Nokesville farm recognized for conservation efforts

Stephanie Cornnell, a managing partner at Kettle Wind Farm, stands in front of a natural buffer  between the farm and the stream that connects to the Potomac River on Friday, Dec. 27. She is holding a sign for an award the farm received in December for its soil and water conservation practices. 

Kettle Wind Farm in Nokesville was recently recognized for its practices to protect water and soil across its 4,203 acres in Prince William and Fauquier counties that produce grass or sod, corn, soybeans and small grains. The farm also raises 150 cows that are sold to dairy farmers. 

Stephanie Cornnell, a managing partner at Kettle Wind, said the farm has been family-run since its beginning in 1968. The family uses a conservation plan and has cooperated with the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, a taxpayer-funded office that provides education, information and resources to farms and the general public. The farm also collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cornnell said. 

The farm’s conservation practices include rotating the fields that cows graze on, separating livestock from waterways with buffers that are 35 feet or wider, and using cover crops and managing how nutrients are applied to the soil, including soil, tissue and manure testing, according to the farm’s application for the award. 

“We’re farmers, we’re stewards of the land,” Cornnell told InsideNoVa. “The better we treat the land — it’s all about soil and water health, which will in turn increase yields and protect our waterways.” 

At the annual meeting in December of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Kettle Wind Farm was one of 10 farms to receive a Virginia Clean Water Farm Grand Basin award. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the 47 soil and water conservation districts sponsor the awards. Winners receive a sign and a certificate. 

Cornnell, Paul House and Kyle House, managing partners at the farm, were nominated by the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District for the Grand Basin award. 

The award recognizes Kettle Wind Farm’s conservation practices in the Potomac River basin.  

Cornnell said the farm has been family-run since her parents, Paul and Flora House, started it in 1968. The cows are the last remnants of the farm’s dairy past; the farm sold milk for 50 years until 2018. Kettle Wind Farms has 900 acres of turf grass, 3,150 acres of corn, soybeans and small grains in rotation, 50 acres of hay and 103 acres of pasture. 

The family plants soybeans and corn in a rotation to keep the soil healthy. After harvesting soybeans in the spring, they plant wheat as a cover crop, Cornnell said. Planting wheat prevents water runoff and keeps nutrients in the soil.

“Cover crops keep something on it at all times, something there so you don't have the soil exposed,” Cornnell said. 

Kyle House said rotating crops is important.  

“If you keep planting corn, the diseases keep stockpiling in the field,” House said, adding, “Rotation is more about disease, because you can put the nutrients back.” 

With guidance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the farm also built a manure shed, Cornnell said. The shed breaks the manure down so it can be used in the spring instead of leaving it in a field, she said. 

“We learn something new every year and all of it is done voluntarily,” she said. 

By encouraging native plants to grow freely around streams, Kettle Wind Farms has taken 11 acres out of production to act as a buffer, Cornnell said. “It’s like a filtration system, so if anything runs off, it filters and protects the waterways.”

The farm also applies fertilizer at three different times to make sure the soil is absorbing the product, Cornnell said. This helps protect waterways, because it prevents excess fertilizer from being applied and running into streams. 

Jay Yankey, manager for Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, said the district is funded by the state and governed by a five-member board of directors, including three who are elected every four years and two appointments from the Virginia Soil and Water  Conservation board. Prince William County voters elected Will Lintner, Mansimran Kahlon and Tiziana Bottino to the board in November.

The district provides education and resources for farmers and the general public, including financial assistance for farmers and homeowners, Yankey said. The district also monitors water quality at sites around the county and shares this data with the county and state. The district also has volunteer adopt-a-stream programs to help pick up trash near waterways.

The district works with farms big and small, he said. Last year, it helped 60 local farms write conservation plans to manage nutrients and pests and control erosion, Yankey said. 

“From an agriculture perspective, that’s the first step — kind of setting a plan to how best manage the property,” he said. “Then we try to find incentives to install those best practices that the plan calls for.”

Yankey said challenges the district aims to address include agriculture, commercial and residential effects on waterways and stream bank erosion, among others. Yankey said nutrients, manure and more can be damaging to local ecosystems and pose a problem downstream. The district aims “to promote voluntary measures to help people do a better job about keeping those things out of our waterways.” 

Yankey said Kettle Wind Farm was very deserving of the award. “They’ve done a lot and worked with the district over the years.”

Yankey said farmers or others who want guidance can reach out to his office.

“I try to be a resource to the farmers in the community to do a better job for environmental reasons and economic reasons,” he said. “We try to balance things that make them money while at the same time being good stewards of the natural resources.”  

Cornnell, who served on the district’s board of directors but was not re-elected in November, said Prince William farmers have received this award three years in a row. Greenville Farm in Haymarket received the award in 2017 and Yankey Farms in Nokesville received it in 2018. She said that is thanks in part to the local district.

“They are the guiding factor,” Cornnell said about the district. “I can’t say enough things about them. If they don’t have an answer, they’ll call you back with one.”

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