Barlow named Farm Woman of Year

Published 7:31 pm Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last year, Shelley Butler Barlow was runner-up to a Linville woman for the Farm Woman of the Year award.

This year, she brought home the big prize.

“This is a great opportunity and an honor,” Barlow said. “This title gives me a forum where I can talk to people about agriculture.”

The award, given by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, is judged on the basis of participants’ contributions to family, home, farm business, community and the Farm Bureau. Barlow now has the chance to attend the American Farm Bureau conference in Seattle in January, but she doesn’t think there is a national Farm Woman of the Year competition.

“I don’t even think every state does it,” she said.

Barlow and her husband, Joseph Barlow Jr., manage his family’s Cotton Plains Farm, where they produce corn, cotton, hay, peanuts, wheat, soybeans and vegetables. Barlow also manages a community-supported agriculture business, where she sells “subscriptions” to families who receive a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.

Barlow said this year’s CSA turned out well, except for a deer problem that eradicated most of her beans.

“The deer tormented me even more than usual,” Barlow said. “That was very disappointing.”

The farm as a whole, too, did well this year, Barlow said. Last year’s bountiful harvest allowed them to replace some aging equipment, making operations this year more efficient.

This year’s crops, Barlow said, are “really great.” The only problem? About 175 acres of them are still in the field.

“We’re not finished, and we’re a long way from being finished,” Barlow said. On Friday, about 25 acres of cotton and 150 acres of soybeans remained in the field because of heavy rains in the last few weeks.

“On a sunny day like today, we can’t do what our first choice would be,” Barlow said, because the wet ground makes it impossible for harvesting machines to get into the fields.

“Everything we try to do is squishy,” Barlow said. “I can’t get my garlic planted, because it’s too wet. I don’t know anybody that this is good for.”

Farmers are always wishing for the weather to do the opposite of what it is doing, she quipped.

During the winter, the Barlow family passes their working days repairing equipment, planting and maintaining winter crops, and crunching numbers. Barlow also takes time to visit students and teachers in the public schools through the “Ag in the Classroom” program, which recently donated a “learning barn” to Oakland Elementary School’s library. The learning barn, a bookshelf decorated to look like a barn, contains a set of books about agriculture for children.

For Barlow, one of the biggest rewards in the relationship of farming and the public is the growing awareness of buying locally. When Barlow first began doing her CSA several years ago, she had to explain the concept to everyone.

“I was trying to sell people on this idea that this is what we’re going to do,” Barlow said. “Public interest has grown, and I don’t have to explain what a CSA is anymore. I think that’s exciting.”

When Barlow isn’t working on the farm, she is singing in the choir at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Chuckatuck, where she also chairs the finance committee. She also has been a member of the Foundation for Virginia’s Natural Resources since 2006 and has served as a member of Possum Hollow Ruritan Club since 1997.