“The garden is an important way for my family to work together, and it is enormously satisfying to look at the table and know that we produced all the food in front of us.” —Michael Lipford
By Daniel White and Tom McCann
One of Michael Lipford’s most vivid childhood memories is picking blackberries with his mother at the foot of Iron Mountain in southwestern Virginia. Michael traces his respect for nature back to that parcel of Appalachian land, where his grandfather farmed and lived out his entire life.
“The longer he lived there, the better he came to know it and deeply love it,” says Michael, the Conservancy’s Virginia executive director. “He really attuned himself to the natural rhythms of that place, and the farm nourished him both physically and spiritually.”
“My grandfather was a subsistence farmer,” Michael adds. “Growing up seeing most people work gardens — that connection to the land has always stuck with me.”
Today, Michael reflects often on his grandfather’s influence as he harvests vegetables from his own family garden. Working alongside his daughters, Michael sees them absorbing many of the same values from their plot of suburban soil near Richmond.
For the Lipfords, growing and eating their own food are traditions that bring the family closer together. “The garden is an important way for my family to work together, and it is enormously satisfying to look at the table and know that we produced all the food in front of us. The spinach, tomatoes, zucchini, and asparagus are all from our garden, and seasoned with herbs from just off our back porch.”
Plus, says Michael, growing your own food is so beneficial you can taste it. “Home-grown vegetables taste better, they’re more nutritious, we can grow what we want, and then we freeze or can some for eating all winter.”
In fact, the Lipfords harvest more of a bounty than they can consume by themselves, presenting opportunities to connect with neighbors at a local farmers market. On Saturdays, the girls operate a stall at Monument Market where they sell vegetables, fresh eggs, and their mother’s homemade breads and jams.
“My three girls run the enterprise,” Michael says. “They determine what produce we bring and sell, and for us it’s an important way to give back to the community.”
Michael notes that Richmond mirrors the rest of Virginia in that he sees people becoming increasingly attentive to the origins of their food. Caring about where your food comes from, how it was grown and who grew it — these are steps that, in Michael’s experience, lead toward becoming good stewards of land and community.
“Growing our food is an important part of my family's living those values,” he concludes.