Butler Farms, a beef cattle farm, apple orchard and hunting preserve in Inwood, W.Va., is seen on June 25, 2015. Winner of the 2014 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award, Butler Farms has been celebrated for the family's commitment to a rural lifestyle, its involvement in the community and its efforts to operate more sustainably with the surrounding land and water.
by Stephanie Smith
August 12, 2015
It’s an overcast summer morning in Berkeley County, West Virginia, and Todd Butler has parked his pick-up truck atop one of the many hills that roll across his property. He points to the ridge of a nearby mountain peak, where the dense, forested tree line is broken by a small gap.
“I’m sitting in my house, and I can see this mountain from there,” Butler recalls. “I never will forget the very first morning I sat there, and I saw a light on top of that mountain, and I thought, ‘What is that?’ And it turns out, they’d built a house up there.”
As the fourth-generation owner of Butler Farms, Butler has been witness to plenty of changes over the years: a decline in the number of neighboring farms, a rise in residential development, a technology boom for farming equipment. And while some features have remained the same—the original farmhouse, barn and cattle gates are still standing—much of the farm’s operation is dramatically different from when Butler’s great-grandfather bought the land in 1919. Almost a century later, the 200-acre family dairy farm has grown to more than 1,000 acres, home to beef cattle, an apple orchard and a bird and deer hunting preserve.
Todd Butler poses for a portrait on his farm in Inwood, W.Va., on June 25, 2015. Todd's great-grandfather purchased the original 212-acres farm in 1919; Todd took over operating Butler Farms from his father, Bill Butler, in 2000.
Over the years, Butler and his father, Bill, have transformed their property into one of the top conservation farms in the Mountain State. A variety of practices—from streamside fencing to cover crops—help to reduce runoff and promote water quality. Cattle drink out of troughs rather than straight from streams, and their feed wagons are continuously moved to different locations to prevent a single area from getting trampled or polluted with manure. The farm’s 72 apple orchard plots are farmed in strips; the land between each row of trees is left untouched to help slow the flow of water and prevent soil from washing away.
Butler Farms, a family-owned 1000-acre beef cattle farm, apple orchard and hunting preserve in Inwood, W.Va. is seen on June 25, 2015.
Sustainable pest management practices have made the land of Butler Farms a haven for insects, birds and other wildlife. Pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses border the fields. Patches of sorghum, an annual grass that produces bright red berries, will feed birds and deer through the winter.
When Butler was younger, he remembers entire fields being sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals. Now, he says, “we don’t use near the chemicals that we used to. Everything used to be in quarts or gallons; now we’re down to ounces.”
Rows of young apple trees line a distant hill at Butler Farms. The Butlers have operated the 72-plot orchard since 1981. Seventy tractor-trailer loads of apples are handpicked each year.
Butler credits the West Virginia Conservation Agency’s (WVCA) Eastern Panhandle District with the success of the conservation practices currently in place on the farm. “When we first started, we were putting in switchgrass and so forth, and we really didn’t know what to implement and what to put in,” Butler explains. “With their direction and their help, it’s made it very easy for us to get it done.”
And though Butler Farms won the WVCA’s Conservation Farm of the Year award in 2014, Butler doesn’t see the work his family has done as out of the ordinary—rather, it’s part of how he and other farmers can prepare for the future.
“Water’s going to be the biggest natural resource that we’re going to have to contend with here very shortly. It just seems to be taken for granted,” Butler says. “More and more people are working toward [using conservation practices], as we’re being educated on what we can do to help improve.”
No matter what the future holds, Butler and his family seem ready to handle it. After all, the farm has already adapted to a multitude of changes over the past hundred years.
“I heard my dad say the other day, he said his parents would roll over,” Butler laughs. “He said they’d never have any thoughts of the way things have changed.”
Images and captions by Keith Rutowski
Text by Stephanie Smith
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.