BLACKSBURG, Va. — On Daisy Sturgill’s first day of class her first year at Virginia Tech, she stepped into a van and buckled her seatbelt.
After a brief 20-minute ride, Sturgill ’18 disembarked the van with her fellow students. Gone were the familiar Gothic structures of Virginia Tech’s campus. Gone were the desks inside of a classroom.
In their stead, dirt dusted their shoes.
The strangers walked into the middle of the cornfield and picked a cob of sweet corn that lined the field and took a bite.
It was a first day unlike any other.
“I just knew this is what I had to do for a living because of that first day,” Sturgill said.
Sturgill, a horticulture graduate from Marion, Virginia, founded Stormbrew Farm because of her time in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. While at Virginia Tech, Sturgill had a variety of experiential learning opportunities, providing valuable hands-on experiences that changed what Sturgill thought was possible with an education.
“The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences taught me how to solve problems and how to learn,” Sturgill said. “It gave me the foundation to make my farm successful.”
Throughout her time at Virginia Tech, Sturgill was supported by scholarships, including those from the Washington County Master Gardener Association, Martha Bowman, and Roy and Thelma Groseclose.
Stormbrew Farm, located in Atkins, Virginia, is 36-acres of rolling farmland and forest that features goats, chickens, vegetables, flowers, and honey bees – everything that Sturgill wanted in a farm. The farm, still in its early stages, has become successful with Sturgill who — with her late partner Jesse Chapman — sold at local markets and wholesale to local restaurants.
“The momentum for the farm is just unbelievable,” Sturgill said. “My mom told me that it would take off like a kite that you couldn’t catch and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Sturgill prepares honey at Stormbrew Farm, which features goats, chickens, vegetables, flowers, and, of course, honey bees. Photo courtesy of Daisy Sturgill.
Making of a farmer
Following graduation, Sturgill took a job on a farm in Maine to experience New England small-scale agriculture firsthand – a concept she wanted to emulate in her own farm down the road.
The duo lived near Chapman’s place of work in a rather unconventional manner. Due to housing costs and a desire to save money, they bought a camper and lived off the grid without access to water or electricity. They caught water and poured it into the camper and used a generator for electricity – for eight months.
After gaining experience on the On the Mountain Farm and Dharma Farm in Maine, Sturgill got an offer she couldn’t refuse after visiting home one Thanksgiving.
Her mother and stepfather had recently purchased a 36-acre plot of land in Atkins, Virginia, and were overwhelmed by the goats, chickens, bees, and farmland.
“My mom told me I could stay if I wanted to build something,” Sturgill recalled. “It was just too good of an offer to pass up – and not just because of modern plumbing. I stayed and it’s been great starting Stormbrew Farm.”
Sturgill and Stormbrew Farm recently purchased an 18-acre lot for the farm in Abingdon with significantly more growing space. Starting in 2022, Sturgill will focus on sales out of the greenhouse, building no-till fields, and establishing fruiting and flowering perennials. The sale of flowers and produce will follow soon after, including wholesale produce and flowers to restaurants.
By year five, though, they hope to have teaching workshops and serve Stormbrew Farm beer with homemade and farm-grown snacks, all while providing a place for people to enjoy the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.