A vision for farmers and the needy

Derek Folls spends some time with Pig Pig, Spotted Pig Holler's friendly mascot.

Nestled along Three Notch Road (Route 250) on the Louisa County line sits a little farm called Spotted Pig Holler. It’s a typical hobby farm with fruits, vegetables, chickens and, yes, even a spotted pig.

What isn’t typical is that the food grown is given away for free—all of it.

Owners Derek and Amyrose Folls do this out of the kindness of their hearts. They’ve never been homeless or really ever been in need, but they feel a deep calling to help others.

Nine months ago, they started their Virginia Free Farm program. Since then, they’ve helped feed over 200 people from Louisa, Richmond and Charlottesville.

Now they want to get other local farmers involved.

“We throw away so much food and we have so many small farmers losing money because they’re going to market and they’re not selling all of their food,” Amyrose said. “There’s a ton of waste and there’s a ton of people who need food.”

The couple recently applied for a $200,000 grant to help them expand their idea statewide. They propose to buy unsold food from farmers at a discount and distribute it to the needy, educate the public about healthy food choices and use a seed bank to help people grow their own food.

In Louisa, 22 percent of residents are considered food insecure, double the state average, according to a 2018 study prepared by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research for the Louisa County Resource Council. That’s over 8,400 people in the county who don’t know where their next meal is coming from on any given day.  

Spotted Pig Holler grow a wide range of vegetables, including broccoli, greens, squash and various beans. The farm also has lots of fruit trees.

A couple of months ago, Derek and Amyrose posted on Facebook if anyone had any chickens or turkeys they no longer wanted and the response was overwhelming. Since then, they have partnered with Crickhollow Farm in Louisa to process meat for distribution. And now that they have chickens, they are able to give out free eggs as well.

Last year, they were able to give away five pounds of food and a dozen eggs per person each week to families who needed food. All the families had to do was fill out a simple application asking how many people are in the family and if they have any food allergies.

The couple also takes a particular interest in saving heritage seeds and freely give them away to needy families or groups who have a garden or want to start one. They do this as a way to foster sovereignty in less fortunate households because, “if they grow their own food, they’re more apt to use it,” said Amyrose.

Helping out people in need is simply something they feel like they should do because they can.

“It’s nothing personal for me,” Derek said. “It’s nice that I can do something for someone else, that I’m lucky enough to be able to help people. That alone is rewarding enough for me.”

The farm has worked with the Louisa County Resource Council to help people in this area, as well as Blessing Warriors and Food Not Bombs in Richmond. These organizations distribute the food after it’s been delivered or picked up at Spotted Pig Holler.

Given the farmers’ limited resources, offering a delivery service is a challenge. One of the few places they currently deliver food to is St. Mary’s Woods, an elderly community in Richmond with nearly 200 residents in federally subsidized housing.

“A lot of them don’t have transportation to get out of the building, so we drop off produce in the community center,” Amyrose said. “The program director lets the residents know food is available and they get really excited.”

Last year, the couple helped a woman who had a hip-to-foot cast and couldn’t move her leg, let alone drive. She wasn’t from the area, didn’t have family to help her and had no insurance, which led to severe financial problems. Amyrose didn’t hesitate to deliver food to her and her children.

On top of everything required to run the farm—growing, pruning and picking the produce; feeding and caring for the animals; distributing the food and teaching regenerative farming classes—Amyrose and Derek still have full-time jobs. Amyrose makes signage for other local businesses and Derek is a software engineer who works from home.

So far, they have invested $18,000 of their own savings to fund Virginia Free Farm. The $200,000 grant would help them create a safety net for small farms and feed the needy at the same time.

“By working with other small farms, part of what we want to do by giving people good food is to reaffirm their dignity as human beings and show them they are worthy of good food,” Amyrose explained.

“But there’s so much food to go around. It’s not a food shortage or hunger problem we have, it’s a social justice and food equity distribution problem.”

Derek and Amyrose won’t find out if they won the grant until March. In the meantime, they’re looking for other grant opportunities.

Virginia Free Farm accepts donations, including livestock. Volunteer opportunities are available as well. To learn more, visit spottedpigholler.org.

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