Putting out Fires on a Pennsylvania Family Farm
Elisa Fleming’s confidence is unwavering, even when she’s the only woman in meetings with other farmers. As the fourth generation to run her family’s Verdant View Farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she follows in the footsteps of go-getting women.
“I grew up with my mother very much involved with every aspect of the farm,” Elisa says. “Her model was really critical for me to feel confident coming back to run the farm and knowing that I could shape it how I wanted.”
Elisa and her husband Patrick, who works part-time on the farm, were suddenly thrust into full-time management soon after returning to the farm when Elisa’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. The couple stepped up and shaped the farm to their vision in the process. They capitalized on the farm’s bed and breakfast as an opportunity to connect consumers with producers—helping people learn the joys of farming and how food gets to their tables.
“The more we know, the better choices we can make as consumers—in terms of purchasing power and shaping policies. The education we provide as a farm is beyond just how to milk a cow,” Elisa says.
The family also transitioned the 100-year-old dairy operation to a 100% grass-fed model of beef production. Elisa says they’ve learned something new every year with this process—focusing on soil health practices and water quality efforts.
In 2018, their 90-year-old barn, built by Elisa’s great grandparents, burned down. Though their neighbors quickly rallied around them to rebuild, they still lost all their equipment, including hay-making equipment needed to feed their pasture-raised cattle in the winter and summer dry months.
“I’d never had to think about infrastructure before. Suddenly we didn’t have what we needed to do everyday tasks,” Elisa says.
Elisa and Patrick used their Brighter Future Fund grant to purchase a rotary hay rake, replacing their rake lost in the fire, just in time to make hay from their cover crops in April. American Farmland Trust, with support from Tillamook Creamery, launched the Brighter Future Fund to help farmers in the face of pressing challenges like climate change and COVID-19.
“It feels good to be able to take steps forward,” Elisa says. “The economic loss from that fire was so significant. Even though it’s just one piece of equipment, it feels like one giant leap.”
Elisa and Patrick look forward to growing and improving their operation in a way that’s rooted in family history. Plus, they’re teaching the family’s fifth–generation farmer: their 16-month-old son who already knows that cows say “moo.”
“Literally and figuratively, we’ve been putting out fires. Hopefully we’ll have a year or series of years where we can focus on really diving in,” Elisa says.
Brighter Future Fund
Informed by farmers, built on experience, and inspired by you. AFT’s Brighter Future Fund carries forward AFT's commitment to addressing inequalities in our agricultural system by providing grants up to $5,000 to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or women farmers nationwide. Help us support another round of inspiring farmers by donating to the fund today! 100% of all funds raised will go directly to farmers to strengthen farm resilience, enhance farm viability, and improve access to land.