by Laura Johnson
The Farm at Mollie’s Branch is about love and experience, owner and farmer Diane Price told me as we strolled around her farm in Todd one June afternoon. Her dogs and black cat, Mystic, were always at her side as she fed the young chickens, introduced me to her goat and llamas and showed me her gardens, pond and the micro hydro-electric turbine that powers the barn. This serene, picturesque no-kill farm is a sanctuary for the more-than-human world.
Seated at a covered table in the yard, Diane told me about the swallows that come to build nests in her barn. “They come back every year,” she said. “I think they must get used to my voice while I talk to all the animals, and then when I go down there I just hold my arms up and they fly all in and out. It’s wonderful.”
I laughed and called her an animal whisperer. After humbly denying it, she went on to tell me that the swallows make sure to tell her goodbye every year. “After the babies are flying and the swallows are ready to fly away, if I’m not here they’ll wait on me, sitting on a fence row. When I come down they fly around me, it’s like oh, OK goodbye, see you next year! It’s sort of a mystical thing.”
“So when people come on the farm I like for them to have this connection with nature. I just think that’s so lost.”
With such a deep connection to the natural world, Diane is worried about some of the things happening in our food system and in the world today. “I’m concerned about the butterflies and the birds and the bees,” she said, love and grief blending in her eyes. “So when people come on the farm I like for them to have this connection with nature. I just think that’s so lost.”
She and her husband use no toxic chemicals on their farm, in part because of their proximity to two creeks – Pine Orchard Creek and Mollie’s Branch, named for Diane’s dog who passed away. “The creeks come together and go into the New River,” Diane explained. “And I’m really concerned about water quality … We try to do right by the earth and the next generation.”
She and her farm manager, Daniel Meehan, are always trying new, natural concoctions – some work beautifully and some fail miserably, Diane laughed. “We have a large diversity at this farm, and we’re really open to trying new things,” she said. “Things like golden beets and (different types of) lettuces, shiitake mushrooms and organic grapes, those things have been really great successes.” Always eager to learn and experiment, Diane finds lessons in unexpected places and things. Like Stinging Nettle.
"It grows all in the woods along the creek, and for years it was like, this is the most aggravating stuff because it was prickly and it took over everything,” she said. Later, in an interesting twist of fate, Diane found herself at a farm visit in Finland where she was served stinging nettle soup for lunch. “And it was delicious!” she said. “And so of course I had to come back home and try it and do more research on it, and now we use it for so many things … That’s what I’ve found with a lot of different things that I thought were weeds. They turn out to have great properties.”
Diane loves when people visit her farm, whether they be old friends or new. “Some college students my daughter’s age and older come back now just to visit the farm,” she said. “And it’s so neat that they remember; they remember the projects we did and things they learned.”
She especially loves when children come out and explore. “They ask the best questions,” she smiled. “They make me think. They really turn things around, and sometimes they’re the teacher and I’m the student, and I kind of like that.” But all are welcome here in this calming, loving space – living beings of the human and non-human persuasion alike.