a conservation easement is a way for landowners to voluntarily donate or sell some of the rights to their land to protect its environmental, agricultural, or historic values. Since the inception of conservation easements in 1960, they have become the most important tool for land conservation in America—especially in Clarke County.

This year, the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority celebrates its tenth year of conserving farmland and open space. Since accepting its first easement in 2003, the Easement Authority has recorded 79 easements covering nearly 5,000 acres—a remarkable achievement by any measure.

The easement authority was established by the Board of Supervisors in 2002 to preserve land with significant agricultural, natural, scenic, and historic values. Combined with other easements held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation—which has easements on more than 15,000 acres—and others, there are about 22,000 acres of “eased” land in Clarke County. That’s about 15 percent of the county, according to Alison Teetor, a Clarke County planner who works on the easement program,

So what’s an easement?

The classic explanation involves thinking of land rights as a bundle of sticks. When someone grants a conservation easement, they give away a stick or two—like development rights or clear-cutting forest land. But the owner retains ownership and use of the land, along with all other rights not granted in the easement—including the right to sell or bequeath their land in a will.

Teetor says there are three ways the county acquires easements: Purchasing easements based on appraised value, purchasing “Dwelling Unit Rights,” and donations from landowners.

Funding, says Teetor, comes from a range of sources, such as the Federal Farmland and Ranchland Preservation Program, Virginia’s agriculture department, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and the Resource Conservation and Development Council. “The easement authority also receives an annual appropriation from the Board of Supervisors,” said Teetor. “And over the last four years has received an average of about $25,000 in private donations.” The donations help offset the myriad costs of doing land deals, like appraisals and legal fees.

Donated easements account for the lion’s share of the acreage conserved by the easement authority—even the purchase agreements require the landowner to donate part of the value of the easement as a match.

Why would someone donate some of their land’s development rights? Stephen J. Small, a lawyer who works with families in land planning, famously says there are three reasons why people enter into an easement agreement: “They love their land, they love their land, and they love their land.”

There can be tax benefits, including federal and state income tax deductions. Virginia has an added sweetener: the transferrable conservation tax credit. It enables landowners who don’t have the income to benefit from tax deductions to make money by preserving their land. Say you donate an easement on 50 acres. The appraised value of the easement is considered a charitable donation, and in Virginia might qualify for the conservation tax credit (the legislature determines each year how many tax credits to allot). Your Virginia tax credit can be sold to a person or company for use in paying their tax bills.

It’s rare for subjects like land planning or public funding of anything to avoid criticism. Conservation easements, though, enjoy broad support across the political and ideological spectrum. They are, after all, voluntary.

Public funding for easements has its detractors, but data consistently show that conservation easements can pay for themselves by reducing need for public services and infrastructure. Teetor says each new home costs the county about $900 a year. She notes that the county saves close to $20,000 each year through the easements it already has—the difference between what the county spends on the program and what it saves by retiring development rights.

In 2012 the Clarke County Easement Authority’s board was one of five Governor’s Environmental Excellence gold medal winners—a shout-out from Richmond that says the Easement Authority’s operation is one of the most effective in the Commonwealth.

Geo Derick’s Herbal Apothecary

By JiJi Russell

Visiting herbalist Geo Derick at her rural Clarke County apothecary transports me to the fascination of my childhood, when I spent many open-ended afternoons walking the deep woods discovering tiny flowers, plants, and stones that I suspected had special powers. Derick, a clinical herbalist and organic gardener, believes in that specialness, and brings it right down to earth. She combines a vast knowledge of clinical science with a seemingly keen intuition to do what she does best: “cultivating life.”

Trained to work with the medical community to serve clients’ health goals, Derick has worked with everyone from cancer patients to toddlers with allergies, using a wide variety of customized herb-based therapies. She trained at Tai Sophia Institute, which recently achieved University status, and is now known as Maryland University of Integrative Health. Indeed, the goal of “integration” pervades Derick’s work.

“A basic premise in integrative health is that the symptoms we experience are important signals telling us that something is out of balance or under siege. Paying attention to the symptoms and learning from them—rather than suppressing them—are key points of holistic healing,” Derick said.

She believes that herbal medicines, the core of her practice, help our bodies find a natural balance. One key difference between herbal medicine and pharmaceutical drugs, according to Derick, is that the former is comprised of a whole plant with dozens to hundreds of active, synergistic ingredients, while the latter are comprised of a single constituent or synthetic molecule.

Said Derick: “Herbal medicines will attach to the same receptor sites as a pharmaceutical drug, but will ‘let go’ after a few hours and engage in hundreds of biological reactions before our bodies are done with them. Their side effects are basically nourishing, as they support structural components and functions, as well.”

What is it that renders one little plant so potent? According to Derick, the plant’s own biological need to survive. “The plants have been protecting themselves from predators, bacteria, viruses, and fungi for billions of years. The chemicals that they produce for self-preservation also serve to protect the animals and humans who ingest them,” she said.

Derick does have several favorite go-to herbs, but she cautions that one herb does not fit all. She recommends custom formulas for people with health situations that are chronic or not responding to a particular herbal product that generally is found over the counter.

“People often ask me which herbs they should use for a particular issue, such as chronic migraines or high blood pressure. Have you ever met a migraine or blood pressure reading that does not have a person attached? I find that the most effective strategy for achieving lasting results is to treat each person individually, rather than as a symptom or disease state,” Derick said. “Custom tailored formulas are much more effective. Of the 20 or so clients that I’ve seen for migraines, none have had the same protocol, and only one has gotten ‘the migraine herb’ feverfew included in their formula. Yet, all have enjoyed success in being nearly or completely, migraine-free.”

But most of the time, she said, “A custom formula is not always required for success.”

Derick’s picks for “seven safe medicinal herbs” that people can easily incorporate in their daily lives include the culinary forms cinnamon, ginger, garlic, rosemary, turmeric, thyme, and cacao (chocolate). These kitchen herbs and spices contain nourishing and immune-enhancing anti-oxidants. Many are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory as well. Additionally, all have been shown to interfere with various types of cancer proliferation in many research studies and clinical trials, according to Derick.

Attention gardeners: Of the millions of plants on the planet that are both nourishing and medicinal, here are some valuable local plants that grow wild here, according to Derick. Those she uses clinically include dandelion, chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettles, American ginseng (over harvested), poke (poisonous; must be used in small, controlled doses), and all the clovers. Knowing which parts to use, when to pick them for medicinal value, and how to prepare them are critical to their effectiveness. As a rule of thumb, Derick says the leafy parts are best harvested before flowering; flowers are picked when freshly opened and after the dew has dried in the late morning. The roots are most potent in the late fall as the plant top dies back and their chemical compounds settle downward. She cautions: Always identify your plants positively, prior to harvesting.

When herbs don’t work: If you have tried herbs for your condition and have had no success, (eg., Echinacea for colds), there are generally four reasons for failure, Derick says.

Number one: The product was made using the non-medicinal parts of the plant.

Number two: The product or herb was no longer fresh, and/or out of date.

Number three: Your dose was insufficient. Or,

Number four: It was the wrong herb for you.

If you have a ragweed allergy, for example, you may have a reaction to echinacea and chamomile, along with other plants of the Compositae family. So not only will it not work, but it can make your symptoms worse.

Most retail brands under dose their product on the directions for use, according to Derick. Many herbs need to be dosed more heavily and more frequently than people realize for a therapeutic effect. Echinacea is most effective at preventing colds and flu if taken in doses of 2,000 mg every two hours, up to seven times a day. However, Derick cautions, it is important to know the safe limits before assuming more is better.

Safety Concerns: As a clinician in a rural area, Geo believes it is critical that her work is both safe and effective—if she hopes to continue a successful career. Occasionally someone has an unfavorable reaction to a plant, or just can’t manage their protocol. This happens when using pharmaceutical drugs, as well. But the non-poisonous herbs rarely present a life-threatening danger, she said.

As far as safety is concerned, herbal medicine has a pretty good record. According to Dr. James Duke of the USDA, statistics on the likelihood of death from various sources places herbs and supplements as the safest (1 in 1,000,000).

As for drug-herb interactions, “We are in a continual learning state on this subject,” Derick said. “Most often, the herbs enhance the drugs, as they nourish the cells and support intercellular communication. However, people on blood thinners must be most careful. Since certain herbs are also blood thinners, bleeding episodes can occur when combined. Herbs like St. John’s wort activate the excretion of toxins and medications, so they are rarely compatible with pharmaceutical drugs. Certain foods are actually more of a concern than herbs, as they are taken in much higher doses and share many of the same actions,” Derick said.

“The plants have been on the planet for billions of years. We humans have been here for a few million years,” Derick said. “We rely on plants for life itself: oxygen, water, soil, food, energy, shelter, medicine. As for medicine, they are all we ever had until we began using heavy metals, single constituents (since 1802) and synthetic pharmaceuticals (since 1945). I call herbal medicine, original medicine. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here as a species!”

Geo Derick offers office consultations, phone and Skype consultations, and has a booth at the Clarke County Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 8am till noon, May through October. Visit or contact her at or 540-955-4769.


JiJi Russell, a writer, yoga instructor, and Integrative Nutrition practitioner, serves as the wellness coordinator for American Public University in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at

Geo’s Triumverate

Schisandra: low thyroid, weight loss, energy and liver/gallbladder support that strengthens four body systems: immune, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular.

Usnea: a broad spectrum anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic that does not kill friendly gut flora. Geo uses it in cold and flu formulas for children and adults, and has found it effective on strep, staph, mono, MRSA, even herpes. And there are no reported drug-herb interactions with it.

Turmeric: her favorite herb for the cardiovascular system, as it “goes to the source of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol to reduce vascular inflammation.” She believes it is a wonderful analgesic for arthritis, joint and tooth pain, a natural Cox-2 inhibitor, and a powerful anti-cancer herb.