The original American settlers were Virginia farmers. Since landing in Jamestown in 1607, they tilled the land, planted and grew crops, and raised animals. So it was an almost 200-year agricultural tradition that led Cattlemen's Beef Board member Joe Guthrie's ancestors to hike across Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains to the New River Valley in 1795 and sink their own Scots-Irish roots. That historic piece of land has been in the family ever since their long distance trek.
"Eastern Virginia had been settled for a long time," Guthrie said as he gave me a short history lesson on the region. "King George prohibited settlement west of the mountains from the time of the French and Indian War because settlers couldn’t be protected from hostile raids. So no one moved here until the end of the American Revolution in 1783. My ancestors arrived shortly after that. A couple generations later, there was another war. We're coming up on the 150th anniversary of Civil War and a battle that swept through here. The house where my father lived was used as a Confederate hospital."
Talking more about the continuity of the family homestead, he said, "It's still almost the same place, too. We haven't sold any land but we have added on. Part of the land was taken by imminent domain for our local airport about fifty years ago. It was the only flat ground we had."
He's the seventh generation of Guthries to work the farm. I asked about the possibility of an eighth. "I have three kids!" he said. "I don't know if they're going to stay but they are interested in the farm. I want them to enjoy it even if they choose another profession.
"My daughter is in her first year at Yale and currently majoring in chemistry. She's 18. My oldest son is 15 and he just joined FFA. I have a 13 year old son who helps with the chores, too."
Guthrie is an advanced instructor at Virginia Tech. An instructor, not a professor, a fact he was careful to underline, saying "That means I do 100 percent teaching, no research. I teach full time at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I teach four or five classes per semester. It's a full load but I still raise cattle on the side. I was a full-time farmer with a cow/calf business and some stockers and a feed lot until 2007 when I took this teaching position. I still farm now but on about a half scale."
His half-time farming is still a serious work load. He grows a few hundred acres of hay and runs 200-250 cows. He retains weaned calves, grazing them on Southwestern Virginia's rich grass lands until they're yearlings. Keeping ownership, he ships them to a feedlot in Iowa for finishing. "Selling yearlings to a feedyard might leave some money on the table," he said, "so I retain ownership and the risk, too."