Martin Miles M M Farms

Summary of Operation

■ About 190 meat goats on 65 acres of pasture

■ Certified organic vegetables on 5 1/2 acres

■ 2 acres organic tobacco Problems addressed

Finding profitable alternatives to tobacco. Tobacco remains the primary profit maker for most farmers growing on small acreages in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, even as price supports, production allotments, and U.S. market share for the crop have dwindled over the past two decades. Continually searching for ways to keep farming profitably, Martin Miles harvested his last significant tobacco crop in 1998.

Environmental concerns. Agriculture and coal mining, the two main industries in the region, have caused pervasive erosion, sedimentation and chemical runoff. Worried about the potential cumulative effects of toxic chemicals, Miles decided to eliminate agrichemicals by transitioning his operation to no-till and organic management.


Miles learned to farm from his parents more than a half century ago on a hillside farm not far from where he now lives. "We didn't have a lot, and the farming could be rough on you, but we always had enough to eat," Miles says. Memories from his teenage years include the arrival of electricity in the valley, and learning to plow with horses and oxen.

The family farm produced most of their food. His parents also raised tobacco, like most of their neighbors. "Tobacco was a sure thing, economically. It's a way of life here," Miles says.

Never finishing high school, Miles left the area to look for work in Annapolis, Md. Returning to southwestern Virginia in his 20s, he gradually took up farming again, raising tobacco and up to 100 beef cattle yearly, until the early 1990s.

By then, a federal price support program had significantly limited the allotment of acres that Miles could plant in tobacco each year. As the erosive hillside farming system fell from favor, land suitable for pasturing cows also became harder to find. Miles started searching for ways to remain profitable on his small acreage. He also investigated ways that would allow him to farm without chemical inputs, with which he had become disenchanted.

"Other farmers aren't as stupid or crazy about taking chances as I am," Miles says of the shift he made in his 50s to organic and no-till production. To mitigate risks imposed by the weather and markets, Miles changes his crop selection yearly and considers implementing new strategies that he thinks have the poten-

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